Sunday, December 5

the dangerous task of those who fight the devil


The pages of the Gospel in which Jesus casts out demons continue to be repeated today, in a discreet way, by the exorcists authorized by their respective bishop, who always act with great prudence and without spectacle. It is a serious task -and sometimes dangerous for the priest-, which is only carried out after ruling out that it is mere psychiatric anomalies -schizophrenia, hysteria, paranoia, etc.- whose cure always corresponds to the doctors.

The Vatican updated in 1999 the old Ritual of Exorcisms, which remained unchanged since 1614 and preserved, among others, formulas from the first centuries of Christianity. At the presentation, the cardinal Jorge Medina Estévez, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, emphasized that “exorcism is aimed at liberating from diabolical influence through the spiritual authority that Jesus has entrusted to the Church.”

At the same time, he stressed that “the case of illnesses is very different, especially mental illnesses, the treatment of which corresponds to doctors. Before performing an exorcism it is very important to make sure that it is a presence of the Evil One and not of a disease.

Devilish influence

Along with the ritual ‘De Exorcismis’, of about 90 pages, the second reference document is the’Guidelines for the Ministry of Exorcisms‘, published in 2020.

It is a manual of the International Association of Exorcists but whose authority is far superior, as it was reviewed by the Congregation for the Clergy -responsible for the matter-, the Divine Worship and the Doctrine of the Faith. Although it is deliberately an ‘unofficial’ text, its magisterium is highlighted by a prologue by the Pope’s vicar for the Diocese of Rome, Angelo De Donatis.

The priest Gabriele Amorth, who died in 2016, was one of the most famous exorcists in the Church
The priest Gabriele Amorth, who died in 2016, was one of the most famous exorcists in the ChurchEric Vandeville

If the Ritual of Exorcisms advises taking all clinical precautions, going to the psychiatrist or psychologist before the exorcist, the manual identifies the different levels of devilish influence, ranging from infestation, typically from home or places, to humiliation, and demonic obsession or possession in the case of people. When possession is given, the demon can dominate a person’s body but not his soul.

Rites and prayers, both public and private exorcism, must be carried out with precision and total humility, because it is an action of the Church in a terrain not only delicate but even dangerous, also for the exorcist.

Prayers and actions

The manual even indicates the requirements and the way of acting of the assistants in the exorcism, necessary especially when the resistance of the devil is manifested in violent behavior or superhuman forces.

The Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum, led by the Legionaries of Christ, has organized numerous courses for exorcists, who learn to perform the rite by taking care of each of the prayers -the sign of the cross, the word of God, the litanies of the saints- and actions -such as the sprinkling of holy water, the laying on of hands, for example – until the final blessing is reached.

In March 2017, during a speech to the priests participating in the course on matters of conscience, Francis invited them to ask for “the gift” of discerning the entity of each problem. Especially in cases of “spiritual disorders, the nature of which must be examined with attentive discernment, taking into account all existential, ecclesial, natural and supernatural circumstances.

The expulsion of the devil is an action of the Church in a field not only delicate but even dangerous, also for the exorcist

If you are sure that it is a question of diabolical possession, the Pope’s advice was clear: «Do not hesitate to contact the people who are in charge in the diocese of that necessary and delicate ministry, that is to say, the exorcists. But these must be chosen with great care and great prudence.

As the training of a good exorcist is laborious, the Vatican invites the bishops who have them to share that service with the dioceses less endowed with that resource. But above all, remember that the main performance of the devil is not the spectacular mastery of some people, but the temptation of the great majority towards the sins of pride, anger, violence, selfishness, etc. The normal presence of the devil, who is considered the ‘father of lies’, manifests itself in deception and confusion.


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