By Thomas J. Euteneuer
The Rev. Thomas J. Euteneuer is president of Virginia-based Human Life International, which has affiliates and partners in 87 countries around the world. A trained exorcist, Fr. Euteneuer has been authorized to perform the ancient rite in several dioceses in the U.S.
LINK: Human Life International
(New Oxford Review) The Catholic Church has a gift that no other church, Christian or otherwise, can even imagine having — namely, a written exorcism ritual. This little book makes the Devil shake in his boots! As one who uses the ritual, I know how much of a tour de force it is against the power of evil. That being said, the exorcism ritual is not what it was in its glory days.
Although the Second Vatican Council authorized the revision of all liturgical books, it is hard to believe that the Council envisioned the radical changes made to such an important weapon of the Church militant as the 1614 exorcism ritual, known as De exorcizandis obsessis a daemonio ("On Exorcising Those Obsessed by a Demon"). Its 1999 revision is titled De exorcismis et supplicationibus quibusdam ("On Exorcisms and Other Supplications"). Even the change in title signals a change in focus: The 1614 ritual is about freeing those obsessed by demons; the 1999 revision is about prayers and supplications. I am sure the Devil is happy to have the focus diverted from breaking his power to pious prayers.
I do not say this for effect. I say it because it is true. It appears as if someone took a knife to the old ritual and then, when all the pieces were cut up and lying in a pile, discarded some and cobbled the rest together in a new order and called it a "revision." It is no surprise, as Fr. Gabriele Amorth noted in his 1999 book An Exorcist Tells His Story, that the revision was conducted without the input of a single practicing exorcist.
Before proceeding to some specifics, it is important to mention something fundamental to the discussion of any liturgical document: Liturgical texts are the Church's texts, and as bad as their revisions may be, they still have spiritual power because they are the official prayers of the Church. Objectively speaking, they exercise a spiritual power that no individual has.
Another aspect to be respected about this particular ritual is that its "official" language is Latin. As a sacred liturgical language, Latin is odious to demons. When a priest uses this language, even when it is poorly pronounced, he is using the mother tongue of the Church and not his own personal language or a language used for secular purposes. He does not have to speak Latin fluently because he is not there to engage in a conversation with the demon. He only has to read the prayers and have intense faith in the Church's words.
The new ritual was the last of the liturgical rites to be "revised" after the Second Vatican Council, and it displays some serious deficits while adding only a few minor advantages to the pastoral practice of exorcism. First and foremost is the sad reality that the revisionists transformed what had been a truly economical, spiritually focused ritual into a cumbersome liturgical ceremony. The continuous rubrical references to the "celebration" of exorcism exasperate the exorcist who expects the ritual to be a potent weapon against evil. I ask you: Who "celebrates" an exorcism? Liturgical revisionists perhaps; but not exorcists, I guarantee you. An exorcism is a war, not a celebration. The only celebration we could possibly speak of in an exorcism is when the demon is expelled and sent to the foot of the cross by the power of the Church. That is cause for celebration! The war that precedes it is hardly a picnic.
Because the revision is more a pious liturgy than an instrument of warfare, it is overloaded with all kinds of extraneous and distracting elements, most of which simply have to be skipped over by exorcists for the ritual to be used effectively. While the litany of saints and Gospel reading are transported from the 1614 original, other added elements border on annoying. What need, for example, does an exorcism have for an opening greeting to the "assembly"? If there is an "assembly" attending an exorcism, the exorcist is doing something wrong! What place does a homily or a rite to bless holy water have in the course of an exorcism? The exorcist should already have holy water at his side as a weapon. Likewise, what need have we for general intercessions in an exorcism? Intense prayer, yes; petitions for social needs, political leaders, and good weather, no.
Moreover, many of the deprecatory prayers (appeals to God) prior to the imperative prayers (commanding the demon proper) are excessively long and distracting. The purpose of the deprecatory prayers is to ask God's assistance in the warfare against demons, and the 1614 ritual recognized that shorter deprecatory prayers are more suited to the pastoral nature of the rite because the possessed often become fully overtaken by demons as soon as the ritual prayers begin. The priest often has to shorten or abandon the prayers in order to start commanding the demon once it becomes active. When you are getting mugged by a criminal, you don't want the cop on the street corner reading the instruction manual on how to make an arrest. Nor should an exorcist persist in long appeals to God when his charge is in a fully possessed state.
In short, the revised ritual prescribes too much ceremony for the priest to complete before going to war. He is expected to pray the secret prayer, bless water (and salt), do an aspersion, pray the litany, recite Psalm 90, read a Gospel passage, impose hands, conduct a profession of faith or renew his charge's baptismal promises (as if the person were even conscious at that point), recite the Lord's Prayer, brandish the cross, and breathe on the possessed person (known as "exsufflation"). All these elements give the demon a veritable vacation before his punishment comes.
In addition to these distractions, other annoyances include the weakening of some of the language and the gratuitous removal of the many signings of the cross. For example, Exorcism #2 of the old ritual included twenty-three signings of the cross, which have been reduced to just three in the equivalent exorcism of the new ritual. Concerning language changes, one simply has to wonder why certain potent terms were re-worked. For example, the term satánica potestas ("every Satanic power") was replaced with omnis tenebrarum potestas ("every power of darkness"). Did the revisionists think exorcists are afraid of the word "Satanic"? Afraid of offending the Devil maybe? Other such language changes throughout take the punch out of the text.
There is a need for order, harmony, and solidity in every structure, and the "architecture" of the exorcism ritual is no different. The core strength of the original ritual was its series of three exorcisms. These were an organic progression of prayers, each one building upon the preceding prayer and intensifying the warfare against the fiend as the prayers continued. The imagery and language were almost entirely biblical and increased in aggressiveness from the first to the last. The text took quite literally a millennium to fashion, having been carefully sewn together from many earlier texts that had been tested through pastoral use over centuries.
In contrast, the new ritual gives the impression of a hodgepodge of prayers that someone tampered with just for the sake of making changes. Most elements of this ritual did not need to be changed at all. The organic triple-exorcism sequence was totally dismantled; only one re-worked exorcism was retained as the "major exorcism," the other two were relegated to optional sections and either whittled down or rewritten. The passage commanding the demon to obey the Church was mysteriously eliminated, and the powerful St. Michael Prayer was displaced from its superior position in the 1614 ritual to the last place in the new ritual, which must have pleased Michael's arch-nemesis, Satan, to no end.
We have much to thank Pope Benedict XVI for, not the least of which was the fight to retain permission to use the 1614 ritual when the inadequate 1999 revision came out. He was not the only one who knew that the loss of this gift would weaken the Church's warfare against the power of evil in this world and ultimately her ability to save souls — the Devil certainly knew it too. Since the issuance of Benedict's motu proprio on the Tridentine Latin Mass, it is generally accepted that the more powerful 1614 ritual can be used freely by those priests who have delegation to perform exorcisms. I, for one, welcome the chance to use the Church's own "nuclear option" when it comes to fighting mankind's most powerful enemy.