The Church, in her wisdom, encourages the faithful to avail themselves of sacramentals because as St. Paul wrote, “…our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens” (Eph. 6: 12).
What is a sacramental? The catechism teaches:
1667. Holy Mother Church has, moreover, instituted sacramentals. These are sacred signs which bear a resemblance to the sacraments. They signify effects, particularly of a spiritual nature, which are obtained through the intercession of the Church. By them men are disposed to receive the chief effect of the sacraments, and various occasions in life are rendered holy.
1. Sacramental power flows from the Pascal mystery
We must be cautious not to think of sacramentals as magic protection. Occult, New Age and satanic practices make use of outward signs such as crystals and pentagrams but they are mockeries of the sacred signs in Christianity.
Sacramentals are outward signs, blessings, and consecrations to be received and given with the interior disposition of authentic Christo-centric discipleship. As we read in the Catechism, the spiritual power of sacraments and sacramentals derive from Christ’s Pascal mystery. Remembering the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ draws grace and helps us to resist the wiles of the Enemy. This is why the season of Lent is hated by the demonic realm.
1670. Sacramentals do not confer the grace of the Holy Spirit in the way that the sacraments do, but by the Church’s prayer, they prepare us to receive grace and dispose us to cooperate with it. “For well-disposed members of the faithful, the liturgy of the sacraments and sacramentals sanctifies almost every event of their lives with the divine grace which flows from the Paschal mystery of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ. From this source all sacraments and sacramentals draw their power. There is scarcely any proper use of material things which cannot be thus directed toward the sanctification of men and the praise of God.
2. The rite of exorcism is a sacramental
The rite of exorcism is a sacramental reserved for the rare (but ever-increasing) cases of full demonic possession with specific spiritual markers. The explanation of “solemn exorcism” in the Catechism helps to demystify exorcism. Demystifying exorcism is helpful to curb disordered fascination, suspicion and/or compulsion toward thinking that exorcism is the cure all for various spiritual or mental maladies.
The Catechism teaches on exorcism:
1673. When 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 exorcizing. In a simple form, exorcism is performed at the celebration of Baptism. The 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 demonic 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 above quote explains why a process of discernment and medical, psychological testing is necessary before permission is granted for “major exorcism.” The Church is concerned with the healing of the whole person. Think of the process that we undergo in the care of a medical doctor. There is a history taken, tests are ordered, reports are considered, experts are consulted, therapies are recommended, surgery may be considered and if so, there may be follow up physical therapy. Physical and spiritual healing is a process aimed at a permanent recovery.
When people ask about the rite of exorcism, and what tools are necessary to defeat the demonic, I share that all Catholics have recourse to every tool (sacramental) that an exorcist and his team employ except the book containing the rite of exorcism.
Major exorcism is a prayer that typically takes place in a sacred space, in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, with a number of relics of saints present. Holy water (containing blessed salt), a crucifix, the holy rosary, the bible, are all part of the Church’s spiritual arsenal to liberate a suffering soul from the demonic. It is quite evident that the Church’s sacramentals do great violence to the demonic spirits and this aimed to drive them out.
3. Various forms of sacramentals
Two of the most effective sacramentals used during the ministry of deliverance and exorcism are the sign of the cross and the holy name of Jesus.
Regarding the holy name of Jesus Christ, a scripture that is often read during minor and major exorcism is Philippians 2:9-11: “Because of this, God greatly exalted him, and bestowed on him the name that is above every name; that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of the Father.” This is a wonderful scripture to memorize as part of your spiritual armor because it helps to vanquish the Enemy.
The crucifix and the sign of the cross are loathed by the demonic because they represent the victory of Christ at Calvary where Satan was defeated.
1671. Among sacramentals blessings (of persons, meals, objects, and places) come first. Every blessing praises God and prays for his gifts. In Christ, Christians are blessed by God the Father “with every spiritual blessing.” This is why the Church imparts blessings by invoking the name of Jesus, usually while making the holy sign of the cross of Christ.
Blessings are sacramentals, not sacraments because they are not divinely instituted. Therefore, they do not confer sanctifying grace but they are held to produce the following good spiritual effects.
- The stirring up of pious emotions and affections of the heart
- Freedom from power of evil spirits
- Preservation and restoration of bodily health
- Various other benefits, temporal or spiritual
4. Characteristics of sacramentals
The blessing of homes, the enthronement of the family to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and crucifix’s in the rooms of our houses are recommended practices of many exorcist priests. Prayer, blessings, the laying on of hands, the sign of the cross, and the sprinkling of holy water are characteristic of sacramentals as the Catechism teaches:
1668 Sacramentals are instituted for the sanctification of certain ministries of the Church, certain states of life, a great variety of circumstances in Christian life, and the use of many things helpful to man. In accordance with bishops’ pastoral decisions, they can also respond to the needs, culture, and special history of the Christian people of a particular region or time. They always include a prayer, often accompanied by a specific sign, such as the laying on of hands, the sign of the cross, or the sprinkling of holy water (which recalls Baptism).
5. Sacramentals and popular piety
The Catechism mentions popular piety in the section on sacramentals and includes the veneration of relics, visits to sanctuaries, pilgrimages, the Stations of the Cross, the holy rosary, medals of saints, because such devotions can be powerful catalysts of grace. Our Lady’s scapular or the Miraculous Medal and/or other time tested, Church approved devotions can be part of your spiritual armor. Purity of intention is critical so that superstition does not have a part. Central to building a spiritual defense is the holy sacrifice of the Mass. Popular piety should flow to and from the Eucharist.
1679 In addition to the liturgy, Christian life is nourished by various forms of popular piety, rooted in the different cultures. While carefully clarifying them in the light of faith, the Church fosters the forms of popular piety that express an evangelical instinct and a human wisdom and that enrich Christian life.
Although this is not mentioned in the Catechism, a priest lecturer once told us that a husband and wife become like sacramentals for one another and for the family. Good Christian friendships also provide some spiritual protection and this rings true because love, by its nature is communal and protective of the other.
Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel
This invocation, composed by Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903), was written for the use of all the faithful and was included in the prayers at the end of Mass prior to the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. It remains one of the most powerful prayers in the spiritual arsenal of the Church.
St. Michael, the Archangel, defend us in the day of battle; be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray and do you, O Prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God, cast into hell Satan and all the other evil spirits seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.