Send Thy Holy Spirit

I am not a charismatic, but I do believe strongly in the continued presence of demons and in God’s intent to sometimes show his supernatural power in ways that defy rationalistic accounts. Simon Chan, a Pentecostal who is interested in liturgy and thinks it edifying, has some suggestions for worship shaped by the work of the Holy Ghost. Some of the things suggested are already a part of the system of the Book of Common Prayer, but less obvious are ‘prayers for wholeness and healing each week instead of only at special services’. Below I suggest how Anglicans who are committed to our formularies may include such elements in our worship, that we may freely accept the gifts that our good God gives as he pleases.

Some Anglicans are leery of anything that savours of injecting charismatic piety into classical Anglican forms. Indeed, some genuinely loose references to the Holy Ghost have wreaked havoc in Anglican churches, leading rather to disorder than to deeper trust in God and stronger manifestation of his Kingdom; but God is not the author of confusion, but of peace. Nevertheless, abuses need not keep us from adopting enrichments that would conduce to the furtherance of the gospel. The key, I think, is to tie any proposed enrichments strongly to the word of God and to the catholic tradition, and thus to shun fanatical enthusiasm.

Exorcism in catechumenate

We read in the New Testament of numerous times when demons were cast out of people, both by our Lord and by his disciples. These spectacular events showed that Jesus was Lord, whose authority even the demons had to obey. As the Church grew – as the gospel was preached and heard – many unclean spirits were expelled from the persons and places they had infested. As the Flood of Noah had washed over the earth, and as the Israelites had inundated the land of Canaan, so the earth was flooded with the knowledge of the Lord; and in the process the demons were cast out of their dwelling-places. In this context the Church came to take exorcisms as a matter of course.

Exorcisms were, so to speak, exorcized from the Book of Common Prayer in 1552, when they were struck from the Ministration of Baptism. In places where pagans often outnumber Christians, however, their proper use remains. I know of a woman, once a devotee of the bodhisattva Guanyin, who, after deciding to become a Christian, had a dream in which Guanyin was telling her to stay with her. More pointedly, perhaps, my aunt the night before her baptism was visited by a demon who taunted her about her faith in Jesus. These examples are not the most dramatic, but I think it does show that, even now, there are times when prayers for exorcism may be warranted and needful, especially for those who once bowed down to images of false gods. This is a kind of healing, I think, that will need sometimes to be prayed for. The form of 1549, adapted for the use of adult catechumens, would read like this:

I command thee, unclean spirit, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, that thou come out, and depart from this servant of God, whom our Lord Jesus Christ hath vouchsafed to call to his holy Baptism, to be made a member of his body and of his holy congregation. Therefore, thou cursed spirit, remember thy sentence, remember thy judgement, remember the day to be at hand, wherein thou shalt burn in fire everlasting, prepared for thee and thy angels. And presume not hereafter to exercise any tyranny toward this person, whom Christ hath bought with his precious blood, and by his holy Baptism doth call to be of his flock.

The texts of other exorcisms can be found here, and advice from Luther can be found here. I imagine that, besides being used whenever anyone was afflicted by symptoms of demonic presence, prayers of exorcism would be useful a week before any adult baptism, asking the Lord to protect those who were preparing to be baptized.

What should be avoided here is what happened to exorcisms in the late Middle Ages: separated from catechetical instruction in the doctrine and piety of the Church, they multiplied in the baptismal rite to the point that they took up the majority of the time. While they may be edifying for adult baptisms, exorcisms must always be tied strongly to the teaching of the counsels of holy Scripture, for their theological connexion to baptism is strongly related to evangelistic missions among non-Christian peoples. Without the word of God, an exorcism is nothing: as our Lord says, in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven. Any formal exorcisms, then, will be of use to no one but the demons unless their declaration is clearly the servant of the proclamation of the gospel.

Anointing and prayer for the sick

St James calls for those who are sick to be anointed with oil and prayed for. The practice of anointing with oil seems to have pointed toward the health of both body and soul as promised for the elect in the glorious Resurrection of Christ. The resurrection of dead at the the Last Day, in fact, will be the time when both our souls are completely sanctified and our bodies are purged of all sickness and death; and it is then that we shall be completely healed. As it is for the exorcisms, it is to this hope of the Last Day that all our prayers for healing must point, that we may both acknowledge the wisdom of God which allows our suffering in this life and rejoice in the assurance that, whether God grants us the healing we wish for now, he will finally set all things right in perfect bliss: for on that day we shall be perfected as the body of Christ, with no corruption of sin, disease, or age.

The 1549 prayer book, in its office for the visitation of the sick, gives these words, though they were struck from the prayer book from 1552 on:

As with this visible oil thy body outwardly is anointed: so our heavenly Father Almighty God, grant of his infinite goodness, that thy soul inwardly may be anointed with the Holy Ghost, who is the spirit of all strength, comfort, relief, and gladness. And vouchsafe for his great mercy (if it be his blessed will) to restore unto thee thy bodily health, and strength, to serve him, and send thee release of all thy pains, troubles, and diseases, both in body and mind. And howsoever his goodness (by his divine and unsearchable providence) shall dispose of thee: we, his unworthy ministers and servants, humbly beseech the eternal majesty, to do with thee according to the multitude of his innumerable mercies, and to pardon thee all thy sins and offences, committed by all thy bodily senses, passions, and carnal affections: who also vouchsafe mercifully to grant unto thee ghostly strength, by his Holy Spirit, to withstand and overcome all temptations and assaults of thine adversary, that in no wise he prevail against thee, but that thou mayest have perfect victory and triumph against the devil, sin, and death, through Christ our Lord: Who by his death hath overcome the prince of death, and with the Father and the Holy Ghost evermore liveth and reigneth God, world without end. Amen.

Though Martin Bucer rejects the anointing as not of actual biblical institution, I think it is edifying for those are suffering, that they may remember the joy of the Holy Spirit to which they were given title at baptism, on the condition that they believe the promise of God in Christ Jesus. It does, however, lead to superstition for the giving of oil to be accompanied by a declaration that is akin to absolution in its effect but does not demand faith; at the very least it makes the anointing look like a sacrament. The way to improve the form of 1549, I think, would be to either recast the declaration as a prayer or to state explicitly the requirement of faith.

This oil representing healing, with prayer, could even occasionally be a part of the Holy Communion service. The Nonjuror bishop Thomas Deacon certainly thought so: not only did he include a lightly edited version of the 1549 text in his Complete Collection of Devotions, Both Public and Private, but he also provided a form for consecrating this oil in the eucharistic service. Likewise, the last coronation in England involved the use of oil too:

O Lord and heavenly Father, the exalter of the humble and the strength of thy chosen, who by anointing with Oil didst of old make and consecrate kings, priests, and prophets, to teach and govern thy people Israel: Bless and sanctify thy chosen servant Elizabeth, who by our office and ministry is now to be anointed with this Oil, [Here the Archbishop is to lay his hand upon the Ampulla.] and consecrated Queen: Strengthen her, O Lord, with the Holy Ghost the Comforter; Confirm and stablish her with thy free and princely Spirit, the Spirit of wisdom and government, the Spirit of counsel and ghostly strength, the Spirit of knowledge and true godliness, and fill her, O Lord, with the Spirit of the holy fear, now and for ever; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

While I agree with consecrating oil for churchly anointing, however, I think it objectionable to ask God to ‘bless and sanctify’ oil, as Deacon has it in his book: again, such language is far too sacramental to be edifying, and I would rather that the presentation of oil were like the consecration of eucharistic vessels according to the form written by Bishop Andrewes, integrated into the Offertory and mercifully free of superstition. In accordance with the thanksgiving thrust of that part of the service, a prayer for the consecration of oil would rejoice in the blessed hope – namely the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ – while also taking care to point to what the Lord offers freely in the tokens of bread and wine, thus enhancing rather than detracting from the service of Holy Communion.

Purified rites

In the ferment of the Reformation, when the people had to be taken off their old superstitions, it was necessary that exorcisms and anointings were removed. Not being essential, and no longer edifying more than they confused, they were abolished from the rites of the Church of England. This is how they are absent from the 1662 edition of the Book of Common Prayer. Now, however, I think Protestant churches are ready for a purified use of what the Church of England abolished in 1552. Against the unbiblical doctrines of some charismatics, a purified restoration of what the late-mediaeval church muddled will articulate what the Bible actually teaches, not leaving Anglican churches open to either a reactionary rationalism or an uncritical fanaticism. These churches will, instead, as they are taught sound doctrine about the Holy Ghost, also experience public services that expressly acknowledge the role of the Holy Ghost in forming and reforming the Church according to the election of the Son, not only in thought but also in sometimes physical manifestations of a kingdom that will one day be fully and directly visible.

6 responses to “Send Thy Holy Spirit

  1. Yes! I love the exorcism rite in the 1549 too!

    Theologically, I’ve always read the “exorcism” as simply a form of absolution, just as absolution remits sins and declares God’s grace and forgiveness upon the penitent in the name of the triune God and by the Word, likewise the exorcism rite is also an absolution, a personal declaration of Christ’s redemption from satan unto him and thereby a “freeing” of the individual from satan’s authority and lies from the person by virtue of the word of the Gospel.


    • The status of such absolutions before baptism, though, must differ from that of absolutions subsequent to baptism. Therefore, I think, these exorcisms should be carefully distinguished from absolutions that follow baptism. While I agree that their effects are similar, and their source of virtue identical, surely the catechumen, not having been baptized, stands in a different covenantal relation to God, at least outwardly if not otherwise.


      • Well, I don’t think that pre and post baptismal status is really theologically problematic for the meaning of absolution.

        If we consider exorcism as a form of absolution and if we consider absolution, as every good Protestant does, as simply an application of the ministry or preaching of the Word side by side the sacraments, (as opposed to being a special sacrament in itself), then a “pre-baptismal” exorcism would simply be an unproblematic declaration, announcement, proclamation of the Gospel upon the individual coming to baptism in the same way that the Ministry of the Word is applied and preached to unbaptised non-believers and which preaching works to communicate grace and bring them to faith and salvation, etc.


  2. Pingback: Links 17 – 29/11/13 | Alastair's Adversaria

  3. Great article – we have forgotten some of this.


  4. Dom: I think it depends on the form of the absolution. The way we announce forgiveness of sins to people visibly outside the covenant is probably different enough that it warrants some extra attention.


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