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Expert Answer Forum

by Catherine Frakas 24 Aug 2003

Exorcism QUESTION from Brenda October 6, 1998 Does the catholic church acknowledge demon possession and oppression, and how does it handle exorcisms. Thanks.
ANSWER by John-Paul Ignatius on October 9, 1998
Dear Brenda:
Yes, the Catholic Church has always recognized demonic obsession and possession. This recognition goes back to Apostolic times, as reported by the Gospel writers, when Jesus Himself performed exorcism and commissioned his priests to perform them as well.
Before the revision of the Orders after Vatican II, one of the minor orders that young men went through on road to the Priesthood was the Order of Exorcist.
The Church has always affirmed the existence of a real and personal Satan, and in fact, this is one of the tenets of the faith that is required for belief.
Throughout history the Church has spoken about the reality of Satan and of diabolical influence and possession. One of the more famous prayers is the short St. Michael Prayer that use to be said after each Mass, and is still often said after Mass, and the longer St. Michael exorcism prayer, both written by Pope Leo XIII after God sent to the Pope a vision about Satan's influence in the Church in the years to come.
More recently we have the official post-conciliar document from the Sacred Congregation on Divine Worship, Les formes multiples de la superstition (Christian Faith and Demonology), 26, June 1975, and many statements from Pope John Paul II.
Cardinal Ratzinger, the prefect of the Sacred Congregation on the Doctrine of the Faith has also spoken of this.
There is no lacking of documents, writings, speeches, and homilies from Popes and Councils that affirm the existence of a real Satan and the reality of diabolical obsession and possession.
Some have erroneously assumed that when the minor order of exorcist was abolished that so was exorcism. This is not true.
Although for many years exorcisms may have been in decline, largely due to the advent of psychiatric understandings of many conditions that appear similar to possession, but are actually psychiatric, in recent years the incidents of officially Church approved solemn exorcisms have been on the rise.
This is no doubt due to the diabolical becoming more and more an influence in our society as the traditional worldview of Christianity (which was predominant in the Western world from about the 4th century to around 1992-94) as been replaced by the post-modern worldview that we have today. This is also likely due to the fact that even with psychiatric illnesses considered, there are some cases that cannot be explained in any other way than diabolical obsession.
More liberal bishops may not allow exorcism even in cases that it is obviously needed, and others may allow it but only reluctantly.
For a variety of reasons, solemn exorcisms are generally NOT publicized.
As for who may perform an exorcism, Canon Law #1172 says this:
(1) No one can legitimately perform exorcisms over the possessed unless he has obtained special and expressed permission from the local ordinary.
(2) Such permission from the local ordinary is to be granted only to a presbyter endowed with piety, knowledge, prudence and integrity of life.
The short St. Michael Prayer written by Pope Leo XIII, because it does not contain imprecatory commands, and other prayers like it that do not use imprecatory commands, are allowed to be said and used by the faithful and by priests as desired.
The longer St. Michael Exorcism prayer that Pope Leo XIII wrote, however, and any other prayer that includes imprecatory commands can no longer be said by the faithful or even by priests outside of a formal solemn exorcism. Some insist that it is okay to use these prayers because St. Alphonsus Ligouiri, a doctor of the Church, encouraged it. When the good doctor was making this encouragement, however, saying these prayers was allowed. But the Church in her legtimate teaching and disciplinary authority decided to restrict these prayers as of 1984. That ruling is the legislation currently in force.
I shutter to think of the danger the faithful or even priests place themselves who knowingly rebel and disobey this ruling. The demons themselves will certainly take notice of such rebellion.
The Legislation in question was promulgated in 1984 when the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a restriction on the use of some of these simple exorcism prayers that include imprecatory commands and also on the so-called deliverance ministries that had cropped up in the Church especially among the charismatic renewal movement.
The restrictions made were in response to much abuse by deliverance teams and others in the use of the prayers.
Thus, under current legislation NO ONE, EVEN A PRIEST (unless in a formal solemn exorcism) can use prayers containing imprecatory commands nor can they talk directly to demons to gain information from them or to command them in anyway.
An imprecatory command is a direct command, such as: I rebuke you spirit of hatred!
This sort of direct I rebuke, I cast you out, I bind you sort of language CANNOT be used except in a solemn exorcism.
Deprecatory language can be used, however. For example, instead of the I language of above, we are to say rather, Father in Heaven, please rebuke (cast out) (bind you)...
It should be noted that even the great St. Michael the Archangel DID NOT use imprecatory language. He use deprecatory language (see Jude 9).
There are a variety of spiritual warfare prayers that will be published on this site that are acceptable for use according to the Church legislation.
One may always email us with a prayer you are not sure of and we will edit it to make it conform to the legislation.
For those who feel they need a formal exorcism, the first step is to contact your diocese and/or the Catholic Charities Counseling Services. They will then let you know what procedures that diocese has for determining the need of a solemn exorcism.
The details of what happens in a exorcism is not something that is really a need-to-know for the general public.
Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam, John-Paul
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