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The Rite of Exorcism

exorcism-riteThe ancient rite of exorcism has been the subject of legends, books and blockbuster films. In 1971 William Peter Blatty wrote the novel “The Exorcist” after a story he had heard as a student at Georgetown University involving the possession and exorcism of a young boy in St. Louis. Blatty changed the details, including the sex of the victim, and the book was adapted into one of the most frightening horror film classics of all time, emblazoning in the public mind the formerly obscure ritual of exorcism. But what is really involved in a catholic exorcism?

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The origin of exorcism stems from the New Testament of the Bible and was performed by Jesus himself on several occasions. The methods he used form the basis for the ritual of exorcism used by the Catholics and most other Christian denominations that practice it. The modern catholic ritual of exorcism is laid out in a priest’s copy of the Roman Ritual, a handbook used for all rites of the catholic church, and has been performed in english since the 1960’s. In 1949 during the exorcism in St. Louis, it was said in latin, beyond that the ritual is basically the same.

The story of the St. Louis exorcism starts In the city of Mount Rainier, Maryland. A normal eleven year old boy was the subject of an apparent demonic possession that began with the sound of scratching on the floor and inside the boy’s mattress. It was followed by telekinetic activity including objects flying across the room. Soon after, normally at night, the boy began to curse accompanied by violent shakings of his bed, babbling about demons, and episodes of thrashing.

According to his doctors, this physical activity mysteriously caused no rise in his blood pressure or heart rate. Severe scratches rising from his skin began to take the shape of letters, most notably forming the word “Louis”. The family decided to bring the child to St. Louis to the home of relatives after he managed to seriously wound a priest in Maryland by cutting his arm with a bed spring.

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A modern Catholic exorcism will not happen without very strict screening to determine if the subject is truely possessed, or simply suffering from a mental illness, which is almost always the case. Once that is finished, the local bishop will determine whether or not an exorcism will be performed. There did not seem to be a ready psychological explanation for the possession of the boy, so the exorcism was cleared.

The exorcist in the St. Louis case was Father William Bowdern, assisted by Walter Halloran, who would become a priest as well after the incident. Bowdern died in 1983, and left very little information about the exorcism other than a diary written by another priest that was present at the exorcism, but Halloran lived until just recently and talked openly about the exorcism. Halloran downplayed the event to some extent, but did believe it was a genuine case of possession. The Jesuits themselves still debate if it was a case of some bizarre psychosomatic illness, but one set of accounts serve to raise the story back to the level of the dramatization that made the case famous.

The Alexian Brothers are an Augustinian religious order devoted to running hospitals One such hospital was the scene of the 1949 St. Louis exorcism. A very large brother was called into assist Bowdern in holding the boy down during violent episodes. The brother claimed that the boy’s stomach was distended and looked like that of a pregnant woman and would emit strange sounds similar to the mad laugh of woody woodpecker. The head of the order at the hospital was subjected to loud knocks at his door at night, and when he answered, no one was there. A group of brothers late one night saw Cardinal Joseph Ritter in full ecclesiastical regalia standing in front of them, and when they went to kiss his ring, he was not there. The brothers sealed the room after the exorcism, complete with the furniture, and left it for decades until the hospital was demolished in 1978. Workmen, apparently unaware of the history of the room, told of a cat or large rat running from the formerly locked room during demolition.

To begin the exorcism, the priest will first go to confession to prepare himself for the ordeal. Once finished, he will go to the possessed and make the sign of the cross on the subject, and trace it on all present in the room. He will then say the Litany of the Saints, where he will begin the prayers and be answered by those in the room. Starting with the invocation of Lord have Mercy he will follow his ritual, and begin invoking the names of the Saints, Holy Mary, St. Michael, St. Gabriel and so on. Followed by the Lord’s prayer, he will then recite Psalm 53 from the bible, again with the others present answering him in accordance with Catholic ritual. Bowdern would have done this many times at the start of each session of the exorcism, which lasted for months. The priest implores God through prayer to accept their prayers for the possessed, and upon finishing he begins to command the demon:

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“I command you, unclean spirit, whoever you are, along with all your minions now attacking this servant of God, by the mysteries of the incarnation, passion, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ, by the descent of the Holy Spirit, by the coming of our Lord for judgement, that you tell me by some sign your name, and the day and hour of your departure. I command you, moreover, to obey me to the letter, I who am a minister of God despite my unworthiness; nor shall you be emboldened to harm in any way this creature of God, or the bystanders, or any of their possessions”

He then lays his hands on the possessed, and recites John 1:1-14. He blesses the possessed, and recites Mark 16:15-18, Luke 10:17-20, and 11:14-22 and prays again. Then he recites:

“I cast you out, unclean spirit, along with every Satanic power of the enemy, every spectre from hell, and all your fell companions; in the name our Lord Jesus Christ. Begone and stay far from this creature of God. For it is He who commands you, He who flung you headlong from the heights of heaven into the depths of hell. It is He who commands you, He who once stilled the sea and the wind and the storm. Hearken, corrupter of justice, you root of all evil and vice; seducer of men, betrayer of the nations, instigator of envy, font of avarice, fomentor of discord, author of pain and sorrow. Why, then, do you stand and resist, knowing as you must that Christ the Lord brings your plans to nothing? Fear Him, who in Isaac was offered in sacrifice, in Joseph sold into bondage, slain as the paschal lamb, crucified as man, yet trumphed over the powers of hell. (he makes three signs of the cross). Begone, then in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Give place to the Holy Spirit by this sign of the holy cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, God, forever and ever.”

The priest then prays again, often to the violent thrashings and insults from the possessed person. Bowdern noted that the boy would violently react to these passages, and any mention of the name of God would cause more welts and scratches to inexplicably appear on the boy’s body. At one point, the word ‘Hell’ appeared on his chest, and he spat prodigiously at anyone standing near him with amazing accuracy even though his eyes were closed, Halloran said. The ritual continues;

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“I adjure you, ancient serpent, by the judge of the living and the dead, by your Creator, by the Creator of the whole universe, by Him who has the power to consign you to hell, to depart forthwith in fear, along with your savage minions, from thie servant of God, who seeks refuge in the fold of the Church. I adjure you again not by my weakness but by the might of the Holy Spirit, to depart from this servant of God, whom almighty God has made in his image. Yield, therefore, yield not to my own person but the minister of Christ. For it is the power of Christ that compels you who brought you low by His cross. Tremble before that mighty arm that broke asunder the dark prison walls and led souls forth to light. May the trembling that afflicts this human frame, the fear that afflicts this image, of God, descend on you. Make no resistance nor delay in departing from this man, for it has pleased Christ to dwell in man. Do not think of despising my command because you know me to be a great sinner. It is God Himself who commands you; the majestic Christ who commands you. God the Father commands you; God the Son commands you, God the Holy Spirit commands you. The mystery of the cross commands you. The faith of the holy apostles Peter and Paul and all of the saints commands you. The blood of the martyrs commands you, the Continence of the confessors commands you. the devout prayers of all holy men and women command you. The saving mystyeries of our Christian faith command you.”

Bowdern placed religious medals around the boy’s neck, he complained that they burned and he flicked his tongue around like a snake.

“Depart, then, transgressor. Depart, seducer, full of lies and cunning, for of virtue, persecutor of the innocent. Give place, aboninable creature, give wa, you monster, givewa to Christ, in whom you found none of the your owks. For he was already stripped you of your powers and laid waste your kindfom, bound you prisoner and plundered your weapons. He has cast you forth into the outer darkness, where everlasting ruin awaits you and your abettors. To what purpose do you insolently resist? To what purposed do you brazenly refuse? For you are guilty before almighty God, whose laws you have transgressed. You are guilty before His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, whom you presumed to tempt, whom you dared to nail to the cross. You are guilty before the whole human race, to whom you proferred by your enticments the poisoned cup of death.

Therefore I adjure you, profligate dragon, in the name of the spotless Lamb, who has trodden down the asp and the basilisk, and overcome the lion and the dragon, to depart from this man, to deapart from teh Church of God. Tremble and flee, as we call on the name of the Lord before whom the denizens of hell cower, to whom the heavenly Virtues and powers and Dominations are subject, whom the Cherubim and Seraphim praise with unending cries as they sing” Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Sabaoth. The word made flesh commands you, the virgin’s son commands you; Jesus of Nazareth commands you, who once, when you despised his disciples, forced you to flee in shameful defeat from a man; and when He had cast you out you did not even dare, except by His leave, to enter into a herd of swine. And now as I adjure you in His name, begone from this man, who is his creature. It is futile to resist His will. It is hard for you to kick against the goad. The longer you delay, the heavier your punishment shall be; for it is not men you are condemning, but rather Him who rules the living and the dead, who is coming to judge both the living and the dead and the world by fire.”

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The exorcism is repeated over and over, and may take months to finish. The 1949 exorcism ended with a voice, different from all the others that the boy had uttered, announcing himself to be St. Michael and the exorcism was over. The Alexians said that moments after a loud, deep bang reverberated through the hospital, a common side effect of exorcism. At around the same time, at nearby Francis Xavier church, the Jesuits saw a vision of St. Michael in the apse of the church, bathed in bright light holding a flaming sword. The boy grew up to enjoy a normal life, and is still alive, but remembers nothing of the exorcism.

Can a demon from hell inhabit and take control of a human being? Perhaps the whole ritual is an effective placebo correcting a mental aberration, maybe its not. In any case it is an ancient, but poorly understood rite that seems to happen in modern times more than ever. The Vatican’s official exorcist, Father Gabriel Amorth notes that he has personally done over 50,000 exorcisms. In the end, perhaps the most frightening aspect of exorcism is that it seems to work.

By J.M. Sinclair, source:

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Jake Carter

Jake Carter is a researcher and a prolific writer who has been fascinated by science and the unexplained since childhood. He is always eager to share his findings and insights with the readers of, a website he created in 2013.