Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Decree, Preface, and Praenotanda for the Rite of Exorcism, 22 November 1998.


I. The Victory of Christ and the Church’s Power against Demons

1. The Church firmly believes that there is one only true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the one originator of the universe, creator of all things visible and invisible.1 Now God in his providence protects and governs all that he has created (cf. Col 1: 16),2 and has created nothing that was not good.3 Even “the Devil...and other demons were good in their nature when created by God, but became evil by their own doing.”4 They would therefore be good, if they had remained as they were created. But because they put their natural pre-eminence to evil use and did not abide in the truth (cf. Jn 8:44), they did not pass into a contrary mode of being but revolted from the supreme Good, to whom it was their duty to cleave.5

2. Man was created in the image of God “in righteousness and true holiness (Eph 4:24), and his dignity requires that he act in accordance with his conscience and free choice.6 Urged by the Evil One, however, he completely misused the gift of his freedom; by sin of disobedience (cf. Gen 3; Rom 5:12), he fell under the power of the devil and death, and became a slave to sin.7 Therefore “the whole history of mankind is

1. Cf. Fourth Lateran Council, cap. 1: De fide catholica: Denz.-Schönm. 800; cf. Paul VI, Professio fidei: _AAS _60 (1968), p. 436.

2. Cf. First Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution Dei Filius de fide catholica, cap. I: De rerum omnium creatore: Denz.-Schönm. 3003.

3. Cf. S. Leo the Great, Letter to Turibius Quam laudabiliter, cap. 6: De natura diaboli: Denz.-Schönm. 286.

4. Fourth Lateran Council, cap. 1: De fide catholica: Denz.-Schönm. 800.

5. Cf. S. Leo the Great, Letter to Turibius Quam laudabiliter, cap. 6: De natura diaboli: Denz.-Schönm. 286.

6. Cf. Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et spes, n. 17.

7. Cf. Council of Trent, Session V: Decretum de peccato originali, nn. 1-2, Denz.-Schönm. 1511-1512.

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filled by the bitter struggle against the powers of darkness, which began from the very beginning of the world and will endure until the last day, according to the word of the Lord (cf. Mt 24:13; 13:24-30 & 36-43).8

3. The almighty and merciful Father sent his beloved Son into the world to deliver men from the power of darkness and bring them into his own kingdom (cf. Gal 4:5; Col 1:13). Therefore, Christ, “the first-born of all creation”(Col 1:15), while renewing the old man, clothed himself in the flesh of sin “so that by his death he might destroy the one who had the power of death, that is the Devil” (Heb 2:14), and by his Passion and Resurrection, and by the gift of the Holy Spirit, constitute as a new creation our damaged human nature.9

4. In the days of his flesh, the Lord Jesus, victorious over temptation in the wilderness (cf. Mt 4:1-11; Mk 1:12-13; Lk 4:1-13), by his own authority, banished Satan and other demons, imposing on them his own divine will (cf. Mt 12:27-29; Lk 11:19-20). By doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the Devil, he manifested his saving work, to deliver mankind from sin and its consequences, and also from the one who is the original author of sin, a murderer from the beginning and father of lies (cf. Jn 8:44).10

5. As the hour of darkness approached, the Lord “becoming obedient unto death”(Phil 2:8), repelled Satan’s last onslaught (cf. Lk 4:13; 22:53) by the power of the Cross,11 triumphing over the pride of the ancient enemy. And this victory of Christ was revealed in his glorious resurrection, when God raised him from the dead and set him at his right hand in heaven and put all things in subjection under his feet (cf. Eph 1:21-22).

6. In the discharge of his ministry, Christ gave his apostles and other disciples power to cast out unclean spirit (cf. Mt 10:1-8; Mk 3:14-15;

8. Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et spes, n. 37; cf. n. 13; 1 Jn 5:19; Catechism of the Catholic Church, nn. 401, 407, 409, 1717.

9. Cf. 2 Cor 5:17.

10. Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, nn. 517, 549-550.

11. Cf. Roman Missal, Preface I of the Passion.

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6:7, 13; Lk 9:1; 10:17, 18-20). He promised them the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, proceeding from the Father through the Son, to convince the world of judgment, because the prince of this world is already judged (cf. Jn 16:7-11). Among the signs that will accompany believers, the casting out of demons is mentioned in the Gospel (cf. Mk 16:17).

7. Ever since apostolic times (cf. Acts 5:16; 8:7; 16:18; 19:12), the Church has exercised the power she received from Christ to cast out demons and demonic influence. And so she prays continually and confidently “in the name of Jesus” to be delivered from the Evil One (cf. Mt 6:13).12 In the same name also, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, she commands demons by various means not to hinder the work of spreading the Gospel (cf. 1 Thes 2:18), and to restore to the “one who is mightier” (cf. Lk 11:21-22) dominion over all things and indeed over every individual person. “When the Church publicly and authoritatively ask n the name of Jesus Christ that a person or thing be protected against the influence of the Evil One, and be subtracted from his dominion, this is was is called an exorcism.”13

II. Exorcism in the Church’s work of sanctification

8. In the most ancient tradition of the Church and one preserved without interruption, the path of Christian initiation is so ordained that the spiritual struggle against the devil’s power (Eph 6:12) is clearly signified and in reality begins therein. During their catechumenate, the simple form of exorcism is to be performed or the Church’s minor14 prayers of exorcism said over the elect, so that, instructed on the mystery of Christ’s deliverance of man from sin, they may be released from the consequences of sin and from the influence of the Devil, and strengthened on their spiritual journey, and that their hearts may be opened to receive the gifts of the Savior.15 Finally, in the celebration of baptism, those to be baptized renounce Satan and his influences and powers and counter him with their personal profession of faith in the one and triune God. In infant baptism also a prayer of exorcism is said over the babies “who will experience

12. Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, nn. 2850-2854.

13. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1673.

14. Cf. Roman Ritual, Order of Christian Initiation of Adults, n. 101; cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1673.

15. Cf. ibidem, n. 156.

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the lures of this world and fight against the snares of the devil,” that they may be defended by Christ’s grace “on their journey through life.”16 By the washing of regeneration, man shares in Christ’s victory over the Devil and sin, when he passes “from the state in which...he is born a son of the first Adam to the state of grace and ‘adoption as sons’ of God through the second Adam Jesus Christ,”17 and is freed from the bondage of sin through the freedom which Christ has bestowed upon us (cf. Gal 5:1).

9. Although the faithful are reborn in Christ, they nevertheless experience the temptations of the world and so must be watchful regarding prayer and sobriety in their manner of life, for their adversary “the devil prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet 5:8). They must resist him, steadfast in the faith and strengthened “in the Lord and in the power of His might” (Eph 6:10), and sustained by the Church, which prays that her children may be protected from all anxiety.18 By the grace of the sacraments and especially by the repeated celebration of the rite of penance, they receive strength to attain to the full freedom of children of God (cf. Rom 8:21).19

10. The mystery of divine love is, however, more difficult for us to understand20 in those instances which God sometimes allows to occur, when in a special way, the Devil besets or possesses someone who has been joined to the people of God and illumined by Christ in order to walk as a son of light upon the path that leads to eternal life. It is then that the mystery of the lawlessness which is at work in the world (cf. 2 Thes 2:7) manifests itself clearly (cf. Eph 6:12), although the Devil cannot pass the limits set by God. This form of diabolical power over man differs from that deriving from original sin, which is sin.21 When such instances occur,

16. Cf. Roman Ritual, Order of Infant Baptism, nn. 49, 86, 115, 221.

17. Council of Trent, Session VI: Decretum de justificatione, cap. IV, Denz.-Schönm. 1524.

18. Cf. Roman Missal, Embolism following the Lord’s Prayer.

19. Cf. Gal 5:1; Roman Ritual, Order of Penance, n. 7.

20. Cf. John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et paenitentia, nn. 14-22: AAS 77 (1985), pp. 206-207; idem, Encyclical Letter Dominum et vivificantem, n. 18: AAS 78 (1986), p. 826.

21. Cf. Council of Trent, Session V: Decretum de peccato originali, cc. 4 and 5: Denz.-Schönm. 1514-1515.

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the Church offers prayer to her Lord and Savior Christ, and relying on his power, she offers to the faithful beset or possessed many means of help whereby they may be delivered from such assault or possession.

11. Foremost among these means of aid is the solemn form of major exorcism, also called “great,”22 which is a liturgical celebration. In fact, exorcism, by this means, aimed at “driving out demons or delivering one from demonic attack by virtue of the spiritual power which Christ entrusted to his Church,” is a petition23 by which its nature ranks among sacramental rites; it is, therefore, a sacred sign by which “effects, especially spiritual effects, are signified and gained by the prayer of the Church.”24

12. In ceremonies of major exorcism, the Church, joined to the Holy Spirit, beseeches Him to aid our infirmity (cf. Rom 8:26) and constrain demonic powers from injuring the faithful. Relying on that inbreathing whereby the Son of God bestowed the Spirit after his resurrection, the Church in exorcism acts not in her own name but solely in the name of God or of Christ the Lord, who whom all things, even the devil and demonic powers, must render obedience.

III. The Minister and the Conditions for the Performance of Major Exorcism

13. The power to minister exorcism to those possessed is granted by special and expressed permission of the local Ordinary, who will, as a rule, be the diocesan bishop himself.25 Such permission must be granted only to a priest possessing devotion, knowledge, prudence, and integrity of life,26 who has undergone specific preparation for this function. The priest, in fact to whom the role of exorcist is entrusted, whether on a regular basis of for a specific occasion, must carry out this work of charity with faith and humility, under the direction of the bishop of the diocese. When the term “exorcist” is used in this document, it must always be taken to mean “priest-exorcist.”

22. Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1673.

23. Cf. ibid.

24. Second Vatican Council, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum concilium, no. 60.

25. Cf. CIC, c. 1172, §1.

26. Cf. ibid., §2

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14. In any case of so-called diabolical possession, the exorcist must above all exercise necessary an extreme circumspection and prudence. In the first place, he must not be too ready to believe that someone beset by some illness, especially mental illness, is a victim of demonic possession.27 Likewise, he should not immediately believe that possession is present as soon as someone asserts that he or she is in a special way tempted by the Devil, abandoned, or indeed tormented, for people can be deceived by their own imagination. He should also not be misled by those wiles and crafts which the Devil used to trick mankind into persuading those possessed that they should not undergo exorcism, but rather that their infirmity arises from natural causes or requires medical treatment. He must use every means to investigate accurately whether the victim’s claim to be tormented by a demon is really true.

15. He must correctly distinguish cases of devilish attack from instances of that credulity whereby some people, including even the faithful, think themselves victims of evildoing, of bad luck, or of a curse brought by others upon them, their dear ones, or their goods. He should not deny them spiritual help, but must by no means resort to exorcism. He may, in fact, offer suitable prayers in their company and on their behalf, so that they may find the peace of God. Likewise, there are believers whom the Evil One does not touch (cf. Jn 5:18), but who are badly tempted by him when they desire to hold fast to their loyalty to the Lord Jesus and to the Gospel. This can be done by a priest who is not an exorcist, or even by a deacon, using suitable prayers and supplications.

16. The exorcist, therefore, should not proceed to celebrate the rite of exorcism unless he has discovered to his moral certainty that the one to be exorcised is in actual fact possessed by demonic power,28 and should, if possible, have the tormented person’s consent.

According to approved practice, the following are regarded as signed of demonic possession: extended utterance in an unknown tongue, or the ability to understand such utterance; the power to reveal what is distant and

27. Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1673.

28. Cf. Benedict XIV, Letter Sollicitudini, 1 October 1745, n. 43; cf. CIC/17, c. 1152, §2.

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hidden; and the displaying of physical strength beyond what is appropriate to one’s years, or natural state. These signs can offer some indication. But since signs of this sort are not necessarily to be considered of devilish provenance, attention should be paid to other factors, especially in the realm of the moral and the spiritual, which can in a different way be evidence of diabolic intrusion. Examples of these are a violent aversion to God, the Most Holy Name of Jesus, the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saints, the word of God, holy things, holy rites (especially of a sacramental nature) and holy images. And finally, careful consideration must be given to the manner in which all signs relate to faith and the spiritual struggle in the Christian life; for indeed, the Evil One is, above all, the enemy of God and of all that unites the faithful to the saving work of God.

17. Regarding the need to use the rite of exorcism, the exorcist will prudently judge this after a diligent investigation, always maintaining the seal of confession and after consulting, as far as possible, experts in spiritual matters and, according to need, such experts in medicine and psychiatry who have some awareness of spiritual matters.

18. In cases involving one who is not a catholic and in other more difficult circumstances, the matter is to be referred to the diocesan bishop, who may, at his discretion, seek the advice of several experts before a decision is reached regarding exorcism.

19. Exorcism is to be carried our in such a way that it manifests the faith of the Church and no one can consider it a magical or superstitious act. Care is to be taken that it does not become a spectacle in the eyes of those present. One shall not afford in any way to any of the media any opportunity to get involved, either during or before the exorcism, and, afterwards, the exorcist and those who were present must preserve due discretion and disclose no information.

IV. The Rite to be Followed

20. In the rite of exorcism, in addition to the actual forms thereof, special attention is to be given to those rites and gestures who original place and meaning derives from those used at the time of purification during the journey of catechumens. These include the sign of the cross, the laying on of hands, breathing on the candidates, and the sprinkling with blessed water.

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21. The rite begins with the sprinkling with blessed water, by which, being as a reminder of the purification received in Baptism, the one tormented is defended against the snares of the enemy.

If convenient, the water can be blessed before the rite or during the rite itself, before the sprinkling, and salt may be mingled with the water.

22. There follows the litany, in which the mercy of God is invoked, through the intercession of all the Saints, upon the one tormented.

23. After the litany, the exorcist may read one or more psalms which implore the protection of the Most High and extol Christ’s victory over the Evil One. The psalms are recited either straight through of responsorially. When the psalm is finished, the exorcist may himself add the appropriate psalm prayer.

24. Then the Gospel is proclaimed as a sign of the presence of Christ, who through his own word as proclaimed by the church, heals the infirmities of mankind.

25. Next, the exorcist lays his hands on the one tormented, whereby the power of the Holy Spirit is invoked, so that the Devil may depart from the one who became a temple of God through Baptism. At the same time, the exorcist may also breathe on the victim’s face.

26. At that point, the creed is recited or the promises of baptismal faith are renewed, along with the renunciation of Satan. There follows the Lord’s prayer, in which our God and Father is implored to deliver us from Evil.

27. When these things have been done, the exorcist shows the victim the cross of the Lord, which is the fount of all blessings and grace, and makes the sign of the cross over him, by which Christ’s power over the Devil is indicated.

28. He finally pronounces the deprecative formula, by which God is entreated, as well as the imperative formula, by which the Devil is directly adjured in the name of Christ to depart from the tormented person. The imperative formula is not to be used unless preceded by the deprecative. However, the deprecative formula can also be used without the imperative.

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29. All things already mentioned can be repeated according to need, whether during the same celebration, taking into account the content of n. 34 which follows, or at another time, when the tormented person is completely free.

30. The rite is concluded with a song of thanksgiving, a prayer, and a blessing.

V. Circumstances and Modifications

31\.Mindful that demons can be cast out by prayer and fasting, the exorcist should, as much as possible, ensure that, after the example of the holy fathers, both he and others avail themselves of these two powerful remedies that one may use to obtain divine help.

32. The faithful person who is troubled might, and especially before exorcism, if it is within his or her power to do so, to pray to God, practice mortification, frequently renew the faith of the Baptism once received, and with greater frequency, make use of the sacrament of reconciliation, as well as fortify himself or herself with the Holy Eucharist. If prayer too easily escapes him or her, his or her parents, friends, and confessor or spiritual director can assist him or her by their love and by the fact of their presence as other members of the faithful.

33. If possible, exorcism should be carried out in an oratory or other suitable place. It should take place out of the public’s way and where an image of the Crucified is prominently displayed. There should also be present in that place a likeness of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

34. Having regard to the state and circumstances of the one who is tormented, the exorcist should freely make us of the various options set forth in the rite. Accordingly, for the celebration of the rite, he should keep to such structure and arrangement and select such forms and prayers as are needed, ordering all things according to the circumstances of the individual person.

a) He should, first of all, pay attention to the physical and psychological state of the tormented person, and to the way in which this may possibly vary from day to day or from one hour to the next.

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b) When the faithful are not present, even in small numbers, as discretion and wisdom require as a matter of faith, the exorcist should remember that the presence of the Church is now constituted in himself and the victim, and should remind of this fact the faithful person who is afflicted.

c) The faithful sufferer should, if possible, do his or her best to remain entirely recollected during the exorcism, and should turn to God and pray to him with steadfast faith and in all humility for deliverance. And when he or she is more vehemently tormented, he or she should patiently suffer, never despairing of the help of God, (reaching him or her) through the ministry of the Church.

35. If it seems that certain carefully selected persons be permitted to be present at the celebration of exorcism, they should be admonished to pray fervently or their brother or sister who is afflicted, either privately or in the manner indicated in the rite, refraining, however, from uttering themselves any formula of exorcism or any formula, either deprecative or imperative, for the use of those is the exclusive prerogative of the exorcist.

36. It is appropriate the faithful person when delivered from affliction should, both on his own and together with friends and family, render thanks to God for the peach which has been granted him (her). Moreover, the person who has been delivered should be prevailed upon to remain constant in prayer, drawing especially on the resources of Holy Scripture. He/she should make regular use of the sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist, as well as strive to lead a Christian life filled with works of charity and with fraternal love towards all.

VI. Modifications which may be made by Bishops’ Conferences

37. It is the task of Bishops’ Conferences:

a) to prepare translations of texts that are to be complete and faithfully preserve the sense of the original;

b) with the consent of the Holy See, to modify signs and gestures of the actual rite, if this is judged necessary or advantageous, having regard to the culture and national character of the people.

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38. In addition to a translation of the Praenotanda, which must be retained in full, Bishops’ Conferences may, if they consider it advantageous, add a Pastoral Directory on the Use of Major Exorcism. This is to enable exorcists not only to understand more deeply the teaching of the Praenotanda and to appreciate more fully the significance of the rites, but also to have available in collected form documents from approved authors on the manner of acting, speaking, questioning, and forming judgments. Directories of this sort, which may be compiled with the collaboration of priests who have the knowledge and mature experience gained from long exercise of the ministry of exorcism in every region and culture, must have the recognitio of the Apostolic See, according to the norm of law.

Notitiae 35 (1999): 137-150; Unofficial translation provided by Pierre Bellemare, Ottawa.