e-mail us

Cover story

Exorcism - Revised rite

NCR Staff

For the first time since 1614, the Vatican issued a revised rite of exorcism on Jan. 26, 1998, making it the last of the church’s liturgical books to be updated after the Second Vatican Council (1962-65).

Titled De Exorcismis et Supplicationibus Quibusdam -- “Of Exorcisms and Certain Supplications” -- the text carries a new warning that exorcists “first of all, must not consider people to be vexed by demons who are suffering above all from some psychic illness.” It cautions against treating people as possessed who are instead “victims of imagination.”

The 84-page document leaves the prayers and exhortations largely unchanged from the 1614 edition, though Vatican officials said some of the more colorful descriptions of the devil were removed in keeping with church teaching that Satan is “a spirit without body, without color and without odor.”

To date the new ritual exists only in Latin, though translations into the vernacular languages are planned. Like all liturgical texts, translations of the exorcism rite must be approved by the various bishops’ conferences and then submitted to Rome for review. Priests authorized by their bishop to perform exorcisms can use the new Latin version now, but if they wish to use a vernacular edition the older text remains in force.

The following are excerpts from the older English version:

The priest says: “I command you, unclean spirit, whoever you are, along with all your minions now attacking this servant of God, by the mysteries of the incarnation, passion, resurrection and ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ, by the descent of the Holy Spirit, by the coming of our Lord for judgment, that you tell me by some sign your name, and the day and hour of your departure. I command you, moreover, to obey me to the letter, I who am a minister of God despite my unworthiness; nor shall you be emboldened to harm in any way this creature of God, or the bystanders, or any of their possessions.

“Depart, then, transgressor. Depart, seducer, full of lies and cunning, foe of virtue, persecutor of the innocent. Give place, abominable creature, give way, you monster, give way to Christ, in whom you found none of your works. For He has already stripped you of your powers and laid waste your kingdom, bound you prisoner and plundered your weapons. He has cast you forth into the outer darkness, where everlasting ruin awaits you and your abettors. … You are guilty before His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, whom you presumed to tempt, whom you dared to nail to the cross. You are guilty before the whole human race, to whom you proferred by your enticements the poisoned cup of death.”

According to Jesuit Fr. Robert Taft, an expert on Eastern churches who teaches at Rome’s Gregorian University, the formal Orthodox ritual of exorcism is similar to that of the Catholic church. He added, however, that Orthodox prayer books have “a whole sackful of other prayers and rites that are used to cast out demons.”

National Catholic Reporter, September 1, 2000