2009 Random House
A non-religious man follows a lead into the Vatican, plunging into the antediluvian mystery of Catholicism. No, this is not the opening of a Dan Brown novel; it is the story of AP journalist Matt Baglio is whose book “The Rite” is revisiting the Hollywood stereotypes of demonic possession. In 2004, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith requested that all dioceses appoint an official exorcist. When the Vatican-affiliated Regina Apostolorum College opened a course for the training of exorcists that year, Baglio was intrigued and sensing a story in the making, enrolled himself in the four-month course entitled, “Exorcism and the Prayer of Liberation.” What kind of priest takes the exorcist course; are there any priests out there who still believe in the existence of the devil? He was pondering such questions when he met classmate Fr Gary Thomas, a parish priest from San Jose California. “The Rite” follows Fr Gary’s journey from a priest who hesitantly responds to the request of his bishop to attend the course, to a true believer in the ministry of deliverance who is using this book to awaken interest among the American clergy.
“The Rite” alternates between this compelling story and a thorough description of Church teaching on satanic possession, including; the hierarchy of the spirit world, satanic worship, curses, how a priest discerns between persons who are mentally ill and those who truly need exorcisms. Baglio addresses attempts made by the scientific communities to explain possession in psychological terms. Science dismiss many of the demonic manifestations as multiple personalities, but their explanations falter when confronted with the physical manifestations of demons; the possessed may vomit objects, even live animals which dissolve, and fight with superhuman strength, objects may fall or fly through the air. Readers may read this book seeking sensational stories, and will not be disappointed, yet “The Rite” is far more than a collection of lurid tales. Reading the book will provide a comprehensive understanding of satanic oppression and possession, the effects on the victim, and how accurately such Hollywood films as “The Exorcist” and the “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” portray the gruesome realities of demonic activity. The truth Fr Gary witnesses is more terrifying than such films suggest.
Heartbreaking stories of human suffering caused by possession and curses on innocent victims are what moved Fr Gary from skepticism about exorcism to enthusiastic promotion of its importance. Day after day in the Shrine of San Lorenzo, he witnessed Father Carmine, the exorcist; spend himself for the relief of suffering humanity. In the following passage, Baglio describes Fr Thomas’ epiphany, which immediately followed the most intense exorcism he had witnessed so far, a rare satanic possession.
“For the next few days the experience of having the demon lock eyes with him would continue to dog Father Gary. He wondered what kind of effect such a direct connection would have on him. After his hiking accident, he has often wondered if God had saved him for a reason. Over the years since then, when something would happen in his life, he would think, Well, may this is the reason why. After some time, he stopped worrying about it. However, when he looked back on the series of events that had led him to Rome, there did seem to be a logical sequence at work. His time in the mortuary, his accident, his depression, his belief in healing prayer—had God somehow been grooming him to be an exorcist all along? Ultimately, he couldn’t say; but he know that, as a result of those experience, he would certainly be more motivated to try. And if this was what God wanted him to do, then even if the Devil were somehow watching him, so was God; and that’s all that mattered.”
As a lifelong Catholic, I read the book to see what a Baglio, a non-practicing Catholic, would treat this controversial subject. I wondered whether he would sensationalize the exorcism scenes or dismiss the victims as insane. I was pleasantly surprised to see that he did neither, “The Rite” is an objective look at the ancient rite of exorcism as it exists today, and how a typical American priest is altered through his encounters with the victims of evil spirits. Even more, both the Baglio and Fr Gary are forever changed by the experience, proving that where evil is great; God’s power is still greater.
Recommended for adolescents and up, due to frightening content.