What is the practice of exorcism and who can give it?

The practice of exorcism was initiated in the Church by its own Founder

Exorcism is a theme that fascinates people and has always been explored by cinema, which abuses “scares” as a way of guaranteeing the audience. The existence of the devil is a great call to think about the existence of God, without which he would not exist.

Among the elements that occur in the cases of demonic manifestations brought by the films are: speaking words in unknown languages, the manifestation of distant or hidden things, superior strength in relation to age or physical conditions, aversion to God, the Virgin Mary, to other saints and the Church.

Illustrative photo: Daniel Mafra

What is exorcism?

Exorcism is a liturgical action – properly a sacramental one – used, as stated by the Catechism of the Catholic Church, when the Church asks publicly and with authority, in the name of Jesus Christ, that a person or object be protected against the action of the evil and subtracted to your domain.

The practice of exorcisms was initiated in the Church by its own Founder, and has been present in it throughout its existence. It was the same Lord who gave the apostles the power to expel unclean spirits, stating that among the signs that would accompany them who believe, would be the expulsion of demons (cf. Mt 16:17).

Currently, exorcisms can be classified as public and private. The public are those administered in the name of the Church, by a legitimate person and according to the prescribed rites; otherwise, they are private.

Exorcisms are also known as solemn and simple. Solemn are those provided for cases of diabolic possession or obsession; the simple ones are those that are integrated into other rites, such as those of catechumenate or baptism .

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Church position to recognize the need for an exorcism and who can minister it?

Once, Pope Benedict XIV, in the 1745 Letter Sollicitudini , this need occurs when the exorcist has a moral certainty that the exorcised person is really tormented by the devil.

This moral certainty is attained when all prudential means are employed to make sure that it is not a purely natural phenomenon.

Solemn exorcism, as provided for in the Ritual of Exorcisms, can only be performed by a priest and with the proper license of the diocesan Bishop, who can grant it, as indicated in the Code of Canon Law , to a pious, learned elder, prudent and with integrity of life.

When is exorcism discarded?

To avoid a tendency to consider all seemingly extraordinary events, an intervention by the devil, the Ritual of Exorcisms itself indicates that, before using this sacramental, the exorcist must manifest the utmost prudence, not easily believing that someone is possessed, because he is not it rules out, at first, the existence of some disease, above all, of a psychic order.

In this sense, the exorcist, always observing the confidentiality of the confession, may call on experts in medical and psychiatric science to assess each case. And, if it is proven that the phenomenon is, in fact, of a natural order, the celebration of exorcism should not be carried out.

Now, the Church is aware of another extreme: that attitude of those who consider that the devil does not intervene in the lives of men, trying to reduce the intervention of evil spirits to merely psychic or paranormal phenomena.

The Ritual of Exorcism also warns about this issue, requesting attention to the devices and frauds used by the devil to deceive the person, to convince the possessed not to undergo exorcism, claiming that it is a natural disease.

In fact, this is one of the great victories of the devil: to make one believe that he does not exist or that he does not act in the history of men today.

Charity with the tormented people

Unfortunately, it can happen, as the exorcist of Rome, Father Gabriele Amorth, once observed, that many priests adhere to this second posture and end up neglecting the tremendous duty of charity that these devil-tormented people have to attend, affirming, without a diligent investigation, dealing with some psychological phenomenon.

Evaluating, in a more direct way, three films that address Exorcism: “The Exorcist”, “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” and “The Ritual”, it can be said that they address real content that actually occurred in the exorcisms, added with cinematic touches for make them more “palatable” to lovers of the genre.

Among the elements that occur in the cases of demonic manifestations brought by the films are: speaking words in unknown languages, the manifestation of distant or hidden things, superior strength in relation to age or physical conditions, aversion to God, the Virgin Mary , to other saints and the Church.

It is not difficult to find these elements in the films mentioned, which certainly reveals that there was a minimum of concern on the part of the directors for investigating the cases of exorcism in the Church. In addition to these contents, other inaccuracies also appear that will certainly go unnoticed by the general public.

I am thinking, for example, of the last exorcism in the film “O Ritual”, in which the seminarian – or deacon? – appears performing the proper and exclusive functions of a priest in the celebration of the greater exorcism. Despite these and other inaccuracies, I think that these films bring much more similarities to reality than fantasy scenes.

Experience of God

In my opinion, there is a characteristic common to these films mentioned – especially the last two – that seems worth mentioning. Even though they are listed in the “terror” category, I would not say that they are films of that genre. Without a doubt, they contain frightening scenes, which allow us to glimpse how extraordinarily hellish forces can manifest themselves.

However, I see these films as a great invitation for the viewer to face up to a fundamental question: “Does everything that exists exist in this reality of what we know by our senses?”. It seems to me that these films provide a great appeal to open us to the supernatural, to discover that there is a reality that surrounds us and surpasses what we can capture with our senses, without, however, hurting our natural reason.

The existence of the devil – the focus of these films – is a great call to think about the existence of God, without which, he would not exist. Basically, it underlies – perhaps unconsciously – something very similar to the philosophical argument used by Saint Augustine of Hippo, which pointed to the existence of God – the Good – from the existence of evil, since it consists in the deprivation of good.

Emily Rose and The Ritual Films

These characteristics appear in some phrases that attract the attention of the attentive viewer. I quote, for example, the excerpt from the Letter of São Paulo, which appears on the tombstone of the Emily Rose tomb, at the end of the film about that person: “Work for your salvation with fear and trembling” (Fil 2,12).

From the film “The Ritual”, which is a phrase by Father Lucas, character of Anthony Hopkins for the young seminarian Michael Kovak: “Choosing not to believe in the devil will not protect you from him.” An excellent exhortation to the men of our time, who intend to ban all reference to God from the public sphere. The presence of evil in the world, paradoxically, is a clear manifestation that God exists.

I end by recalling some words taken from the writings of Santa Teresa de Jesus, very comforting in the face of the fear that may surprise us when dealing with this theme: “ The devil fears a soul united to God, as God himself fears .”

That is why the sacrament of penance – more important than exorcisms, which are only sacramental – is so feared by the devil, because it increases the union of the faithful with God. And, unfortunately, it is one of the most neglected sacraments of our time.


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