Dear Fr Christopher, your blessing.
Some weeks ago I read a book on baptism and I noticed that the exorcism
that precedes baptism is referred to as “exorcism of the catechumens”.
Since their target is the demons and the demons are the “exorcised”
entities is it correct from a theological point of view to state that
these prayers constitute the “exorcism of the catechumens”?
Answer to Question 56.
May I presume that the book you read was in English? The correct name
for the service that precedes the Baptismal service is officially called
“The making of a Catechumen”. You are right in saying that the exorcism
prayers are directed at the evil spirits and not at the Catechumen, but
I think the author of the book must has been speaking in general terms
and not theologically, just like we would say that we exorcise a house,
which does not mean that the prayers are directed at the house, but at
the demons that have made it their abode.
The service is not just an exorcism, but more a confession of faith. One
might even ask “Is an exorcism necessary?” To understand this we must go
right back to Adam and the fall. In Paradise Adam was in communion with
God with the possibility of living with God for all eternity, but when,
through his own free will, he disobeyed the divine law he fell from
grace and as a consequence separated himself from God and eternal life.
Man freely accepted communion with the devil and so fell under his
jurisdiction and became a slave to sin and death. The whole point of God
becoming man (Jesus Christ) was to save man from his own destruction and
lead him back into Paradise and eternal life as was originally intended.
This can only be done through Baptism in the Holy Trinity which is our
initiation into the saving Sacraments of the Church.
Today baptism is usually performed on infants, but during the first few
centuries of the Christian era, baptism was performed mainly on adults
or complete households. After the candidates for Baptism had been
instructed in the faith, and they were deemed ready to be accepted as
members of the Church, the exorcism prayers and confession were said
daily for 8 days before the baptism. The prayers do not presume that the
candidate is possessed with demons as in the biblical sense, but rather
that up to that time the person had lived a life without communion in
Christ and therefore a life influenced by evil spirits. The prayers are
thus deemed necessary in the preparation process for baptism to cast out
any demons that might have attached themselves to the candidate and to
protect the candidate from their influence. In our day and age this
sounds rather inconceivable and far fetched, but theoretically, someone
who is not yet a Baptized Christian is not a spiritual child of the
Church, but rather a child of the devil. With infants this is even
harder to conceive as babies are still in a state of purity and
protected by the grace of God, but the prayers are still said as a
protective measure and just like baptism which is performed on infants
in anticipation of the time when the child will grow and his nous
becomes darkened by the passions and evil in the world. Through his
baptism he will already be invested with the ability to conquer death in
Christ, and have the ability through the Church to overcome the passions
and cleanse and purify the noetic part of his soul once more. In other
words, the grace and ability received at baptism remains with him into
adulthood and with the help of the sacraments and ascetic struggles
ordained by the Church as tools to help in the purification process, he
can acquire the power to defeat death and attain deification.
As the service for the making of a catechumen begins, the Priest will
first breathe on him three times and sign him with the sign of the Cross
three times on his forehead and breast. This is done to officially
enlist him as a new soldier in Christ. The exorcism prayers follow and
then the Candidate’s confession that he renounces Satan and all his
works and joins himself totally to Christ. This is immediately followed
with a full confession of Faith with the recital of the “Symbol of
Faith”. The Baptism service is now ready to commence.
With love in Christ