Priesthood at the Door of Darkness
the Church asks publicly and
authoritatively in the name of Jesus
Christ that a person or object be
protected against the power of the
evil one and withdrawn from his
dominion, it is called exorcism.
Jesus performed exorcisms and from
him the Church has received the
power and office of exorcising.
In a simple form exorcism is performed
at the celebration of Baptism. In
solemn exorcism, called a 'major'
exorcism, can be performed only
by a priest and with the permission
of the bishop. The priest must proceed
with prudence, strictly observing
the rules established by the Church.
Exorcism is directed at the expulsion
of demons or to the liberation from
demoniac possession through the
spiritual authority which Jesus
entrusted to his Church. Illness,
especially psychological illness,
is a very different matter, treating
this is the concern of medical science.
Therefore before an exorcism is
performed, it is important to ascertain
that one is dealing with the presence
of the evil one, and not an illness.”
the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
are fascinated with the topic,
and there are some who would even wish to to
be witness to it — but the grim reality is that
exorcism deals with dark and deadly things,
things inimical to life and implacably hostile
toward everything good — especially toward the
Exorcist and any present with him. In short,
it is a grim affair fraught with peril to all
The Roman Rite, or the Rite of
Exorcism as it is formally called, is an
extremely dangerous ministry that has been carefully
entrusted to specifically appointed priests
within the Church. It is not, Holy Mother
Church insists, something that laymen should
tamper with, nor even priests without specific
training, special credentials, and deeply personal
sanctity. Indeed, any attempt at exorcism
is expressly forbidden — and for good reason,
as we shall see. It is well to soberly reflect
upon the perils which these special priests
confront and the frightening realities to which
they are exposed. The confrontation with evil
is very real, and anyone dismissing it as outdated
is not just sadly but very dangerously mistaken.
As we see in the citation above, the Church
is extremely careful to distinguish between
psychological abnormalities amenable to medical
science, and the phenomena of demonic possession
and demonic obsession (yes, there is
more than just one menacing face of the persona
of evil). Evil — that is to say, evil of a demonic
and personal nature — exists and constantly
strives not simply to perpetuate itself, but
to metastasize to anything and everything to
which it is remotely tangent either through
its own native efforts or through the folly
or effrontery of men. It seeks, above
all else, the ultimate trespass: upon the
domain of the human soul.
Literally in the Face of Evil
The Exorcist is entrusted with this sole commission:
to challenge the evil, and to liberate the afflicted
person from its crippling, and often devastating
effects. The danger he confronts lies in what
is effectively a dual effort to expropriate
and reappropriate — that is to say,
to expropriate from the devil, and to re-appropriate
for God. satan does not readily relinquish
what he has taken to be his possession — except
under holy duress. The Exorcist, duly empowered
by the Church, and prompted by his deep love
of Jesus Christ and zealous for the salvation
of souls, determines to do both: to deprive
the devil and to return what was violated to
By his very involvement, his absolute and unremitting
contention with powers and principalities, the
priest himself is placed in a vulnerable,
volatile, and extremely dangerous situation.
His very presence (because he is an alter
Christ, and acts in Personna Christi,
in the Person of Christ) will antagonize the
evil, and his actions and prayers will often
elicit a violent response. For this reason the
tremendous conflict must be approached with
maturity, fasting and prayer, and a supportive
group of those who hold him up to God in prayer.
He stands at the door of Darkness itself ...
an image of the Light.
A priest in this sacred ministry once confided
the the fact that he needed to keep especially
close to Jesus Christ when preparing for an
exorcism, to keep his heart pure from sin —
because after performing an exorcism,
there was always reprisal, always something
or someone subsequently set in his path to cause
him to stumble; it takes little imagination
to understand this:
for flesh”, the
lies” said in the Book of Job.
Keenly aware, and deeply acquainted with the
frailty of man, the methods satan chooses to
do this are manifold and subtle: he may try
to tempt the priest to believe that he himself,
the priest, had the power of his own — perhaps
through a mistaken or overstated belief in his
own sanctity or even his own personal power
over evil – in other words, attempting to seduce
the priest himself to believe that he himself
had liberated the person from evil, when in
fact it was his instrumentality through the
hand of God that had rendered deliverance; that
he had performed the rite, not of himself,
but in the Name of Jesus Christ and through
Christ's power invested in him. I is precisely
because of the puissance of evil and the weakness
of man that exorcism is not entered into lightly,
and Holy Mother Church does so with much preparation.
We must remember the Seven Sons of Sceva:
some also of the Jewish exorcists
who went about, attempted to invoke
over them that had evil spirits,
the name of the Lord Jesus, saying:
I conjure you by Jesus, whom Paul
preacheth. And there were certain
men, seven sons of Sceva, a Jew,
a chief priest, that did this. But
the wicked spirit, answering, said
to them: Jesus I know, and Paul
I know; but who are you? And the
man in whom the wicked spirit was,
leaping upon them, and mastering
them both, prevailed against them,
so that they fled out of that house
naked and wounded.”
With the ever increasing attraction to Wicca,
or witchcraft, it is not difficult to understand
why so many priests – these emissaries of Christ
and arch-enemies of evil – are sometimes afflicted
by unfounded fears and great temptations. There
are those who worship
evil — and very clearly many who cooperate with
it — and vigorously promote it. Wittingly or
not, there are many in complicity, and in an
unholy communion with, the evil one. The priest
is the most visible adversary and the most prominent
sign of contradiction — and therefore the most
clearly distinguishable object of animosity
and malevolence. He must not, indeed, he cannot,
stand alone. For our part, it is incumbent on
us, Religious and laity alike, in the Communion
of Saints which we understand to be the Holy
Catholic Church, to visibly and consistently
support them, indeed, to support all priests,
with fasting and prayer.
As we all journey
toward our goal in Christ — which is
Christ — we grow to understand that our
life on earth, especially in this culture of
decadence and death, indeed is warfare, incessant
battle, a spiritual conflict with the world,
the flesh ... and yes, even the devil.
All of us, through our Baptism, through our
Confirmation by which we became Soldiers of
Christ ... all of us are involved in
this battle in one form or another: at the front,
in the rear, on the flanks, the conflict rages
with what is seen and with what is unseen. We
do battle, and with whom we do battle is of
no small account. Do not be seduced by the bromides
and clichés of those whose perception of the
battle is reduced to little more than whisperings
of legends and myths. No less than St.
Paul himself tells us in the clearest terms
wrestling is not against flesh and
blood; but against principalities
and power, against the rulers of
the world of this darkness, against
the spirits of wickedness in the
high places. Therefore take unto
you the armor of God, that you may
be able to resist in the evil day,
and to stand in all things perfect.”
Are we too sophisticated for this?
Too "enlightened”? Are such things mere rumors
and vestiges from dark, sacerdotal days of
eras long past?
The days, I tell you, have not been darker and
the time has never been more present! Look around
you — who is living the myth ...?
Pray for our priests
Pray for our priests,
pray for those studying and training for the
priesthood, pray for those who are discouraged
and weak. Have they not given their lives for
us, for the redemption and the sanctification
of our souls? Shall we not be prepared, are
we not compelled, to make sacrifices, in turn,
for them in the form of prayer and
fasting? Do you think that your prayers, your
fasts, your vigils are of no avail, have no
effect? You are the Body of Christ: what you
do affects the entire Body ... for well or ill.
... in this Communion of Saints
we call the Holy Catholic Church – strength
is given to those who would otherwise falter.
As Aaron and Hur held up the weary arms of Moses
in Joshua's battle against Amelec in Raphidim
— for as soon as Moses' arms tired and lowered
in weakness, the battle went ill (Exodus 17.9-13)
— so we through our prayers, fasts,
and vigils, sustain our priests, our exorcists,
our Saints – in our
We are one. If one fights, all fight. If one
conquers, all share in the fruit of that conquest.
In one fails, all suffer the scourge of that
How often the battle is fought one on one ...
yes, but we must not be unaware of our place
in the scheme of things, our part in the victory
through our participation in Christ the Victor,
through our prayers and fastings, our
Priests are ever at enmity with evil. It is
the nature of the priesthood, for the priesthood
is Christ's. They are, therefore, those for
whom the enemy lays his snares most carefully.
One eminent example of the potential danger
of the priestly ministry in executing the ministry
of exorcism in recent years, is the case of
Zambian Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo, who fell
from grace in a most extraordinary way, subsequently
contracting a “marriage” with a member of a
pagan sect. Our readers are probably well informed
about the story.
But how many paused to peer beneath the surface
to what was actually occurring? How many saw
beyond the obvious sin and the manifest folly
to the blandishments of the evil one manipulating
a priest of God? What is particularly notable
in this context is that this Archbishop was
himself an appointed Exorcist! Is further evidence
needed of the gravity, the danger, of the situation,
and the tremendous peril inherent within Rites
of Exorcism? In a moment of human weakness he
himself, appointed to cast out evil ... was
invaded by it. Who will not shudder before this?
But the story becomes more frightening still.
Milingo repented. How the Holy Father must have
rejoiced at the return of the lost sheep when
the Archbishop performed public penance, expressed
his true sorrow and asked public forgiveness?
Yet even here we see the malevolent and dogged
tenacity of evil, that unquenchable malice that
thirsts for sin and can only sate itself on
death, for Archbishop Milingo fell yet again,
once more defying the Holy See and subsequently
incurring the deadliest of penalties — excommunication
(that is to say, automatically, through the
act itself) — through defecting from his episcopal
office in attempting to consecrate
four married men in 2006 ... who also and equally
suffered the grave penalty of excommunication
(total separation from the Church, the Body
of Christ ... the death of the soul to God).
Here a modern parable has unfolded before us
of the manifold and resolute attack
upon the priesthood by the evil one.
What was a victory of sanctity over sin was
again vanquished through the insinuation of
sin into sanctity! Is it any wonder, then, that
Saint Paul himself told us that we work out
our salvation — not through arrogance and presumption
— but in fear and trembling?
The victory over evil is always Christ’s, and
it is always in Christ ... and so are
we ... in prayer, sacrifice, fasting and penance,
in the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and
in Holy Communion. We have no cause for despair.
No one goes alone into this battle, and no one
goes without some vestment in grace through
the prayers of many.
Are you part of that victory, of
any victory, through your part
Pray for all our priests.
Remember that they, too, are
men ... an ancient and broken race.
Geoffrey K. Mondello
The Metaphysics of Mysticism: A Commentary
Interview With Father Gabriele Amorth: The Church's