Sunday, January 23, 2011

Reading The Rite


I just finished The Rite by Matt Baglio. This is the book that allegedly was the inspiration for the new movie with Anthony Hopkins. First, regarding the book itself. No big spoilers or anything.

This was a very well-written, journalistic account of an exorcist's training in Rome. For folks looking for a replay of Hostage to the Devil, you will be sorely disappointed. This isn't a knock against Hostage. There's a place for that kind of narrative on things. If you're looking to strip things down to the brass tacks, and tell the story of demonic possession in a way that a non-believer can walk away interested as opposed to incredulous, this is how you do it. Baglio evens mentions Hostage in an end note and believes that Fr. Martin's account is exaggerated. Maybe. Maybe not. My personal recommendation is that folks should read both books.

Anyways, Baglio's take on things comes off as subdued and objective. He gives the whole course of scientific and Scully-ish "rational explanations" their time so that nobody can accuse the Church of looking for demons under every rock and bed. He emphasizes many, many times how exorcisms are not all what you see in movies. Sometimes, they are even downright boring. From an informational perspective, this is refreshing. By my reckoning, the demonic is behind way more problems than most people care to imagine. When such activity is trivialized by the carnival acts that pass themselves off as exorcisms these days, real damage is done to the cause of trying to liberate people from Satanic oppression.

This is an area that will hopefully mine a lot of interest for the Church. People like this subject, even if it's just because they've seen all the movies about it. Once they start hearing the stories, though, my own hope is that it will humanize things a bit. Maybe even lead them to a greater curiosity for Christ's Church. Maybe even to conversion/reversion. Baglio says at the end that he was basically led back to the Faith by his work on this project.

Let me also say that the theology involved was very solid and very well-referenced. There's some stuff in there that folks could probably quibble with, but that's always going to be the case, especially on a topic like this where there is so much mystery and variation involved. This was a relief, considering how readily people are willing to slander the Church as primitive and superstitious, with exorcism cited as a prime example. The theological discussions were sophisticated enough to impress a non-believer, I think, but not so much as to deliver headaches.

Stuff I never thought about: curses. Holy smokes. The book is worth reading for this topic alone. I knew curses existed, but I never really thought about them or how they might work. There's a good treatment of the subject here. Sure, Fr. Martin talks about them in Hostage, but The Rite is much more striking in how it talks about them, probably because it's just so mattter-of-fact about it.

If there was an "Easter egg" to the book, it is how often Baglio brings up the role of the Blessed Mother. The demons are terrified of her, with most not even daring to speak her name. This should come as no surprise to anyone who has read even the first three chapters of the Bible. God wasn't joking about putting "enmity" between her and the Serpent and between her seed and his seed. Perhaps some will discover the importance of Marian devotion in all this. The demons certainly respect the significance of a relationship with Our Lady. She "burns" them and rightfully so.

Now onto the movie. Going by the previews, I have no idea what the movie has to do with the book, other than that they deal with possession. Hopefully, there isn't too much "hollywoodization," as this would but against everything the book seemed to stand for. From my read, the point was to provide information on an oft-misrepresented and misunderstood topic. Conflict is good to portray. The book doesn't shy from the graphic examples, but it doesn't dwell on them either. It's about the simplicity of there being evil and such evil seeks to destroy us. Sometimes, the Adversary breaches our defenses, and extraordinary measures must be taken. As much as I like The Exorcist movie, I don't want to see The Rite turn into stuff like Fr. Karras jumping out of windows.

When I see the movie, I'll post a review of it as well.

1 comment:

Aileen said...

Thanks for the review. I hadn't read the book, but have seen the previews for the film and was a bit concerned.