It has long been my sense that, in spite of all of the biblical evidence and the witness of the Fathers, many non-Catholic Christians simply are not open to reason when it comes to the topic of infant baptism. Many of them get hung up on the (false) idea of baptism’s being a personal choice, a taking ownership of one’s faith — and therefore, something that may only properly be done after the age of reason.
Recently, I’ve had occasion to celebrate Baptism a few times according to the Extraordinary Form (or older form) of the Roman Rite. The newer, “post-conciliar” rite of Baptism does have an exorcism in it, but it is a bit “lite” compared with the multiple exorcisms of the older rite. Here is the one “exorcism” prayer in the newer rite:
Almighty and ever-living God, you sent your only Son into the world to cast out the power of Satan, spirit of evil, to rescue man from the kingdom of darkness, and bring him into the splendor of your kingdom of light. We pray for this child: set him (her) free from original sin, make him (her) a temple of your glory, and send your Holy Spirit to dwell with him (her). We ask this through Christ our Lord. All: Amen.
As you can see, the priest prays a deprecatory prayer, asking God to deliver the person from the power of original sin (not the devil! — although he is mentioned).
The older rite, however, uses several imprecatory prayers (commanding the evil one to leave). Here they are, by comparison:
1. Depart from him (her), unclean spirit, and give place to the Holy Spirit, the Advocate.
2. I cast you out, unclean spirit, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Depart and stay far away from this servant of God, N. For it is the Lord Himself who commands you, accursed and doomed spirit, He who walked on the sea and reached out His hand to Peter as he was sinking. So then, foul fiend, recall the curse that decided your fate once for all. Indeed, pay homage to the living and true God, pay homage to Jesus Christ, His Son, and to the Holy Spirit. Keep far from this servant of God, N., for Jesus Christ, our Lord and God, has freely called him (her) to His holy grace and blessed way and to the waters of baptism. Never dare, accursed fiend, to desecrate this seal of the holy cross which we imprint upon his (her) brow; through Christ our Lord. All: Amen.
3. I cast you out, every unclean spirit, in the name of God the Father almighty, in the name of Jesus Christ, His Son, our Lord and judge, and in the power of the Holy Spirit. Begone, Satan, from God’s handiwork, N. Because our Lord has graciously called him (her) to His holy sanctuary, where he (she) will become a dwelling place for the living God, a dwelling place for the Holy Spirit. We ask this in the name of Christ our Lord, who is coming to judge both the living and the dead and the world and the dead and the world by fire. All: Amen.
You see the difference!
Well, why do I think that the prayers of exorcism — whether from the new rite or the old rite — are a more powerful argument for infant baptism?
When I introduce people to the concept of exorcism in the context of baptism, I explain that exorcism does not only have to do with the really scary stuff like demonic possession. On a more basic and fundamental level, we recognize that when a child is born she does not yet have God’s grace in her soul. Rather, she has the stain of original sin, with all of its consequences. Baptism washes that stain away and fills the soul with God’s grace, establishing a living bond between God and the precious child.
The devil is the prince of this world, and so whatever in it does not belong to God, in some way belongs to him: he has a claim over it. What exorcism does is to remove that person or thing from the devil’s sphere; it claims it spiritually for God. (This is also why we should avail ourselves of the many blessings the Church offers for persons and things.) The Church uses exorcism in many contexts — for example, in sacramentals, like holy water and blessed salt. In baptism, exorcism serves the purpose of removing the child from any claims the devil has on her and placing her securely under God’s care. Then, her soul is filled with God’s grace as the water is poured and the prayers are said.
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them” (Matthew 19:14). The devil says the same thing – but for his sinister and nefarious purposes. There are so many dangers in our world today for children. The exorcism(s) of baptism is/are a powerful sacramental that helps the baptized stay more firmly in God’s care. Of course, parents and godparents must do their part to guide chidren aright and shield them from evil, also.
Maybe the witness of whole households being baptized in the Acts of the Apostles and other scriptural arguments are not enough for some non-Catholics to seek baptism for their children. Well, what about the fact that the devil is the prince of this world and he therefore has some claim over the non-baptized? The Catholic Church has a beautiful and simple solution for this: a sacramental called exorcism, which is administered in the context of baptism. I wish more people would bring their children for baptism – and would not delay!
With regard to old rite vs. new rite, let me be clear: I will celebrate either, and happily. As a Catholic priest of the Latin Rite it is my duty and honor to provide the sacraments and sacramentals in all of the ways that they are offered within our Rite. I do think the older form is more efficacious and powerful, and I now suggest it quite freely — now that I have learned how to do it and learned more about it myself. But whether baptism is in the old or new, I’m just so happy to be celebrating it, knowing that through my priesthood and ministry, another child has been given over to our loving God!
If you know of any Catholics who have not had their children baptized, urge them to do so — urge them to talk to a priest soon. And if you know non-Catholics who scoff at our practice of infant baptism, maybe show them this little article: it might open their eyes to something that they haven’t thought about — and lead them to re-consider what their own faith teaches.