Exorcism of Salt and Water

Author: Father Edward McNamara, LC


Exorcism of Salt and Water

ROME, 21 FEB. 2012 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: The previous Book of Blessings included a blessing (exorcism) of salt and water which would then be mixed together. To my knowledge the current Book of Blessings does not include this type of prayer but just prayers for the Blessing of Holy Water. Is it still permissible to use the old prayers of blessings over salt and water ... and the prayer of blessing over oil which exorcists use in their ministry? — M.G., Valletta, Malta 

A: Effectively the current rite of blessing does not include the exorcism of salt and water; nor does it foresee their mixture.

However, since the Holy Father has opened up the possibility of using the former rites, these prayers may be used by any priest who wishes.

The instruction Universae Ecclesiae specifies the following:

"35. The use of the Pontificale Romanum, the Rituale Romanum, as well as the Caeremoniale Episcoporum in effect in 1962, is permitted, in keeping with n. 28 of this Instruction, and always respecting n. 31 of the same Instruction."

Since the Book of Blessings forms part of the Rituale Romanum, it is possible to use the rite of blessings in effect in 1962.

No. 28 of Universae Ecclesiae states:

"Furthermore, by virtue of its character of special law, within its own area, the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum derogates from those provisions of law, connected with the sacred Rites, promulgated from 1962 onwards and incompatible with the rubrics of the liturgical books in effect in 1962."

This means that new laws promulgated after 1962 instituting new realities such as lay readers, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, and female altar servers have no legal force with respect to the 1962 rubrics.

Finally, No. 31 refers to the special case of those institutes that habitually follow the extraordinary form.

"Only in Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life which are under the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, and in those which use the liturgical books of the forma extraordinaria, is the use of the Pontificale Romanum of 1962 for the conferral of minor and major orders permitted."

A related question is how much space is opened to the use of the vernacular. Since 1962 is the cut-off date, I would suppose that any concessions to use the extraordinary form in the vernacular made before that date may still be used unless they were restricted by the legislator to use in mission territories.

As far as I have been able to ascertain, there were several concessions to use English in countries utilizing that language, but they were not always the same for each country. For example, my parents tell me that it was a novelty in Ireland that their wedding was conducted in English in February 1961.

Although 1962 is the closing date, I don't think this would affect the legitimacy of reprints of the ritual books issued after that date.

* * *

Follow-up: Exorcism of Salt and Water [3-6-2012]

Pursuant to our Feb. 21 piece on the blessing of water and salt, several readers pointed out an oversight on my part insofar as Appendix II of the third edition of the Roman Missal actually does contain a blessing for water and salt.

In the new translation of the missal into English the blessing is rendered thus:

"Where the circumstances of the place and the custom of the people suggest that the mixing of salt be preserved in the blessing of water, the priest may bless salt saying:

"We humbly ask you, almighty God; be pleased in your faithful love to bless + this salt you have created, for it was you who commanded the prophet Elisha to cast salt into water, that impure water might be purified. Grant, O Lord, we pray, that, wherever this mixture of salt and water is sprinkled, every attack of the enemy may be repulsed and your Holy Spirit may be present to keep us safe at all times. Through Christ our Lord.

"Then he pours the salt into the water without saying anything."

This new text blesses the salt but does not contain the explicit exorcism found in the extraordinary form.

Both Jews and pagans made ritual use of water. Such water was made holy by immerging burning carbon from the altar of sacrifice or mixing in ashes and salt. Perhaps for this reason Christians made little use of blessed water during the first centuries. The earliest known text of a blessing of water comes from Serapion of Thimus (died 362) near Alexandria in Egypt.

This text already contains the major themes that will be found in later rituals for blessing water. It recalls the principal goals of the blessing: freedom from demonic infestations and healing of illness. There is as yet no mention of mixing salt or other elements, and indeed the Greek tradition still excludes the use of salt. In the West the use of blessed water was introduced somewhat later, toward the middle of the fifth century. Latin Christians probably adopted the use of mixing salt, drawing on memories of extinct pagan Roman customs. Salt was also commonly considered to be particularly powerful in repelling evil spirits. The earliest known Latin formula for blessing and exorcizing water and salt is found in the so-called Gelasian Sacramentary which was compiled near Paris around the year 750.

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