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From the September AD 2008
Our Lady of the Rosary
Parish Bulletin

    Question:  What is exorcism?  Who can exorcize?  Who or what can be exorcized? (F.L.)

    Answer:   We usually hear the word “exorcism” as being an attempt to break the influence of the devil over a human being.  A priest, with the permission of the bishop, demands in the name of God that the devil relinquish his hold on the victim.  The Roman Ritual, which contains the prayers prescribed for exorcism, refers to one “obsessed by a demon”—in English we generally distinguish obsession as the external control by the devil, and possession as an internal control in which the devil can control the speech and movements of the victim.  Before exorcism is attempted, every effort must be made to ensure that the victim is not suffering from natural illness, physical or psychological, that is being mistaken for possession.

    In theory, one receives the power of exorcism with the third of the Minor Orders, but in practice the exorcism of individuals is delegated only to a holy and reliable priest, “distinguished for piety, prudence, and integrity of life, who fulfills this devout undertaking in all constancy and humility; being utterly immune to any striving for human aggrandizement; relying, not on his own, but on the divine power; of mature years, and revered for his moral qualities.”[i]  He should be familiar with the problems encountered by earlier exorcists as set down in their writings  The priest may be assisted by other holy people who will pray with him and physically restrain the victim if necessary.

    The Roman Ritual also contains an exorcism of “Satan and the Apostate Angels,” which may be employed in a location or community where diabolical activity is suspected.  It is performed by a bishop or a priest delegated by him.

    There are various other exorcisms scattered throughout The Roman Ritual, associated with the various Sacraments and sacramentals.  For example at Baptism there are several exorcisms, including:

    I exorcise thee, unclean spirit, in the name of the + Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy + Ghost.  Come forth.  Depart from this servant (handmaid) of God, N., for He commands thee, accursed and damned spirit; He who walked upon the sea, and extended His right hand to Peter as he was sinking.  Therefore, accursed devil, acknowledge thy condemnation, and pay homage to the true and living God; pay homage to Jesus Christ, His Son, and to the Holy Ghost, and depart from this servant (handmaid) of God, N., for Jesus Christ, our Lord and God, has called him (her) to His holy grace and blessing, and to the font of baptism.

    The salt added to holy water is exorcized, as is the water itself.  Oil used for domestic purposes may be exorcized and blessed.  The medal of Saint Benedict is exorcized and blessed.  Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh are exorcized on the Epiphany.  Water and salt are exorcized before being mixed with ashes and wine in what is called “Gregorian water” at the consecration of an altar or an altar stone by a bishop.  Any of the exorcisms in the Sacraments and sacramentals are performed by the minister of the Sacrament without special permission.  The deacon who baptizes with permission performs the same ceremonies as a priest, including the exorcisms, but not blessing the baptismal salt or water.[ii]


[i]   Cf. Rituale Romanum, Tit. XI, cap. 1.  Weller translation

[ii]   Rituale Romanum, Tit. II, cap. 2, no. 27.


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