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Expert Answer Forum

by Catherine Frakas 11 Jul 2003

Exorcism V. Deliverance Prayer QUESTION from Ron Smith September 2, 1999 Dear John-Paul Ignatius,
What is the difference between Exorcism and Deliverance Prayer? A variety of Church official documents emphasizes that only a bishop or priest appointed by a bishop can perform an Exorcism. However, I can find no Church documents giving permission or guidelines to the laity on using the charism of Deliverance Prayer.
ANSWER by John-Paul Ignatius on September 4, 1999 Dear Mr. Smith:
Thanks for your question.
One may identify perhaps five kinds of exorcism:
Formal Solemn Exorcisms: this form is done ONLY with the permission of a bishop and the exorcist must be a holy priest. People receiving this form of exorcism are those seriously infected with evil spirits. The Church does a thorough examination of the possessed person to ensure that the problem is not medical, psychological, or psychiatric. Only as a last resort is Solemn Exorcism performed. This is the form of exorcism that most people think of when they think of exorcism and the kind seen in the movies.

Formal Simple Exorcisms: this form of exorcism is done in the context of blessings and prayers performed by a priest (or in some cases a deacon). These little and simple exorcisms are used in baptism, the blessing of Holy Water and other sacramentals. Only a priest or deacon, as applicable, can perform this form because the prayers involved are official prayers reserved by the Church to be used only by priests or deacons as applicable.

Devotional Simple Exorcisms: These simple exorcisms are perform by anyone, priest or layman, and are found in a variety of devotional prayers. The most famous of these prayers is the St. Michael Prayer prayer after Mass.

Intercessory Simple Exorcisms: This form of prayer is performed on behalf of another person, such as a friend or family member, to aid them in relief from spiritual bondage and problems. We have a collection of Spiritual Warfare Prayers that may be adapted for use by the public, some of which are devotional in nature, others intercessory in nature, and some which technically include simple exorcism language. These are located at:

Deliverance Counseling and Prayer: This form of prayer is a specialized form of Intercessory prayer. It involves specific attempts to not just prayer for someone but to facilitate healing of spiritual bondage. It is an apostolate. NO ONE should attempt to do deliverance work unless they are SPECIFICALLY called by God to do so, have a significant level of spiritual formation and maturity, and have been trained by an experience Deliverance Counselor. This work can be dangerous and is NOT to be performed by those who have an ambition to do it. A qualification for this work is a desire to NOT do it.
Only forms 1 and 2 above are restricted by the Church in terms of who can perform the prayer. Forms 3, 4, and 5 may be prayed by any baptized person by virtue of our baptism and our calling to pray for each other. Form 5, however, while not technically restricted, should not be attempted by the average person.
While praying for people is authorized by virtue of our baptism, our royal priesthood, Biblical mandate, and Tradition, the Church does have an interest in protecting the faithful against dangerous or harmful practices.
In 1984 the Vatican issued legislation restricting the kind of simple exorcism (deliverance) prayer that will be allowed to laymen and even to priest outside of a formal exorcism.
This restriction is that, except for a formal solemn exorcism, no person, even a priest may engage demons in conversation to gain information from them, to learn their names, or to otherwise engage them directly. This includes proscribing the use of imprecatory commands. Deprecatory prayers, however, are allowed.
Here is an example of the difference between Imprecatory and Deprecatory prayers:
Imprecatory = I rebuke you demon of anger! Decrecatory = Father in Heaven, please rebuke this demon of anger! In other words, we are NOT to command the demons directly. Rather ask God to command the demons. Even St. Michael the Archangel did not use imprecatory commands against the devil (Jude 9), but used deprecatory language.
It should be noted that Saint from hundreds of years ago encouraged the faith to use imprecatory commands. That was then, this is now. The Church has the authority to regulate such things. So regardless of what Saints may have said in the past, the current wisdom and legislation of the Church bind us.
A copy of the Instruction from the Vatican on this may be found at:
God Bless,
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