If you’re wondering what exactly “professional exorcists” do to be qualified for this weird job, you’re not alone.
It actually takes years of training beyond priesthood to become a professional exorcist. Based on Catholic doctrine and canon law, exorcisms should not be attempted by amateurs. Read on for an interesting glimpse on the standard operating procedures of the average exorcist at work.
A Glimpse into How Exorcists Do Their Job
Demon or Mental Illness?
In case you aren’t aware yet, many professionals dismiss demonic possession as a mere manifestation of mental illness. Because of this, exorcists made a clear distinction between hysteria (or epilepsy, MPD, etc.) and demonic possession. Signs of possession include the “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,” and “display of powers which are beyond the subject’s age and natural condition.”
Holy Objects as Weapons
Holy water, crucifixes, and rosaries should be at the ready in any exorcist’s arsenal. However, additional objects such as relics, parts of saints’ bodies, clothes, or belongings are a significant source of holy power that an exorcist needs to have on hand just in case. Other tools include the Bible, a copy of the specific exorcism rite, and any other holy items that the exorcist may deem necessary.
The Extent of the Demonic Activity
There are five categories of demonic activity and each varies in severity:
The first and most benign is the spiritual battle with temptation and sin. The second level is oppression—when a deep depression and anxiety fill a soul with despair or when physical illnesses and unexplainable strife plague a person’s life. The third category of demonic activity is obsession, where a person becomes obsessed or unnaturally preoccupied with evil forces in his life. The fourth level is infestation or the haunting of an object, animal, or a place. Finally, we come to the fifth and the worst but rarest of all kinds of demonic activity: bodily possession, which is of two types. Involuntary possession is when the demon enters without the person’s permission. The second is integration, where the person himself/herself accepts the demon. In this state, exorcism rarely is able to help.
Family, Friends, and a Church
Once the possession is recognized, the exorcist calls on the victim’s close friends and family to gather up and the victim is moved to a church as soon as possible. A church is always the best place for an exorcism, unless the person is sick or, for some reason, unable to be transported. In addition to being a sacred place, being near the sacraments is important when dealing with a demon. As for the witnesses, they should be few in number but are a necessary part of the ritual. Performing an exorcism alone can risk the priest himself, and the witnesses, to possession. If the victim is a woman, those present (except for the priest) should also be women due to the destruction that impure thoughts from witnesses could bring once detected by the demon.
The Demon Is Asked to Introduce Itself
An exorcist’s first steps in performing the exorcism proper is to find out its name to be able to proceed with the right steps. Just like how physicians have to diagnose an illness before they can treat it, exorcists have to know which demon he is dealing with in order to fully understand what to expect. Different beasts, like different pathogens, cause different symptoms. However, once the demon is named, it is likely to start acting out, and “as for all jesting, laughing, and nonsense on the part of the evil spirit—the exorcist should prevent it or contemn it.”
Imploring on God and the Litany
Not only should the exorcist be praying, but “the subject, if in good mental and physical health, should be exhorted to implore God’s help” as well. As if God is not enough, the exorcist also calls on saints, archangels, prophets, bishops, and monks to get all the strength they need to rid the victim of their unholy guest.
The Break Point and the Voice
If you’ve watched a lot of paranormal movies, this part is basically the climax. The break point is described as “a scene of extreme panic and confusions accompanied by a crescendo of abuse, horrible sights, noises, and smells. The demon begins to speak of the possessed victim in the third person instead of as itself.” The voice always accompanies the break point as one of its unmistakable signs, being the true voice of the demon. The demon will be shrieking, highly disturbing, and unintelligible. In order for the exorcism to go on, the voice must be stopped, which is another reason that it’s imperative that the exorcist be confident in their skill and not become distracted from the task at hand.
The Rite of Exorcism, an approximately 6,000-word-long document from the Catholic tradition, will be recited by the exorcist. Afterward, he will then use his prepared items by sprinkling the victim with holy water, asking someone to pray the rosary, and holding up crucifixes. Throughout this, the demon will lie, become violent, and resist being exorcised. When these actions stop, it means the demon is becoming weaker and the exorcism is drawing to a close. The rite can differ based on the priest’s personal preferences, but like many other parts of an exorcism, it is best to mostly keep to the tried and true methods.
Is It Really Gone?
“You don’t stop the prayers immediately,” Fr. Gary Thomas warned, “because the demons will try to trick you into thinking they’ve left when they haven’t.” The exorcist will have to go through the first steps again to check that nothing else in the vicinity is harboring the spirit. When the manifestations end, the exorcist continues for a serious period of time praying the rite, and when there’s no more, they have to make a judgment as to whether the demon really has left. The person may also be asked, “Do you sense anything within you?” The exorcist partly relies on the victim to some degree and on their observations.