Marc and I saw “The Rite” last weekend. Curiosity and dread surfaced as we bought our tickets. Curiosity, because this movie was based on the experience of an actual exorcist priest, Fr. Gary Thomas, in Matt Baglio’s book “The Rite” (the audiobook is available here). Dread, because I don’t like watching the havoc Satan and his minions can effect. I was disturbed by the way the movie presented the young seminarian and the aging exorcist’s struggle between doubt and faith. It suggested “Unless you believe in the devil, you won’t have the conviction you need to believe in God.” Really?
It alarmed me that there was no evidence of personal or spiritual resources to support the exorcist or those who train for the ministry. Where was the devotion to prayer? Where was the sacramentally-based life? Where was the Body of Christ? The Eucharist? The community of faith? I found myself in tears as I witnessed the suffering and isolation of the onscreen characters. I know it is just a movie but I couldn’t help wondering about the real-life priests that are exorcists.
Consulting local priests, I asked “Are the scenes in ‘The Rite’ real? How does the Church see demonic possession? What resources are available for those who suffer?” I was told “Yes,” the torment and manifestations of possession are true but happen rarely. When they do occur, the exorcist can call upon the Catholic Church’s history of experience, dating back to its earliest days (cf. CCC 1673). There are proscribed prayers and rituals to assist the appointed priest. These have been updated in 1999 and again in 2004. There are also personal and ecclesial requirements (c. 1172) for those who would serve in the ministry of exorcism. For example, only a priest (with permission of his bishop) may perform a formal exorcism rite. Monsignor Luca in the movie is a fictional character with some detail taken from the life of a current exorcist in Rome, Fr. Carmine De Fillipis. Actually, he is a Franciscan Capuchin. I was so relieved to find out that Fr. De Fillipis has never required an exorcism rite. His priesthood and ministry are well positioned within his order and in accordance with the Catholic Church.
At last, I can celebrate “The Rite’s” last scene. The character Michael, now a priest, is seated and ready to hear the confession of an ordinary parishioner. The movie conveys how this sacrament of Reconciliation makes Jesus’ victory over Satan a personal source of hope. Even with the most challenging tests of faith we can hold fast to the blessed assurance given in Romans 8: “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.