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Question 56.

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”?

Thank you,
Eleftheria

 

Answer to Question 56.

Dear Eleftheria,

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 to 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
Fr. Christopher