“BATHSHEBA! By the power of God, I condemn you back to hell!” For anyone who has dared to watch The Conjuring, these were words used to cast out a demon. If only it were that simple. We do not know a whole lot about exorcisms. The Catholic Church says that exorcisms exist, but other than that, scant information is available. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “When the Church asks publicly and authoritatively in the name of Jesus Christ that a person or object be protected against the power of the Evil One and withdrawn from his dominion, it is called exorcism” (CCC 1673).
Many of us are familiar with exorcisms conducted in horror movies such as The Exorcist or The Conjuring, but the truths of exorcisms are widely unknown the public. Baptism functions as a simple and minor exorcism, since the celebrant is asking that the person be protected from the stain of Original Sin (CCC 1673). When we think of the movies, we are thinking of a “solemn,” or major exorcism, which can only be performed by a priest with the permission of a bishop (CCC 1673). Jesus’ power over Satan gives the Church the spiritual authority to expel demons and liberate people from demonic possession. Major exorcisms only occur in the case of a genuine demonic possession.
Who can perform exorcisms? Anyone can perform a minor exorcism—such as baptism— since we are given dominion and power over evil (cf. Lk. 9:1). Therefore, we all have authority over Satan and demons in Jesus’ name.
How about major exorcisms? The Code of Canon Law provides some answers: “No one can perform exorcisms legitimately upon the possessed unless he has obtained special and express permission from the local ordinary. The local ordinary is to give this permission only to a presbyter who has piety, knowledge, prudence, and integrity of life” (Can 1172). Only an ordained minister can perform such an exorcism, like seen in The Exorcist. Most importantly, per the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, “the text [The Rite of Major Exorcisms] cautions that the lay faithful are not to recite any prayers reserved to the exorcist (ERS, no. 35), not only because the prayers are reserved to those ordained to act in the person of Christ the Head (in persona Christi capitis), but also to protect the faithful from possible spiritual harm.” To this end, every Catholic diocese has one exorcist, whose job it is to oversee all matters regarding spiritual warfare.
Father Gabriel Amorth (1925-2016) was the Chief Exorcist in the Vatican and dealt with the occult for decades. In An Exorcist Explains the Demonic, he affirmed that there is a Rite of Rituals followed in performing an exorcism, though each case is unique and possesses its own challenges. Fr. Amorth did not deny the existence of Satan; rather, he warned of his power and presence: “The devil, through his ordinary action, which is temptation, and through his extraordinary action, which is the subject of this book, tries to destroy the confidence of each man and each woman to love and to be loved.”
C.S. Lewis paints a similar picture in The Screwtape Letters: “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.”
There are five simple steps that reject Satan and demons in our life. First, repent and believe in Jesus as Lord. Second, say “I forgive.” Forgiveness and mercy are traits Christ displayed that draw us near to him. Third, renounce the evil spirit and Satan in the name of Jesus. Fourth, take authority over the spirit in Jesus’ name. Finally, receive blessing in the name of Jesus. Through Jesus’ power over evil, these simple steps affirm our authority over Satan. The most important thing to remember is that we always have power over Satan and demons. These five steps, taken from Neal Lozano’s book Unbound, offer us a way to counter Satan.
Fighting Satan is like a war, but there is hope. Jesus Christ already won the war for us. He defeated Satan on Good Friday on the Cross. He rose from the dead in order that we may be saved. Take hope in this, brothers and sisters, Jesus defeated Satan, and gave us the power and authority over Satan as well.