Exorcism – a short primer.
Exorcisms are somehow being talked about a lot lately. Obviously there is a new movie with Anthony Hopkins coming out that is garnering attention. The Anchoress of course has her wonderful take on it. Happy Catholic has a nice post about the movie as well. Additionally there was a great article about the first documented exorcism performed in the USA on Patheos not too long ago.
Now exorcism is not really talked about in the Catholic faith much in recent years except perhaps when a movie about it comes out. But just because something isn’t talked about or talked about by way of movies only, doesn’t mean that it’s gone by the wayside. In some sense I am glad that we have films about exorcism coming back into vogue. While I fear for those who might be drawn towards daemonology without being spiritually prepared, I feel also that exorcism is a topic worth discussing. I’ve had a fascination with it myself for a while. Mainly because I have been granted what I believe to be two private revelations (stuff that I feel is real, but no Catholic/Christian is obviously obligated to believe in) regarding angels. The first was back in High School, well before I became Catholic and that was a vision of St. Michael the Archangel (who’s now one of my patrons) while I was at a youth church group and we were praying on behalf of another student at my school who’d attempted suicide. The second was after I’d been dumped by a girlfriend and was depressed to the point I was thinking suicidal thoughts. That was a terrifying one where I started hearing voices telling me to end it, and then, by the grace of God I was shown a vision of a face on the wall, something quite terrifying and well… It wasn’t blackness, but something even more dark… An emptiness. After I saw that face, I cried out to the Lord and felt another presence enter the room and I saw the face turn from a mocking grin to one of anger and terror as it left. I feel that my guardian angel had been sent to drive it away and give me the encouragement to call my brother for help. For me, the reality of angels, both good and bad, are not questionable in my mind anymore. That said, following my experiences I grew a bit fascinated with the rite of exorcism and the study of angels both good and fallen.
Now, as I’ve mentioned before, I sometimes worry myself that I am becoming overly fascinated by the study of daemons and exorcism. But I comfort myself in the regular reception of the sacraments and through prayer. Anyways, getting back to the main subject of exorcism, there are some rules for exorcisms done in the Catholic Church. In no particular order as near as I understand, they are as follows:
- Prior to an exorcism, the afflicted is thoroughly checked out by medical professionals including psychologists to rule out a mental/physical illness.
- After these tests are done, the bishop of the diocese in question will appoint a priest as an exorcist or they will call in an exorcist priest from another diocese. Priests don’t go out and do exorcisms on their own aside from simple exorcisms that is. Full on exorcisms according to the rite of exorcism must only be done WITH the bishop’s knowledge and permission.
- Following a successful exorcism, the exorcized person should continue to participate in the life of the Church including receiving the sacraments regularly.
- Those assisting in the exorcism should carefully examine their consciences and have done a full and good confession prior. They should receive the Eucharist regularly as well.
- DO NOT engage the daemon in debate! The priest shouldn’t try to reason with them, they will twist logic around on it’s head and use any and all psychological tricks they can to gain an edge. Instead, the priest should exercise the authority given to him as a priest and a successor to the apostles. The priest must always remember that he is merely an instrument being used by Our Lord. In the end, it is Jesus who is the one delivering the afflicted from the daemons.
These are the most basic rules that I can recall. Now, this isn’t to say that there haven’t been successful exorcisms in the Protestant communities. Fr. Gabriel Amorth talks about how he knows that the Protestants have performed exorcisms in the name of the Lord and that we should remember that Our Lord has other sheep. I find it refreshing that a very experienced exorcist is willing to acknowledge the validity of the Protestant faith. Coming from a former Protestant, I always am pleased that rather than dismiss our faith experiences as lacking, many Catholics will acknowledge it and praise it. Naturally they worry that we don’t have the comfort of the Eucharist, but the Protestant zeal for the Scriptures and the Lord is something that is very widely admired by devout Catholics from all levels of the Church. I know many laypeople as well as members of the magesterium including the Pope are known for this.
Well, I hope that this helps cover a few basics on exorcism. If you want to learn more, you can’t go wrong with these three books: