The Invocation & Exorcism at Catholic Baptisms

Pope Benedict XVI pours holy water over a baby during a baptism ceremony.
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Baptism into a religious faith is a momentous occasion. Although the procedures differ depending on the religious denomination, most conceive of baptism as a rite of initiation. For Catholics, there are two important stages in this rite. First, is the invocation of the saints, those who lived exemplary lives and now reside in heaven with God; next, is the exorcism, a renouncing of the Devil and all things evil. Both the invoking of saints and the exorcising of demonic power are integral parts of the sacrament of baptism into the Catholic Church.

1 The Sacraments

Catholics celebrate seven sacraments, which are important religious ceremonies that strengthen the faith of Christians. Sacrament means “sign of the sacred" in Latin. The Catholic Church reserves access to its sacraments to those in good standing with a parish. The sacraments are: baptism, confirmation, Holy Communion, confession, anointing of the sick, marriage and holy orders. Baptism, confirmation and Holy Communion represent the three sacraments used to initiate people into the religion. Baptism, performed with holy water, retains significance as the initial sacrament for all Catholics.

2 Baptism

People may receive a Catholic baptism as either a child or an adult. Adults must first undergo an introductory course on the faith taught by parish leaders. A member of the clergy performs the baptism. Either the priest immerses the candidate in water or, more prominently, pours water over the candidate’s head. This "immersion" in holy water takes place three times to represent the Catholic belief in the presence of God in three entities: Father (Creator), Son (Jesus) and Holy Spirit.

3 Invocation

The invoking of the saints is an integral feature of Catholic culture. The Vatican elects saints through a rigid process called canonization. To join the canon of saints, a person must have lived an exemplary Christian life and have several verifiable miracles to his or her credit. Invoking the saints to pray for a cause is common in Catholic spiritual life. The church teaches that the living and the dead pray for one another. Since the saints have a close relationship in heaven with God, the faithful ask the saints to intercede with God on their behalf. During the baptism ceremony, the priest calls out the name of particular saints, beginning with Mary, and the assembled respond with, "Pray for us.".

4 Exorcism

An exorcism is the demand, in a public forum, for the release of a person from the power of the Devil. Because all people are born conceived in sin, according to Christian theology, the church believes in the necessity of exorcising, or removing, evil before assuming the Christian life. Catholics complete this task by renouncing, or rejecting, the Devil during the baptismal in a "simple form," which differs from a "major exorcism" performed for a person with demonstrated possession by the Devil. During the baptism, the priest lays hands on the candidate, who then confesses allegiance to Christianity by rejecting the Devil and all his works. In the case of an infant, the parents and godparents, otherwise known as sponsors, provide the necessary responses.

David Kenneth has a Ph.D. in history. His work has been published in "The Journal of Southern History," "The Georgia Historical Quarterly," "The Southern Historian," "The Journal of Mississippi History" and "The Oxford University Companion to American Law." Kenneth has been working as a writer since 1999.