Strong versus weak possession.
In our first session with someone who is suffering and asking for help, we try to determine whether the person is possessed or just oppressed or suffering from a psychological problem, or both. This is primarily a discernment. Part of the discernment is to pray over the person and see if there is a reaction to the prayers we recite.
The demons cannot stand the prayers of the Church and eventually react violently if they are present in an individual. The best analogy I can think of is to imagine pouring boiling, flammable oil over the demons and then lighting it afire. That's how God's grace and holy objects feel to them; they scream in agony. Since they are not mortal, they cannot die. But they are very strong, and so they sit there and scream while they are being burned alive yet still do not leave immediately.
In a recent discernment, we prayed over a young woman who we thought might be possessed. As we began to pray, she thrashed and screamed. She reacted violently to holy water and a crucifix as well as St. Benedict medals. The pure hatred in her eyes, and especially hatred of us priests, was very diagnostic. This is one strong sign of a demonic presence and one that human beings cannot imitate. It is unnerving.
The client was psychologically normal with no real signs of psychological deficits. Her father, we found out, engaged in some occult behavior when she was young and appeared to have involved her in some way. He was sheepish about it and reticent to admit such things to his pastor.
Sadly, we determined after some time that she was possessed. But her possession was somewhat "weaker," a lesser possession, if you will. The demons moved from arrogance and defiance in the beginning of the session to whining and crying fairly quickly. Moreover, when I commanded them to do something, they responded. At the end of the session, I asked the person what she remembered and she said, "Everything." This is a typical sign of a weaker possession.
When the possession is strong, the client goes "out" quickly, often during the initial Litany of the Saints. The eyes roll back, and the person loses consciousness. Then the demons manifest. They are usually arrogant, diss the priests, and refuse to do anything I tell them. They tend not to show any strong reaction to the sacramentals or prayers, at least in the beginning sessions.
But in a weaker possession, as in this case, the demons start to whine and cry fairly quickly. As already noted, the person remains aware of what happens during the session, although the individual's consciousness is still in the background. It is the demons' personalities that come to the forefront when they manifest in the session. The demons, in these cases, are obedient and forced to do what I ask, such as kissing the cross and keeping their arms down and not hitting others. And they react strongly to blessed holy objects.
So, this possession was weaker, perhaps because the afflicted person herself did not do anything wrong to warrant possession. It was likely something her father did. Moreover, she has been living a good Christian life and engaging in a strong sacramental life too. This means the demons' grip is usually lighter and it takes less time to eject them.
As we have continued to pray over this person, she has made wonderful progress. She is quickly getting her life back. This is a joy to see. This ministry has been very encouraging and rewarding for me.
Msgr. Stephen J. Rossetti. "Exorcist Diary 3" from Diary of an American Exorcist (Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press, 2021).
Reprinted with permission of Sophia Institute Press.
Msgr. Stephen J. Rossetti, Ph.D., is the President of the St. Michael Center for Spiritual Renewal and a research associate professor at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. A licensed psychologist and the author of several books, Msgr. Rossetti has participated in hundreds of exorcisms. During his journey to priesthood, he experienced a spiritual episode in which, "in two seconds I learned 80 percent of what an exorcist needs to know." He is the author of Diary of an American Exorcist.Copyright © 2021 Sophia Institute Press
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