Spiritual Warfare

by Michael Lofton  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  April 24, 2015   

The Nature of Spiritual Warfare and the Role of the Laity

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In November of 2014 the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops approved an English translation of the document Exorcism and Related Supplications to meet the demand for priests and, in certain circumstances, laity who are fighting against the powers of darkness in the United States. Exorcism is on the rise, and with the shortage of priests who believe in the reality of the demonic, it's necessary to address the nature of spiritual warfare, as well as the role of the laity.

What Is Spiritual Warfare?

Spiritual warfare consists in battling the powers of darkness through the power of Christ.

The Activity of the Devil

When battling the powers of darkness, the Catholic deals with Satan on two fronts: the ordinary activity of the devil and the extraordinary activity of the devil.

The ordinary activity of the devil is known as temptation. Though temptation can come from ourselves or from the world, it can also come from the devil.

The extraordinary activity of the devil consists of infestation, oppression, obsession and possession.

  • Infestation is when a demon is attached to a place or an object. For example, a place where one has committed acts of witchcraft, gross sexual sins, murder, or other grave sins may become infested with demons. Also, objects cursed by a practitioner of witchcraft may become infested with demons. In situations like these, the demon has been given rights over the place or object.
  • Oppression is when a person is physically or sexually assaulted by demons or even when a person undergoes a series of unfortunate events that can't be attributed to natural causes (e.g., Job).
  • Obsession is when a person experiences obsessive, depressive or sinful thoughts to an extreme degree, which they cannot control. This is not to be confused with various mental illnesses that can mimic some of the symptoms of obsession. Distinguishing between mental illness and demonic obsession is possible, but it requires time, expertise and wisdom.
  • Possession is when a person has lost control of his physical faculties owing to the control of a demon. Such an individual may be partially or fully possessed. Partial possession is when a person still has some control over his physical faculties. Full possession is when a person is entirely given over to a demon and no longer has any control over his body. A third class of possession is known as perfect possession, and this is when a person has not only conceded his entire body to the demon but also his will. Signs of possession include an extreme aversion to sacred things, speaking in languages the person could not possibly have known, knowledge of hidden objects, etc. The causes of demonic possession include practicing witchcraft, joining the Freemasons, using Ouija boards and living in grave sin, among other causes.

The Role of the Clergy

If a person is in the stage of possession, only a priest who has been given faculties from the local Catholic bishop may perform an exorcism on the demoniac. This kind of exorcism is known as a Major Exorcism, and it may not be performed by a layman or a priest without the proper faculties.

The Role of the Laity

In lesser cases of demonic activity, the laity may pray what is known as a Minor Exorcism*, in a private setting, over the person afflicted by the demonic. A Minor Exorcism may or may not consist of direct commands towards the demon (i.e., imprecatory language). In the case of the laity, they ought to avoid Minor Exorcisms that use imprecatory language and instead reserve their prayers to language directed to God alone (i.e., deprecatory language). A priest without special faculties may pray a Minor Exorcism with imprecatory language, but the laity are discouraged from using such language (some such as Fr. Amorth believe the laity may use this kind of language, but others, such as Bishop Julian Porteous, discourage this). For example, a priest may say to the demon, “I command you to leave this person,” but the laity ought to restrict their prayers to God alone (e.g., “Almighty God, by your mercy, may you break the bonds of this demon over this individual”).

According to Bishop Julian Porteous in Manual of Minor Exorcisms, the laity may also trace the Sign of the Cross over the afflicted when praying a Minor Exorcism. They may also use holy water and a crucifix during such prayers. They may not engage in conversation with the demon, nor ought they to attempt to determine its name. Some exorcists believe the laity may lay hands on the afflicted, while others discourage this. When exorcists dispute certain practices, one should err on the side of caution and refrain from laying hands on the afflicted.

Further Reading

For more on spiritual warfare, Major and Minor Exorcisms and the role of the laity, see Bishop Julian Porteous, Manual of Minor Exorcisms, and Fr. Jose Antonio Fortea, Interview with an Exorcist.

*Some do not prefer the term “Minor Exorcism” when speaking in the context of the laity because it may be confused with a Major Exorcism, and use the phrase “Deliverance Prayers” instead.


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