By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
A revival of interest in the rite of exorcism appears to be sweeping across the country as more than 60 priests and 56 bishops opted to attend a special two-day conference on the ancient rite that was held just prior to the opening of the bishop’s annual assembly in Baltimore.
The Catholic News Service (CNS) is reporting that more than 100 clerics decided to attend the Conference on the Liturgical and Pastoral Practice of Exorcism which was held on Nov. 12-13. Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, who serves as the chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance, told CNS the session was held because of the overwhelming demand for exorcisms that are being placed up on the few priests in the country who are authorized to perform the rite.
“There’s this small group of priests who say they get requests from all over the continental U.S.,” Bishop Paprocki said. “Actually, each diocese should have its own resource (person). It shouldn’t be that this burden should be placed on a priest when his responsibility is for his own diocese,” he said.
The conference addressed the spiritual, theological and practical aspects of exorcism. Speakers included Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Houston-Galveston, who discussed the scriptural basis of evil. Father Dennis McManus, an assistant to New York Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, and Father Jeffrey Grob, pastor of St. Celestine Church in Elmwood Park, Ill also spoke.
Bishop Paprocki said that even though the Church gets many requests for exorcism, the actual number of people who are genuinely possessed by a devil is very few. A very thorough investigation precedes an exorcism and includes physical and psychological exams.
“There’s a lot of preliminary work that has to go in with dealing with the people in terms of assessing what the situation is. We use the principal that we exclude the natural before going to the supernatural level,” Bishop Paprocki said.
During his presentation, Father Grob used the image of an onion to explain how the evaluation process works.
“You have to peel away the layers and if there is general demonic activity, it didn’t get there overnight,” he explained. “There’s not an instantaneous change in the person.”
Signs of demonic possession might include:
— Speaking in a language the individual does not know.
— Scratching, cutting, biting of the skin.
— Profound display of strength.
— Lack of appetite.
— Aversion to anything holy, such as mentioning the name of Jesus or Mary, or the act of praying.
— Strong or violent reaction to holy water.
Once the Church determines that an exorcism is needed, the rite, which is considered a sacramental, is usually performed in a private setting such as in a church or a person’s home. If the possession is dee-seated, it may take more than one performance of the rite to free the person. In some cases, it can take months or even years to dispel a demon.
“We, because of Hollywood, have this kind of exaggerated sense of not only a very dramatic kind of possession, but also a very dramatic kind of exorcism. It ties in with our culture of quick fixes: You do it once and person is going to be liberated,” Bishop Paprocki told CNS.
“The reality is that a full exorcism is a rare thing, but we still have to have people who know how to do that because the reality is that it’s not unheard of.”
Exorcisms are more common in Europe, he said, where dozens of priests are authorized to perform the rite, especially in Italy, France and Poland.
“It’s not only performed more commonly (in Europe), but a lot less people get excited about it,” Bishop Paprocki said. “It’s not quite as exceptional as we would take it.”
However, the bishop pointed out that other actions, especially reception of the sacraments, can also drive out demons.
“The sacrament of penance is much more powerful than an exorcism,” the bishop explained. “The work of the devil is much more regular and our response to that should be rather regular. It’s not that you need a special exorcism to deal with the devil.”
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1. The Gospels are full of examples of Jesus casting our demons. For example, read Mark 1:25-26; 3:15; 6:7; 16:17.
4. Exorcism is considered to be a sacramental. What does this mean? (See the Catechism No. 1667-1670)
5. Temptation is the devil’s most commonly used tool against the faithful. Even Jesus was tempted by the devil. Read Luke 4:1-13 to see the various tactics the devil used on Jesus and how He responded to each one, then apply this gospel to yourself. Look for ways that the devil uses the same tactics on you. How do you respond? How should you respond?