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Book Review -- The Rite

The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist tells the story of Father Gary Thomas as he becomes the exorcist for the Diocese of San Jose, CA. The author (reporter Matt Baglio) tells Fr. Gary's story in simple, engaging, third-person with a matter-of-fact tone. The book was a quick, pleasant read.

The prologue relates the events of an actual exorcism -- we learn the details of that one later -- then the first chapter opens with Fr. Gary's arrival in Rome. Throughout the book we hear about Fr. Gary's past: his childhood, his vocation, the accident that nearly killed him, and how he wound up in Rome taking classes about exorcism.

The book includes a map of Rome in the vicinity of the Vatican, and interesting details about what life is like there. Historical facts about demons, possession, and exorcism are sprinkled throughout.

The first third or so of the book covers how exorcism has been handled in the Church, focusing on how belief in the person of Satan and demons almost got philosophized out of existence in the wake of modern medicine and Vatican II. Formal training in exorcism has only resumed within the last decade, as increasing numbers of people come to their parish priests, seeking help, and the priests have no idea what to do or who to turn to.

The most interesting part is when Fr. Gary starts to apprentice with an actual exorcist, who is practicing in Rome. What he witnesses ranges from mildly weird to downright horrifying, and it turns out that exorcism is much more complicated than movies have led us to believe.

Eventually Fr. Gary's training ends, and he's sent back home, as his diocese's official exorcist, nervous about having never performed the ritual himself. After a few cases of the mildly-strange variety, he comes up against a case of real, blatant possession. And the prayers work -- he can help.

The book is told from a Catholic perspective, naturally, since it follows a Catholic priest and his training at the Vatican. Other belief systems are incorporated too -- the belief in demonic possession and curses is nearly universal across all cultures -- and some effort is made to come up with non-supernatural explanations. But it is obvious that both Fr. Gary and the author cannot make themselves believe that there is any natural cause behind what they have seen.

Overall, a fascinating book. Highly recommended.

(review originally posted on Amazon)



( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 6th, 2009 05:11 pm (UTC)
sounds an interesting book and the review is
good. a thing which is not mentioned but is important
is that in catholic practice medical and psychological
evaluation is required before going to exorcism...whether
a natural explanation is possible or not is in a sense
a key question and yet a pragmatic what works works
might satisfy on one level... I recall a very powerful
but in fact very probably loose with unverified things
and even novelistic invention perhaps book called hostage
to the devil by malachi martin a brilliant loose cannon
and former jesuit of the church. in the long run one
needs to be tight with facts and critical all the more
the more one goes into such a exceptional area perhaps...
May. 6th, 2009 05:18 pm (UTC)
Yes, there is a lot of detail I didn't fit in. You're right -- at least in the USA, all people are required to undergo thorough medical and psychological evaluations before being able to receive an exorcism. They also have to sign a release form. ;) I guess most people who show up just get a simple blessing and are sent on their way.

From what I could tell, both Fr. Gary and the author of the book (and Fr. Gary's bishop!) all thought this exorcism stuff was a bit goofy, at first.
May. 6th, 2009 05:25 pm (UTC)
I recall at a conference at castel gondolfo
some years ago standing by chance next to an
exorcist from india and saying a prayer for
each other and embracing(it was that sort of
conference) I felt a strength and integrity
in a man whose life and experience and perhaps
even on these points thought were so different
from mine...I suppose I am , to be as precise
as possible one must be a bit bookish here,
agnostic about the existence of external
personal essences of evil.
May. 6th, 2009 05:15 pm (UTC)
What was the possession like?
May. 6th, 2009 05:22 pm (UTC)
Well, Fr. Gary deals with probably a dozen or so possessed people through the book. There are immensely varying degrees of intensity. Some people are just a little messed up, and the worst can't even function as human beings, and it takes 20 years of twice-a-week sessions with an exorcist to finally liberate them.

It sounds pretty horrible for the possessed person. Mostly they feel crappy all the time, depressed and irrational and full of weird pains and sicknesses that no one can cure. And a weird aversion to priests and churches. ;)

Let me know if I didn't answer what you were actually asking!
May. 6th, 2009 05:28 pm (UTC)
You did answer--I wanted to know how the possession manifested itself.

Possession is such a portmanteau word, so sometimes a description (like this) helps.
May. 6th, 2009 05:15 pm (UTC)
Wow, that sounds interesting.
May. 6th, 2009 06:25 pm (UTC)
Fr. Bleichner, the rector at the time Fr. Gary was a seminarian, is still in residence here. He was greatly amused by the author's description of his rule as "iron fisted." :)
May. 7th, 2009 01:39 am (UTC)

Naturally, I thought of you often while reading. :)
May. 6th, 2009 06:34 pm (UTC)
I have this one sitting on my shelf of "Oh shit, I have all these ARCs I haven't had time read or review yet!", but I hope to get to it soon.

Anyways, if you enjoyed this one, I'd also suggest The Miracle Detective, by Randall Sullivan

May. 7th, 2009 01:40 am (UTC)
Yeah, I kept my unread copy around for far too long. :-/ It's a quick read when you get to it, though!

Thanks for the suggestion; I'll take a look.
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )