Are Exorcisms still Relevant Today?
Several articles in The Southern Cross over the last months have discussed demonic possessions and exorcisms. Does demonic possession really exist and isn’t exorcism an outdated idea?
In a document presented as recently as 1999, the Congregation for Divine Worship revised the Church’s rite of exorcism, that is, the ritual for expelling demons from persons who are judged to be possessed by them.
The document mentions that people who dabble in occult practices, seances, fortune telling, tarot cards and the like, have been known to fall victim to demonic possession, and also those who abandon Christ and excessively indulge in drugs, illicit sex and pornography.
However, the modern upsurge of satanism in the Western world has increased the incidence of alleged satanic possession. This situation has become so grave, that in 2004 the Vatican developed a specialist course to train priests and seminarians to grasp exactly what satanism involves, how it is practised and how it can be countered by the Church.
Signs of Possession
It is clear from Scripture that Satan exists and his chief objective is to undermine the saving work of Christ. It is also clear that Christ and his Church will triumph over Satan and his evil designs.
Under the direction of the local bishop, the Church permits only approved priests to attempt to exorcise evil spirits. The priest must be certain that the allegedly possessed person is not suffering from a physical or psychological disorder. He must consult spiritual, medical and psychological experts before he makes a decision.
Signs of likely possession are the previously absent ability to speak in foreign languages, to know distant or hidden things and abnormal physical strength. These are usually combined with an aversion for the names of God, Jesus and the saints, as well as of holy objects such as the crucifix.
In 1907 a famous South African case of demonic or satanic possession occurred at St Michael’s mission near Mariannhill. Bishop Henri Delalle was sceptical when he heard that two uneducated and untravelled Zulu girls had begun to speak German and Latin and to levitate. Then he came face to face with them.
He and some priests began the rite of exorcism on one girl at a time. Each could argue theologically, verbally abused the bishop, tried to attack him and smashed furniture. After many hours of exorcism, the prayers were successful, and the mission began to progress.
The rite of exorcism includes the sign of the cross, sprinkling with holy water, the litany of the saints, psalms, gospel readings and prayers. In Christ’s name the exorcist commands the demon to?go and is urged to be confident that Christ will drive him out, even after many attempts.