Can Those Who Missed Out on Traditional Baptism Get the Exorcisms “Supplied”?

Now that more and more Catholics are becoming aware of the many differences between the traditional rite of baptism that the Church used for well over a thousand years and its efficient, community-friendly, exorcism-free replacement at the hands of Paul VI, devout men and women have much reason to lament benefits of which they or their children were deprived [1].

Undoubtedly, the essence of the sacrament is met with in either form. By immersion in water or the pouring of water over the head, in the name of the Most Holy Trinity, the one being baptized descends with Christ into His redemptive death and, cleansed of all sin, rises again with Him to the new life of grace as a son of God. This is the core mystery of the sacrament of baptism, and it could never be lacking in the Church, which indefectibly preserves the efficacious signs Christ willed to entrust to her for the salvation of mankind.

As we know, if anyone is in danger of death (and, for an adult, if there is willingness to receive baptism), he should be baptized immediately by anyone who is there to say the words and pour the water. This is called “simple baptism.” St. Thomas Aquinas explains that the most necessary sacrament should also be the one that is the easiest to supply at any time by anyone.

However, the sacraments also have attendant dispositive and perfective ceremonies as well. Some of these were instituted by the apostles and others by holy pastors over the centuries, in order to give a fuller expression to the mystery taking place, reinforce the intention of the minister and the people, and augment the devotion of all. This heightens the seriousness with which the sacrament is perceived and intensifies the faith of the recipients and the effects of grace in them [2]. Thus, St. Thomas gives voice to the entire tradition when he states that baptism, though it can be done very simply in a case of emergency, should normally be done with solemnity and all accompanying ceremonies.

In his Summa theologiae, written to be as compact as possible, St. Thomas nevertheless devotes an entire question to the ceremonies that go with baptism, above all the exorcisms. He sees them as having a great importance, for the obvious reason that, apart from the Virgin Mary and her Son, every child conceived and brought forth into this fallen world is in fact under the dominion of the devil and needs to be delivered from it.

Professor Thomas Pink has written extensively about the Church’s traditional faith in regard to the real battle between the devil’s kingdom and Christ’s and the contrasting tendency of today’s “official theology” to ignore this unpleasant subject completely — a preferential option for naïveté that has entered into the very liturgy of the Church, as Pink demonstrates by a comparison of the old and new rites of baptism. The liturgical reform operated (with fortunate inconsistency) on the basis of a Protestant-Modernist theory of liturgy-as-salvation-theater that demonstrates what Christ has already done, not what He is doing here and now. It is, in any event, shocking to discover that a major part of the prayer life of the Church, stretching back into antiquity, was literally crossed out of the pages of her liturgical books [3].

In sum, the centuries-old Latin rite of baptism expresses the Church’s fully developed faith with a clarity that cannot be surpassed and shows a manifest intention to enact all that it signifies. The new rite of baptism expresses a truncated understanding of faith, which, while not mangled enough to undermine validity, (a) deprives the one being baptized of a certain fullness in the effects of baptism sought by the Church, (b) deprives the one baptizing of the full realization of what he is doing and why, and (c) deprives the circumstantes — the others who are present — of a salutary reminder of the ongoing cosmic battle between good and evil, in which baptism is the moment of separating light from darkness, when a child of Adam is torn from the ranks of the devil and his name is inscribed in the Book of Life. Thus, with the new rite of baptism, everyone suffers the loss of graces that Christ willed them to have when He providentially guided His Church in the development of her liturgical rites [4].

Families in which the first few children were baptized in the new rite and the younger children in the old rite, or couples in “mixed marriages” (if I might use that expression metaphorically) in which a traditional Catholic spouse and a Novus Ordo spouse “compare notes” and the latter comes to realize how much he has missed out on, may find it quite natural to ask the question: “Is it possible to have a priest supply, at a later date, the missing parts from the old rite of baptism?”

I have been contacted about this question more than once; it is no mere hypothetical scenario. One man wrote to me as follows:

My wife and I were baptized in the new rite of baptism, as well as my oldest son and daughter. My two younger daughters were baptized in the traditional rite. Do you know whether it’s possible/legitimate to get the exorcisms, since they were never done? I don’t want to do anything that would be spiritually harmful, but I am concerned about the fact that some of us didn’t have the benefits of the old rite. I want to take every precaution to defend my family against preternatural attacks. On the non-Catholic side of my family, there is a lot of Freemasonry. Regardless, we never had the benefit of the old rite exorcisms. Any advice you might be able to offer would be much appreciated.

Another lady wrote to me:

My husband and I are wondering about the Extraordinary Form baptismal rite, with its blessing of the tongue and the three exorcisms. We were not baptized in the EF and would like to know if you’ve ever heard of someone requesting those rites to be “supplied”? We did baptize our last three children according to the EF, but the first four are not — and so, in addition to ourselves, we’d really like to receive those missing rites. We’d be thankful for any advice on this topic.

Before I go into the answer, let me say that I too was “born out of season,” in the fruity year of 1971, when everything in the Church was topsy-turvy. I was not baptized with the authentic Roman rite of baptism; my first “Reconciliation” was sadly lacking; I was instructed to stick out my hands for First Communion; and my Confirmation was so banal as to leave absolutely no trace on my memory, even if it left a character on my soul. Valid sacraments, all of them (most likely!), but manifestly wanting in every other respect. So, I sympathize deeply with the sense of lack, of absence, caused by the discovery later in life of what the Church once offered to all of her faithful, before The Changes. People of our generation have been robbed. And I understand the desire to recover those lost opportunities.

As this question about supplying ceremonies will doubtless be on the minds of more and more “woke” Catholics, I decided to bring it to four traditional Catholic priests of my acquaintance, all of whom celebrate the usus antiquior exclusively. Their answers, given independently, are in harmony with one another and express what might be called “the voice of (supernatural) common sense.” I will give their responses consecutively.

The first priest:

This is an unusual request. I suspect it arises from there being a provision for infants who receive the attendant ceremonies of baptism after already having been baptized because they were in danger of dying. I don’t know if anyone has sought an official response from Rome, so my response is just my opinion.

I would argue that the inquirer’s situation is not comparable to a case of emergency. In the latter case, a moral unity still exists between the baptism itself and the ceremonies, even though these are conferred some little time afterwards. Also, such a child would have received none of the ceremonials (i.e., oil of catechumens, chrism, candle, garment), whereas someone in the inquirer’s situation would have received all of these except for the prayers of exorcism.

It’s worth noting that the prayers of exorcism confer, with a fuller signification, an effect contained in the sacrament of baptism itself — namely, incorporation into the Mystical Body, which consequently removes one from the devil’s dominion — in somewhat the way minor orders are contained in Holy Orders, such that the one being ordained has no absolute need to receive minor orders or tonsure beforehand but can be ordained straightaway. It is obviously more fitting that exorcisms precede a baptism and that minor orders precede diaconate.

The second priest:

The ceremonies of the old rite cannot be “supplied” to someone baptized in the new ritual, because the supplying of ceremonies implies that something was incomplete in the rite that was actually used. Now, the new rite, as anemic as it is, is complete in itself as far as what is specified by the Church to be done, so there are no ceremonies left to “supply.” There is, instead, a fully-enacted but impoverished rite that should someday be either revised or retired.

Put it this way: in essence and in practice, the two forms of baptism are different rites. Just as we don’t go looking at the Mozarabic rite to see what we may have missed out on and ask a priest to supply it, so a Catholic baptized in the new rite shouldn’t look at the traditional Roman rite and ask what he missed out on. Rather, he should use his knowledge to seek out old rite baptism for his own children and to encourage his family and friends to do the same.

The third priest:

My inclination would be the say no. Providing all the ceremonies and prayers that accompany ordinary baptism apart from baptism itself is foreseen when the baptism was administered in the case of emergency and the person recovered or lived. It’s called supplying the rites or ceremonies, which include the exorcism prayers in the old form. In fact, in the old days, when a baptized Protestant converted, he would be supplied the ceremonies of baptism even if he previously received valid baptism.

However, it would seem strange to attempt to “supply the rites” of the old form when a person had in fact received the sacrament validly according to the revised liturgical books.

I do understand the desire of the person who asked. It’s an expression for what we missed out on. For example, I admire and deeply love the old rite of ordination and wish I had been ordained in the old form, but I can’t go and ask a bishop to give me all those extra prayers and ceremonies! My ordination was valid. Despite having missed out, I must accept that and move forward, promoting a return to the old rite as much as lies in my power. But I can’t ask for traditional prayer surrounding sacraments I validly received.

I would reassure the person of the validity of their baptism and so of their being united to Christ. If they are in a state of grace and not mortal sin, they have all the power of God at their disposal to combat evil. I don’t know of any other prayers of explicit exorcism that a priest could say over them other than the formal rite of exorcism itself, which it doesn’t sound like they need. (I would encourage all the faithful to pray, from time to time, the full and original prayer of Pope Leo against Satan. This is not the version with the exorcisms, which is reserved to exorcists; it’s just a lengthier version of the more familiar short form said after Low Mass.)

The fourth priest:

It’s important to emphasize that they do not “need” to have this done. They have received all the graces of baptism. They may best ward off the evil one by frequent Confession and Communion, fervent devotion to the Sacred Heart (especially enthronement of the Sacred Heart in the home), the Rosary, Epiphany water, etc.

* * *

The reasoning of these priests is entirely sound, and their advice is good: we should not fret about things we didn’t have access to in the past, but rather resolve to use well the powerful means of sanctity we do have access to right now, thanks to Our Lord’s great goodness. We have the weapons and armor we need to fight the good fight; we have Our Lady, the saints, and the angels on our side to keep evil at bay and to overcome it.

Thanks be to God, the traditional liturgy is making a comeback, in spite of everything done to abolish it; and, thanks to Pope Benedict XVI, it is now every Catholic’s right to have access to Holy Mass, Baptism and Confirmation, Confession and Extreme Unction, and weddings and funerals in the Extraordinary Form or usus antiquior. We have this treasure now to learn about, promote, give to our children, and pass on to a healthier and more traditional Church of the future.

[1] I say “exorcism-free” for the precise reason given by Prof. Thomas Pink, whose article on this subject is linked below: the new rite contains not an exorcism of the devil here and now from this child to be baptized, but a sort of recollection of the grandiose purging of evil done by Christ in His Incarnation. It is more the memorializing of the driving out of Satan than the actualizing of his being driven out.

[2] This statement is true for adults who come to baptism and can receive it with greater or lesser faith and devotion. It is not true for infants, since they are incapable of preparing to receive the sacrament and are brought to the font by the strength of their parents’ faith and by the sufferance of Holy Mother Church; nor is there reason to believe that stronger faith and devotion on the part of the parents has any connection with the grace given to the child in the sacrament. However, it is extremely important that the parents, godparents, and bystanders have impressed upon them the gravity and mystery of the sacrament, so that they will pray more earnestly for the child and take their own responsibilities more seriously. In the long run, a culture built on serious ritual will have many ripple effects.

Moreover, as regards the Mass, it is certainly true that a priest who offers Mass with greater faith and devotion obtains greater effects of grace both for the people assisting at the Mass and for those for whom he offers it. The sacrifice is more pleasing to God inasmuch as it is offered with greater fervor, and so it must be more fruitful for those for whom it is offered or who participate in it in any way. I think this applies both to the general and special fruit, if the former is from the sacrifice insofar as it is offered by Christ with His Mystical Body and the latter is from the sacrifice insofar as it is offered by the priest.

[3] A book published in 1950 says, with evident pride: “The present rites of infant baptism, which are also used in the United States for adults, are a shortened form of an eighth-century ritual: many parts are much older. … No part of the whole of our worship so truly preserves ancient forms unchanged as this baptism ritual” (Gerald Ellard, S.J., Christian Life and Worship [Milwaukee: Bruce, 1950; originally published in 1933], 252).

[4] Given this fact, we must always resist what I call “sacramental reductionism,” where the only question looked at is whether a sacrament is valid. We should also be asking about licitness and fittingness and authenticity. Licitness means the sacrament is offered in accord with legitimate Church authority and governing rubrics. Fittingness means the sacramental rite is offered in an appropriate manner, with due solemnity; considerations of beauty and reverence are paramount in this category. Authenticity means the sacramental rite is in continuity with the Church’s tradition. (For further discussion, see “The Long Shadow of Neoscholastic Reductionism” and “‘The Way is the Goal’: Against Reducing the Mass to a Sacramental Delivery System.” While both articles immediately concern the Mass, their arguments apply, mutatis mutandis, to all sacramental rites.)

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