Why does the Catholic Church have a ministry of exorcism? - Catholic Courier
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Why does the Catholic Church have a ministry of exorcism?

“The Omen,” “Rosemary’s Baby,” “The Shining,” “The Exorcist” — these and many other well-known films demonstrate Hollywood’s fascination and box office success with supernatural horror.

For many people, possessions, exorcisms and the devil are nothing more than story devices in such works of entertainment. In fact, a recent Gallup poll found that only 58 percent of Americans believe in Satan, representing a decades-long decline in Americans’ belief in the reality of the devil.

Yet, in an interview with CatholicAnswers.com, Father Vincent Lampert, a designated exorcist for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis and one of the senior exorcists in the United States, said people need to know “that the devil and evil is a reality.”

This reality is one Pope Francis has discussed throughout his papacy.

“But this generation, and many others, made people think that the devil was a myth, a character, an idea, the concept of evil,” the pope said during an Oct. 30, 2014, Mass in the Domus Sanctae Marthae. “The devil exists, and we have to fight against him.”

In June 2017, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops implemented in the nation’s dioceses an approved English translation of De Exorcismis et Supplicationibus Quibusdam (“Exorcisms and Related Supplications”).

Leading up to the translation’s 2016 approval by the Holy See, the bishops published on their USCCB website a list of frequently asked questions about exorcism and its use. Developed by the conference’s Secretariat of Divine Worship, the FAQ’s answers were provided by experts in exorcism and canon law.

“Some priests might not be all that comfortable using a Latin text, so having it (“Exorcisms and Related Supplications”) available in the vernacular now means they can concentrate on prayer and on the ritual, without needing to worry about working in another language,” Father Andrew Menke, former executive director of the Secretariat of Divine Worship, noted on the USCCB website. “Another benefit of the vernacular translation is that hearing the prayers in English can also bring comfort to the person undergoing an exorcism.”

The U.S. bishops answer frequently asked questions about exorcism

The FAQ defines exorcism as “a specific form of prayer that the Church uses against the power of the devil.” Exorcism falls into the category of sacramentals, which are sacred signs instituted by the church to sanctify different circumstances of the Christian life, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (No. 1668).

Catholics believe that Satan, or Lucifer, is a fallen angel who rebelled against God and took one-third of the angels with him when he was banished from heaven (Rv 12:3-4, 7-9). Satan seeks the downfall of the human race and has been present in human history from the beginning, as recorded in the Book of Genesis.

According to the USCCB, the scriptural basis for exorcism is found in the ministry of Jesus Christ himself (Mk 1:34, 39; Lk 4:35; Mt 17:18), as well as in the commissioning of the apostles to continue his ministries (Mt 10:8; Mk 3:14-15; 6:13; 16:17; Lk 9:1; 10:17).

The apostles did not expel demons in their own names, the USCCB pointed out, but in the name of Jesus. Thus, the ministry of exorcism “continues in the life of the Church as part of the regular pastoral care of souls.”

There are two major and minor forms of exorcism

There are two forms of exorcism, the USCCB noted in its FAQ: a simple, or minor, exorcism; and a solemn, or major, exorcism.

Minor exorcisms are found in two places: the sacrament of baptism — both adult and infant — and as a series of prayers to be used by the priest and the faithful.

According to the USCCB, “Minor exorcisms are prayers used to break the influence of evil and sin in a person’s life.”

Any priest can perform a minor exorcism, but only priests specially trained and appointed by a bishop may perform major exorcisms, according to Canon 1172 of the Code of Canon Law and referenced in the FAQ.

A major exorcism is only performed when mental illness — which would fall into the realm of science — has been ruled out as the cause of an afflicted individual’s problems and behaviors. Indeed, the Rite of Major Exorcism is used only in the case of genuine demonic possession — that is, when the devil is able to exercise dominion over a person’s body, the FAQ document notes.

Sacraments and prayer are protection from evil

In his interview with Catholic Answers, Father Lampert attributed calls for spiritual deliverance to a decline in the belief in God and a rise in such occult practices as Ouija boards and psychic readings.

However, Christians should not live in fear of the devil, Father Lampert observed in a blog post for the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology. To defend against evil, he urged people to read and know the Bible, practice Marian devotion, frequent the sacraments, pray and fast, and call upon one’s guardian angel.

“We are human beings, and he (Satan) always tries to attack us,” Pope Francis said in an interview on the Vatican News website. “It is painful, but in the face of prayer, he has no chance!”

EDITOR’S NOTE: “Why Do Catholics…?” is a feature series that aims to answer questions about what Catholics do and believe. To suggest a question to feature, email Newsroom@CatholicCourier.com.

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