Q. Can you explain what an exorcism entails? Who can do it, and when would it be performed?
A. You may not know it, but we have all been exorcised on the day of our baptism. However, in the sense you are asking, an exorcism is considered a sacramental – a liturgical rite of the Church. It is formally known as the Major Rite of Exorcism and consists of prescribed ritual prayers and gestures along with the use of holy water and salt. An exorcism can only be performed by a bishop, a priest who has been appointed as an exorcist, or by a priest who has explicit permission from his bishop to perform one. Often a person will require more than one exorcism to be liberated from whatever demon has possessed them.
That being said, exorcisms are rare and are only performed after much investigation, as there is usually a combination of spiritual and psychological issues at work. If, after meeting with a psychiatrist or psychologist, the trouble is deemed to be psychological in nature, then no exorcism would be necessary. If something more is going on, then either an exorcism or deliverance can take place. Furthermore, it is the practise of many exorcists to have a psychologist or psychiatrist present during an exorcism to get an assessment of what he or she is witnessing.
Deliverance prayer is for those who are experiencing some kind of demonic disturbance in their lives – they are being “harassed” by the devil, so to speak – though not truly possessed. Although the devil cannot possess you unless you let him in, the testimony of countless saints shows that people will often be bothered by demons not because they are possessed, but rather because they are undergoing intense spiritual warfare!
Deliverance involves praying over the person for liberation from evil spirits. Both priests and lay people can undertake this ministry. Many priests have what is known as a Manual of Minor Exorcisms, which contains certain prayers that any priest (but not members of the laity) can use for someone experiencing demonic oppression in their lives.
A possible gateway for demonic “infatuation” or oppression could be involvement in the occult, being cursed by someone, and contact with cursed objects, in addition to trauma or abuse. What is also found is that very strong emotions (unforgiveness, fear, hate…) or behaviours (greed, lust, etc.) can manifest in a person’s life that aren’t merely emotions or sinful actions. Rather, real demonic spirits are involved, which require much prayer and fasting to be driven out.