c. 1999 Religion News Service
VATICAN CITY _ Because modern conception of the spirit of the devil is captured more accurately in a line of poetry from Baudelaire than the horned beast in an etching from the 16th century hand of Brueghel, the Roman Catholic Church has revised its rite of exorcism.
But, while acknowledging that mental illness can be confused with possession by the devil, the Vatican stands firm on the Catholic belief in the existence of the devil and his ability to lead the unwary astray.
The”New Rite of Exorcism,”under preparation for 10 years, is the last of the Roman Rites to be revised in keeping with the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, which ended more than three decades ago in 1965.
Cardinal Jorge Arturo Medina Estevez, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, presented the slim, red leather-bound volume Tuesday (Jan. 26) at a Vatican news conference.
At present, the rite is available only in Latin, entitled”De Exorcismis et Supplicationibus Quibusdam.”National bishops’ conferences will submit translations into modern languages for the congregation’s approval.
The translation process will take months, perhaps years, but Medina is not concerned.”The devil understands Latin very well,”the cardinal said.
The Chilean prelate said the new rite does not make substantial changes in the previous text, which has been in use since 1614 and was itself a revision of still older forms.”It is the same expression of faith in the capacity of the church to fight off the devil,”Medina said. But, he said, it gives the exorcist increased flexibility and is more sober in style,”more adopted to the language of today.””In the old rite there were many expressions of anger and insult to the demon. The new one regards the devil as evil, an enemy of God, who tries to hide the truth.” Today, he said, the Vatican sees the devil not so much as a horned figure with cloven hooves in a 16th century etching by Brueghel but as a spirit whose strategy is, as the 19th century French poet Charles Baudelaire wrote,”to convince people that he doesn’t exist.” The exorcist’s weapons in his battle with the devil remain the same _ prayers, making the sign of the cross, the laying on of hands, blowing and sprinkling holy water. Priests also recite a simpler prayer of exorcism at baptisms.
The new rite warns exorcists to use”the maximum circumspection and prudence”in determining whether a sufferer needs exorcism or psychiatric care.”Exorcism is one thing, psychiatry another,”Medina said.”If the exorcist has doubts about the sanity of a possessed person, he can consult a specialist. It can be a collaboration.” Medina listed as signs of possession”speaking with many words in an unknown tongue or understanding it, knowing of distant or hidden things, demonstrating force beyond one’s own condition together with vehement aversion toward God, the Madonna, the saints, the cross and sacred images.” But he said the devil more often operates in men and women in less dramatic ways. “Today in the world, the force of the devil is not so much in possession as in lies and deceit,”Medina said.”As Jesus is the truth, the devil is falsehood par excellence.”Always, from the start, the untruth has been his preferred strategy. There is no doubt that the devil succeeds in trapping many people in a net of lies, small or sensational. He deceives men by making them believe that happiness is found in money, in power, in carnal lust. He deceives men by persuading them that they have no need of God and that they are self-sufficient, without need of grace and salvation.” The devil is at work among drug traffickers and among children as well, Medina said.”When a child answers the phone and the mother is busy and tells the child to say she is not at home, this is his work,”he said.
DEA END POLK