What is an exorcism? Do Catholic priests still perform them? These questions came up recently in our parish’s question box. The short answer is that these prayers for strength against sin and evil are prayed three times every Lent. After the Intercessions for the Elect, this two-part ritual is celebrated. Two options are given in the rite, and in each there is an initial prayer addressed to the Father, a laying on of hands, then a second prayer addressed directly to Christ. I’ll give the first choice, then leave it open to your comments.
God of power,
you sent your Son to be our Savior.
Grant that these catechumens,
who, like the woman of Samaria, thirst for living water,
may turn to the Lord as they hear his word
and acknowledge the sins and weaknesses
that weigh them down.
Protect them from vain reliance on self
and defend them from the power of Satan.
Free them from the spirit of deceit,
so that, admitting the wrong they have done,
they may attain purity of heart
and advance on the way to salvation.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.
Here, if this can be done conveniently, the celebrant lays hands on each one of the elect.
you are the fountain for which they thirst,
you are the Master whom they seek.
In your presence
they dare not claim to be without sin,
for you alone are the Holy One of God.
They open their hearts to you in faith,
they confess their faults
and lay bare their hidden wounds.
In your love free them from their infirmities,
heal their sickness,
quench their thirst, and give them peace.
In the power of your name,
which we call upon in faith,
stand by them now and heal them.
Rule over that spirit of evil,
conquered by your rising from the dead.
Show your elect the way of salvation in the Holy Spirit,
that they may come to worship the Father in truth,
for you live and reign for ever and ever.
Note the multiple references to John 4 in this prayer. Note also the language making a strong link to the process of healing as part of the process of salvation from sin. It’s not explicit in the gospel of the Samaritan woman, but it’s drawn out as the main theme here. Finally, note that the elect are not mere passive recipients of a ritual. The language of these prayers repeatedly suggests the elect are or should be conducting a personal inventory of sin and bringing this sin before God in an act of acknowledgement for the purpose of forgiveness. This sort of an internal process, guided by godparents, pastors, and other ministers, should give a substantive introduction to the Sacrament of Penance, to which we expect these elect will return as baptized Christians.