Father Gary Thomas was working as a parish priest in California when he was asked by his bishop to travel to Rome for training in the rite of exorcism. Though initially surprised, and slightly reluctant, he accepted this call, and enrolled in a new exorcism course at a Vatican-affiliated university, which taught him, among other things, how to distinguish between a genuine possession and mental illness. Eventually he would go on to participate in more than eighty exorcisms as an apprentice to a veteran Italian exorcist. His experiences profoundly changed the way he viewed the spiritual world, and as he moved from rational skeptic to practicing exorcist he came to understand the battle between good and evil in a whole new light. Journalist Matt Baglio had full access to Father Gary over the course of his training, and much of what he learned defies explanation.
The Rite provides fascinating vignettes from the lives of exorcists and people possessed by demons, including firsthand accounts of exorcists at work casting out demons, culminating in Father Gary’s own confrontations with the Devil. Baglio also traces the history of exorcism, revealing its rites and rituals, explaining what the Catholic Church really teaches about demonic possession, and delving into such related topics as the hierarchy of angels and demons, satanic cults, black masses, curses, and the various theories used by modern scientists and anthropologists who seek to quantify such phenomena.
The Rite, by Matt Baglio, was a surprise for me. I was expecting an overly dramatic assertion that people all over the place were possessed and that it was all due to witchcraft and satanic cults. What I found instead, as a pleasant surprise, was honest reporting and some questions left unanswered as far as why people become possessed. (If you believe in that sort of thing.)
I expected it to be a stretch to follow the daily goings-on of somebody who believed in this evil underworld happening right under our noses. Rather than a chore, I found it easy to get into the swing of following Father Gary’s daily practice of visiting the older priest to get real-life experience with exorcism. It didn’t seem exotic or overly bizarre. Rather, it seemed to be more of a blessing for people who had come upon difficult times in their lives. They sought the assistance of the Roman Catholic Church, and Father Carmine was there to help them, despite the toll it took on him in the form of exhaustion and stress.
Did the book change my opinion on the reality or fallacy of exorcism? I honestly don’t know. I grew up Roman Catholic and I really never heard exorcism mentioned in the context of church or catechism. As a horror film devotee, of course I knew of the move The Exorcist and have seen all the recent ones too (The Exorcism of Emily Rose, The Last Exorcism, etc.) Still, it never quite seemed real to me. I still don’t know if it does. My rational mind tries to come up with reasons for the bizarre things that happen during the Exorcism Ritual in The Rite.
In the end, I can only say that reading this book left the possibility open to me, however small it may be. For somebody who strongly believes in a scientific explanation for things and natural causes of weirdness, I think that’s a considerable feat.
Check out The Rite, by Matt Baglio. It’s worth the read and generally a change of pace for most folks. I enjoyed it and I think most others would too. If you’ve seen the movie, don’t expect the book to be even remotely similar. As far as I’m concerned, the only similarity is the name.
~~3.5 stars out of 5~~