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In our daily living, the Church has given us a treasury of prayers from everything to blessings of various object such as holy water to exorcisms against the evil spirits that possess people. There is also a blessing ad omnia, for things not having a proper blessing unto themselves.

I have been wondering through the Rituale Romanun the other day and caught myself thinking if it were liturgically permitted for a priest to pray the following prayer in order to put an end to the coronavirus within his region (diocese or city) with the bishops consent: Benedictio Deprecatoris contra mures, locustas, bruchos, verities et alia animalia nociva (page 396). This prayer is in fact a minor exorcism.

In the Tridentine Rite a priest must have the permission of the local bishop to recite this prayer. In th Ordinary Form, I am not sure.

An English version in the Ordinary Form also exists: “Deprecatory Blessing Against Pests” that can be prayed by a priest. So when the pests won’t seem to go away, call the exterminator … and the priest.

Here is a spiritual way to drive out pests

There are times we need help from God to get rid of mice and rats, locusts, worms, rats, etc. A deprecatory prayer expresses to God –the Creator of all things– our negative or disapproval of one His guests. The prayer speaks for itself.

It seems reasonable that this prayer could be used in this circumstance, since viruses can be considered to be a life form and thus a pest.

The origins of viruses are unclear: some may have evolved from plasmids, others from bacteria. Viruses are sometimes considered to be a life form, because they carry genetic material, reproduce and evolve through natural selection. - Viruses

Are viruses liturgically speaking considered pests (alia animalia nociva)?

My question remains thus: Is it permitted for priests to pray this particular prayer to help stop the spread of the coronavirus?

  • I don't see why not. What makes you think a priest wouldn't be permitted to pray that prayer? – Geremia Apr 17 at 3:53
  • @Geremia For one thing is a virus truly considered a pest in the framework of Catholic liturgical thought? – Ken Graham Apr 17 at 14:07
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The exorcism prayer begins (Roman Ritual vol. 3 p. 164, PDF p. 1272):

Exorcízo vos pestíferos (-as) mures (vel locustas, vel bruehos, vel vermes, vel alia animalia), per Deum ✠ Patrem omnipoténtem
I exorcize you pestiferous mice (or locusts, or grasshoppers, or worms, or any other animal), through God ✠ the Father Almighty…

The English (bottom of page here) translates this (sans the parenthetical remarks): "I cast out you noxious vermin, by God ✠ the Father almighty…"

Thus, I suppose it would be a question of whether a virus is an animal, as to whether this prayer is applicable to viruses.

The prayers from the Votive Mass for the Deliverance from Death in Time of Pestilence (a.k.a., "Mass on Occasions of Public Plague" or Missa pro vitanda mortalitate, vel tempore pestilentiæ) have been permitted to be said during the COVID-19 plague.

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According to Catholicism, is it permitted for a priest to employ the Benedictio Deprecatoris prayer to stop the spread of the coronavirus?

That will depend on two things.

    1. The local ordinary (bishop) will have to accord the permission to a priest to employ this prayer if the priest in question is to use the older Tridentine ritual.
    1. It will depend on whether or not viruses are considered a living creature.

Number one is easy to answer. Any Catholic bishop can accommodate this request if coming from a priest who generally has episcopal permission to say the Tridentine Mass, even occasionally. This prayer in the Tridentine Ritual is reserved to priests who have been given the permission from the local ordinary of the ecclesiastical region.

I am unable to find a source if the the Ordinary Form of this prayer is still reserved to priests with the permission of the local bishop or not. In such a case, I am compelled to think that this prayer is to be considered “reserved to priests, who have been authorized by the local bishop” only to say this prayer.

Number two is a little more harder to answer. It is complicated, at least to myself.

The answer lies is whether or not viruses are considered living. After all are not pests consider living creatures?

Some consider viruses a living creatures:

The origins of viruses are unclear: some may have evolved from plasmids, others from bacteria. Viruses are sometimes considered to be a life form, because they carry genetic material, reproduce and evolve through natural selection. - Viruses

However not all are in agreement on this issue:

Are viruses alive?

It's complicated.

The National Human Genome Research Institute describes viruses as existing "near the boundary between the living and the nonliving."

That's because viruses can't function without interacting with a living cell. On their own, they're also essentially inert – unable to move – as a 2017 study notes.

“By themselves, they can’t do anything. They need a host cell to replicate,” virologist Paulo Verardi told USA TODAY. Verardi works on vaccine development and is a University of Connecticut professor.

He suggested thinking of them like a parasite: an organism that survives by harming another species.

But definitively answering whether a virus is alive may be more of a philosophy question than one strictly for science, Verardi said. - A coronavirus pandemic is sweeping the world, but what exactly is a virus? Is it alive?

Thus we are drawn to the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas on the subject of life.

If the Coronavirus is considered a living creature within Catholic thought then yes, any priest with the proper ecclesiastical permission could in fact say this prayer, otherwise it is nor all all permitted.

Here is what St. Thomas says on whether all things are life in God?

Creatures are said to be in God in a twofold sense. In one way, so far are they are held together and preserved by the divine power; even as we say that things that are in our power are in us. And creatures are thus said to be in God, even as they exist in their own natures. In this sense we must understand the words of the Apostle when he says, "In Him we live, move, and be"; since our being, living, and moving are themselves caused by God. In another sense things are said to be in God, as in Him who knows them, in which sense they are in God through their proper ideas, which in God are not distinct from the divine essence. Hence things as they are in God are the divine essence. And since the divine essence is life and not movement, it follows that things existing in God in this manner are not movement, but life.

Viruses are amongst the smallest things known to man. They are smaller than bacteria. The simple fact that they can multiply, presumes life. Non living creatures can not multiply. A rock can not engender another rock, but viruses do multiply and sometimes at an alarming rate, as in the case of the Covid-19 virus.

Thus it is reasonable to conclude that the coronavirus is in fact a pest and that in conclusion it constitutes valid matter to be exorcised from the human race.

Modern times ask for modern cures such as medication and vaccines. In the mean time, these prayers from the Rituale Romanun could only offer more hope to the People of God. Simply knowing that some priests are employing these ancient prayers is a source of consolation. These liturgical prayers can not do us any harm. After all miracles can still happen. God’s ways are not man’s way!

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