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Exorcising the devil is now an English language exercise

By Cian Molloy - 29 October, 2017

The US Bishops have published the first official English language translation of the rites of exorcism in a move designed to make it easier for priests to combat demonic possession.

Like the original Latin document, De Exorcismis et Supplicantioibus Quibusdam, which has been the official text of the ritual used by priests in the exorcism ministry across the world since 1999, the American document, Exorcisms and Related Supplications, is subject to publishing restrictions. The document is only immediately available to bishops, but may be obtained by clergy, scholars and seminary professors with the permission of their local ordinary (diocesan bishop).

Under Canon 1172, only priests who receive permission from their bishops can perform a major exorcism after proper training. According to Canon Law, Bishops have an automatic right to perform major exorcisms and can share that authority with other priests.

Minor exorcism is more common than many people realise.  Indeed, all baptised Catholics underwent a minor exorcism when they were baptised, with a prayer of exorcism preceding the anointing with oils in the Rite of Baptism.  Except in the case of an emergency baptism, when an infant is at the risk of death, the Rite of Baptism, and the accompanying minor exorcism should only be performed by a priest or deacon.

The main reason for producing an English language version of the ritual of major exorcism is the continuing decline in the use of Latin among the clergy. The USCCB’s Divine Worship Secretariat said that previously, exorcists not only had to be wise and holy, they also had to have a strong facility in Latin. By having the text available in a vernacular version, ie the English language, an exorcist can concentrate on the prayer and ritual involved rather than the added distraction of having to worry about working in a second language.

The Church has not been hasty in issuing this English language text – the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops gave the translation their approval in 2014 and then forwarded it to Rome for approval by the Vatican, which gave its ‘recognitio‘ earlier this year.

Unofficial translations of the exorcism ritual have been published as pirate editions and parts of the ritual have featured in films such as the eponymous movie, The Exorccist, where the ritual begins with  the Lord’s Prayer. In fictionalised depictions, the ritual does usually involve a litany of the saints, with a repetition of the phrase ‘Pray for us’ (or ‘Pray for him’ or ‘Pray for her’) as well as the phrase ‘Lord deliver us [or him or her] from evil’.

Back in the world of approved texts, the US Bishops have also published a booklet for lay people, and general readers, entitled Prayers Against the Powers of Darkness, which sells for US$6.95, and is available to pre-order now, for shipping on November 5th, from the website https://store.usccb.org.

On the US Bishops’ website, there is a page dealing with frequently asked questions about exorcism. While the bishops acknowledge that there is no scriptural basis for a formal rite of exorcism, they point out that the practice is rooted in the ministry of Jesus, with three of the gospels stating that Jesus drove out demons, indeed Mark 1:34 states, “He cured many who were sick with various diseases, and he drove out many demons, not permitting them to speak because they knew him.”

Nevertheless, the Rite of Major Exorcism is useful, the American hierarchy point out because, “There are instances when a person needs to be protected against the power of the devil or to be withdrawn from his spiritual dominion. At such times, the Church asks publicly and authoritatively in the name of Jesus Christ for this protection or liberation through the use of exorcism.”


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