What we are really talking about here is both exorcising and blessing the medal, but many people refer to the blessing alone when speaking about it.
As you know, the St. Benedict medal is a very powerful sacramental that has, for many centuries, had a special blessing with exorcism connected with it. Until September 26, 1964, only a Benedictine priest could give this blessing. Since 1964, any priest may do so.
But is it only priests?
If you look at the web site published by the Benedictines themselves, they claim that any priest or deacon may perform the exorcism and blessing. When I was a transitional deacon I was doubtful of this fact and attempted to gain clarification on it, but was unsuccessful at the time. But now I have been able to sort through some** of the issues and want to share my findings.
The citation given on the above web site is for an Instruction issued by the Vatican on September 26, 1964. It also cites canon 1168 of the (1983) Code of Canon Law. Let’s look at both.
The Instruction in question is called Inter Oecumenici and was issued by the Sacred Congregation of Rites (which is now called the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments). Chapter III, section VII, paragraph 77 of that document says the following:
The blessings in the Rituale Romanum hitherto reserved, may be given by any priest, except for: the blessing of a bell for the use of a blessed church or oratory; the blessing of the cornerstone of a church; the blessing of a new church or public oratory; the blessing of an antemensium; the blessing of a new cemetery; papal blessings; the blessing and erection of the stations of the cross, reserved to the bishop.
The blessing and exorcism of the Medal of St. Benedict was once a “reserved” blessing (only Benedictines could do it), but now, according to this instruction, “any priest” may do so. It says nothing about deacons!
Let’s look, then, at Canon 1168, also cited on the Benedictine web site:
The minister of sacramentals is a cleric who has been provided with the requisite power. According to the norm of the liturgical books and to the judgment of the local ordinary lay persons who possess the appropriate qualities can also administer some sacramentals.
In fact, there is not enough information in that canon to conclude that deacons can perform this blessing and exorcism. This is because it says that “a cleric who has been provided with the requisite power” can administer the sacramentals. Have deacons been provided with the requisite power to bless and exorcise the medal of St. Benedict? Let’s see what else canon law has to say, now in third paragraph of the following canon, 1169:
A deacon can impart only those blessings expressly permitted by law.
Deacons can only celebrate those blessings expressly permitted by law. From the citations provided on the Benedictine web site, there is no indication that deacons have been granted the privilege to exorcise and bless St. Benedict medals. Perhaps there is some later decree from the Vatican on this particular point, but it is not cited and I am unaware of it. (If anyone does know of one, please let me know!)
Under current liturgical law deacons can bless religious articles (see Book of Blessings, # 1444). Therefore, a deacon could bless a medal of St. Benedict using the prayer in the Book of Blessings. But I conclude, from the foregoing, that he could not exorcise the medal using the traditional prayer which, as far as I have been able to determine, was never extended to deacons. Deacons should therefore not attempt to exorcise St. Benedict Medals.
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Priests who may be interested in having the Latin text of the blessing and exorcism of the Medal of St. Benedict may download it by clicking the button below (in a form I made to be printed on a regular sheet, the page cut in half, then it could be folded and kept in one’s wallet or pocket ritual):
Please note that the prayer refers to plural “medals”. Those who know Latin could change it to singular, I suppose.
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** I said that I’ve sorted out some of the issues, because I think there is further confusion created by the fact that Summorum Pontificum allows us to use the books as they were in 1962 (not as emended in 1964) – so in that sense this blessing might be considered “reserved” again. There are other issues, such as the abrogation of some customs and prior privileges by the 1983 Code of Canon Law. There may be a simple way to sort this all out but I don’t see it at the moment and I don’t have the time right now to study it further. In any case, this blessing has been used for centuries, and since 1964, all priests have enjoyed the privilege of using it. The Church has not seen fit to say anything more about it, so I trust that we may continue using it, even if there are possibly some legal technicalities!