While many tend to think that exorcisms are the stuff of movies and horror flicks, Catholics know better. In fact recently the New York Post reported that the Vatican is calling for more exorcists because there is a global “shortage.” Priests who are trained as exorcists are becoming more vocal about both the need for more of their kind and about the conditions of the culture that are causing an increase in the amount of demonic activity.
With the need for exorcisms on the rise, and the Hollywood fascination with the Occult every present, I thought it might be a good time to point out some facts vs fiction when it comes to Exorcisms and Spiritual Warfare:
If you didn’t know, there’s a superb book, a top seller actually, on demonic possession written by the Vatican’s top exorcist. Check out the late Fr. Gabriele Amorth’s An Exorcist Explains the Demonic.
Fact: There are two different categories of exorcism: Major and Minor
It sounds like we might be discussing baseball, but in fact, Exorcisms fall into one of these two categories. Major Exorcisms are the kind that most people imagine when they hear the word. They can only be carried by a Bishop or a priest who has received the express permission of the Bishop. Major Exorcisms are only performed on an individual who is determined to be demonically possessed.
According to the USCCB, “Minor exorcisms are prayers used to break the influence of evil and sin in a person’s life, whether as a catechumen preparing for Baptism or as one of the Baptized faithful striving to overcome the influence of evil and sin in his or her life.” Sometimes referred to as “The Rite of Minor Exorcism by Leo XIII” and found in the Appendix of Exorcisms and Related Supplications, Minor Exorcisms are never used for a genuine full demonic possession. The Sacrament of Baptism includes a Minor Exorcism as part of the Rite for the Baptism of Children and the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.
Fiction: If you Receive an Exorcism, Your Head Will Spin 360 Degrees
Unless you are an owl, (and even their heads can’t spin a full 360), no your head will not twist off. The Devil and his demons are sometimes given permission by God to bend the laws of physics and gravity but not to break them. A person’s head rotating 360 degrees is a Hollywood spin (see what I did there?) on some of the supernatural things that may occur to a demonically possessed person when the demon with which he or she is possessed gets riled up.
Fact: You Can’t Be Possessed Against Your Will
Genuine Demonic Possession requires the consent of the will of the one possessed. This is why the sacramental life and a prayer life are so important. The Sacraments feed and fortify us so that we have a strong will and a well formed conscience, rightly ordered to will what God wills. If a person frequents the sacraments and maintains a prayer life it is virtually impossible for that person to become possessed. On the other hand, things like pornography, the occult, drugs, voodoo, witchcraft, and even Ouija boards are all considered “gateways” by exorcists. They recognize these avenues as some of the most common ways that demonic influence is allowed into a person’s life. Over time this influence can weaken the will. Our best defense is to stop sin and addiction before they happen – before our will is weakened. The more persistent the temptation, the clearer it is that you have not given consent to it. “It is a good sign,” says St. Francis de Sales, “when the tempter makes so much noise and commotion outside of the will, for it shows that he is not within.”
Fiction: The Devil Won’t Bother Me if I Frequent the Sacraments and Pray
While the Sacraments give us the Grace and Strength we need to find, carry out, and continue to seek God’s Will, they do not act like demon bug spray. Frequenting the Sacraments and maintaining an ever deepening prayer life will give us what we need to fight the devil whenever and however he might pester us, and pester us he will. Padre Pio Says, “The demon has only one door by which to enter into our soul: the will; there are no secret doors. No sin is a sin if not committed with the will. When there is no action of the will, there is no sin, but only human weakness.”
Fact: Holy People Get Pushed Around By the Devil
We tend to think that if a person is holy he or she isn’t bothered by Satan. That it is only us poor sinners who seem to face an onslaught of temptations – or worse! This simply isn’t true! Saints of the likes of Padre Pio, John Vianney, and Catherine of Siena (only to name three) were literally pushed around – and out of bed! – by the devil and his minions. In fact after a night of wresting, yes full on WWF: Devil vs. The Cure d’Ars, a tired St. John Vianney who knew God’s power and Satan’s lack thereof, finally exclaimed, “Fine! You take the bed, I’ll take the floor!” and fell asleep! These Saints knew that Satan can throw tantrums and try his best to bother us, but power is in Jesus’ Name alone.
Fiction: Possession and Temptation are The Only Ways Satan Is Able to Afflict Us
While you may think this is the case, and the movies certainly make it seem like it is, there are actually a variety of ways that Satan and his demons can have an influence on an individual. Except for Temptations which come at the worst times and always seem to hit us where it hurts, all the other areas of demonic activity or influence require the consent or an act of the will of the person afflicted. Sometimes when a person is being especially afflicted, tormented, or influenced by Satan or a demon they are said to be oppressed or obsessed. When referring to a place or locality that is occupied by or seems to have the attention of demons, the term “demonic infestation” is used. That “haunted house?” No, it’s not haunted. But it could be infested. Even in the case of infestations, the demons present would have had to have been invited or given access. Remember, Satan and the demons he commands only have as much influence as we give them. Temptations are annoying, and sometimes darn right difficult to fight, but we fight them with our will. When we fail we go to confession. All the other areas of demonic activity are considered “extraordinary.” They require a weakened a will, a lagging prayer life, and most importantly, our consent.
Fact: Mary Crushes the Head of the Serpent
There is no greater ally in our battle against temptation and the demonic than Our Lady and Mother. The Woman who crushes the head of Satan. When in the midst of temptation, when faced with a lack of fervor, when you don’t want to pray, when your will is weak; turn to Mary. She will rush to your aid! What mother doesn’t come running to her child when he or she cries out for help?!
Final Fact: BE NOT AFRAID!
It is not for nothing that these words are repeated in the Gospels over and over! Jesus has given us all power over Satan. He has given us the Church, the Sacraments, and His own Mother. We have nothing to fear. Faith and Trust in Jesus and His Mercy are more powerful than anything the Devil may try to throw at us. Do not allow him to tempt you into fearing him. He is not scary. Sin is scary. Separating ourselves from God is scary. Satan has no power over us when we fix our eyes on Christ and throw ourselves upon His Mercy!