What is an exorcism?

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops approved the English translation of “Exorcisms and Related Supplications” in 2014. The Vatican approved the translation in spring 2017.

Because much of the public perception of the nature and application of exorcism is shaped by mass media, the bishops’ Committee on Divine Worship approved basic questions and answers with the hope of providing clear information on the topic.

What follows is that online resource edited for brevity, clarity and style. The full set of questions and answers can be found here.

Q: What is an exorcism?
Exorcism is a specific form of prayer that the church uses against the power of the devil.

Q: What is the difference between an exorcism and the sacrament of penance?
Exorcism is a prayer that falls in the category of sacramentals, one of a number of sacred signs instituted by the church “to sanctify different circumstances of life” (“Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church,” no. 351), thus varying from the seven sacraments of the church instituted by Christ. The sacrament of penance forgives sins and reconciles the faithful to the church, renewing baptism and bestowing grace to fight evil and grow in virtue. As a sacramental, exorcism prepares a person for the grace of the sacrament.

Q: Why does the church need exorcisms?
There are instances when a person needs to be protected against the power of the devil or to be withdrawn from the devil’s spiritual dominion. At such times, the church asks publicly and authoritatively in the name of Jesus for this protection or liberation through the use of exorcism.

Q: Is there a scriptural basis for exorcism?
While the basis for exorcism is grounded in the ministry of Jesus, there is no scriptural basis for a formal rite of exorcism apart from the use of the psalms and Gospel excerpt that were included in the rite of exorcism as it evolved. Continue reading


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