The Rituale Romanum

This is a priest’s service manual containing the only formal exorcism rite sanctioned the Roman Catholic Church. It was first written in 1614 under Pope Paul V, and was left untouched until 1952 when two minor revisions were included in the language of the ritual.

When first published in the 17th. Century the Rituale cautioned priests against performing exorcism upon persons in whom no true possession existed. And, with the increased advancement of medical science which more proficiently defined illnesses, true possession, both demonic and spiritual, became more difficult to determine. Some of the previously thought demonic interferences are now being diagnosed as hysteria, multiple personality, schizophrenia, paranoia, sexual malfunction and other neuroses brought on by childhood terrors and obsessions. Such diagnoses are making true demonic more difficult to determine.

«The 1952 revisions changed the wording that symptoms of possession ‘are signs of the presence of a demon’ to ‘might be.’ States other than possession, originally described as ‘those who suffer from melancholia or any other illness’ became ‘those who suffer from illness, particularly mental illness.'»

These changes reflect the thinking of many modern, devout Christians who no longer believe in demonic possession. If such change of thinking is currently reflected, then one cannot but asked how many hundreds or thousands mentally ill persons have undergone the ritual of exorcism unnecessarily?

Still others do believe in demonic possession and enumerate signs that may show its presence. If the person, they say, exhibits paranormal capacities, shows superhuman strength, and above all, manifest knowledge of previously unknown languages, then he or she may be a candidate for demonic exorcism. The church may deem the person possessed when the above signs are accompanied by extreme revulsions for sacred texts and objects. Then the exorcist, with the permission of a bishop, performs the ancient ritual. Exorcism is not a sacrament of the Church, but a rite. The Rituale, though a guideline, does not give the exorcist a definite procedure by which to perform the ritual. He can vary according to his own discretion. After being as certain as humanly possible the victim is truly possessed he proceeds with the ritual.

The exorcist rarely works by himself. He is usually assisted by at least three other people. The first is generally a younger priest who is being trained or is trained in the performance of exorcism. His main duty is to maintain the continuance of the exorcism, and can take over if the exorcist dies.

The second person is usually a medical physician. He helps the exorcist with the victim. The exorcist is to continue to question the victim during which he attempts to discover the name and nature of the demon or spirit within. Under no circumstance is the exorcist to give the victim any medications. If this is required, this is the duty of the physician.

This person is usually physically strong and a member of the victim’s family. If the victim is a female, then this third person should be a woman to avoid scandal.

Before performing the exorcism the priest should make a good confession and be absolved of all sins which the demon may try to use against him during the ritual. Then donning in a surplice and a purple stole (required dress for exorcist priests) begins the rite. During the exorcism certain prescribed prayers to be said such as the Litanies of the Saints, the Pater Noster (the Lord’s Prayer), and the 54th. Psalm. These recitations are said before the victim. The priest may recite them in his mother tongue, but it is said to have been experienced that the recitations said in Latin seem to be more effective.

Each recitation is accompanied by more prayers including the Ave Marie (Hail Mary), the Gloria Patri (Glory be to the Father), the Anima Christi (Body of Christ), and the Salve Ragina (Save us, merciful Mary). Throughout these recitations the sign of the cross is made, scriptures are read, and hands may be laid on the victim.

The exorcist calls upon the demon or spirit to make itself known, and to succumb to Jesus Christ and depart the victim and leave the person in peace. When the spirit does so, the priest prays for Christ to help and protect the person. If the spirit does not depart the victim then the ritual is repeated again until the demon leaves. The Rituale also offers instructions to priests for the exorcism of homes and other places believed to be infested by demons and spirits. A.G.H.


Guiley, Rosemary Ellen, The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft, New York: Facts On File, 1989, pp. 282-283