Supplying the Exorcism Prayers of Baptism

I have written here a few times about baptism in the Extraordinary Form, including making note of the powerful exorcism prayers included in it. I believe I have also shared the sentiment that I, like so many others, wish I could go back and be “re-baptized” using this form, since I was baptized in the Ordinary Form — without those powerful prayers.

Meanwhile, I have been told by various people that Dr. Taylor Marshall recently encouraged folks to approach their priests and ask that these exorcism prayers be “supplied” for them. “Supplying the rites” is something that is ordinarily done when someone was baptized in an emergency situation — i.e., the full ceremonies were not performed in their regard, only the essential minimum. Once the person reaches a more opportune condition, he or she can be brought to the church and all the other prayers that normally would have been said during a baptism are then said — without baptizing them again in the process. In other words, everything that was omitted is then completed.

Let us consider for a moment, however, the purpose of these various prayers of exorcism that are said — ordinarily — before someone is baptized (in either form, but especially in the Extraordinary Form, in which the prayers are more powerful and more numerous). These prayers are sacramentals of the Church. The exorcism and blessing they bring help to dispose the person who receives them to receive the grace of baptism more fruitfully. That is what sacramentals do: they do not give us sanctifying grace, but they help us to be more disposed to receive it in the sacraments. Sacramentals prepare and strengthen us to get more out of the sacraments.

Why, then, would the exorcisms be done for someone who had been baptized in an emergency? I would argue that it was more for the sake and consolation of the family: here their child had been baptized in non-ideal conditions, in haste; but now things are better, so we supply the Church’s full rites. Some might reject this as a superficial way of thinking, but it’s clear that in all of the Church’s ceremonies there are elements that speak to our psychological dimension, that are for our consolation. Also, we could argue that the Church herself had supplied for what was missing at the moment of the emergency, it not being prudent to include those prayers then; therefore, what was there only virtually then, we now do in fact.

(It’s interesting to note that in 1964, the rules for supplying rites were changed, to exclude doing the exorcism prayers. Incidentally, the 1964 rules largely do not apply now, as the instruction Universae Ecclesiae on the implementation of Summorum Pontificum reset most things back to how they were in 1962.)

For those of us who were baptized without the benefit of these exorcism prayers to prepare us for the sacramental grace, we need to realize that every good confession we’ve made post-baptism has renewed that grace in usThe sacraments are more powerful than the sacramentals, though the sacramentals certainly are powerful helps. If you’ve gone to confession, if you’re worn a blessed medal (especially a St. Benedict medal), if you’ve done something like a Marian consecration in the spirituality of St. Louis de Montfort (which is ordered to the renewal of one’s baptism), if you’ve made fervent holy communions, etc. — all these and other spiritual practices have powerfully disposed you to benefit from the grace of your baptism.

An analog here is what we do with someone who is experiencing spiritual affliction (possibly from demonic activity): we do not immediately go to the exorcism prayers. Rather, we find out: Are they praying? Are they going to Mass at least on Sundays and Holy Days? Are they striving to live a moral life? Are they going to confession? Etc. Exorcism prayers are usually the last resort, because we recognize that living a proper Christian life is itself very powerful, particularly the dimension of the sacraments included in that. In the sacraments, such as confession and Holy Communion, Christ himself reaches into our lives. Sometimes the additional exorcism prayers of a priest are necessary. But many people who experience affliction, upon improving their spiritual life, notice that the affliction leaves them.

Fr. Zuhlsdorf also wrote on this and counseled much the same thing: we should not go back and try to have the rites supplied. It would have been nice if we had been baptized using the old books. But we were not. However, we were still baptized. And we have not lacked in remedies since then to help us benefit from all that the Church offers us for our spiritual growth and protection.

There is a certain neo-pelagianism inherent in advice like Dr. Marshall’s (full disclosure: I have not watched his video; I am relying on second-hand reports): the suspicion is that one did not receive quite enough to be saved, that the Church has somehow left us just short of what we truly need — so we need to take matters into our own hands and seek out that which is not foreseen by the Church herself. Let’s be clear: the Church does not foresee our supplying rites of baptism in the circumstance described. Again, see what I wrote about exorcisms in general above: going to the exorcism prayers are usually our last resort; we usually have enough help in the sacraments and traditional spiritual practices.

I would also warn about an additional spiritual danger for priests who try what Marshall counsels: the Church is clear about the use of exorcism prayers. There is much confusion about this nowadays, and I need to do another post on it — many are simply ignorant of even recent documents in this regard. But the devil is a legalist. If you (a priest) are not covered by the authority of the Church and your bishop to do this or that exorcism prayer, you provoke the evil one. He is far more powerful than us and if we dare to speak to him “out of place”, we ask for trouble. Since the Church does not explicitly foresee our supplying the rites of baptism, including using those exorcism prayers, in the circumstance Marshall counsels, those priests who do it ask for more trouble — for themselves and for those they try to help. Let’s not mess around with exorcism prayers!

(I don’t want to hear about “minor exorcisms” vs. “major exorcisms”, either. Show me the documents where the Church actually uses those categories! I will show you the documents I have in return. There is much ignorance about all of this. I’ll do a post on it, hopefully soon.)

Yes, the changes made to our rites were drastic. Yes, we are rediscovering now what was lost and many are taking advantage of it. But God has not left us orphans. We do not need to scramble to somehow benefit “retroactively” from sacramentals that were meant to be done chronologically. Let’s focus now on living out our call to holiness and trust that by faithful reception of the sacraments and a devout life of prayer, we will have all that we need and more to be saved and be happy with God forever.

All of that said, I do encourage parents to consider having their children baptized in the Extraordinary Form!

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