Frequently, while watching TV or when we go to the movies, we find that many of the stories told have as a protagonist the devil. There are diverse opinions about it: some believe that these stories are the result of old fashioned ideas from the past, which Hollywood takes advantage of to make money.
Others are indifferent, and don’t care whether the devil exists. On the opposite side, there are those who get obsessed with the devil and see it everywhere. Finally, there are those who believe the devil exists. We belong to this last group, that is, we believe that the devil exists and that he constantly acts in the world.
“Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil. For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens” (Eph 6: 11-12).
Believing in God but not in the devil is not believing in God’s word, since He Himself repeatedly warns us against the devil in the Holy Scriptures. However, the devil’s actions are not always as evident, since he can disguise as an angel of light, presenting us something bad as if it was good. That’s why he’s called the “Father of lies.”
But when diabolic possessions occur, exorcists, through a specific rite, having specific, formal permission from the bishop, and acting with the authority of Christ, expel the evil spirits from the person.
When I began researching about this subject, I never imagined it could be so complex and extensive. For this reason, this article doesn’t intend to be a treatise on Demonology (there are already many excellent ones out there), but in the following points, I attempt to shed light on what an exorcism is and who can rightfully perform it.
1. Exorcists are not superheroes, and they don’t have super powers
The exorcist doesn’t have any power over the devil, God has the power. Through rite he performs, with the power of Christ, the priest expels the devil. Priests don’t do anything else but to follow Christ’s command to his disciples: “Then he summoned his twelve disciples* and gave them authority over unclean spirits to drive them out and to cure every disease and every illness” (Mt 10:1).
2. Not all priests are authorized to perform exorcisms
In simple or minor exorcisms, also called liberation prayers, the priest invokes the Holy Spirit, asking for the liberation of the person under the influence of Satan, as is done in Baptism, for example, where the rite includes an exorcism prayer. This type of exorcism can be performed by any priest.
However, according to the Code of Canon Law, major or solemn exorcisms can only be performed by a “presbyter who has piety, knowledge, prudence, and integrity of life, who has “obtained special and express permission from the local ordinary [bishop].” The bishop can grant permission to a priest for every specific case or can formally grant him permission to perform exorcisms with the authorization of the Holy See. Those who receive this ministry, must also take formation courses at the Holy See.
The laity cannot perform exorcisms, but they can accompany the priests during them, if they are authorized. The laity can also take formation classes to form part of the liberation ministry, under the guidance of a priest.
3. The exorcism is a sacramental, not a Sacrament
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), sacramentals are “sacred signs instituted by the Church. They prepare men to receive the fruit of the sacraments and sanctify different circumstances of life” (1677). Among such sacred signs, there is the rite of exorcism, in addition to blessings and consecrations, which are the most important.
4. Not all the cases are actual possessions
Exorcists, through extensive analysis and extreme prudence, must distinguish between a true diabolic possession and psychiatric disorders, which – conversely – must be attended to by medical professionals. However, there are cases when both can take place at the same time and in the same person. Therefore, according to the CCC, “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” (1673).
5. Real exorcisms have little or nothing to do with what we see in Hollywood movies
Many renowned and popular exorcists assure that the majority of people believe that in an exorcism rite the devil will get out flying through a window, or that every possessed person acts like the girl from “The Exorcist.” The devil, a superior being, has the ability to do everything we can imagine, but, generally, the possessed don’t act like what we usually see in the movies. There are even cases that can last for years before the person in question is totally liberated from the devil.
6. Although a person might be possessed, he or she can be in the grace of God
Possessed people’s reason and will act independently from what happens with them during the exorcism. Depending on the case, there will be times when they will be able to receive the Sacraments or not. But the point of the exorcism is to expel Satan from the person’s body, not his or her soul, which can be in a state of grace even while the person is afflicted.
7. God has always the last word
The devil’s action in this world, as terrifying as it can be, will never be greater than the action of God in our lives. If it wasn’t so, the devil wouldn’t be scandalized only at the utterance of Jesus’ name. Though his sacrifice in the Cross, Jesus defeated sin and death forever. Let’s believe Him then when He says: “In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world” (Jn 16:33).
This post was written for Catholic-Link Spanish by Ailín Fessler, and can be found here. It was translated by Lorena Tabares.