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The Exorcism Ritual – How To Perform It And The Risks Involved

Article by Irene Carson

If the Church decides it has a truly possessed individual on its hands — one that requires an exorcism — the next step is to appoint an exorcist to the case. This is often the same priest who performed the investigation, but not always. Casting out the devil is not part of a typical priest’s daily duties. Most priests have never performed an exorcism. But some have.

Official numbers are hard to come by, but “American Exorcism” reports that in 1996, the Catholic Church appointed 10 priests to the position of exorcist in the United States, bringing the total number to 11. Cuneo estimates the worldwide number at somewhere between 150 and 300, while other reports claim there are 300 to 400 official exorcists in Italy alone [ref]. There are also priests who are not official exorcists but claim to have permission from their local bishop to perform exorcisms at their discretion. The exorcism ritual has made a big comeback from being nearly extinct throughout most of the 20th century.

Traditionally, Catholic exorcists undergo very little specific training to aid them in their job. While they learn a great deal about the devil and the risks and manifestations of evil, exorcism itself is not a specialized area of study in seminary school. What they know, they know from their experience in the role of priest and from the Roman Catholic rite of exorcism, which is the official document detailing the prayers and steps of an exorcism. Things are starting to change, though. Official exorcists of the Catholic Church formed their own organization in 1992. The International Association of Exorcists holds biannual meetings in Rome and sends out a quarterly newsletter to its members. In the newsletter, exorcists tell of particularly difficult or interesting cases and swap “tricks of the trade” (Cuneo, 266). In addition, in 2005, Rome’s Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Academy (a university connected to the Vatican) started offering a class on exorcism.

Once the Church appoints one of its official exorcists to perform the ritual, the next step is to get the devil to leave the person’s body.

A 2005 Gallup poll reports that 42 percent of people in the United States believe in the possibility of diabolical possession. In January 1999, the Vatican issued a revised exorcism rite to be used by Catholic priests. The directions for conducting an exorcism comprise a single section in the Roman Ritual (Rituale Romanum), one of the books describing the official rites of the Roman Catholic Church. Prior to 1999, the official exorcism rite dated back to 1614. To perform the rite, the exorcist dresses in his surplice and purple stole. The ritual of exorcism is mostly a series of prayers, statements and appeals. These prayers are loosely broken down into the “imploring formula,” in which the priest asks God to free the subject from the devil (“God, whose nature is ever merciful and forgiving, accept our prayer that this servant of yours, bound by the fetters of sin, may be pardoned by your loving kindness”), and the “imperative formula,” in which the priest demands in the name of God that the devil leave the subject’s body (“Depart, then, impious one, depart, accursed one, depart with all your deceits, for God has willed that man should be His temple”). To read the entire 1999 revised rite, see Catholic Doors Ministry: 1999 Rite of Exorcism.

In addition to these recitations, the priest takes certain actions at particular times during the rite: He sprinkles holy water on everyone in the room, lays his hands on the subject, makes the sign of the cross both on himself and on the subject and touches the subject with a Catholic relic (usually an object associated with a saint).

Pretense – The demon is hiding its true identity. Breakpoint – The demon reveals itself. Clash – The exorcist and the demon fight for the soul of the possessed. Expulsion – If the exorcist wins the battle, the demon leaves the body of the possessed.

Psychology vs. Religion

Where one person sees possession and pulls out his rite of exorcism, another sees mental illness and pulls out the DSM IV. This is probably the greatest debate surrounding the practice of exorcism: there may be earthly explanations for behavior the Church considers evidence of diabolical possession.

Several psychological disorders, including Tourette syndrome and schizophrenia, can produce the types of effects seen in “possessed” people. People with epilepsy can suddenly go into convulsions when having a seizure; Tourette syndrome causes involuntary movements and vocal outbursts; schizophrenia involves auditory and visual hallucinations, paranoia, delusions and sometimes violent behavior. Psychological issues like low self-esteem and narcissism can cause a person to act out the role of “possessed person” in order to gain attention. In a case where the subject is in fact suffering from mental illness, the Church is doing harm by labeling the person possessed if this prevents the person from seeking out the medical treatment he or she requires.

Cardinal Jorge Arturo Medina Estevez, introducing the New Rite for Exorcisms to the press in 1999, responds to the conflict this way..

… exorcism is one thing, and psychoanalysis is another. If the exorcist has any doubt about the mental health of the possessed, he should consult an expert… It often happens that simple people confuse somatic problems with diabolical influence, but not everything can be attributed to the devil. The ultimate question remains, “Does exorcism help people or harm people?” It is difficult to come by documentation of any outcomes of official Roman Catholic exorcisms, harmful or beneficial. This is by design: According to the official rite, exorcisms are supposed to be low-key — not necessarily secret, but not performed in public or in front of press representatives — so that the ritual does not become a “show.” Results are not to be published, whether the exorcism is a success or a failure. There is considerable documentation, however, of the harmful outcomes of exorcisms performed outside the Catholic Church. One widely reported incident took place in June 2005 in Tanacu, Romania. A priest and several nuns in a Romanian Orthodox convent believed that Maricia Irina Cornici, a 23-year-old nun who lived in the convent, was possessed. So they carried out an exorcism ritual: They tied her to a cross, pushed a towel into her mouth and left her alone without food and water. The intent was to drive out the demon inhabiting her body. Cornici died after three days. Officials believe the young woman had schizophrenia.

About the Author

Irene Carson is the administrator for the Elvira Mistress of The Dark Horror Forum and horror movies message board located at http://mistressofthedarkhorrorforums.aimoo.com Discussion includes splatter horror, classic horror films, upcoming horror movies and the latest in horror news. You may repost this article as long as all links and original content are included.

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