When it comes to a baptism, the prayer of exorcism that is prayed is not a “major exorcism” but a “minor exorcism.” At the heart of an exorcism is taking something from the realm of sin and evil and death and drawing it into the realm of goodness, life and the Lord. Every time we sign ourselves with holy water as we walk into church we are, in fact, taking part in a minor exorcism – recalling our own baptisms as well as asking the Lord to protect us from evil and to drive out evil that stalks every human heart. The baptismal ritual does the same thing, praying that the one to be baptized will be set “free from original sin” and made into a “temple of your [God’s] glory” and that the Holy Spirit will dwell within the soul of the baptized. In other words, the prayer asks that the person to be baptized be drawn from the realm of the world, to the realm of God Himself.
Following this prayer, there is an optional ritual – the anointing with the Oil of Catechumens. In the early Church (and still seen today in many respects through the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) the preparation for baptism was a long process – a time of purification and formation known as the catechumenate. Catechumens were under the protection of the Church, but not yet members of her. Upon entrance into the Catechumenate, people would be anointed with blessed oil, what we now call the Oil of Catechumens. This ancient ritual is preserved even in infant baptism today, however, it is now optional.
The next part of the introductory rites for baptism is the blessing of the waters of the baptismal font.
Since we already looked at this prayer of blessing in our first article on baptism we will not re-examine it here, suffice it to say it is a beautiful prayer and recalls the entrance of another soul into the great drama of salvation history through the font of baptism. Following this prayer of blessing, there is a renunciation of evil and a profession of faith made by the person to be baptized, or, in the case of an infant or child, on behalf of that child by their parents and godparents. These are our baptismal promises where we reject Satan, his works and his empty promises and where we profess our faith in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit as well as the Church, the saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. These are the promises and commitments which help us to see the direction of our life – what we reject and strive against as well as what we accept and seek to live out in our lives.
In our next article we will complete our look at the Sacrament of Baptism by examining the baptism itself as well as the explanatory rituals which follow and help us to understand what great graces have just been received into the life of the one who is baptized.
(This article is part of a series of articles on The Sacraments which will appear in the bulletin over the course of this year.)