was originally published in the Summer 2002 edition of Latin Mass Magazine.
It is reprinted here with their gracious permission.
The New Rite of Exorcism The Influence of
the Evil One by Father X
In his famous discourse of June 30, 1972, Pope Paul VI said that he
sensed “that from somewhere or other, the smoke of Satan has entered
the temple of God.” Nowhere has this been more evident than in the
disastrous revision of the blessings of the Church in De
Benedictionibus, the so-called “Book of Blessings,”1 approved in 1984.
In the original Latin this defective book scandalously refuses to bless
objects, but only persons. The example of Christ our Lord in blessing
things (e.g., Matt. 14:19; 26:26; Mk. 6:41; 8:7; 14:22; Lk. 9:16;
24:30) obviously carried no weight with the liturgists who wrote that
book. The official General Introduction to the Book of Blessings
informs us: “At times the Church also blesses objects and places
connected with human activity or liturgical life, or connected with
piety and devotion – but always, however, with a view to the people who
use those objects and are engaged in those places” (Praenotanda
Generalia, 12). This explanation is dishonest, in that it gives only
half a reason for blessing things, and because it conceals the fact
that the book of blessings, with a few exceptions, systematically
refuses to bless things. It is a book of non-blessings. To take but one
example, the “blessing” of holy water outside of Mass contains no
actual blessing of the water. The closest thing to it is a prayer to
God asking for certain effects by the use of this water. The so-called
“Prayer of blessing” (in Latin and English) refrains from using the
word “bless” even once, and there is no Sign of the Cross made over the
water. The Devil must have laughed when that “Book of Blessings” was
issued. The traditional exorcism of water and salt, and all the other
Roman Ritual’s traditional prayers against the devil and his influence
were almost completely abolished. On three occasions only is a thing
blessed. These three exceptions in Latin are for meals, church bells
and cemeteries. In the American edition, the same things appear; also
chalice and paten (found in Latin in the Pontifical); also two other
places in which the alternative rite (not in the Latin) does bless an
object.2 (The blessing of holy water within Mass does contain an actual
blessing of the water.)
The treatment of blessings in the Catechism (#1671-2) speaks of
blessings of persons, places and things. But this is belied, as I have
said, by the Latin text of De Benedictionibus, the “Book of Blessings,”
so called. When the definitive Latin text of the Catechism was issued
in 1997, with the paragraph saying that the Church blesses things, a
priest friend wrote to Cardinal Ratzinger pointing out that the lex
orandi and the lex credendi were at odds, and asked a question: “Can we
expect a revision of the Book of Blessings in the light of the
definitive text of the Catechism?” Of course, this is a reversal of the
traditional practice and view of things: one is meant to pass from the
Church’s practice to a formulation of the Church’s faith. But, if it
will do good, the reversal has become a necessity.
What lies behind this change to the rites of blessings? Clearly, a loss
of sense of the power of the priesthood – a desire, even, to overthrow
sacerdotal mediation, to reduce the priest from an instrument of
Christ, clothed with the authority of Jesus Christ, to a mere prayer,
on the same level as that of any lay person. The retention of the title
“Blessings” means nothing: as we know, All Souls’ Day is No Souls’ Day,
even in the original Latin, where the word for soul (anima) has been
suppressed in the prayers of November 2.3
The New Rite of
The same mentality has been at work in the revised Rite of Exorcism,
promulgated in January 1999, De Exorcismis et Supplicationibus
Quibusdam.4 This was intimated by the defective definition of exorcism
in the 1992 Catechism at #1673, unchanged in the Latin text that came
out five years later: “When the Church asks publicly and
authoritatively in the name of Jesus Christ that a person or object be
protected against the power of the Evil One and withdrawn from his
dominion, it is called exorcism.”
Let us read that definition again, with emphases added: “When the
Church asks publicly and authoritatively in the name of Jesus Christ
that a person or object be protected against the power of the Evil One
and withdrawn from his dominion, it is called exorcism.” Notice the use
of the word asks, and the use of the passive voice. The text says that
the Church asks for this person or object to be protected. Asks whom?
For protection by whom? Obviously, God. So, according to this, an
exorcism is: asking God to free someone from the devil. But, despite
what this text implies, an exorcism is not a prayer to God; exorcism is
a command issued to the Devil in the name of God. The very word
exorcism tells you that – exorcizo, I adjure. To adjure, as the Oxford
Dictionary defines it, is to charge or entreat someone solemnly, as if
under oath, or under the penalty of a curse. No one can adjure God, but
a minister of God can adjure a demon. The Ritual for Exorcism of 1614
(which until January 1999 was the only officially published text for
Latin rite exorcists) does contain prefatory prayers to God to ask that
a person be delivered – but then under the subheading of “Exorcism”
itself, the exorcist orders the demon to depart. “Exorcizo te,
immundissime spiritus…in nomine Domini nostri Jesu Christi” – “I
exorcize you, unclean spirit…in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” He
uses other imperatives addressed to the demon, such as recede, da
locum, exi, discede (withdraw, give way, exit, depart).
The new ritual scandalously gives the priest a choice of two forms of
exorcism, which it calls “deprecatory” and “imperative.” “Deprecatory”
means a prayer to God, in this case to ask Him to deliver the demoniac.
“Imperative” means a command issued to the demon in the name of God to
depart. The imperative formula is a real exorcism, but the deprecatory
form is not an exorcism at all. A prayer is a request to God; an
exorcism is a command to a demon. The so-called “deprecatory exorcism”
is simply a petitionary prayer to God. It is not an exorcism. (If it is
an exorcism, then the final petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “deliver us
from evil,” would also be an exorcism!)
As with the so-called “exorcism” in the modern Rite of Baptism, simply
placing the sub-heading Exorcism does not make what follows an
exorcism. What is extremely worrying is that, according to the new
rubrics, the deprecatory form must always be used, but the second form,
the imperative, is an optional extra. What lies behind this change? The
same denigration of the priesthood described above. It is a true
Protestantization: the reduction of the ordained priest to the level of
the common priesthood. It is the fruit of embarrassment about the
visible priesthood. It is the mentality that is at work when a priest
says at the end of Mass: “May Almighty God bless us….” When a priest
does that, he is losing his identity, and is uncomfortable about the
fact that he is different, and that he can confer blessings.
Here is an extract from one of the new deprecatory formulas:
O God, creator
and defender of the human race, look upon this Your
servant, whom You did make in Your own image and call to share in Your
glory…. Hear, holy Father, the cry of the Church suppliant: let not
Your child be possessed by the father of lies; let not Your servant,
whom Christ has redeemed by His blood, to be held in the captivity of
the devil; let not a temple of Your Spirit be inhabited by the unclean
spirit. Hear, O merciful God, the prayers of the blessed Virgin Mary,
whose Son, dying upon the Cross, crushed the head of the serpent of old
and entrusted all men to His mother as sons: let the light of truth
shine upon this Your servant, let the joy of peace enter into him, let
the Spirit of holiness possess him, and by inhabiting him render him
serene and pure. Hear, O Lord, the supplication of blessed Michael the
Archangel and of all the Angels ministering unto You: God of hosts,
drive back the force of the devil; God of truth and favor, remove his
deceitful wiles; God of freedom and grace, break the bonds of iniquity.
Hear, O God, lover of man’s salvation…free this servant from every
As we can see,
this is merely a petitionary prayer.
Here is an extract from one of the new imperative formulas:
I adjure you,
Satan, enemy of man’s salvation, acknowledge the justice
and goodness of God the Father, who by just judgment has damned your
pride and envy: depart from this servant of God, whom the Lord has made
in His own image, adorned with His gifts, and has mercifully adopted as
His child. I adjure you, Satan, prince of this world, acknowledge the
power and strength of Jesus Christ, who conquered you in the desert,
overcame you in the garden, despoiled you on the Cross, and rising from
the tomb, transferred your victims to the kingdom of light.… I adjure
you, Satan, deceiver of the human race, acknowledge the Spirit of truth
and grace, who repels your snares and confounds your lies: depart from
this creature of God, whom He has signed by the heavenly seal; withdraw
from this man whom God has made a holy temple by a spiritual unction.
Leave, therefore, Satan, in the name of the Father + and of the Son +
and of the Holy + Spirit; leave through the faith and the prayer of the
Church; leave through the sign of the holy Cross of our Lord Jesus
Christ, who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.
As one can see,
this optional formula is an exorcism proper. In the
former rite, there were prayers to God asking for deliverance, but they
were always followed by exorcisms proper.
Changes to the Old
Directives to the Exorcist
Other things are of great concern in this new ritual. The Ritual of
1614 contains 21 directives for the exorcist, a magnificent
distillation of the accumulated wisdom and experience of the Church.
The new preface never gets to the point about the manner of proceeding.
The former directives 4-6, 8-9, 13-17, 19-20 have no equivalent in the
new ritual’s preface. This means that most (12) of the 21 are deleted.
The following former directives have no parallel in the new
4. In order to better test these signs [of possession], the priest
should question the demoniac after one or other exorcism as to what he
feels in his mind or body, so that in this way he can also learn which
words more greatly disturb the demons, so as then to bear down on them
and repeat them all the more.
5. The priest should stay alert for tricks and deceptions that demons
use to mislead the exorcist. For they will give false answers as much
as possible, and show themselves only with difficulty, in order that
the exorcist at length become worn out and give up the exorcism; or the
ill person might appear not to be harassed by the devil.
6. Occasionally, after they appear, the demons hide and leave the body
almost free of all disturbance, so that the ill person might think he
is completely freed. But the exorcist should not stop until he sees the
signs of liberation.
8. Some demons point out an act of witchcraft which has been done [to
cause possession], by whom it was done, and the way to undo it; but the
demoniac should be careful not to have recourse to sorcerers,
fortune-tellers, or other such persons, on this account, but should go
to the ministers of the Church rather than use any superstitious or
otherwise illicit means.
9. Sometimes the devil grants the sick person relief and permits him to
receive the Holy Eucharist so that he might seem to have departed. In
short, there are countless devices and tricks of the devil to deceive
man, which the exorcist should beware, lest he be deceived.
13. …Also relics of Saints, where available, safely and properly
fastened and covered, may be reverently applied to the chest or head of
the possessed. Care must be taken that the sacred objects are not
improperly handled or harmed in any way by the demon. Because of danger
of irreverence, the Holy Eucharist should not be placed upon the head
of the possessed person or elsewhere on his body.
14. The exorcist should not engage in a great deal of talking or ask
unnecessary or curious questions, especially concerning future or
secret matters not pertaining to his task. But he should command the
unclean spirit to be silent, except to answer his questions. Nor should
he believe the demon if he pretends to be the soul of some Saint or
deceased person or a good Angel.
15. However, there are necessary questions, for example, concerning the
number and names of the possessing spirits, the time and reason they
entered, and other things of this sort. The exorcist should restrain or
spurn the rest of the devil’s nonsense, laughter and foolishness, and
advise those present, who should be few, that they must not pay
attention to these things nor question the possessed person, but rather
humbly and earnestly pray to God for him.
16. The exorcist should read and carry out the exorcism with strength,
authority, great faith, humility and fervor, and when he sees that the
spirit is especially tormented, then he should persist and bear down
all the more. And whenever he sees that the possessed person is being
disturbed in some part of his body, or stung, or that a swelling
appears somewhere, he should make the sign of the cross on that area
and sprinkle it with holy water which should be on hand.
17. He is also to observe at which words the demons tremble more, and
then he should repeat these words more often. When he reaches the
threatening words, he should say them repeatedly, always increasing the
punishment. If he sees that he is making progress, he should continue
for two, three, or four hours, or even longer if he can, until he
obtains the victory.
19. If he is exorcising a woman, he should always have persons of
integrity with him to hold the possessed person while she is agitated
by the demon. These people should be close relatives of the suffering
woman if possible. Mindful of decency, the exorcist should be careful
not to say or do anything which could be an occasion of an evil thought
to himself or the others.
20. While he is exorcising, he should use the words of Sacred Scripture
rather than his own or someone else’s. He should command the demon to
tell him if he is held in that body because of some magic, or
sorcerer’s signs or devices. If the possessed person has consumed
things of this sort orally, he should vomit them up. If they are
elsewhere outside his body, he should reveal where they are, and once
found, they are to be burned. The possessed person should also be
advised to make known all his temptations to the exorcist.
These crucial directives, followed by exorcists for 385 years, have no
parallel in the new introduction.
The preface explicitly says that lay people may not say any of the
prayers of exorcism, and repeats the old directive that exorcism is not
to be conducted in public. It adds the rule (a welcome addition) that
exorcism is not to be open to any communications media; and the
exorcist and any assistants are not to speak publicly before or after
the exorcism about what took place.
This article is not meant to be an exhaustive analysis of the new rite
of exorcism. Many of the prayers and rites are perfectly acceptable in
themselves: the new rite contains a prefatory prayer, blessing of holy
water, Litany of the Saints, a Psalm, a Gospel reading (the Prologue of
St. John, or a text in which Christ rejects the devil or expels
demons), imposition of hands over the demoniac, Profession of Faith or
renewal of Baptismal promises with renunciation of Satan; the Our
Father, the Sign of the Cross on the possessed person; and, after
deliverance, the Magnificat followed by other prayers and a blessing.
Laughable, however, are the references, in the prefatory decree, to
Sacrosanctum Concilium of Vatican II – as if the Council had called for
a revised, updated exorcism to allow full conscious participation by
the laity! The only conceivable allusion to exorcism in the Vatican II
decree on the liturgy is where it says the sacramentals will be revised
– but the clear proof that the bishops never had exorcism in mind is
seen from the reason given for revision. The one and only relevant
sentence here says: “The sacramentals are to be revised, account being
taken of the primary principle of the intelligent, actual and easy
participation of the faithful” (art. 79). Since exorcism, new and old,
must be conducted away from the faithful, the principle of intelligent,
actual and easy participation is irrelevant. Once again, the liturgical
decree is cited as the basis for something never intended.
Dishonest is the use of the word instauratum (restored) in the
subheading of the title page: the new exorcism ritual is in no way a
restoration. It is a fabrication. The Latin should have read fabricatum
or innovatum or maybe concoctum!
The preface provides for translation of the rite into myriad languages
– but what on earth for? If an exorcist does not know enough Latin to
perform the prayers in Latin, he should not be appointed to the office.
The preface at no. 13 quotes canon 1172 saying that an exorcist should
be, inter alia, “outstanding in knowledge” – but how could that be said
of a priest who cannot say or follow very simple texts and prayers in
Latin? As well, given charismatics’ predilection for exorcisms and
“deliverance,” it is highly imprudent to make the Church’s official
exorcism prayers available to all and sundry in every language, when
only a tiny proportion of priests need to use them.
With the promulgation of the new exorcism ritual, the Athanasian Creed
has now officially disappeared from any Catholic ritual. In the 1960s,
its frequency was reduced in the Breviary and finally it was abolished
from it. The rite of exorcism was the last surviving ceremony in the
Church where the Athanasian Creed was recited. Now it is gone. This is
a serious loss, and there was no good reason why it was replaced by a
choice between the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed.
Another innovation, but a welcome one, in the new Ritual for Exorcism,
is an exorcism to be used for a place or thing, something not
specifically present in the former Ritual. (Herbert Thurston S.J.’s
book Ghosts and Poltergeists5 has an appendix containing his English
translation of an “Exorcism of a house troubled by an evil spirit,”
which he found in the Appendix of an edition of the Roman Ritual
printed in Madrid in 1631, published with the authorization of the
Inquisition. Father Thurston evidently thought this was a worthwhile
ceremony to have.) This new rite for a place or thing also requires
permission from the bishop before being used. Again, however, in this
ceremony, the imperative formula, the true exorcism, is to be added,
only if the priest wishes.
Well-informed people may wonder how it is that such innovative and
defective things can be promulgated by someone like Cardinal Medina
Estevez. They wonder, too, how Cardinal Ratzinger can let certain
things go on, and not reverse them by a new document, and so on. It is
important to remember that the Sacred Congregations are composed of
voting members, all of whom are Bishops. They have plenty of advisers
and experts, but only Bishops are actual members. When the time comes
for handing down a public decision, promulgating a document, and the
like, these things are put to a vote of the members. Cardinal Ratzinger
does not have single-handed and complete control over the Holy Office,
which has 21 bishop members (cf. Annuario Pontificio). The same applies
to the other Cardinal Prefects. Suppose Cardinal Medina Estevez wanted
to abolish some banal Swiss eucharistic prayers, for example. He does
not have the authority to draw up a decree abolishing them
single-handedly. The 34 bishop members of the Congregation for Divine
Worship would have to vote on it. Possibly, certain decisions require a
two-thirds majority – who knows?
According to the president of the International Association of
Exorcists, Father Gabriele Amorth (30 Days, no. 6, 2001), when the new
rite was ready, Cardinals Ratzinger and Medina sought to add a
provision in its introduction authorizing the use of the previous rite.
This move of theirs was rejected, so Cardinal Medina issued a separate
notification that an exorcist can use the old rite if his bishop asks
the Congregation for Divine Worship, who will “gladly provide the
requested permission” (Notitiae, vol. 35, 1999).
The new rite will one day itself be subject to a true restoration,
which will restore to the obligatory texts of the exorcist the true
nature of his office.
1 Editio typica, Vatican City 1985; Book of Blessings (American edition
2 Meals, church bells and cemeteries: pp.300-318, 400, 429. In the
American edition, same things at pp. 439-458, 565, 609; also p.589 for
chalice and paten (found in Latin in the Pontifical); also p.624
(article of devotion) and p.634 (rosary) where the alternative rite
(not in the Latin) does bless an object.
3 The word anima is suppressed in all of the funerals and Masses for
the dead, except one: two of the proper prayers in the Mass, “Pro
defunctis fratribus, propinquis et benefactoribus,” Missale Romanum
4 Full title page reads: RITUALE ROMANUM EX DECRETO SACROSANCTI
ŒCUMENICI CONCILII VATICANI II INSTAURATUM AUCTORITATE IOANNIS PAULI
PP. II PROMULGATUM DE EXORCISMIS ET SUPPLICATIONIBUS QUIBUSDAM EDITIO
TYPICA, TYPIS VATICANIS, MIM. It has not yet appeared in English.
5 Edited after his death by Fr Crehan S.J. and reprinted in 1998 by
Roman Catholic Books, USA.