Exorcism is a closely guarded subject and our images only include the ones Hollywood have given us. Learn the truth about Exorcism from a professional exorcist Father Gary Thomas.
Exorcism is known by most as a religious practice of evicting demons or other spiritual entities from a person or area. James R. Lewis described exorcism as "something along the lines of placing the possessing spirit under oath - invoking a higher authority to compel the spirit - rather than an actual casting out". What we know of exorcism is the gory, drama filled films that Hollywood has given us. However, to understand exorcism and possession we are going to speak with an exorcist.
Father Gary Thomas. Exorcist and Pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish.
Father Gary Thomas, diocesan exorcist and pastor of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish, San Jose California, said: "I became an exorcist either by accident or Providence and I have to believe that it was Providence. Our bishop decided to appoint an exorcist in response to the dictum from the late St. John Paul II in 2004 in which he mandated that every bishop in the world select a priest and train that priest to be an exorcist. I simply volunteered and said that I would serve in this ministry.”
Visions of demonic activity and possession most likely come from Hollywood’s version of entertainment with flares of drama and horror. Films like The Exorcist are not a clear representations of demonic activity and possession.
The renowned scene from The Exorcist.
Father Thomas believes: "There are 4 basic degrees of demonic activity. Harassment - the demon has not gained a foothold into person but causes much havoc externally. Oppression - the demon causes a depression within the psychological framework of the person which in turn can cause the person to detach, to react against holy things, to exhibit inordinate physical strength, to speak in languages previously unknown and bodily contortions. Obsession - the demon or demons cause a psychotic interference with the mind of the person which produces hallucinations as well as the signs described in the oppression condition. Possession - the complete takeover by a demon or demons of a human body but not the soul. The host person is still struggling to regain control but basically has a difficult time functioning on a day-to-day basis."
For an exorcism to take place someone or something must be possessed, but in ancient civilizations such as those in Egypt, Greece, China and Babylon believed people that showed signs of psychopathology were possessed by evil spirts. This train of thought continued into the 18th century when witchcraft and possession were used as explanations for psychopathology. Today mental illness is more accepted rather than being a taboo.
The Middle Ages saw barbaric treatments used by the clergy to exorcise evil spirits. They used a variety of techniques such as scourging.
Father Thomas said: "On my team of discerners, I have a physician, clinical psychologist, and psychiatrist: all practicing Catholics and all who believe in the existence of Satan. I also have a prayer team consisting of 3 married couples and a single man(bilingual) who are present at every session of deliverance or formal exorcism. I should state here that a deliverance session is really a minor exorcism. The formal rite is not used, but instead unofficial but efficacious prayers addressed to GOD Instead of directly addressing Satan. That is the major difference between deliverance and formal exorcisms.”
In the Catholic church the process of exorcism involves the rite, which is a collection of prayers, statements and appeals. The rite was revised in 1999 by the Vatican but the original rite dates to 1614. To perform the rite the exorcist dresses in surplice and purple stole. The prayers split into the "imploring formula", in which the priest asks God to free the subject from the devil and the "imurative formula", in which the priest demands in the name of God that the devil leave the subject's body.
Father Gary Thomas at an even for 'The Rite' starring Anthony Hopkins. The film is based on a book titled 'The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist' by Matt Bagilo. Hopkins character is based on Father Thomas.
In the Catholic community a distinction can be made between a formal exorcism and a deliverance. Exorcism is the casting out of an evil spirit from a person or place, and calls upon the power of other earthly sources. However, a deliverance is the process of being released or set free from an oppressive evil spirit, and calls upon the power of God.
Father Thomas said: "The sessions all take place in the church in front of the exposed Blessed Sacrament (Body of Christ); Place the exposed Blessed Sacrament on the altar because it threatens the demons; Gather the team and the subject of the prayers in a circle and bless all of them with exorcised holy water mixed with exorcised salt; Pray preparation/protection and declaration prayers with all present to insulate everyone from demonic attack and declare the power of Christ over Satan; Anoint the subject with both the Sacrament of the Sick and the Oil of the Catechumen; Once this is all performed, then you begin with the deliverance prayers or rite of exorcism.
"When the manifestations have stopped being displayed by a person you keep up the prayers until in your judgment you believe that the demon has left. Sometimes, the demon will just hide in the hope that he has led you to believe that it is gone. However, over time and experience, I along with the team usually know when the demon has left. We also consult with the subject themselves and ask for their input. They can be very helpful as well. As far as a home is concerned, I rarely see any manifestations. Once I have performed the solemn rite of exorcism of a place, I tell the owners or occupiers of the house. To let me know if they have any further problems or signs of disturbance."
Getting to the root of exorcism and possession is always going to be hard, without having insight into the faith and the practice understanding it will be a struggle. Speaking with Father Thomas allows us to peek inside the otherwise secret practice that is exorcism.