ASK FATHER: What are the different kinds of exorcism, and why would one be used instead of another?

From a reader…


I’ve heard mention on this site from time to time of various Titles of exorcism.  What are the different kinds of exorcism, and why would one be used instead of another?  Are certain kinds reserved for Popes, Bishops, or Abbots?  Can Deacons exorcise?

Frankly, any Christian might be able to exorcize.  One of the most awesome exorcists of the Medieval period was St. Catherine of Siena.   Also, the Lord dispatched his disciples to preach, to heal and to cast out demons.  They weren’t ordained yet.  And there were, as you remember, those whom the disciples rebuked because, although they were not in their circle, they were casting out demons in Jesus name (Mark 9:38).  The Jews, before the time of Christ, has exorcists (cf. Acts 19:13).  Heck, even handkerchiefs were used to drive out demons (Acts 19:12).  Moreover, among the minor orders conferred on MEN before ordination to the major orders of subdeacon, deacon, and priest (and bishop), there was ordination as an “Exorcist”.    This order went all the way back to at least the 3rd century.

Some people have this gift.  It is not something to be presumed upon, however.

This is serious business, on the one hand.  On the other, it ought to be fairly routine.   Remember that the Devil and demons are the “apes of God”.  They do nothing original.  They are like clowns, in a way.  They are at the same time to be considered with derision and taken quite seriously.  Though they are fallen, they remain angels, and that is not a joke of any sort.   Possession is their hideous way of aping the Incarnation.

The Church gets to regulate how sacraments are celebrated and how sacramentals are used.  Exorcism is a sacramental.   The Church has had for a very long time now carefully crafted Rites of Exorcism.  These have been developed through centuries of experience of what actually works.  Is there only way to perform an exorcism.  No.  However, it is a really good idea to be guided by the Church, the greatest expert on humanity and supernatural questions that there ever has been or ever could be.  To depart from that guidance would be folly.  It could be incredibly dangerous folly.

Let me add here that NO ONE – NO LAY PERSON should start trying to exorcize just because of what I wrote, above. That would be rash and hazardous.

That said, there are certain kinds of “deliverance prayers” and “minor exorcisms” that lay people can pray and they can be effective.  However, just as in the case of the full-blown Rite of Exorcism, the person saying the prayers had better be in the state of grace.  If you start poking at demons and you are in the state of mortal sin, you are asking for serious trouble.  JUST DON’T.

Now, pay attention.  I just wrote “JUST DON’T”.  That said, there is a kind of a self-exorcism, or, better, deliverance prayer, which a lay person can and should recite: Prayers to Break the Freemasonic Curse.  These are to be said by someone who was initiated into Freemasonry or by descendants of Freemasons, adjustments being made for the differences in, for example, British and American Freemasonry.   Freemasonry is evil.  It is of Hell.  Catholics are forbidden to belong to any type of organization with ties to Freemasonry.   It gives demons access and can result it oppression and possession.   Once involved, the ties with Freemasonry have to be renounced and broken, even by descendants, for that reason that parents have authority over their children, who are brought into the Freemasonic influence by their commitments.

There are exorcisms that are reserved.  For example, in the Roman Ritual in the section called Title XI, chapter 2 has the Rite of Exorcism of a person.  This is reserved to bishops (successors of the Apostles) and to those priests to whom the bishop delegates his authority.  The diocesan bishop is, after all, the THE exorcist in his diocese.  Were a priest to use XI,2 without the bishop’s mandate, the exorcism could be effective, but without question it would be more authoritative with the bishop’s mandate.  In effect, that mandate is so important, that priests shouldn’t try to exorcize without it.  Perhaps if there were a serious case of necessity, that might be an exception.  For example, if a group were stranded on an island with a priest and someone was possessed, the priest (who no doubt would have his copy of the Ritual with him) could go ahead.   But that priest had better make as perfect an Act of Contrition as possible, because exorcism in the state of mortal sin is potentially hazardous.  Even if the priest would succeed, that demon would want someone else to latch onto.  As a matter of fact, exorcists will tell you that everyone involved in an exorcism should be in the state of grace through confession and sacramental absolution.  Otherwise… bad.

As a matter of fact, the rubric at the beginning of XI.2 says, in Latin: “The priest delegated by the Ordinary, properly confessed, or at least in his heart detesting his sins, once the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is finished, if that was practical to accomplish, and once divine help was begged by means of pious prayers, dressed in surplice and a violet stole, and having the obsessed person bound up before him, if there is danger…”.

The fact is that there is danger of physical harm in some exorcisms.  Sometimes people have to be restrained.   The demon has control of the energumen’s, the possessed person’s body and demons don’t like exorcists or those who help them.

An important take away in this is that, while GOD is the one who truly exorcizes, the personal state of the priest is important.  This is a sacramental, not a sacrament.  An unholy priest in the state of mortal sin, even a priest who is actually possessed, validly absolves and validly consecrates the Eucharist.  But a priest who is not living a holy life is, during an exorcism, going to have a really bad time with the demon, who knows what his problems are, and is also open to getting to be that demons next playground.

According to the Church’s present practice, the delegation to exorcise using XI.2 cannot be given to a deacon.

That’s for XI.2.  Then there is XI.3.

Title XI, Chapter 3 is an exorcism of a place or thing, not a person.   It contains the longer St. Michael Prayer.  It is my strong conviction that lay people should not use this prayer, even though it is included in the vernacular in some devotional books and traditional hand missals.  For example, I think that the fine Angelus Press hand missal has it.  The Rituale says that it can be used by bishops and by priests who have authority “ab Ordinario“… which is usually the diocesan bishop, although there are different kinds of “ordinaries”.  For example, a Vicar General is an Ordinary.  I’ve consulted with various expert exorcists and have come to understand that XI.3 can be used privately by priests, but if they are going to do something public, they have to have the authority from the Ordinary.  That certainly adds punch to it, because demons are the ultimate legalists.   So, Father could, were he to suspect that there was something nasty over in the church hall or perhaps the school … or the rectory… say XI.3 without anyone else around and then bless the place and see what the effect is.   But if, for example, some satanic loon busted up a statue of the Blessed Virgin outside the church, and left obvious signs and maybe even fortunas (cursed objects intended to cause possession) and if Father wanted to have a more public “cleansing” of the damage, he should either get the bishops (who is the true exorcist) or get his mandate to use XI.3 publicly.

BTW… the longer St. Michael Prayer, from Leo XIII, contains language that deals not just with demons, but also with their human cooperators and agents, which meant especially in Leo’s time, Freemasons.   Popes through history have clearly, resoundingly condemned Freemasonry, not only for its spiritual dangers but also for its mundane, secular work to undermine the Catholic Church for its deeper, Satanic aims.

To sum up, the Church regulates who can pray the major exorcisms.  Common sense and experience suggest that, if you are not a priest, you had better not dabble in this stuff, even the minor exorcisms, especially if you have the slightest doubt about being in the state of grace.  That said, there is a charism from God for casting out demons, and He can give it to whom it pleaseth Him to give it.  It should not be presumed.  It would have to manifest itself somehow, for example a possessed person reacting harshly to the presence of the person who has it, as they would to the presents of Holy Water, relics, etc.  Don’t go around trying to exorcize people to see if you’ve got it.  You would not only look foolish, you would authentically be foolish.

Finally, just to be clear.  Lay people, for the most part, leave all this stuff to priests.  Ask priests for their blessing.  If there is something manifesting itself in your life or in your house, get a sound, level-headed tradition-minded priest involved.  Go ahead and use sacramentals, properly blessed.  And remember that sacraments are more powerful than sacramentals.  If you GO TO CONFESSION! that will do more than your average half-grasped deliverance prayer.

And may I remind everyone that the mightiest verbal prayer of all, the prayer Our Lord taught us and told us to pray, contains… “libera nos a malo… deliver us from evil”!  If you think about is, that’s an exorcism prayer.

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  2. Michael in NoVA says:

    Fr. Z,

    Question for you about Freemasonry objects and items. A former neighbor lost his house and later storage unit due to alcoholism and related legal problems. I teamed up with a friend of his to purchase the storage unit at auction to salvage photos and personal effects. My former neighbor does not know who purchased the unit, only that we were able to save some things. Included in these items are Masonic items from a lodge he belonged to in the Midwest.

    Am I morally obliged to give him these objects, or can I trash the Masonic things? Legally, I believe I can dispose of them as I wish, but I wanted to check about this morally.

    Thank you for your ministry.

    [Break them and pitch the pieces into flowing water, a river.]

  3. Josh Beigs says:

    Interesting, father, that you should bring up the Our Father being an exorcism prayer. I just today read a thread on the Catholicism subreddit from someone, a non-Catholic, relaying a story of their house that sounded like demonic oppression. A friend suggested they read Matthew 6:9-13 aloud. The person was physically unable to read past verse 10. In any case, they had gotten in touch with a Catholic priest for help.

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  5. Fr. Reader says:

    I live in a country in which Catholics are less than 1%. Many have watched movies with exorcism-related things, When they see I am a priest, often they are curious, and among other questions, they ask if I perform exorcisms. I try to take advantage of the situation to say something about the faith. I say that I do something bigger than that, I forgive sins.

  6. prayfatima says:

    I like your response, Fr. Reader.

  7. JimmyD7 says:

    As a descendent, my grandfather, of a 33 degree freemason, what should i do? never heard that the descendant were impacted by freemasonry

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