January 2017 Print


Can lay persons, or even non-Catholics, expel demons?

The order of exorcist is the third of the minor orders, being, like the other minor orders, a participation in the diaconate. It gives to the cleric a real power over the devil. However, it is forbidden for him to use that power, He must first receive the order of the priesthood, with its much greater power over the devil. It is in virtue of this power that the priest performs the exorcisms in the rite of baptism, or in the blessing of holy water and some other sacramentals. Furthermore, if a priest is to do a formal exorcism, he must receive explicit permission from his bishop (Rituale XI, I, 1), required by the Church on account of the dangers involved in this personal struggle with the evil one and his minions.

However, this does not mean that a person who is not a priest does not have any power over the devil. To the contrary, it is the valid sacrament of baptism, which makes us members of the mystical body of Christ, one with our divine Savior, that is fhe foundation of our freedom from the slavery of the devil and of all our real power over him.

The daring confidence that a Catholic ought to have face to face with the devil, entirely founded on the Passion and Cross by which he is vanquished and cast back into hell, is described, in her usual vivid fashion, by St. Teresa of Avila in her autobiography:

“I went on. ‘If this Lord is powerful, as I see He is, and know He is, and if the devils are His slaves . . . what harm can they do me, who am a servant of this Lord and King? How can I fail to have fortitude enough to fight against all hell?’ So I took a cross in my hand and it really seemed that God was giving me courage: in a short time I found I was another person and I should not have been afraid to wrestle with devils, for with the aid of that cross I believed I could easily vanquish them all…It certainly seemed as if I had frightened all these devils, for I became quite calm and had no more fear of them. . . . I have acquired an authority over them, bestowed upon me by the Lord of all, so that they are no more trouble to me than flies” (Chapter XXV).

Consequently a baptized Catholic who has the true Faith and is in the state of sanctifying grace need not fear the devil at all, but can command the devil, in the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ, provided that he have Faith, confidence, the state of grace, and no attachment to the things of this world through which the devil typically overcomes us. Let us listen to St. Teresa again:

“These devils keep us in terror because we make ourselves liable to be terrorized by contracting other attachments—to honors, for example, and to possessions and pleasures. . . . This is the great pity of it. If only we will hate everything for God’s sake and embrace the Cross and try to serve Him in truth, the devil will fly from these truths as from the plague” (Op. cit.).

Father Gabriele Amorth, official exorcist of the diocese of Rome, in his book An Exorcist Tells His Story, confirms that an exorcist has an additional and particular power, but that in addition “Jesus gave the power to expel demons to all those who believe in him and act in his name. I am referring to private prayer, which we can collectively call ‘delivrance prayers’” (p. 153). He goes on to explain that the power to expel devils is one of the charisms mentioned by St. Paul (I Cor. 12), although he also points out that great difficulty exists in discerning those who have a real charism from impostors, whose pretense is so often used by the devil himself. (Op. cit. p.155).

Clearly ecclesiastical authority alone can make the discernment, but as Fr. Amorth points out, the Church never puts its authority behind such a gift—“I know of cases in which ecclesiastical authorities intervened to alert the faithful against charlatans and swindlers, but I do not know of any who are officially recognized to have such charisms” (Ib.). All the more could it never discern as being true the actions against the devil of those separated from the unity of the Church by heresy or schism. What, then, of the many claims amongst Protestants of the power to cast our devils? Theoretically, it is not impossible that they be true, provided that the person is in good faith, that is in invincible ignorance as to his separation from the Church, and that he lives an exemplary life of humility and prayer. However, since falsehood and deception are so easy, since this ability is so easily a passing phenomenon or pretense, and since the devil so easily highjacks the entire charismatic movement by his lies and deception, it would be most imprudent to accept any claim of demonic expulsion, especially if done by a non-Catholic or member of some charismatic group.

As for those non-baptized persons, pagans, sorcerers, and others who claim to have some paranormal powers to deliver from diabolic manifestations, they cannot in any way have a power over the devil. To the contrary, they are in his power. If they give the appearance of expelling devils, it is only a temporary deception, a part of a diabolical intrigue, a pure pretense; it is one of the lies in which the father of lies excels. Of such efforts can be applied the words of our Divine Savior, when accused of casting out devils by Beelzebub, the prince of devils: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and house will fall upon house. If, then, Satan also is divided against himself how shall his kingdom stand?” (Lk. 11:17,18).

Why do we use the name “Jesus” for Christ?

Answer: The names given by Almighty God in the Old Testament are in general symbolic of the reality of what a person is. Examples include Adam and Abraham. We see this also with Josuah, (or Josue, in the Vulgate), who was chosen to lead the chosen people into the promised land. In fact, we read that this name was given by Moses to Oshea (Osee in the Vulgate), the son of Nun, in Numbers 13:17. The meaning of the name is “Jehovah saves,” or “Savior,” for he would save the Israelites from the forty years’ exile in the desert and lead them to victory. The holy name of “Jesus” is in fact nothing other than the Greek form of this name, as can be seen in Acts 7:45, written in Greek, which uses the name of Jesus for the Joshua who led the Israelites when they brought the tabernacle into the promised land: “Which also our fathers receiving, brought in with Jesus, into the possession of the Gentiles, whom God drove out before the face of our fathers.”

We read also in the Old Testament that this name was not infrequent after the return from the Babylonian captivity. The author of the book of the Ecclesiasticus, originally written in Hebrew by Jesus, the son of Sirach of Jerusalem, was translated into Greek by his grandson, also called Jesus. Since the text that we have available is the Greek one, it is the Greek form of the name which is used. Also Nehemias 7:7.

All of this was but a preparation for the use of the holy name of Jesus in the New Testament for the Savior of the world, the chosen One, the Son of God who would save sinners. Although St. Matthew’s Gospel was originally written in Aramaic, the version that we have is the Greek one, and so the Greek form of the name of “Jehovah saves” is obviously used in the text in which the divine mission of Christ is declared by the angel of the Lord to St. Joseph: “And she shall bring forth a son: and thou shalt call his name JESUS. For he shall save his people from their sins” (Mt. 1:21). The same name is given by St. Luke, writing in Greek, when he describes the apparition of St. Gabriel to the Blessed Virgin Mary at the moment of the Annunciation, but without the explanation of the meaning of the name: “And thou shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High” (Lk. 1:31).

Hence the veneration that is given to the holy name of Jesus, the sweetest of all names, honey to the mouth and melody in the ear of the faithful, for it expresses the reality of all that God the Son has done to take away our sins, to give us a share in the divine life, and to open the gates of heaven. This veneration is perfectly expressed in the Litany of the Holy Name of Jesus, which ends with the expression of our dependence on Him: “O Lord, give us a perpetual fear as well as love of Thy holy Name, for Thou never ceasest to govern those Thou foundest upon the strength of Thy love.”

Can I confess as sins actions or words that I did not realize were sinful at the time I did them?

This question concerns the remote matter of the sacrament of penance, namely the sins that are to be confessed. This is necessary matter, that must be confessed, if it concerns mortal sins committed after baptism which have not yet been confessed. It is free matter, that may be confessed, but which does not have to be confessed, if it concerns venial sins committed after baptism, or any sins that have already been absolved in the sacrament of penance.

However, a further distinction has to be made, namely between certain and doubtful matter for the sacrament of penance. Sins are doubtful matter if it is not certain that there was culpability at the time the acts were committed. This is the case in question here. This can happen if a person had an erroneous conscience, that is, when he did not realize the moral evil of what he was doing, such as dressing immodestly in public, or watching suggestive movies. Now that he understands the evil of such actions he regrets them and wants to confess them, but since he did not understand at the time that they were certainly evil, they are doubtful matter. The other frequent case of doubtful matter is when there is a doubt as to the consent given, as in the case of impure thoughts or sudden movements of anger. In these cases, likewise, there is real regret and the desire to confess what is now perceived as having been disordered and is known to have been wrong. Can such sins, that are doubtful matter, and which are certainly very frequent, be confessed?

In order to resolve this question, a further distinction is made, namely between sufficient and insufficient matter. Sufficient matter is that which suffices to receive a valid sacramental absolution. Only certain matter is sufficient for a valid sacrament, whether it be necessary matter (= unconfessed mortal sins) or free matter (= confessed mortal sins and all venial sins), as is stated in Canon 902 (1917 Code). Doubtful matter is insufficient matter, not because there is an absence of culpability, but because the confessor cannot judge with certainty of the culpability and grant his absolution of it. It is for this reason that there is no strict obligation of confessing even mortal sins if there is a real doubt as to the awareness of the culpability at the time (Council of Trent, Db 899 & Prummer, Man. Th. Mor. III, §375).

However, this does not mean that doubtful matter cannot be confessed. The penitent can be very much aware of the culpability of his actions, and yet for the confessor it is objectively doubtful matter. He may not have been fully aware of the culpability of his actions at the time, but this does not at all mean that he does not have any culpability at all. Far from it. How frequently it happens that our ignorance is at least partially culpable. Likewise, we understand the culpability of those immediate actions, for which there is not sufficient reflection, to constitute certain matter. Yet, it is our fault if we get angry, or make some spiteful remark, or act with impetuosity, and we could and should have avoided it. Must these obviously culpable acts not be confessed simply because they do not constitute certain matter for the confessor?

It is certainly true that such indeliberate venial sins, or material sins (whose culpability was not known at the time) do not alone constitute sufficient matter, and that if they alone were confessed, the confessor would have to refuse absolution, rather than to give an invalid sacrament, due to lack of sufficient matter. However, this does not mean that they cannot be confessed. They certainly can be confessed if they are combined with other sins, which are certain matter. These can be deliberate sins committed since one’s last confession, or already confessed sins from one’s past life. If they are mentioned the confession is certainly valid, and the absolution will also include the culpability, clear to the penitent, but doubtful to the confessor, of other indeliberate sins that do not constitute necessary matter. Hence the importance for those who go regularly to confession to always mention, at least in general, a sin from one’s past life. With these they can confess all their imperfections, and receive the grace of the sacrament, the absolution, and the spiritual direction of the priest to overcome them. More than this, they in fact should confess such imperfections, if they want their frequent confessions to help them to overcome their faults and strive for perfection. This is the correct use of the sacrament of penance by those who desire to go to Confession regularly, as the Church recommends.

This is the clear teaching of Father Prummer, Op. Cit. §324:

“By imperfections in this subject are to be understood those acts which are less good, which objectively speaking do not constitute a certain transgression of the eternal law. Since, indeed, such acts individually considered cannot be indifferent, such aforesaid imperfections are in reality either good or bad acts; but since the confessor cannot ordinarily judge with certainty of their sinfulness, they are not sufficient matter for absolution. Thus, for example, those who accuse themselves of having omitted their morning prayers, or of having had involuntary distractions in prayer, or having suffered sudden and involuntary movements of anger or of concupiscence, bring insufficient matter for sacramental absolution. But such penitents can praiseworthily declare such imperfections [in confession] in order that the confessor might judge better of the state of their soul, and give good counsels, but they are greatly to be encouraged that in addition to these imperfections, they at least confess some sin of their past life[.]”