In the 21st century, interest in Catholic exorcism reached an all-time high; according to “U.S. Catholic” magazine, there were more exorcists in the United States in 2011 than at any time in modern history. The rituals used to exorcise individuals thought to be possessed by demons trace their history back to the 15th century. As prayer plays a key role in these rituals, certain parts of the scripture come into focus.
Exorcism in Scripture
The gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke all tell of Jesus performing exorcisms. Although the Bible does not use the term, “demonic possession,” St. Peter speaks most clearly on the concept of possession in Peter 5:8, where he says, “your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, goes about seeking whom he may devour.” In Mark 5:1-20, Jesus presses the offending demons for their names, thus establishing an important element of exorcism that continues today, the concept of dispelling demons via nomenclature. Jesus encourages his disciples to dispel demons in his name -- a tradition that also lives on -- and gives his disciples the power to cast out demons in Matthew 10:8 and Luke 10:17.
Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel
According to Catholic Doors Ministry, the Order of His Holiness Pope Leo XIII -- who served as Pope from 1878 to 1903 -- prescribed a scripture-heavy prayer to be used during exorcism. This selection, known as the “Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel,” features numerous scriptural references as it calls upon St. Michael (“Prince of the Heavenly armies”), Saints Peter and Paul and the Immaculate Virgin Mary to expel demons in the name of Christ.
The “Prayer to St. Michael” first references Ephesians 6:12, calling on the Saints' aid “against the rulers of this world of darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places.” The plea goes on to quote Revelations 20:2-3, requesting that God, in his mercy, dispel the demon “and cast him into the bottomless pit that he may no loner seduce the nations.” This scripture describes Satan as "the dragon, the old serpent, which is the devil." Pope Leo's prayer also directly references the books of Timothy, Matthew, Philippians and John.
In a 2010 article in the “New York Times,” Matt Baglio, author of “The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist," reminds Catholics that the power of prayer and scripture in exorcism lies in the name of Jesus: “The prayer comes from the power of Jesus' name and the church. It doesn't come from the power of the exorcist.” Despite changing views throughout history, as of 2013, the Catholic Church believes that only appointed priests can perform exorcism. As such, the speaking of scriptures as a means of exorcism should be left solely to priests. Oftentimes, scripture never comes into play. Speaking to “U.S. Catholic” in 2011, Father Gary Thomas, pastor at the Sacred Heart Parish of Saratoga, California, says that more than 80 percent of the people that seek his help need therapy rather than exorcism.
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