April 20, 2016

Exorcism: Separating Fact from Fiction. Three Priest Exorcists Discuss This Rite of the Church

This discussion of exorcism references various types of diabolical manifestations with a focus on demonic possession. The priests cited are current or former exorcists who have conducted the rite of exorcism hundreds of times collectively.

Exorcism [from the Greek ἐξορκισμός – meaning to bind with an oath] is a term that signifies an insistent request manifested toward God or directed against demons. There are two different types of exorcism within the Church: supplicating exorcisms and imperative exorcisms. A supplicating exorcism is a prayer to God asking to expel a demon. One does not need to be a priest to perform such an exorcism. An imperative exorcism is a command to the demon demanding it depart in the name of God. This liturgical rite of the Church can only be performed by a bishop or a delegated priest-exorcist of a diocese. Rarely, in cases of dire urgency, a bishop may designate any priest an exorcist on a pro re nata basis.

Demonic activity can be categorized as ordinary and extraordinary. Ordinary demonic activity includes the day-to-day temptations to sin common to everyone. Father Vince Lampert, exorcist for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, explains that extraordinary demonic activity is manifested in: 1.) Diabolic infestation – the presence of evil in a location or object, 2.) Diabolic vexation or harassment – physical attacks leveled at an individual, 3.) Diabolic obsession – mental attacks whereby an evil spirit plays upon a person’s mind and/or senses, 4.) Demonic possession – in which an evil spirit takes over a person’s body. [Father Gabriele Amorth, the Vatican’s former chief exorcist, gives two more instances.]

Signs of Possession

The Church has traditionally employed four criteria to determine the validity of whether an individual is demonically possessed. These are the hallmarks of possession popularized by movies like The Exorcist:

◗ The ability to speak and understand languages unknown to the individual.

◗ Clairvoyance or knowledge of things one wouldn’t otherwise know.

◗ Intense hatred and violent reactions toward anything of a divine nature, namely sacramentals, holy water, the Eucharist, etc.

◗ Possessing supernatural physical strength beyond one’s capacity.

Further, evidence of a demonic presence can be manifested physically in the afflicted individual or immediate environment in the following ways:

◗ Bodily contortions

◗ A change in physical appearance.

◗ A change in a person’s voice.

◗ A change in room temperature.

◗ Unpleasant odors.

Individuals who are disturbed must not be hastily examined or casually judged. Before proceeding with an exorcism, the individual’s mental and physical health is scrutinized to eliminate a psychological or medical reason for their behavior. Several psychological disorders like turrets and schizophrenia can mimic to a remarkable degree the symptoms of demonic possession. Only when these and all other causations are ruled out may an exorcism be performed.

Lucifer’s Fall & Mission

Chapter 12 in the Book of Revelation recounts how the angel Lucifer rebelled against God. In the battle that ensued one third of the angels in heaven fell from grace and were hurled down to earth as demons. Demons hail from all nine choirs of angels. Hence some demons are more powerful than others. Although their final damnation is assured, they still possess the powers that God gave them, if only for the time being. Between now and Christ’s second coming, Satan will seek to avenge himself by tempting human souls to reject God. Exorcism is such a powerful weapon in the Church’s spiritual arsenal because as Fr. Amorth notes, "To a demon, leaving the body of a person and sinking into hell is an irrevocable death sentence; that is why the demon fights it to the last." Unfortunately, the forces of hell will continue to wreak havoc on creation until the end of the world. Only an abiding relationship with God will protect us from the devil's snares.  Fr. Amorth’s observation is dispositive:
It is… clear that the believer must be faithful to God and must fear sin. This is the basis of our strength, as Saint John tells us: "We know that any one born of God does not sin, but He who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him"(I Jn 5:18). If sometimes our weakness leads us to fall, we must immediately pick ourselves up with that great gift of God's mercy: repentance and confession.
The Devil despises Mary, the Mother of God. When the Church revised the rite of exorcism in 1999, it included prayers for Mary's intercession. Pray to Mary often, that she might intercede on your behalf and lead you always to Christ her Son.

The Rite of Exorcism

The priest designated by the ordinary to perform the exorcism should prepare for the rite by observing a period of prayer, fasting, and confessing his sins. Catholic exorcisms are conducted in Latin, in a church, chapel or other sacred venue. [Not the possessed's bedroom!] The exorcist determines the time, place and who shall attend.

During the exorcism the possessed individual may be restrained so as not to harm themselves or others. The exorcist begins by tracing the sign of the cross over himself, the possessed and all bystanders before sprinkling all present with holy water. Afterward, he kneels and recites the Litany of the Saints. The exorcist continues to pray, commanding the demon[s] to depart. He recites the Our Father, Hail Mary, and the Athanasian Creed in addition to Gospel readings that remind the evil spirit of Christ’s power to cast out demons. Exorcists follow the procedures of exorcism proscribed in the Rituale Romanum. [A typical exorcism lasts between 35 minutes to an hour.]

Not all exorcisms are successful the first time; occasionally, additional exorcisms are required. The late Father James LeBar, former chief exorcist of the Archdiocese of New York, explained that the exorcist may demand that the demon[s] tell him their name. According to Fr. LeBar, to know the name of your adversary is to have power over them. The priest does this in the name of Jesus Christ to assert God's dominion over evil and to excise the demon from the possessed. Throughout the rite the demon is confronted with a crucifix because, by virtue of Christ’s Passion, Death and Resurrection, sin and death were defeated. The cross is a reminder to Satan that his days are numbered and his efforts are in vain.

For a step-by-step guide to the rite of exorcism go here.


An Exorcist Tells His Story, Fr. Gabriele Amorth.

"Father Vince Lampert speaks about the Reality of Exorcisms", YouTube, Our Lady of Wisdom University Parish at Texas State Channel.

"Conversations the World Over - Exorcism and Demonic Possession", Raymond Arroyo's interview with Fr. James LeBar, YouTube, EWTN Channel.

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