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Frequently Asked Questions
regarding
EXORCISM IN THE CATHOLIC CHURCH

Q. 1. What is the purpose of an Exorcism?

A. 1. An Exorcism serves two purposes:

(1) It is the act of driving out, or warding off, demons, or evil spirits, from persons, places, or things, which are believed to be possessed or infested by them, or are liable to become victims or instruments of their malice;

(2) It is the means employed for this purpose, especially the solemn and authoritative adjuration of the demon, in the name of God, or any of the higher power in which he is subject.

Before performing an exorcism, it must be confirmed that one is dealing with the presence of the Evil One and not an illness. On this matter, Canon Law states:

1673 "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authoritatively in the name of Jesus Christ that a person or object be protected against the power of the Evil One and withdrawn from his dominion, it is called exorcism. Jesus performed exorcisms and from him the Church has received the power and office of exorcizing.176 In a simple form, exorcism is performed at the celebration of Baptism. the solemn exorcism, called "a major exorcism," can be performed only by a priest and with the permission of the bishop. the priest must proceed with prudence, strictly observing the rules established by the Church. Exorcism is directed at the expulsion of demons or to the liberation from demonic possession through the spiritual authority which Jesus entrusted to his Church. Illness, especially psychological illness, is a very different matter; treating this is the concern of medical science. Therefore, before an exorcism is performed, it is important to ascertain that one is dealing with the presence of the Evil One, and not an illness."

Q. 2. Is Exorcism a Church Sacrament?

A. 2. The belief in Roman Catholicism is that unlike Baptism or Confession, Exorcism is one ritual that isn't a sacrament. 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." That being said, Catholic Exorcism is still one of the most rigid and organized of all existing exorcism rituals.

Q. 3. Can anyone perform an Exorcism?

A. 3. 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.

Can. 1172 1. "No one can perform exorcisms legitimately upon the possessed unless he has obtained special and express permission from the local ordinary.

2. The local ordinary is to give this permission only to a presbyter who has piety, knowledge, prudence, and integrity of life."


Q. 4. Are certain rules to be followed when performing an Exorcism?

A. 4. Yes, they are:

  • Possession is not lightly to be taken for granted. Each case is to be carefully examined and great caution to be used in distinguishing genuine possession from certain forms of disease.

  • The priest who undertakes the office should be himself a holy man, of a blameless life, intelligent, courageous, humble, and he should prepare for the work by special acts of devotion and mortification, particularly by prayer and a fasting (Matthew 17:20).

  • He should avoid in the course of the rite everything that savours of superstition, and should leave the medical aspects of the case to qualified physicians.

  • He should admonish the possessed, in so far as the latter is capable, to dispose himself for the exorcism by prayer, fasting, confession, and communion, and while the rite is in progress to excite within himself a lively faith in God's goodness, and a patient resignation to His holy will.

  • The exorcism should take place in the Church or some other sacred place, if convenient; but if on account of sickness or for other legitimate reasons, it takes place in a private house, witnesses (preferably members of the family) should be present: this is specially enjoined, as a measure of precaution, in case the subject is a woman.

  • All idle and curious questioning of the demon should be avoided, and the prayers and aspirations should be read with great faith, humility, and fervour, and with a consciousness of power and authority.

  • The Blessed Sacrament is not to be brought near the body of the possessed during exorcism for fear of possible irreverence; but the crucifix, holy water, and, where available, relics of the saints are to be employed.

  • If expulsion of the evil spirit is not obtained at once, the rite should be repeated, if need be, several times.

  • The exorcist should be vested in surplice, and violet stole.



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