If you’re like me, and you really should be, there’s nothing you
enjoy more than getting up early on Sunday morning, strapping on your
best clothes and heading off to the Catholic Mass of your choice to
watch an exorcism. Watching some possessed banker writhe under the Holy
Water is more fun than seeing someone break his clavicle in a football
game. Exorcism is the second most popular spectator sport in America,
behind full-contact ballot-counting.
Well, it’s all over. Look at this story:
The Vatican has ordered all those renegade priests to stop performing
exorcisms during Mass and get back to handing out the wafers.
Ironically, if you try to pronounce that web address above, you actually
summon a demon. The phrase "ggggg3" is Aramaic for "I
hereby lend my soul to thee, dark lord," and "kCbkAJZp"
is some fine print about security deposits.
I know what you’re all thinking. You’re thinking "if I can’t go
see a spontaneous exorcism, what’s the point in going to Mass?"
You’re especially thinking this if you’re not Catholic, and never quite
figured out what is going on in a Mass when some demon WASN’T being
exorcised. That was my first thought, too. If they aren’t going to
pander to my views on ecclesiastical entertainment, I will just have to
shop my soul elsewhere.
But there are two sides to every story. I’ve tried to put myself in
the Pope’s shoes, assuming he wears them under all those robes. I think
I can understand what the Vatican wants to do, but they taking a
"baby with the holy water" approach.
Imagine that you’re a young priest on one of his first "church
gigs." (You women out there will also have to imagine you’re a man
for this to work. They may ban exorcisms, but there are some bedrock
policies that will change at the end of time, and not before.) You’re
trying to build a rapport with the crowd, and suddenly some aging
financial advisor snoozing in the third row snaps awake, eyes burning a
brilliant yellow. He leaps up and starts impaling other parishioners all
over the Stations of the Cross.
Under the pre-ban rules, you would be within your rights to go fetch
whatever you needed for an impromptu exorcism. (If we can trust
Hollywood, all you need is a cross, some holy water, some extremely
durable body armor, a good health plan, and a strong stomach. And if you
can’t take insults about your mother, you might want to let the backup
priest handle it.) You might get rid of the demon, but the Mass would
start to run long, and you’d have people leaving early to get a table at
Cracker Barrel. The Vatican sees their ratings dropping, and wants to
make sure things speed right along.
Major League Baseball is trying a similar approach. But if you think
an exorcism is hard, try getting a rules change past a players’
So the Vatican’s approach will certainly speed things up, but I can’t
help but think they are missing "the big picture" here.
I don’t want to doubt the wisdom of the pontiff, but one niggling
little qualm I have is that everyone in my hypothetical example above
would be dead. I wonder if the pope-approved solution to the problem of
too many cars hitting a guardrail on a high bridge would be to remove
Thanks to some conservative stances on birth control, sex education,
and abortion, those dead Catholics would be easily replaced, but I’m not
sure if a strict bottom-line approach is what most people want out of a
modern house of worship.
Also, kids being what they are today, there are probably a lot of
"fake possessions," which are really just kids standing in the
pews and shouting bad words and urinating in the hymnals. You know, just
to get attention. I’m sure all of us have faked a few possessions when
we were young. But back then, a priest could stop it with the Holy Water
and cross and all. If the kid didn’t shut up, he would be exposed as a
fraud and punished. (I’m not sure what the official punishment is for
something like that. My guess is stoning.)
But now, under these new rules, that child would be free to carry on.
No one is going to just scoop him up and take him outside, just in case
it’s a real possession. One possible solution to that is for the priest
to yank out a gun and shoot. If the kid stops yelling/moving/breathing,
then it was an evil child anyway. If not, then it’s a real demon and the
priest must ignore it. You have to hope you can finish the Mass and get
to your car before it eats its way to your kneeling cushion.
I don’t want to misrepresent the Catholic Church. It’s not like they
are banning exorcisms completely, just the ones during Mass. Families of
possessed people can always make an appointment.
Plus, I’m sure some priests will take a "letter of the law"
approach – once a demon shows up, he flies through the rest of the Mass
like a tobacco auctioneer, flinging wafers into the crowd by the fistful
and spraying sacramental wine through a fire hose. People who sit in the
front will have to wear ponchos, like they’re at a Gallagher show. That
might remove some of the solemnity from the Mass, but it’s better than
being devoured by demons. (Hey! A new slogan! "Come to church
today! It’s better than being devoured by demons! – Pope John Paul II,
Still, some churches will take an enlightened approach and try to
keep the numbers of demon-influenced deaths to a minimum. These churches
will embroider crosses on all the cushions in all the pews. The night
before Mass, they will fill large humidifiers with Holy Water. Your
standard pre-Mass possessions will be stopped at the door (in fact,
cover the parking lot with crosses, too, so the poor wretch won’t block
anyone from entering). Demons who show during the Mass won’t have time
to slay anything before they’re gone. In fact, the only way you’ll know
they were there is a sudden gurgling scream, a loud POP and a whiff of
sulfur. If the POP noises get too loud and frequent, then you probably
built your church on the wrong spot anyway.
So there you go. New church policies explained so that even the most
common non-Latin-speaking goober can understand. My only worry is that
with any big bureaucracy, mistakes get made. There are people who will
think that anyone who suggests something might be wrong with The Church
is really just possessed, and it’ll become tough for the real demons to
get on a priest’s schedule for a proper exorcism. I want to assure
everyone out there that having a little laugh at the Vatican does not
necessarily mean you’re possessed. The whole idea is just ridicuPOP