The Rite by Matt Baglio

The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist, by Matt Baglio, Doubleday, 2009

I recommend this book, on the condition that you read the whole thing.  Otherwise, skip.  Just not healthy any other way.  –>> And no I have not seen the film, [which Father L. reviewed here, and has even more to say on the whole topic here]  and no I’m not planning to see the film, because I am too impatient to watch things when I could be reading instead.  Also I see on the author’s page that the paperback has updated material in it — my comments here are based on the edition above.

Anyhow, back to the book.  Here’s what it is, per the author:

The purpose of this book is not to promote any one faith over another, but to offer a detailed account of one priest’s journey from a rational skeptic to a practicing exorcist. I didn’t set out to write with any preconceived bias and as such the book is written in a straightforward journalistic style, which means that I give respect to the beliefs and testimonies on all sides, including medical science.

And that’s what it is.  We follow Fr. Gary Thomas (a real guy) as he heads to Rome on sabbatical in 2005, after being freshly appointed diocesan exorcist.  His travails are, wow, amazingly normal.  If you spend any amount of time in the Catholic Church, you will totally recognize the place.   You couldn’t write fiction like this.  Fr. Thomas does finally manage to secure an apprenticeship with a practicing exorcist, and the book version does clearly show the humdrum, hard, dull work that goes with the territory.

[Interestingly — the reports of boring catholic exorcisms match very closely to what I have heard described by evangelical protestants who have experience with boring exorcisms of their own.  Different details as far as the methods of the exorcists, but identical phenomenon on the recipients’ end.]

The author sticks to the straightforward, journalistic style all the way through.  It is not a “catholic” book in the sense of trying to evangelize or prove a point of the faith.  The reporting could come straight out of the Herald TribuneBut it is a firmly catholic book in the sense that any book which earnestly reports the truth is necessarily catholic.

In addition to following Fr. Thomas’s personal story, the book explains catholic teaching on the supernatural in very clear terms.  There is also an examination of how demon possession relates to psychological disorders, including interviews with secular researchers who reject supernatural explanations.  [One of the first jobs of the exorcist is to find a qualified psychiatrist to rule out natural causes.]   One of the reasons I think it is important to stick with the book through to the end, is that it is not at all clear how things are going to turn out, or whether the book will ultimately end up affirming the catholic faith.  [It does.  It can’t help it.  Tell a true story, that’s what you end up with.]

The book follows Fr. Thomas through to his first “for real”, no-doubts-about-it exorcism, in 2007, after he is back home in the states and settled in to his parish assignment.  And here’s the conclusion, so you can rest easy, since if you are smart you will naturally be quite wary of picking up books on these sorts of topics:

These prayers do have power, he thought.  It was a visceral reminder that the age-old conflict between good and evil, sin and salvation, was far from over.  Not only did this validate his calling as a priest, and his choice to become an exorcist, but it was a powerful confirmation of one of the deepest mysteries of his faith.  Even though evil existed in the world, there was a way to defeat it.

7 thoughts on “The Rite by Matt Baglio

  1. Great review! I thought the same thing after reading the book: I appreciated the “bland” journalistic style and how Baglio cuts through the Hollywood sensationalism and paints a picture of what real exorcisms are all about.

    1. Yes. I thought the even-handed reporting gave a lot of credibility to the story. (The fact that it matched up with my limited real-life knowledge helped as well). At this point, it’s my go-to book on the topic, if I knew of someone who had a legitimate need to know more. Last place you want propaganda.

      1. Well, it may be like Children of Men: I read the book ten years before I saw the movie, and now can advise people:

        1. Read the book first.
        2. Never see the movie.

        1. Yes, that’s how I usually am.

          –> I actually had to refrain from reading the _Lord of the Rings_ books until after I saw all three films. I knew I’d never enjoy the movies if I’d read the books first.

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