Exorcisms, Possessions and Deliverance
Father Joseph Iannuzzi
It is a traditional Christian teaching that one reason why God created man was to communicate his glory to an earthly created being and to deify him, like the Most High, out of the very dust of the earth. Thus God made man from the very dust of the earth in God’s own image and likeness, and man was forevermore desitned to surpass in glory the glory of all other created beings, including the angels themselves, whom St. Paul affirms “we will judge” (1 Cor. 6.3). From that moment, Satan, seized with jealous anger, set out to destroy mankind and snatched at equality with God. Satan therefore never ceased to use his freedom to put man to the test and tempt him to fall.
Unfortunately, today, the world does not believe in the existence of Satan as an evil spirit or in any other evil spirit, nor does it believe in the other dark forces that plague God's creation. But Jesus warned us that in our days, through his prophetic messages of the TLIG messages that the latest trick of Satan is to make people believe he does not exist nor that hell is a real place. Because many Christians today are unaware of Satan’s presence and the presence of the evil spirits that may produce physical illnesses, psychological and spiritual disorders, the effect of these evil spirits is powerful. For by ignoiring the reality of evil in the word today, we are giving Satan and his fallen angels their freedom to move and go about without being detected and without hindering them.
Many Christians are not aware that they might be carriers of one demon or more. They can never imagine that whatever physical or psychological illness they suffer could be caused by evil spirits that made their home in them. Many emotional disorders, neurosis, fears, anxieties, headaches, asthma, tumors, allergies and other psychosomatic diseases often are caused by a demon that has established his nest in the soul and infested their bodily faculties. It is unfortunate that some Christian churches have discontinued the custom of casting out demons from people and places, and even consider exorcisms outdated and distasteful!
And yet we read in the First Letter of John 3:8: “Christ came to (earth to) destroy the devil’s work.” Let us recall that Satan tempted Eve and Adam, Original Sin infected the human race and mankind was robbed of the beauty of Paradise. The “preternatural” gifts that Adam and Eve possessed in the Garden of Eden were lost, which included “immaculacy” (immunity from concupiscence), “infused knowledge” of God and of material order around him, and “immortality” . On account of Original Sin, thistles grew, beasts became wild, planets became burnt-out cinders floating in the immensity of space, ice ages, floods, natural disasters, diseases, suffering and death now govern this great cosmos of ours that was once unblemished. This is the present state of affairs.
That original sin is transmitted to us by our first parents is part of the Church’s early tradition. In his letter to the Romans St. Paul plainly states: “Death passed to all men inasmuch as all sinned” (Rom. 5.12). Though we are all conceived with Original Sin we do not bear the guilt of Adam and Eve. We are not punished for original sin but purified, which occurs in Baptism. Yet the Council of Trent acknowledges that after Baptism, the inclination of sin remains in the Baptized. So despite Christ’s Passion, death and Resurrection that purchased for us the Sacrament of Baptism, we Christians are still subject to the influence of Satan in the intellect and memory (with only conditionings of the will). It is for this very reason that in Matthew’s Gospel 10:7-8, Jesus tells his disciples, “Cast out demons.” In Mark 16:17 Jesus adds, “And these signs shall accompany them that believe, in My Name they shall cast out demons…”.
In Sacred Scripture over 1000 references are made to the devil. Of these 1000 references, 568 come from the N.T.! If therefore in Scripture so much attention is given to the activity of Satan in the world, how come today such little attention is given to casting him out? Part of the answer may be found in the Church’s historical decline in demonology. Let us briefly review the Church’s history, and see how this change came about.
The 7 Historical Periods of the Church
At the time of Christ and the Apostles, casting out demons was an integral part of the apostolic mission. The Apostles interpreted the Lord’s command literally: “In My name you shall cast out demons.” The Apostles cast out demons in the Name of Jesus with a direct and solemn command.
Why a solemn command?
The answer is found in te Book of Acts 10.38 where St. Peter tells Cornelius that the very purpose for which Jesus came to earth was “to set us free from our slavery to Satan,” (remember original sin enslaved us to Satan), for Satan “prowls the earth like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Pt. 5.8-9).
Like Peter, St. John’s Gospel affirms that “Christ came to earth in order to undo the devil’s work,” (1 Jn 3.8), and Luke’s Gospel reports Jesus having came to earth “to destroy the kingdom of Satan and inaugurate the kingdom of God” (Lk. 11,20).
After the life of Christ and the Apostles, there followed the 2nd period of the Church: the period of the early Church Fathers. Justin Martyr, Ireneaus, Ciprian, as well as the early writers Origen and Tertullian relate that exorcists were found in every village and city. St. Justin wrote to his early Christian community in Rome: “Throughout the world, and indeed in your own city of Rome there are numerous exorcists…”
From the 3rd to the 6th century, the great personages of Ss. Anthony of the desert, Pacomius and Illary all withdrew to the desert to a life of prayer and fasting for the very purpose of defeating Satan and, through their combat, liberating humanity free from Satan’s grip. Other notable exorcists were Ss. Marcellinus and Peter. Ss. Martin of Tours and Benedict are more recent exorcists that established desert communities, not to flee Satan, but to combat Satan directly in his preferred dwelling, in the desert. (So efficacious were Benedict’s prayers against Satan that Pope Honorius III made Benedict the Patron of Exorcists. And to this day the Benedictier medal is diffused as a powerful sacramental against the forces of evil.) Like Jesus these monks went out to meet Satan one-on-one in the desert where they were tempted, and overcoming temptation, help set humanity free from Satan’s grip. Few people realize that it was for the very purpose of combating Satan that monastic life was established!
The 4th period of the Church spans from the 6th to the 12th centuries, where exorcists flourished everywhere. Official texts were printed, and adequate preparations were made for solemn exorcisms. Young seminarians were introduced to exorcisms in classes, ordained and sent out to perform them. Up until now, from the time of Christ to the XII century, exorcisms in the Church were progressively on the rise.
We now come to the 5th period of the Church: From the 12th to the 15th century, when the Church loses its footing in its combat against Satan. It is the period in which Europe is plagued with wars and disease. There was the 100 years’ war, and woman who were found to be a bit crazy were labeled “witches.” This was especially prevalent in Protestant circles. The very woman that needed, more than anyone else to be exorcised, were instead persecuted and burned to the stake. St. Joan of Arc is a prime example. Although Joan would later be declared a saint, she was – during the inquisition and for political reasons – accused of being a witch. She was never exorcised to prove her innocence or guilt, but dealt the common practice of the inquisition: She was burnt to the stake. Soon after the poor attempt to replace exorcisms with inquisitions and witch burnings, disaster strikes Europe. In 1340 the black plague rocked Europe, an epidemic that killed over 40% of Europe’s population, followed by civil disturbances and schisms.
We come to the 6th period of the Church, from the 16th to the 18th century, where the absence of exorcisms give way to series of persecutions. So far history has taught us that where the devil is not combated and cast out through exorcisms, persons become demonized and are killed. Such would be the case for the centuries to follow through Dacau, the Gulag, genocide and ethnic cleansing. Just as the persecutions and the burning of witches had an irrational beginning, equally irrational was their cessation.
In the 7th period of the Church, from the 18th century to the present, the excessive and unconventional methods for dealing with evil in the middle ages came to a halt with the admission of another excess: Disinterest in the demonic. Thus we go from the one extreme of inquisitions and stake burnings as a poor substitute for exorcisms, to apathy in the face of evil. The motives for this change are numerous; but let me limit myself to their consequences, as they brought a disinterest in the exorcisms the Apostles performed, and a regression in demonology. The devil was reduced to a symbol, an impersonal force, or even a figment of the imagination. And this disinterest in Satan has not kept the laity from chasing after superstition, occultism and rationalism and materialism. Unfortunately, those that have neither seen nor participated in an exorcism will doubt its efficacy, and deny the presence of Satan.
Yet the Church’s saints testify to Satan’s personal presence. Of the many saints that directly combated Satan, worthy of mention are Ss. Catherine of Sienna, John Vianney, Don Bosco, Padre Pio, and Luisa Piccarreta. One notable figure that emerges at the turn of the 19th century is Pope Pius VII who was imprisoned by Napoleon. Pope Pius VII was a great exorcist. During his trips to and from France he would often repeat, “the starting point of pastoral life are exorcisms.”
The official Roman Ritual for Major Exorcisms is the fruit of 12 centuries of prayers. It was edited in 1614 under Pope Paul V, and underwent modifications over the centuries. The most recent edition is from 1954 and is available in Latin from the Poliglotta Vaticana Press.
Canon law requires that the priest that exorcises a person tormented by the devil must be vested with special authority from the local bishop. Unfortunately not all dioceses have an exorcist… but this is gradually changing. In Italy, for example, in the last seven years alone over 350 exorcists were appointed by bishops, even in dioceses that had never seen an exorcist. The devil sees this and is enraged. Why? Because exorcisms are on the part of the Church the only “direct” expulsion of evil from those that estranged themselves from the Church.. This direct means of expelling Satan was conferred to the Church by Jesus Christ in Scripture when he told his apostles to “cast out demons.” While the Sacrament of Confession is a direct exorcism that expels demons from us and disposes us to receive Jesus in Communion worthily, very few Christians frequent the Sacrament of Confession anymore. Because the effects of the Sacrament of Confession has no effect on those who do not receive this Sacrament, many Christians remain bound by Satan physically through illness, psychologically through neuroses or spiritually through sin. Because fewer and fewer Christians frequent Confession and Communion, the ritual of exorcisms serve especially to bring such souls back to these Sacraments.
In Rome, I received special authority to perform exorcisms with the chief exorcist of Rome, Fr. Gabriel Amorth, whom Pope John Paul II called to Rome from Modena, Italy. Fr. Amorth obtained his licentiate in jurisprudence and confessed regularly to St. Padre Pio.
One day Fr. Amorth asked Padre Pio: “Dear father, I have a big favor to ask you.”
P. Pio leaned his head toward Fr. Amorth and with a big smile invited him to speak.
Fr. Amorth, who had many spiritual children to care for, said: “Padre Pio, I would like for all of my spiritual children to be also become your spiritual children. If you take them under your care as your own children, I will be most relieved.”
P. Pio’s smile grew wider, and he said to Fr. Amorth: “Sì, filgiolo, va bene.”
To this Fr. Amorth said: “Now all of my children will no longer call you Padre Pio, but Grandpa Pio.” Padre Pio smiled.
Fr. Amorth was trained in exorcisms by Fr. Candido Amantini, a Passionist priest. Fr. Candido was criticized by his superiors as a being a credulous chaser of demons tha did not exist. Fr. Amorth asked P. Pio if this was true. Padre Pio told Fr. Amorth that Fr. Candido is “Un sacerdote secondo il cuore di Dio.” Fr. Candido died on the eve of P. Pio’s death.
I had the privilege of assisting Fr. Amorth; together we performed several exorcisms each morning in the sacristy of St. Paul Outside the Wall Basilica in Rome. From these experiences, I wish to share with you how exorcisms are performed in the Latin rite. Exorcisms are basically comprised of three parts:
- liberation: Moses invoked freedom from Amaleck with arms outstretched and God heard him.
- praise: This is a most efficacious prayer against evil, as it instills restores hope and order before Satan who is hopelessness and disorder. Jericho was destroyed with the prayer of praise to God sung around the city walls, and Josafat gained victory over Israel’s enemies by placing on the front line of battle singers who shouted out the Lord’s praises.
- intercession: The book of Acts relates that the apostles were freed from imprisonment because the Church interceded on their behalf. Shortly thereafter, Peter was imprisoned, and because Christians interceded for him, an angel set him free from prison.
- tongues: When praying in tongues it is the H.S. that directly combats evil with “inexpressible groans” – Rom. 8.26).
- The Word of God
- When read with conviction, the Word of Scripture disables Satan. During the exorcism the Psalms are read, and the Gospel proclaimed to enlighten the mind and instill hope.
- The Command against evil spirits (The Precative and Imperative formula. Sometimes this Command alone suffices to cast out Satan).
Major Exorcism Preparations: Inquiring
If possible, the exorcist reviews the physical and mental history of the allegedly possessed to determine a possible cause for the malady, i.e., He asks such questions as:
- Does he frequent the sacraments?
- Does he take any medication?
- What are his symptoms, and when did they begin?
- Has he ever participated in esoteric practices; in a séance, in witchcraft, blood covenants, has he ever invoked the dead, etc.?
- Has he had kept bad company with those possibly involved in the occult?
- Has he complained of ingested their food that left him sick?
- Has he heard voices, or felt physical contact by something/one that is not there?
- Does he have experience temporary paralysis in some arts of his body? (barring old age)
- Are there strange happenings in the home?
If necessary, the doctor’s health report is submitted to the exorcist. If the illness of the allegedly possessed does not appear to be purely psychological or physical, but appears to be substantially evil, we proceed with the exorcism. Some criteria for determining a true diabolic possession are a combination of some of the following traits:
- chronic depression
- aversion to sacred articles or holy water
- repugnance to prayer
- excessively violent and aggressive reactions (especially during exorcisms)
- infused knowledge of foreign languages
- supernatural strength
We begin a Major Exorcism with:
- Confession [Fr. Pellgrino Ernetti – the exorcist of Venice, Italy for 40 years – went to confession every other day, not for scrupulosity, but to strengthen himself with sacramental grace in the combat against evil].
- Celebration of Mass (with aspersion and the homily on Jesus as the liberator of souls)
- Half hour of Adoration. The exorcist recites the prayer of preparation in the Roman text. Wearing a cassock, surplice and stole we approach the place where the rite will be held, and he begin the Major Exorcism. At hand we have the following religious articles:
The St. Benedict medal
Relics of Saints
A violet stole
The Major Exorcism begins by invoking the Holy Spirit, the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Michael and the angels. We also invoke those saints that exercise a formidable influence over Satan in their lives.
The litany follows. The exorcist often has associates that participate in the exorcism and that maintain the secrecy of the exorcism. The associates are carefully chosen for their gifts. Fr. Amorth is often assisted by two women with charismatic gifts and a man with prophetic gifts. The charismatic help him identify the evil spirits and heal the possessed, while the prophet exhorts through the Word of God. The exorcist “alone” communicates directly with the person stricken by the demonic, and discerns the movements of the spirit in the possessed. The exorcist never lets his associates guide him nor does he let them speak directly with the possessed. Rather the exorcist speaks to his associates and they respond to him.
The exorcist anoints the possessed with sacred oil, holy water with blessed salt and blesses him with the crucifix. Often the violet stole is placed on the possessed shoulders to restore to him his 3-fold priestly powers received at Baptism (let us recall that Satan robbed us of these powers with original sin, and Baptism restores them only in part, for the inclination to sin remains in the baptized).
It is noteworthy that the exorcist’s power comes not from himself, but from Jesus, whose name the exorcist invokes.
There follows the Profession of Baptismal Promises.
The Lord’s Prayer.
The “Command” against the evil spirits.
The Prayer of Thanksgiving.
And Counsel to the person that has been freed (In this period of convalescing, Satan may return to torment the person stricken by demons, so we encourage them to recite daily prayers, and frequent the Sacraments (bi-monthly Confession and daily Communion)
Other counsels include 6 long-term goals that we encourage them to implement (Remember, people that are afflicted by Satan are capable of cooperating with the exorcist):
- prayer (nourishes the soul through its communication with God)
- work (a means of sanctification and increases one’s sense of purpose in life)
- leisure (St. Thomas Aquinas writes that leisure reinvigorates the mind and body): music like Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity and Dina Belanger, gardening like St. Fiacre, needle work like Luisa Piccarreta, etc.
- regular sleep (the day’s tensions require that body be physically recharged. Consistent sleep patterns aid tremendously in regulating our daily prayer and work ethic)
- proper nutrition (Because the body is the temple of the H.S. in which Christ acts to continue his saving mission on earth, we need to be fit for Christ’s service)
- exercise – anaerobic and aerobic:
- it maintains the temples of the HS [the Latinists say: mens sana in corporis sano]. Exercise increases the blood flow and improves our health in order that we may serve Christ more vibrantly. Certainly, there are victim souls that suffer from chronically poor health and whom our Lord uses to work conversions, or persons with physical impediments that are unable to exercise as vigorously as others, but even these are mindful of their health. Look at it this way, either you freely exercise now and reduce the chances of surgery, or you will be forced to do so by your doctor after your surgery. Unlike the angels, we have bodies through which we work out our salvation and in which we express our worship.
- Jesus and the disciples walked much
- Occults, spiritism, black magic, sects and new religions have multiplied in recent decades, and are increasing. One of the modern practices is invoking the dead. Is invoking the dead a dangerous practice (necromancy)? The Mosaic Law forbad necromancy (Leviticus 19:31; 20:6; Deuteronomy 18:11, 12), and made it punishable by death (Leviticus 20:27; 1 Samuel 28:9). The Church acknowledges that with a special permission of God, the souls of the departed may appear to the living. But, this always happens at God’s initiative, whereas the science of evoking the dead, or necromancy is not of God’s initiative and therefore open to deception and always exposes one to the possibility of demonic influence.
- In the case of hauntings, is it possible that the dead roam the earth or a locale unaware that they are dead? The Church’s Councils of Lion and Florence declared that “immediately” (mox) after death the soul is judged and goes to its eternal destiny of salvation or damnation” (to purgatory, heaven or hell). Still, the soul may bilocate,. i.e., Padre Pio’s vision of a brother cleaning candles, confirmed by the superior. While it is true that immediately after death, the soul is judged, God may, in special circumstances, forestall its judgment on account of the sacraments (the Church’s old Code of Canon Law allowed up to about 2 hours for extreme unction), or other accounts… Several saints have called persons back to life, raised the dead. There are over 400 documented cases of saints that raised the dead. They include children, unbaptized infants, persons executed for crimes, persons raised to testify in criminal cases or to testify to some religious truth (e.g., Jesus raised Lazarus after 3 days; after Jesus’ resurrection many souls came out of their tombs to testify on his behalf, St. Vincent Ferrer, St. Francis, Luisa Piccarreta, Blessed Cadog and others raised the dead (as Jesus commanded them to do in Matthew’s Gospel 18:8: “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give”)
- Is ancestral/generational healing an effective remedy against evil? During exorcisms it may occur that an ancestor of the possessed reveals herself due to various reasons (in life the ancestor suffered much and no one paid attention to his/her pain, anguish, desperation, and atrocious death; or the ancestor died while intoxicated, or was forcibly confined to a mental institute). In these cases, Fr, Amorth will recite a simple prayer of reconciliation by asking the ancestor forgiveness in the name of his/her family, he invites the ancestor to relinquish all anger and rancor and to ask forgiveness from those they have offended, and he gives them conditional absolution. Ancestral healings are a very powerful means and an efficacious remedy to break generational curses and hexes.
- Can someone that is suffering from evil oppression, be freed without an exorcism? In the gospels it is clear that certain demons can only be cast out with fasting and prayer, and in these cases there is no need for exorcisms.
- Can someone that is not possessed benefit from an exorcism? Yes. But once their symptoms reveal a psychological or physical malady that is not caused by an evil presence, we send them to a specialist that may help them in those areas.
- Are all victims of diabolic possession responsible for their condition? No. There are 4 reasons why a person may fall prey of diabolic possession. 2 are not responsible for their own condition, and 2 are. The two that are not responsible for their own condition are:
- Those that God occasionally permits Satan to harass. Ss. John Vianney, Gemma Galgani, Blessed Anna da Foligno, Padre Pio, Luisa Piccarreta were all attacked by Satan, some physically beaten. The purpose of their diabolic afflictions is to purify them yet further, and to enable them to amass more merit by offering up their torments for others souls.
- There are those that due to hexes, curses, evil eyes, macumbas or other spells fall victim to Satan’s attacks (i.e., Giovanna di Bergamo; Anna Lisa Michel). In these there is no fault, as they are victims, and they have come to accept and unite their vicarious sufferings with those of Christ for the salvation of souls.
- Those whom Satan attacks that are culpable, often expose themselves to bad persons and places. They expose themselves to fortune tellers, tarot card readers, out of curiosity participate in séances, satanic rituals, blood covenants, or they invoke the dead. All of these practices put the soul at the risk of receiving an evil influence and even possession itself.
- However, those that are responsible for their own condition are those that persist in numerous mortal sins, which can lead to diabolic possession. It is possible that such was the case with Judas Iscariot, of whom the Gospel states, “At that moment Satan entered him.” I had cases of young men and women addicted to drugs who were living a life of crimes and sexual perversion. It is no wonder that some of the more difficult exorcisms involve women that have procured numerous abortions.
- Does Satan have power to produce sickness? The Gospel relates that Jesus cast demons out of people afflicted with physical ailments. I know of several exorcists have cured people of brain tumors, cysts in the ovaries on the eve of a scheduled operation. The doctors remain baffled.
- Does someone that enters into a pact with Satan receive prosperity and rewards in this life? Yes but always with tremendous suffering attached. Sorcerers and witches can indeed obtain for their clients riches and worldly success, but with these gifts come sufferings. After a while, Satan literally robs them of the happiness and peace they once enjoyed. They live an internal state of hell on earth, and if they don’t convert, they will receive a second hell in the next life that has no end.
- Does the exorcist always succeed in freeing the possessed? Almost always, yes.
- Is evil contagious? No. There is a difference between influence and contagion. Evil is not transmitted by physical contact with a person that is possessed. However, objects may be infested by a curse, hex, spell, etc. It is noteworthy that living in the life of God’s grace is the best defense against all possible evil influences, e.g., St. Ambrose was immune from a Satanic woman’s curse and infested objects.
- Can an environment cause a person to be possessed? No. Bad persons and places may condition or influence the person only, but they do not cause the possession.
- Are there different degrees of diabolic influence? Yes: Possession, obsession, oppression, fixation, vexation, infestation, etc.
- How long does it take for someone to be freed from diabolic possession? The usual convalescing period is 3 yrs., and for reasons of recidivism.
- Is a possessed person always in a state of possession? No.
- Does Satan live in someone that is possessed? By virtue of the indelible impression we all receive at conception of God’s image and likeness, we are temples of God, and not of Satan. Satan may nevertheless enter within this temple, as he did in the garden of Eden, to put us to the test. God allows this temptation so that we may turn to him for strength, who strengthens and matures us in the virtues and the gifts.
- Is collaboration of the possessed important? Yes!
- Can anyone perform an exorcism? By the present-day Canon Law only a delegated priest can perform a major exorcism, but anyone in the state of grace and spiritually prepared can perform a minor exorcism, e.g., prayer of liberation, St. Michael prayer, etc. Many saints performed minor exorcisms, such as St. Catherine of Sienna, Blessed Catherine Anne Emmerich, Luisa Piccarreta, etc.
The Prayer of Repentance and Deliverance
This "Exorcism Prayer" was given to Vassula on November 13, 2006
Vassula writes: Jesus Christ dictated to me this prayer which is a prayer of repentance, healing and deliverance. He said that this "excorcism prayer" is needed for our times so evil.
People do not know how to totally repudiate Satan in their prayers, who is controlling them, blinding them and giving them a lot of suffering, either through illness or by making them captives. Jesus also says that a lot of people worship false gods (idols).
This prayer will be very effective if prayed with the heart and sincerity.
The Lord said: "Let them repent before Me with these words:"
Lord, you have endured me all these years with my sins, but nonetheless You pitied me;
I was led astray in every way, but now I will sin no more; I have wronged You and I have been unjust; I will be so, no more; I renounce sin, I renounce the Devil, I renounce iniquity that stains my soul; free my soul from all that is against Your holiness;
I entreat You, Lord, to rescue me from all evil; Come Jesus now, come now and abide in my heart;
Forgive me, Lord, and allow me to rest in You, For You are my Shield, my Redeemer and my Light and in You do I trust;
From today I will bless You Lord at all times;
I repudiate evil and all other gods and idols, for You are the Most High over the world, far transcending all other gods;
By Your mighty arm, rescue me from ill health, rescue me from being a captive, rescue me from trouble and defeat my enemy the Devil; come quickly to my help O Saviour!