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The Rite – The Book and Movie *Updated*

January 21, 2011

The first time I saw the trailer to this film I was sitting in my parent’s living room.  I didn’t give it much thought anyway since I don’t like scary movies; I hate Hollywood’s bilious abuse of Catholicism in general, and their laughable treatment of the subject of exorcism.  (i.e. – the poignantly putrid film ‘Stigmata’.)

However, I went into my favorite Catholic bookstore the other day and was surprised to find The Exorcism of Emily Rose being offered for sale there.  Being a mainstream movie I was intrigued at the fact that it was being promoted for sale in a Catholic bookstore as I had assumed anything Hollywood mainstream would simply be a mockery of the subject.  It prompted me to do some looking about online to see what exactly other Catholic sources and laity members had to say about the film and it prompted me even more so to look at the same sources to find out exactly what was being said about the new film The Rite.  What I found overwhelmingly intrigued me.

The Rite is based on a non-fiction book of the same name by Matt Baglio and I highly suggest going to his website at: www.mattbaglio.com.  You must absolutely go to the section for the book trailer and watch the video there.  It scared me and brought tears (inexplicably and yet not) to my eyes.  There is an article (the link is at the end of this blog) written by Matt that I also recommend reading.  It gives a good basis and understanding for the book and why and how it was written.

A post on a Catholic message board states, “I heard on KHOJ’s Sunrise (sic) Morning Show a couple of weeks ago that as a condition of the movie rights that Fr. Thomas (the focus of the book) was present during the filming and had considerable control over the script. They went on to say that there was at least 7 re-writes during filming in an effort to get it right. He also spoke many times with Anthony Hopkins and said he was very keen on playing this role.”

As Matt says in the book, there is “a rebirth of divination, fortune-telling, witchcraft, and black magic, often combined with a superstitious use of religion.”  He also states that in Italy ‘”card readers” congest the late-night cable channels hawking their prophetic wares and “lucky” amulets.  This is not limited to Italy.  In France… 50,000 tax-paying citizens had declared their occupation as healer, medium, or other such practitioner in the occult-related trades.”  This isn’t a far cry from some of the so-called religious programs seen in America where charlatans hawk all sorts of items that have the power to “bless” the user or the users fortune (for as much as non-Catholics shun Catholic religious items and their veneration, some of them sure put a lot of stock into “relics” of their own).

“[There is a difference] in the way exorcism is perceived and how it actually works.
It’s a process, not a one-step, one-time healing practice — a “drive-through,” as one
priest called it. There is no quick fix.”  (Matt Baglio “The Rite“)

Knowing the truth about this ritual, in light of these facts, is essential and takes careful, conscientious study to remember all the time that it’s not meant for “entertainment” but for the attainment of knowledge.  While the movie The Rite is certainly being promoted as jolting sensational entertainment, it would be safe to say that if it does, in fact, focus on the subject and present it as factually as possible the truth creates its own sensation of fear, shock and awe.

* You can read my short review of the movie here

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So I’m finally updating this entry because I’ve actually gotten to the point that I have seen both the movie and read the book.  This, I hope, will finally provide readers with the information they seek when they read this entry.

I devoured the book.  I got it for Christmas and I read it in about two weeks time.   For anyone who is looking for a collection of exorcism “scare stories”, you’re not looking for the right thing, first of all, and second, you will be disappointed with what you find in this book.  Exorcism, possession, and the like are, I believe, not entertainment in the first place.  They are designed to be by Hollywood, but the reality is so vastly different that it saddens me to think people’s mentality is geared toward reading about exorcism for jolting entertainment purposes.

I’ll admit that when I started reading the book I had a somewhat similar outlook.  As I got further in the book I realized that it wasn’t about reading sensational stories of supernatural or preternatural events, it’s about understanding exorcism and the awful suffering and pain that comes with it in the lives of the people afflicted by the demonic.  Matt Baglio, the author, has done a fantastic job in fleshing out the entire scope of what exactly it means to be afflicted either by the demonic or by psychological means.  What he does is walk through the evolution of exorcism and differentiation between the necessity for that and psychological problems.  He discusses many of the exorcisms that Fr. Gary witnessed which were “mundane” and extremely uneventful causing confusion and doubt in Fr. Gary about whether or not these people really had problems at all, but for which, one comes to understand, is not in the “diagnosis” but in the perception of what exorcism should be.  Matt also covers Fr. Gary’s first steps into performing exorcisms himself and how his own path of discernment evolved with experience.  Matt also addresses what is not thought of, which is how much people afflicted by the demonic suffer and how much their families suffer.  They truly suffer pain at the torment they endure.  How awful it is to deal with and how exorcism itself can be a lengthy process lasting decades.  What the author really does is write a book which fleshes out the truth of ALL aspects of what exorcism is, what the discernment process is, the experiences that Fr. Gary Thomas and others have witnessed and the effects of the demonic on, not just the victims, but on those providing this special ministry to the world.  Many times I was emotionally moved in the book reading about the dichotomy between what God can do and those who suffer with this terrible problem.  Especially when I read about the overcoming of righteous against evil and the liberation of souls.  It makes possession or obsession real.  It puts a face on it and fleshes it out so that the whole thing becomes, not what instant entertainment wants it to be, but what it is meant to be.

The moments that did speak of events that transpired during exorcisms or of events that provided a demonstration of the demonic made the hair on the back of my neck stand up.  I don’t want to give away any of those moments because I don’t want to take them out of context for “cheap thrills”, but one I will mention that made my hair stand on end was when a demon became aware of Fr. Gary’s presence during an exorcism and asked the exorcist (Fr. Carmine), “Who is he?  Why is he here?”  In the context of the description and the fact that I could visualize the event from Fr. Gary’s point of view, it shook me for sure.  There were several events like that in the book which made me feel that way and “spooked” me – for lack of a better word – but ultimately, I came to realize that’s not what the book was about and exorcism itself shouldn’t be about that anyway.  It’s deeper than that.  The devil is real, evil is real, and holy men fight it every day with everything they’ve got.  It truly gives credence to the idea that the Rosary, as Padre Pio said, is a very, very real weapon in our hands for fighting evil.

As far as the book and the movie and how they sync up, don’t expect the movie to be about the book or visa versa.  The book explores the topic; the movie tells a story.  The elements in the movie are taken from examples provided in the book.  The possessed spitting up nails, for instance, the dislocated jaw and the like.  If you’re looking for a good story to “thrill” you, watch the movie.  It isn’t disrespectful to Catholics and it is dialogue heavy enough to give you a small foothold on what it’s like to experience this ministry.  If you’re looking to delve into the truth of what the ministry encompasses on a much more involved scale, read the book.

Either way, I believe both will open your eyes up to just how connected we are to the spiritual side of life, the fact that it is real, and exactly how involved it is in our every day living.

___

I recommend reading another book as well.  Especially for those who may not be deeply involved in Catholicism or very familiar with  Church doctrine, vernacular, etc.  Interview With An Exorcist by Fr. Jose Antonio Fortea is a great book to understanding many elements of the spiritual and of the Rite of Exorcism.  It breaks down the entire subject in a question and answer format which makes studying and referencing specific areas about the subject easy.  I actually gave it to my mother when she insisted she wanted to read The Rite when I was done.  I recommended and gave her Fr. Jose’s book first after I had read the initial pages of The Rite and knew the expressions of Catholicism and the ideas presented would not be ideal for her to read about without first having a handle on the scope of the entire subject presented in a Catholic view first.  Therefore, I recommend Fr. Jose’s book as a good starting point first for foundational purposes to those not intimately involved in Catholicism.

Prayers to St. Michael

St. Michael the Archangel, 
defend us in battle.
Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray,
and do thou,
O Prince of the heavenly hosts,
by the power of God,
cast into hell Satan,
and all the evil spirits,
who prowl about the world
seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.

O glorious prince St. Michael,
chief and commander of the heavenly hosts,
guardian of souls, vanquisher of rebel spirits,
servant in the house of the Divine King
and our admirable conductor,
you who shine with excellence
and superhuman virtue deliver us from all evil,
who turn to you with confidence
and enable us by your gracious protection
to serve God more and more faithfully every day.

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