From Interview with an Exorcist
What is an exorcism?
The rite of exorcism is the official ritual of the church in which a demon is ordered in the name of Christ to leave the body of a possessed person. While the ecclesiastical rite of exorcism contains many secondary parts (e.g., the litany of the saints, the liturgy of the Word, the Lord’s Prayer, etc.), its essence is the casting out of the demon. The prayers directed to God are deprecatory – that is to say, God is begged for his assistance in casting out the demon. Nothing is ever asked of the demon; rather, he is ordered to depart by the name of the Redeemer. If an exorcism does not have a “casting out,” it is not a true exorcism.
In the gospels, could exorcism be just a symbol of liberation from evil?
No. To deny the reality of exorcism and to hold that it is merely a symbol of deliverance from evil is a heresy. The constant tradition of the church has affirmed the possibility of demonic possession. The saints, the Church Fathers and Doctors, and the practice of the church in East and West throughout history are unanimous in stating that possession is the domination of the demon on a human body.
The New Testament clearly distinguishes between illness and possession, and this is especially so in the gospels. For example, Matthew 8:16 states, “He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were sick”; and Mark 1:32, 34 makes a similar distinction: “They brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. . . and he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons.” It is always clear that possession is caused by an evil spiritual being. It is a phenomenon so distinct that a special Greek verb is used whenever Jesus goes to expel a demon – exorkizo (“to conjure”). Such individuals are not called “ill” or “sick” but daimonizomai (“demon-possessed”). Possession is not cured; rather, the possessed person is freed. This group of people that appear in the four gospels shout and have crises of agitation. Jesus will address himself to daimonia in an imperative way, giving orders without showing any compassion at all.
What is the difference between an exorcism and a prayer of deliverance from a demonic oppression?
An exorcism is a liturgical rite that is carried out on people who are possessed. Deliverance is a series of private prayers prayed over people who suffer from some type of demonic influence.
The liturgical rite of exorcism is already predetermined; it requires authorization on the part of the bishop and should be carried out only when one is certain that a person is possessed by a demonic spirit.
The prayer of deliverance can be long or it can last less than fifteen minutes. It can be done by a prayer group or by a priest; either way, it is a private prayer. In other words, it is not a liturgical prayer and it can also be improvised. This private prayer of deliverance can be done even if there is only a suspicion of a harmful demonic influence, to whatever degree and however weak it may be.
In an exorcism, the priest prays that the possessed person be freed from the devil. In a deliverance prayer, we ask God to set a person free from some degree of demonic influence, including what some have referred to as “clinging spirits.” Often, when we experience a wound – either self-imposed due to sin or from some outside force or person – demonic spirits can “attach” to the wound and prevent healing. We can also experience unhealthy “soul ties” to people, through sexual contact and emotionally abusive relationships. Demonic spirits can “cling” to these as well and, thus, prevent healing, which is a primary aim of such spirits. Although our sin is forgiven, the demons want to prevent deep emotional and spiritual healing. Deliverance prayers can break the bonds of such spirits and bring about a greater freedom for us than if we did not have such prayers said.
In an exorcism, the priest is certain that the person is possessed. Meanwhile, in a deliverance prayer, the priest is not sure as to the extent of the demonic oppression.
What is demonic infestation?
Demonic infestation is the phenomenon in which a demon possesses a place, such as a house or building, or an object. A demon, by possessing a place, can move things at will and cause various noises and smells. Infestation never causes the possession of any of the people who live there. An infestation may occur in a particular place due to some esoteric or satanic rites being performed with frequency. Such infestation may result from a hex, spell, or curse, or from voodoo or witchcraft. To end the infestation of a place, the rite of exorcism lists several specific prayers that need to be prayed.
A priest should not be too quick to believe the testimony of strange phenomena in a house unless there are at least two corroborating eyewitnesses. In the case of a suspected possession of a person, a priest can pray and confirm the presence of a demon. In the case of infestation, however, nothing happens when he prays in the suspected place. Therefore, everything depends on what is reported to him. This is why there is no way to establish a true infestation with certainty without several corroborating testimonies about the extraordinary events that have been witnessed.
In these cases, the priest can bless the house and encourage the family to pray together every day. They can pray the Rosary, read the Bible together, sprinkle holy water in the various rooms, come together before a holy image and beg protection, etc. The persistent prayer of a family, over the course of several weeks or months, can completely destroy the demonic infestation in their house.
Why do some exorcisms last so long?
Since not all the demons are from the same hierarchy, not all have the same power.
As a result, some demons are more difficult to expel than others. Those demons who have angelic natures belonging to the highest choirs are the most difficult to drive out of a body. Satan and Lucifer are the most difficult to exorcise. No matter how holy the exorcist, and exorcism of such a powerful demon takes time. We can see a parallel here in the world of medicine, where heart or brain surgery is more complex and takes longer than merely cosmetic surgery.
We can see that even in the Bible some exorcisms were more difficult – and lengthy – than others. In Mark 9:17-18, for example, we read how the apostles could not expel a demon from a young boy. When they later ask Jesus why they could not cast it out, Jesus responds, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer and fasting.” (Mark 9:28, 29) In exorcism, as with any ministry, there is a distinction to be made between power and authority: “And Jesus called the Twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons.” (Luke 9:1) This distinction is seen in Jesus’s response to them in Mark 9:29 – the apostles had full authority but needed to increase their power over the demons by growing in holiness (i.e., through “prayer and fasting”).
Conversely, in Mark 9:38, we read of a man who had power over the demons even though he had no apostolic authority: “Teacher, we saw a man casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him, because he was not following us.”
How does one know that the last demon has left the person?
Given the fact that the possessed may have several demons, the question of how one determines when the last demon has left arises. When a demon leaves, the person remains at peace, recovers consciousness, and opens his eyes. He may even feel a spiritual happiness. The exorcist should pray for the person for two or three more minutes. If a demon is still inside, the person will fall back into a trance or the demon will become furious. If the person remains conscious, he should be asked if he feels anything. If the answer is no, then everyone present should kneel down and thank the Lord for freeing the person from the demon. They should also thank the angels and saints for their help and intercession.
If a priest believes that every demon has left but this, in fact, is not the case, no great harm would be done. The possessed would simply call him again, saying that some of the symptoms that made him ask for an exorcism in the first place are still present. The exorcist would then need to repeat the prayers to drive out the last demon (or demons).
Can one who has been possessed be “re-possessed” after being exorcised?
The possessed person and their family ask this question with much desperation during the process of exorcism. I can categorically answer them in the negative – they will not be possessed again. If the person lives in the grace of God, prays, and goes to Mass and regular confession (i.e., once a month or even more frequently), he has nothing to fear since he is protected; the evil cannot enter again. On the other hand, if the freed person returns to his old life of sin, he could be possessed again. If he is repossessed, this will be by more and worse demons.
We need to leave the newly liberated in a very tranquil state, telling him that if he lives a Christian life, a demon could not enter him again, even if it wanted to. One also needs to assure him that a demon will not return even if he should commit one or more mortal sins. He is in danger only if he reverts to living in a state of sin (i.e., to an ongoing situation of estrangement from God).
For example, I know of a lady who had been released from all her demons. A few days later, she called me saying that she felt bad – the feelings of oppression in her chest she had felt before (as well as other symptoms) had returned. I was very surprised because I was certain that all the demons had been cast out of her. She assured me that, since she had been freed, she was praying a lot, reading the Bible, and doing other spiritual things. I laid my hands on and prayed over her. She did not go into a trace but did feel the weight on her chest grow stronger and stronger until it gradually began to recede. As the prayer was going on (which lasted no more than five minutes), the oppression she was feeling became increasingly weaker until it disappeared completely. She has had no problems since then.
What had happened in this case? This was clearly demonic influence. The demon had left but then tried to enter into her again. It could not re-enter because she was protected by the armor of the spiritual life. The demon could not possess her; no matter how much I prayed, she never entered into a trance. The prayers broke this influence that the devil had over her body and the demon was driven away forever, never to return.
This is the clearest example I have seen of a demon trying to return to a newly liberated person’s body and being unable. The spiritual life, though we do not see it, is a true and authentic protective armor against the Evil One.
What happens if, in an exorcism, the demons do not leave?
If weeks or months go by without any demons being cast out, this could mean that the possessed person is not following the exorcist’s direction. Before the first session of the exorcism, the exorcist should advise the possessed to pray, go to Mass, confess, and strive to live in accord with the Ten Commandments.
Some people approach an exorcist as they would a doctor. They think that an exorcism is similar to taking prescription medicine: the medicine will cure their illness and they can continue to live as before. But if one wants to be exorcised, he must make a life change and strive to fulfill all of the teachings of Jesus. If not, a demon may not leave because it has something to hold on to – and, if the demon is expelled, it may return. If the possessed is unwilling to abandon sin, the priest should suspend the exorcism sessions until the person agrees to obey his instructions. For example, if the person is living in an illicit union, he needs to first understand why he must put his life in order before God. Good intentions are worth nothing; the law of God is objective and must be obeyed. If the exorcism is begun before the person makes the life changes he needs to, it will have no effect. As we have said, if a demon has something to hold on to, it will not leave.
Normally, a longer-than-usual exorcism is the result of some hidden disobedience by the possessed to the instructions of the exorcist. If the person seems sincere and is following the exorcist’s instructions, then the best remedy is to bring in another priest to see if he will be more successful. A less-experienced exorcist could be doing things that are ineffective with a particular demon. It may be useful to try again with a priest who has more experience.
What makes a demon leave the body during an exorcism?
There are three things that can make a demon leave a person’s body:
1. The demon itself decides to leave.
2. The priestly power forces it to leave.
3. An angel sent by God forces it to leave.
Weaker demons normally leave on their own. Sacred things and prayer torture them, and the moment arrives when they decide to leave to avoid suffering. Sometimes when they leave they say things like, “I am leaving. You have not cast me out; I leave of my own will.”
Stronger demons, though at first refuse to leave no matter how much they are tortured. Exorcising these demons takes more time, but the order of the exorcist forces them out. During the exorcism, they get slowly weaker and end up being cast out by the power of the prayer.
Demons of the highest rank, though they also suffer terribly during an exorcism, refuse to leave unless an angel comes to cast them out. At a certain point during the deprecatory prayer, God sends an angel to free the person. Toward the end of the exorcism, an invisible fight between angel and demon occurs. The possessed person looks at a specific place and tries to scratch and hit those present. It is then that the worst convulsions and screams take place. Even though the exorcist may be quiet, the angel is present and the possessed is freed by means of his intervention.