The handful of priests in the country trained as exorcists say they are overwhelmed with requests from people who fear they are possessed by the Devil. So now, American bishops are training more priests and bishops to respond to the demand.
The purpose is not necessarily to revive the practice, the organizers say, but to help Catholic clergy learn how to distinguish who really needs an exorcism from who really needs a psychiatrist, or perhaps some pastoral care.
“Not everyone who thinks they need an exorcism actually does need one,” Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki recently told the New York Times. “It’s only used in those cases where the Devil is involved in an extraordinary sort of way in terms of actually being in possession of the person. But it’s rare, it’s extraordinary, so the use of exorcism is also rare and extraordinary.”
According to the New York Times:
Exorcism is as old as Christianity itself. The New Testament has accounts of Jesus casting out demons, and it is cited in the Catholic Church’s catechism. But it is now far more popular in Europe, Africa and Latin America than in the United States.
Most exorcisms are not as dramatic as the bloody scenes in films. The ritual is based on a prayer in which the priest invokes the name of Jesus. The priest also uses holy water and a cross, and can alter the prayer depending on the reaction he gets from the possessed person, said Matt Baglio, a journalist in Rome who wrote the book “The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist” (Doubleday, 2009). “The prayer comes from the power of Jesus’ name and the church. It doesn’t come from the power of the exorcist. The priest doesn’t have the magic power.”
Some of the classic signs of possession by a demon, Bishop Paprocki said, include speaking in a language the person has never learned; extraordinary shows of strength; a sudden aversion to spiritual things like holy water or the name of God; and severe sleeplessness, lack of appetite and cutting, scratching and biting the skin.
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