Vatican Releases New Rite for Exorcism

Catholic World News – January 1999

VATICAN ( — The Devil exists. That unpopular reality is brought into sharp focus by the promulgation of a new rite of exorcism for the Catholic Church.


De Exorcismus et supplicationibus quibusdam, approved by Pope John Paul II on October 1, 1998, was formally released by the Vatican on January 26. The document sets out a new and precise liturgical form for the rite of exorcism. The 84-page form, introduced by the Congregation Divine Worship, was published entirely in Latin; the episcopal conferences of different nations may now prepare their own versions in the vernacular languages.This new Vatican document clearly recognizes both the existence of the Devil and the reality of diabolical possession. In a short introduction, the document calls attention to the existence of both “angelic creatures” and others “called demons, who are opposed to God.” Since the influence of the demonic can become apparent in people, places, or things, the document continues, the Church “has prayed, and continues to pray, that men will be freed from the snares of the Devil.”


The new rite confirms “the victory of Christ and the power of the Church over the demons.” It points to the rites in the Christian tradition: the “minor exorcism” of catechumens prior to their baptism and the major exorcisms conducted according to this ritual. The latter are designed to “drive out demons, or bring freedom from demonic influence, through the spiritual authority which Jesus confided in his Church.”


The liturgical ritual itself is centered on supplicatory prayers, asking for God’s help, and “imperative” prayers addressed directly to the Devil, commanding him to depart. The prayers are to be said as the exorcist lays his hand on the individual, and are part of an overall ritual which includes specific blessings and sprinklings with holy water. The ritual also includes the litany of the saints, the reading of the Psalms and the Gospel, and a proclamation of faith which may be either the familiar Creed or a simple question-and-answer (“Do you renounce Satan? I do.”). The ritual concludes with the kissing of the Cross, and the final prayer, proclaiming the triumph of Christ and his Church.


The new ritual for exorcism replaces one which was promulgated as part of the Roman Ritual of 1614. The Second Vatican Council called for the revision of that Ritual, which has been accomplished in stages during the past 30 years; the rite of exorcism was the last of the new rituals to be introduced.


In introducing the new document to reporters in Rome, Cardinal Jorge Arturo Medina Estevez, the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, said that the rite has not been greatly changed from the earlier ritual. He added that while there are “very few cases” in which the rite is used, the rite of exorcism– which can only be used under the guidance of the local bishop, and with the consent of the person suffering diabolical possession– remains necessary because the Devil is a reality. He cautioned that while many Catholics today no longer profess belief in the Devil, that belief “is not a matter of opinion which one can accept or reject; it is an element of faith and Catholic doctrine.”


NCCB – Newsletter, Committee on the Liturgy

(Volume XXXV, Jan. – Feb. 1999)

New Rite of Exorcism


On January 26, 1999, Cardinal Jorge Arturo Medina Estevez, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, announced that on November 22, 1998, the Solemnity of Christ the King, he had signed a decree by which a revised editio typica latina of De Exorcismis (Rite of Exorcism) was to be published. In response to article 79 of Sacrosanctum Concilium, this rite was revised to replace Chapter XII of the former Latin Roman Ritual, and will eventually be published in vernacular editions for use by the Church throughout the world. This rite may be used by priests who have been given a specific faculty to do so by the diocesan bishop.


Creation, Fall and Christ’s Victory


The first chapter of this new rite reviews the scriptural record, which proclaims the victory of Christ and his Church over all. God not only creates all things visible and invisible, but governs and protects his creatures as well. Created good, the devil and his demons chose to be estranged from God. Likewise, man, created in the image of God, abused the gift of his liberty, having been persuaded to sin by the devil. Thus a terrible struggle against the powers of darkness has pervaded the whole of human history. The introduction recalls the Lord Jesus’ victories over Satan, the exorcisms he performed and his healing of those who were under the devil’s power. Sent by his merciful Father, Christ destroyed death by his own death and reconstituted human nature by rising triumphant from the grave. Finally, Christ gave this power to expel spirits to the Apostles so that in his name, the Church might carry on the work of her Lord.


Exorcism in the Church’s Ministry of Sanctification


Many forms of exorcism have, therefore, been practiced by the Church from her beginning. In preparation for baptism, catechumens receive minor exorcisms whereby the Church prays that they be freed from sin and the influence of the evil one. Likewise, the Liturgy of Baptism itself includes a renunciation of Satan and all his works and the Rite for the Baptism of Children includes a prayer of exorcism which asks God to set the children free from original sin and makes them temples of God’s glory, sending the Holy Ghost to dwell within them. These rites recall that through the waters of Baptism all may participate in the victory of Christ over sin, the devil and his darkness.


Even those reborn in Christ, however, experience temptation and must be vigilant in prayer and sobriety of life, resisting the devil by the celebration of the sacraments and especially the Sacrament of Penance.


The occurrence of diabolic possession is very difficult to understand. The Church appropriately addresses such situations with a liturgical celebration called a “major exorcism”, whereby, united with the Holy Ghost, she implores God’s help to expel demons. In exorcizing evil spirits, the Church acts not in her own name but in the name of Christ the Lord, to whom even the devil and the demons must be obedient in all things.


Possession and Exorcism


The celebration of the Liturgy of Exorcism is regulated solely by the bishop of a diocese, who may appoint a priest-exorcist, a man of piety, knowledge, prudence and holiness of life. The exorcist must demonstrate maximum circumspection and prudence, initially approaching the possessed person as he would anyone who suffers from physical or psychological illness. The exorcist decides whether a person is possessed after a diligent investigation, including extensive consultation, with spiritual, medical and psychological experts.


Signs of diabolic possession include the speaking of unknown languages, the knowing of distant or hidden things and the manifestation of abnormal physical strength. Yet each of these may be attributable to other causes and are not necessarily signs of diabolic possession. Thus, spiritual signs, such as an aversion for the name of God, the Holy Name of Jesus, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Saints, the Church, the Word of God, the Church’s rites or sacramentals and sacred images must be taken into consideration along with the relationship of all these factors to the life of faith.


If it is determined that a person is not truly possessed the Church nonetheless provides appropriate spiritual help without a major exorcism. All must be done to avoid the perception that an exorcism is magic or superstition. Exorcisms should never be broadcast in any media and should be treated with proper discretion.


The Rite of Exorcism


The rite itself is described in Chapter Six of the Introduction. The exorcist begins the rite with the sign of the cross and a sprinkling with blessed water by which the purification received in Baptism is recalled. A litany of the saints follows, asking for God’s mercy. Then, the exorcist may recite one or more of a selection of Psalms, which may be prayed responsorially. At the end of the Psalms, the exorcist may offer a Psalm-prayer.


The Gospel, which is a sign of the presence of Christ, is then read aloud, since Christ through his word proclaimed in Church relieves the sicknesses of all. An imposition of hands upon the possessed person follows with an invocation of the Holy Ghost and an optional insufflation (blowing on the face of the possessed person by the exorcist). The Creed is then recited, and a renewal of baptismal promises is made, including a renunciation of Satan. This portion of the rite concludes with the Lord’s Prayer (deliver us from evil.).


After these rites the exorcist shows the possessed person the cross of the Lord and traces the sign of the cross on the forehead of the possessed in order to indicate the power of Christ over the devil. A prayer to God follows, along with, if it seems appropriate, an imperative formula by which the exorcist the devil to leave the possessed person. This rite may be repeated, as deemed necessary by the authorized exorcist. The entire rite concludes with a canticle of thanksgiving, a prayer and a blessing.


The Introduction to the rite reminds the exorcist of the importance of prayer and fasting and the roles which the parents, friends, confessor and spiritual director of the possessed may take. An exorcism should be conducted in church whenever possible and in the presence of images of the crucified Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary. The exorcist is urged to note the importance of a constant knowledge of the physical and psychological state of the possessed person along with the necessity to patiently support the possessed person, never doubting the help of God or the office of the Church.


While a small group of the faithful may be present for the exorcism, they should pray only their assigned parts and refrain from pronouncing the formulas which belong only to the authorized exorcist. Finally, the Introduction offers guidance for the happy occasion when a possessed person has been delivered from demonic oppression.


Chapter Six describes adaptations which may be made by Episcopal Conferences, whose role it is to prepare a translation of the text in an absolutely faithful and integral way and to adapt the rite with the consent of the Holy See.


The Wanderer – 4 February 1999

Cardinal Medina Says New Rite

Of Exorcism Similar To Old


VATICAN CITY (VIS) Jorge Arturo Cardinal Medina Estevez, prefect of the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, on Jan. 26th presented at the Holy See Press Office the new rite of exorcism of the Roman Book of Rites.


Cardinal Medina began by stating that the person’s capacity to welcome God is “blurred by sin, and at times evil occupies the place where God wishes to dwell. For this reason, Jesus Christ came to liberate the person from the dominion of evil and sin…. Jesus Christ drove out demons and liberated people who were possessed with evil spirits to make space for Him in that person.


“Exorcism is an old and particular form of prayer which the Church uses against the power of the Devil,” he continued. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (n. 1673) explains that exorcism is directed at “the expulsion of demons or to the liberation from demonic possession through the spiritual authority which Jesus entrusted to His Church.”


According to the rite of exorcism, continued the cardinal prefect, there are various criteria to know if we are dealing with demonic possession: “Speaking with a great number of words from unknown languages, or understanding them, making known things either distant or hidden, showing strength beyond one’s situation, together with vehement aversion toward God, our Lady, the cross, and holy pictures.”


“To perform an exorcism,” he stressed, “authorization from the diocesan bishop is required, which can be given for a specific case, or rather in a general and permanent way to the priest who has the ministry of exorcist in the diocese.”


Cardinal Medina said that the Roman Book of Rites contained in the last chapter the indications and liturgical text of the exorcisms, but “it had not been revised since Vatican Council II.” After ten years of work, the current text was approved by the Pontiff. Once the translations of the ritual are completed in different languages, they will be submitted “for the recognition of the [Sacred] Congregation for Divine Worship.”


In the current book of rites there is “the rite of exorcism itself, and “the prayers which must be publicly recited . . . when it is prudently deemed that there is an influence of Satan over places, objects, or people, without having arrived at the phase of possession itself. In addition, there is a series of prayers which the faithful must pray privately when they believe that they are subject to demonic influences.”


“Exorcism has its departure point in the faith of the Church, according to which Satan and other evil spirits exist. . . . Catholic doctrine teaches us that demons are fallen angels as a result of their sin, and that they are spiritual beings with great intelligence and power.”


The prefect of the congregation, recalling with The Catechism of the Catholic Church that “the power of Satan is not infinite,” said however that God’s allowing us to be tempted “is a great mystery.”


In conclusion, he emphasized that “the harmful influence of the Devil and his evil spirits is normally exercised through deception, falsehoods, lies, and confusion. As Jesus is the Truth, the Devil is the liar par excellence. Lies have always been, right from the beginning, his preferred strategy.”


In answer to a question, Cardinal Medina explained that “there is great continuity between the old and the new rites, there are no radical changes. The language is more somber and fewer adjectives are used; however, the expression of faith in the power of God to expel the Devil is the same in both cases.


The Roman Ritual  —  1952 A.D.




That there is a world of demons is a teaching of revealed religion which is perfectly clear to all who know Sacred Scripture and respect and accept its word as inspired of God. It is part of the whole Christian-Judaeo heritage. There are some who hold that even if revelation were not so absolute, an inference of the existence of evil spirits can be drawn from the magnitude of evil in the world. They say that human malice and depravity even at its worst is not sufficient to account for it, and it must be concluded that the devil is a real person and that his sway is tremendous. As Franqois Mauriac writes in his life of St. Margaret of Cortona: “Evil is Someone, Someone who is multiple and whose name is legion. . . . It is one thing to be in the realm of the demons, as we all are when we have lost the state of grace, and quite another to be held and surrounded, literally possessed by him.”


One gets the impression that the teaching about the devil’s existence is not a particularly popular one in our time. C. S. Lewis in his Screwtape Letters says something to the effect that if the little inexperienced novice devils, about to start out on their work of seducing men, can convince men that the devil does not exist, then half the battle is already won.


The first book of the Holy Bible recounts the seduction of Adam and Eve by the Prince of Darkness; but it is to the last book that we must go for his origin. “Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels had to fight the dragon; the dragon fought, and so did his angels. But they were defeated, and a place was no longer found for them in heaven. That huge dragon, the ancient serpent, was hurled down, he who is called the devil and Satan, he who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled down to death, and his angels were hurled down with him.” (Apoc 12.7-9)


Christ our Lord overcame Satan on the cross, and ever since the latter’s empire is shaken. Man is delivered from the power of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of the Son. Yet the devil is not completely vanquished or trodden underfoot once for all, and the warfare against him is carried out by Christ and His Church until the end of time. Therefore, St. Paul is prompted to admonish us: “Put on all the armor that God has forged, that you may be able to make a stand against the devil’s cunning tricks. Our wrestling is not against weak human nature, but against the Principalities and the Powers, against those that rule the world of darkness, the wicked spirits that belong to an order higher than ours. . . . With all this take up the shield of faith, with which you will be enabled to put out all the flaming arrows of the wicked enemy.” (Eph 6.12-16)


Against these unclean spirits the Church uses as her weapons prayers, blessings, holy water, and other sacramentals to combat the ordinary power that the former wield over men. But apart from this ordinary and general power that Providence allows Satan there is also a special and terrible satanic influence called possession — the domination by the demon over man’s bodily organs and his lower spiritual faculties. In later Christian times the term obsession is used instead of possession, the former connoting a lesser kind of demonic disturbance. That Christ reckoned with this satanic power in the same way that the Church has throughout her centuries is evident from the New Testament; see for example Mt 9.32-34, Lk 8.2, Mk 9.13 if.


To be possessed can mean that Satan has gained mastery over the will so devastatingly that sinfulness passes beyond ordinary depravity in the world, and its cause must be sought in a power above the order of nature. To be possessed can mean that Satan has beclouded the intellect, so that the light of faith cannot illuminate it. To be possessed can mean that Satan has befuddled a person’s reason; in fact, simple and superstitious folk have wrongly made lunacy synonymous with diabolical infestation. In some instances of possession recounted in the New Testament, molestation by the devil is manifested in various disturbances of the human body itself, where he has gained control over a man’s sight, hearing, speech, or the physical organism in general. (Mk 5:1ff)


Christ handed down to the Church the power He once exercised over demons. The early Christians were deeply influenced by what they had learned of their Master’s dealing with evil spirits, and there was on their part frequent use of the charismatic gifts of healing the sick and driving out devils. But the prayers and forms used for exorcism in the first centuries have not come down to us, outside the ones used in baptism. Exorcism became part of the baptismal rite somewhere around 200 A.D. Thus the ancient liturgical records which date from the third century, those dealing with baptism, give us the early Christians’ belief about Satan and his intervention in the affairs of man. In the devil’s hatred for God he .turned on man, who is made in God’s image. In consequence of original sin men are no longer temples of the Holy Ghost but rather the habitations of the demon. Not too much distinction is made between the possessed and the unbaptized. Isidore of Seville puts both on the same level, and says that exorcism is the ceremony of banishing the most wicked influence of the devil from catechumens and possessed alike. (Dictionnaire D’ Archéologie Chrétienne et de Liturgie, V, Pt. 1, 963 if.)


It is difficult to fix precisely the time of origin of a special rite for exorcism. The evidence would indicate that in the early Church acts of exorcism consisted mainly in the sign of the cross, invoking the name of Jesus, and renunciations of Satan and adjurations and threats uttered against him. But later on, especially in the Latin Church, the rites of exorcism become more and more numerous, until in the highly imaginative Middle Ages there is actually a profusion of them. To this period we must attribute beliefs and practices which are superstitious to an extreme. Devils are believed to exist in the guise of certain material bodies. Demonic possession is confounded with epilepsy and other mental or psychic disorders. Rituals of this time prescribe that the subject remain in the presence of the exorcist throughout the period of exorcism, that he observe a strict fast and limit his diet to blessed water, salt, and vegetables, that he wear new clothes, that he abstain from the marital act. No less complicated are the injunctions for the exorcist. And by the time we come to the fourteenth century magical practices have been introduced into the ceremonies.


No doubt the present rite for exorcism will undergo improvement and revision along with the general revision of the liturgical books recommended by Vatican Council II. But compared to former times the rite as given in the Roman Ritual today is characterized by great sobriety. Some minds might still discern traces of a certain naivete, yet at any rate it has been purged of the unfortunate accretions of a period ruled much more by human credulity than by the unadulterated doctrine of the Church. No longer, for example, does the official text afford any grounds for the erroneous notion that diabolical possession is necessarily a divine retribution visited upon a grievous sinner. God allows this terrible evil in His wisdom without the afflicted person being necessarily at fault. It is one thing to have fallen into the slavery of sin or to be afflicted with a bodily or mental infirmity, and quite another to have the devil enter into a man and take possession of him.


The general rules for exorcism that follow are a clear indication that we have come a long way from the superstitious notions that prevailed in the era of the Middle Ages. Noteworthy among these rules are the ones that direct that the parties concerned should have recourse to the holy sacraments, and that the sacred words of Holy Writ should be employed rather than any forms devised by the exorcist or someone else. The instructions given below indicate that the Church has carefully guarded the extraordinary power over Satan committed to her by Christ, and that Catholic exorcism is poles removed from any form of dabbling in the spirit world which springs from human chicanery or malice.


— Translator







A priest — one who is expressly and particularly authorized by the Ordinary — when he intends to perform an exorcism over persons tormented by the devil, must be properly distinguished for his piety, prudence, and integrity of life. He should fulfill this devout undertaking in all constancy and humility, being utterly immune to any striving for human aggrandizement, and relying, not on his own, but on the divine power. Moreover, he ought to be of mature years, and revered not alone for his office but for his moral qualities.

In order to exercise his ministry rightly, he should resort to a great deal more study of the matter (which has to be passed over here for the sake of brevity), by examining approved authors and cases from experience; on the other hand, let him carefully observe the few more important points enumerated here.

Especially, he should not believe too readily that a person is possessed by an evil spirit; but he ought to ascertain the signs by which a person possessed can be distinguished from one who is suffering from some illness, especially one of a psychological nature. (From the emended text of the 1952 edition.) Signs of possession may be the following: ability to speak with some facility in a strange tongue or to understand it when spoken by another; the faculty of divulging future and hidden events; display of powers which are beyond the subject’s age and natural condition; and various other indications which, when taken together as a whole, build up the evidence.

In order to understand these matters better, let him inquire of the person possessed, following one or the other act of exorcism, what the latter experienced in his body or soul while the exorcism was being performed, and to learn also what particular words in the form had a more intimidating effect upon the devil, so that hereafter these words may be employed with greater stress and frequency.

He will be on his guard against the arts and subterfuges which the evil spirits are wont to use in deceiving the exorcist. For oftentimes they give deceptive answers and make it difficult to understand them, so that the exorcist might tire and give up, or so it might appear that the afflicted one is in no wise possessed by the devil.

Once in a while, after they are already recognized, they conceal themselves and leave the body practically free from every molestation, so that the victim believes himself completely delivered. Yet the exorcist may not desist until he sees the signs of deliverance.

At times, moreover, the evil spirits place whatever obstacles they can in the way, so that the patient may not submit to exorcism, or they try to convince him that his affliction is a natural one. Meanwhile, during the exorcism they cause him to fall asleep, and dangle some illusion before him, while they seclude themselves, so that the afflicted one appears to be freed.

Some reveal a crime which has been committed and the perpetrators thereof, as well as the means of putting an end to it. Yet the afflicted person must beware of having recourse on this account to sorcerers or necromancers or to any parties except the ministers of the Church, or of making use of any superstitious or forbidden practice.

Sometimes the devil will leave the possessed person in peace `and even allow him to receive the holy Eucharist, to make it appear that he has departed. In fact, the arts and frauds of the evil one for deceiving a man are innumerable. For this reason the exorcist must be on his guard not to fall into this trap.

Therefore, he will be mindful of the words of our Lord (Mt 17.20), to the effect that there is a certain type of evil spirit who cannot be driven out except by prayer and fasting. Therefore, let him avail himself of these two means above all for imploring the divine assistance in expelling demons, after the example of the holy fathers; and not only himself, but let him induce others, as far as possible, to do the same.

If it can be done conveniently the possessed person should be led to church or to some other sacred and worthy place, where the exorcism will be held, away from the crowd. But if the person is ill, or for any valid reason, the exorcism may take place in a private home.

The subject, if in good mental and physical health, should be exhorted to implore God’s help, to fast, and to fortify himself by frequent reception of penance and holy communion, at the discretion of the priest. And in the course of the exorcism he should be fully recollected, with his intention fixed on God, whom he should entreat with firm faith and in all humility. And if he is all the more grievously tormented, he ought to bear this patiently, never doubting the divine assistance.

He ought to have a crucifix at hand or somewhere in sight. If relics of the saints are available, they are to be applied in a reverent way to the breast or the head of the person possessed (the relics must be properly and securely encased and covered). One will see to it that these sacred objects are not treated improperly or that no injury is done them by the evil spirit. However, one should not hold the holy Eucharist over the head of the person or in any way apply it to his body, owing to the danger of desecration.

The exorcist must not digress into senseless prattle nor ask superfluous questions or such as are prompted by curiosity, particularly if they pertain to future and hidden matters, all of which have nothing to do with his office. Instead, he will bid the unclean spirit keep silence and answer only when asked. Neither ought he to give any credence to the devil if the latter maintains that he is the spirit of some saint or of a deceased party, or even claims to be a good angel.

But necessary questions are, for example: the number and name of the spirits inhabiting the patient, the time when they entered into him, the cause thereof, and the like. As for all jesting, laughing, and nonsense on the part of the evil spirit — the exorcist should prevent it or contemn it, and he will exhort the bystanders (whose number must be very limited) to pay no attention to such goings on; neither are they to put any question to the subject. Rather they should intercede for him to God in all humility and urgency.

Let the priest pronounce the exorcism in a commanding and authoritative voice, and at the same time with great confidence, humility, and fervor; and when he sees that the spirit is sorely vexed, then he oppresses and threatens all the more. If he notices that the person afflicted is experiencing a disturbance in some part of his body or an acute pain or a swelling appears in some part, he traces the sign of the cross over that place and sprinkles it with holy water, which he must have at hand for this purpose.

He will pay attention as to what words in particular cause the evil spirits to tremble, repeating them the more frequently. And when he comes to a threatening expression, he recurs to it again and again, always increasing the punishment. If he perceives that he is making progress, let him persist for two, three, four hours, and longer if he can, until victory is attained.

The exorcist should guard against giving or recommending any medicine to the patient, but should leave this care to physicians.

While performing the exorcism over a woman, he ought always to have assisting him several women of good repute, who will hold on to the person when she is harassed by the evil spirit. These assistants ought if possible to be close relatives of the subject, and for the sake of decency the exorcist will avoid saying or doing anything which might prove an occasion of evil thoughts to himself or to the others.

During the exorcism he shall preferably employ words from Holy Writ, rather than forms of his own or of someone else. He shall, moreover, command the devil to tell whether he is detained in that body by necromancy, by evil signs or amulets; and if the one possessed has taken the latter by mouth, he should be made to vomit them; if he has them concealed on his person, he should expose them; and when discovered they must be burned. Moreover, the person should be exhorted to reveal all his temptations to the exorcist.

Finally, after the possessed one has been freed, let him be admonished to guard himself carefully against falling into sin, so as to afford no opportunity to the evil spirit of returning, lest the last state of that man become worse than the former.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: