Exorcism in the Catholic Church
Exorcism in the Catholic Church is the use of exorcism in the Roman Catholic faith for those who are believed to be the victims of demonic possession. In Roman Catholicism, exorcism is sacramental but not a sacrament, unlike baptism or confession. Unlike a sacrament, exorcism's "integrity and efficacy do not depend ... on the rigid use of an unchanging formula or on the ordered sequence of prescribed actions. Its efficacy depends on two elements: authorization from valid and licit Church authorities, and the faith of the exorcist." The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: "When the Church asks publicly and authoritatively in the name of Jesus Christ that a person or object be protected against the power of the Evil One and withdrawn from his dominion, it is called exorcism."
The Catholic Church revised the Rite of Exorcism in January 1999, though the traditional Rite of Exorcism in Latin is allowed as an option. The ritual assumes that possessed persons retain their free will, though the demon may hold control over their physical body, and involves prayers, blessings, and invocations with the use of the document Of Exorcisms and Certain Supplications.
Solemn exorcisms, according to the Canon law of the Church, can be exercised only by an ordained priest (or higher prelate), with the express permission of the local bishop, and only after a careful medical examination to exclude the possibility of mental illness. The Catholic Encyclopedia (1908) enjoined: "Superstition ought not to be confounded with religion, however much their history may be interwoven, nor magic, however white it may be, with a legitimate religious rite." Things listed in the Roman Ritual as being indicators of possible demonic possession include: speaking foreign or ancient languages of which the possessed has no prior knowledge; supernatural abilities and strength; knowledge of hidden or remote things which the possessed has no way of knowing; an aversion to anything holy; and profuse blasphemy and/or sacrilege.
In the 15th century, Catholic exorcists were both priestly and lay, since every Christian was considered as having the power to command demons and drive them out in the name of Christ. These exorcists used the Benedictine formula "Vade retro satana" ("Step back, Satan") around this time. By the late 1960s, Roman Catholic exorcisms were seldom performed in the United States, but by the mid-1970s, popular film and literature revived interest in the ritual, with thousands claiming demonic possession. Maverick priests who belonged to fringes took advantage of the increase in demand and performed exorcisms with little or no official sanction. The exorcisms that they performed were, according to Contemporary American Religion, “clandestine, underground affairs, undertaken without the approval of the Catholic Church and without the rigorous psychological screening that the church required. In subsequent years, the Church took more aggressive action on the demon-expulsion front.” In 2014, the Roman Catholic organization, International Association of Exorcists, received the approval of the Vatican.
When an exorcism is needed
According to the Vatican guidelines issued in 1999, “the person who claims to be possessed must be evaluated by doctors to rule out a mental or physical illness.” Most reported cases do not require an exorcism because twentieth-century Catholic officials regard genuine demonic possession as an extremely rare phenomenon that is easily confounded with natural mental disturbances. Many times a person just needs spiritual or medical help, especially if drugs or other addictions are present. After the need of the person has been determined then the appropriate help will be met. In the circumstance of spiritual help, prayers may be offered, or the laying on of hands or a counseling session may be prescribed. The exorcist might not perform an exorcism if he doesn't know the person.
Signs of demonic invasion vary depending on the type of demon and its purpose, including:
- Loss or lack of appetite
- Cutting, scratching, and biting of skin
- A cold feeling in the room
- Unnatural bodily postures and change in the person's face and body
- The possessed losing control of their normal personality and entering into a frenzy or rage, and/or attacking others
- Change in the person's voice
- Supernatural physical strength not subject to the person's build or age
- Speaking or understanding another language which they had never learned before
- Knowledge of things that are distant or hidden
- Prediction of future events (sometimes through dreams)
- Levitation and moving of objects / things
- Expelling of objects / things
- Intense hatred and violent reaction toward all religious objects or items
- Antipathy towards entering a church, speaking Jesus' name or hearing scripture.
Process of the exorcism
In the process of an exorcism the person possessed may be restrained so that they do not harm themselves or any person present. The exorcist then prays and commands for the demons to retreat. The Catholic Priest recites certain prayers the Our Father, Hail Mary, and the Athanasian Creed. Exorcists follow procedures listed in the ritual of the exorcism revised by the Vatican in 1999. Seasoned exorcists use the Rituale Romanum as a starting point, not always following the prescribed formula exactly. The Gale Encyclopedia of the Unusual and Unexplained describes that an exorcism was a confrontation and not simply a prayer and once it has begun it has to finish no matter how long it takes. If the exorcist stops the rite, then the demon will pursue him which is why the process being finished is so essential. After the exorcism has been finished the person possessed feels a “kind of release of guilt and feels reborn and freed of sin.” Not all exorcisms are successful the first time; it could take days, weeks, or months of constant prayer and exorcisms.
- 1928 — Emma Schmidt underwent a 14-day exorcism performed by Catholic priest Theophilus Riesinger.
- 1949 — Roland Doe was allegedly possessed and underwent exorcism. The events later inspired the novel and film The Exorcist.
- 1975-1976 — Anneliese Michel was a woman from Germany who underwent 67 exorcisms, which inspired the films The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Requiem. In a conference several years later, German bishops retracted the claim that she was possessed.
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- What is an exorcism?