When Church authorities start talking about banning traditional Latin books, including the Roman Ritual for diocesan priests, they are effectively jeopardizing the soul and spiritual well-being of Catholics around the world. The following story, provided to Rorate for publication by a tradition-minded priest (and friend) who serves at a diocesan parish that offers only the novus ordo liturgy, illustrates this point. Bishops, please read it as you prepare to make extremely important decisions that affect your flock. Before prohibiting the use of any traditional Latin books, remember this person’s story.RORATE CÆLI: Suppression Has Consequences
My life can be divided into a starkly different “before” and “after”, with an exorcism in between. The old rites and sacraments of the Catholic Church have power, as my personal experience bears out. This should not be a surprise to anyone; the Missale and Rituale Romanum were cultivated, tested, and refined over centuries of spiritual warfare, and their efficacy does not vanish overnight. If the hierarchs of the Church truly desire to journey together with their people, then let them consider my journey.
I was a Protestant by birth, an agnostic by choice, and I am now at last Catholic by grace. Over the course of my life, I accrued a lengthy list of mysterious symptoms which I initially attributed to the usual causes — depression, paranoia, or coincidence.
The trouble began early: an oppressive weight settled on my shoulders practically before I could walk, accompanied by intrusive thoughts and a strong urge to take my life. I sought various treatments over the years, including cognitive behavioral therapy, Stoicism, Buddhist meditation, rigorous lifestyle management, and more. I read self-help books, journaled, sought the counsel of friends and therapists, and kept my distance from sharp knives, steep cliffs, and alcohol. I accepted my lot and tried to manage it, with varying degrees of success from year to year.
All the while, I was growing up in a devout Protestant household. The neocharismatic leaders of our nondenominational church placed a strong emphasis on personal expression in ministry and worship, taking pride in the freedom afforded by their total rejection of authority, tradition, and creed. Membership came with an expectation to join a lay ministry, and my mother became heavily involved in deliverance and healing, prompted by her concern about a familial connection to Freemasonry. She exhorted the whole family to attend healing conferences the way that another parent might direct her children to eat their greens. We participated in a variety of spiritual practices that borrowed heavily from now-disgraced theories of psychology, some of which resembled twisted versions of confession and exorcism. Nothing alleviated my pain. Rather, many of their efforts did significant spiritual and psychological harm. I abandoned that church, and ultimately left Protestantism entirely.
There’s little to be said of my years as an agnostic. I kept my head down and got on with life, though the burden pressing down on me grew heavier. The intrusive thoughts were now accompanied by vivid images of decaying bodies, and my desire for death grew so strong that it began to escape through unconscious writings and whispers. My sketchbooks and notebook margins from these years are covered in insane scribbles, pleas written involuntarily anytime my mind wandered while I had a pen in my hand. I suppressed some symptoms, ignored others, found slight relief in Stoicism, and limped along.
And then, quite accidentally, I began reading the Saints: Irenaeus of Lyon, Thomas Aquinas, and Augustine of Hippo, among others. Under their influence, I found myself considering Catholicism — not as a solution for my troubles, but simply as a truth that must be acknowledged. I respected the Church’s profound intellectual and spiritual patrimony, loved her ageless beauty, and trusted her clear structure and authority. In all the places that Protestantism was impoverished, the Catholic Church bore profound riches. I read, prayed, considered, and two years later (and still in college) was received into the Catholic Church through my local parish’s RCIA program.
I received my first holy communion — and fought an immediate urge to vomit. Surprised, I attributed it to nerves and assumed that it would subside with time. It did not; the nausea grew progressively worse. I began to receive communion with less frequency, then hardly at all, until I was only receiving thrice per year. I felt nauseated during the liturgy of the Eucharist even when I remained in my seat, but it was manageable. I continued to attend Mass and regularly availed myself of confession, privately troubled by my strange ailment.
Years passed, and the nausea persisted, along with the now-familiar weight of intrusive suicidal ideation. Diet, therapy, and spiritual direction did not help. I also discovered that some forms of Catholic spirituality were closed to me: any attempt at lectio divina kindled an intense, irrational anger. Increasingly lost and confused, I despaired and prayed for death. When those prayers were not answered from above, I foolishly began to direct them below. To make matters worse, I moved across the country and found that my new housemates were heavily involved in occult practices. Sleep paralysis joined my growing list of symptoms, and my suicide note was in its final draft.
My then-pastor was a paragon of that “lively pastoral charity” so valued by the Vatican. He was friendly, favored a modern and expressive style of worship, and invited the laity to take active roles in church ministry — to the point of placing the deliverance ministry entirely under lay leadership. During one of my confessions, he intuitively gave me the name and number of the woman in charge of that ministry and strongly urged me to contact her. My prior experiences in neocharismatic Protestant deliverance programs had made me skeptical, so I investigated my parish’s resources online. I immediately recognized several programs on the deliverance ministry list, many of which had already proven intrusive, painful, and ineffective. I never called, and a short time later I moved away from that parish entirely.
I consoled myself with the thought that I might have OCD, MDD, CD, STPD, or perhaps some other warm and comforting alphabet soup of a disorder, despite not fitting the criteria and never having received any such diagnosis. I would have rather believed myself insane than submit to further “deliverance” of the sort favored by my Protestant church.Six months after that recommendation and away from my overtly-Satanic housemates, I began to seriously examine the state of my faith. I renewed my personal prayer life, began to attend daily Mass with greater frequency, and slowly recognized that some degree of spiritual intervention just might be appropriate, though I remained skeptical and wary. Life was going relatively well, but the nausea and other oppressive symptoms persisted, and I wanted them gone.
I found a conservative Novus Ordo parish devoted to the elements of the Catholic faith that had converted me: liturgical beauty, intellectual tradition, and sacramental theology. I made my initial inquiry into deliverance ministry while under the seal of the confessional, thanking God that the Church has built-in mechanisms for discretion and anonymity. The priest behind the screen shared my skepticism of attributing hardship to demonic influences, which eased my concerns about a repeat of my wild Protestant experience. He was nonetheless willing to meet with me to discuss and assess my troubling affliction. When we did meet, he was not effusively friendly; rather, he was professional, candid, and thorough, for which I was extremely grateful.
I told my story as well as I could, recalling only at the last minute to mention the familial Freemasonry. It proved to be just one of many openings to the demonic in my life. The priest consulted an exorcist, who provided a series of carefully-curated prayers that were derived from Fr. Ripperger’s compilation. We began to meet and pray. Each session was clinically aimed at correcting the problem, in stark contrast to the wildly emotive neocharismatic ministries that tried to manifest demons. I often did not know the specifics of what was spoken over the course of those 60 to 90 minute sessions, and it did not matter; the rites and prayers had power apart from my understanding of them.
Within a few sessions, the oppressive weight had vanished and the intrusive thoughts had lessened, but the nausea significantly worsened and both the priest and I began to experience strange phenomena between meetings. In light of these escalating circumstances, the priest counseled me to prepare for “spiritual carpet bombing.” The session was marked by prayers of venerable usage in the Western and Eastern Church — many of those Greek prayers being ascribed to St. John Chrysostom, Basil the Great, and Gregory of Nazianzen. He also directed me to consume exorcized salt, oil, and holy water. However, what ultimately turned the tide was the supplying of ceremonies from the Traditional Rite of Baptism. Those exorcisms, prayers, anointings, and blessings found in the Rituale Romanum proved the conclusive death knell for the last of my symptoms.
Since that day, I have not suffered sleep paralysis or compulsive writing, nor have I been visited by intrusive images of death. I am able to pray lectio divina. I can attend Mass and receive the Eucharist without nausea.
I would not characterize any part of my healing as an intense spiritual experience; my symptoms simply ceased in response to the ancient prayers of the Church. Emotion is not a sacramental — exorcism is. And though I was not immediately cured of every minor depressive tendency, what had once been solid darkness was reduced to mere shadow. I remain in the Church today, regularly avail myself of her sacraments, and praise God for the miracles He has worked in my life.
My experience is far from unique; exorcists around the world — including Fr. Gabriel Amorth, the Vatican’s chief exorcist until his death in 2016 — have found that Latin prayers are most effective in their ministry. The members of the Church who are increasingly turning to her traditional rites are not simply contrarian antiquarians intent on sowing division; we are the sick, seeking spiritual medicine that works and recognizing it when we find it. We are the poor, seeking spiritual treasure and finding it in the treasury of tradition. My opinions are not born from mere aesthetic preference or a rebellion against change, but an experience that I cannot explain without the power of the time-tested prayers of the Church. To bury these treasures is poor service to the God who entrusted His ministry of exorcism to men. It is also a theft from His children. While we may throw away the weapons honed by experience and forget the knowledge hard-won by perpetual battle, our Enemy will not. Priests, do not be complicit. Laity, keep the faith.