In Latin, the only word that’s ever been used for being harassed by a fallen angel is ossessione. English speakers have a difficult time with this word, and pedantically transliterate os-sessione (ob-sessione) as obsession, and then, getting rid of the preposition “ob-”, we add “pos-” to get possession, as if that made things all the more serious.
Now, in Latin, “ossessione” has nothing to do with our post-Freudian psychologized perspective on obsessive-compulsive disorder. No. Instead, in Latin, “ossessione” refers to being held hostage, to being under siege. It is quite an exact fit, that. As in the picture of Massada under siege by the Romans, where those inside the walled fortress were safe and self-willed, as least for a while, just so is the soul of the person who is under attack from a fallen angel. They have their free will intact, and cannot be forced to agree to what Satan is doing against them. Of course, such souls, like those in Massada, are under a great deal of pressure. Some, like those at Massada, commit suicide if they are without help, or if they are treated like a nuisance. Not good. Always be good and kind, ever so gentle with those vulnerable people who have come to you for help, who are often on their way to committing suicide, but decided to come see you first. Think long and hard on that. See things from their perspective.
It is very true, of course, that many of those who will ask for your help are merely psychologically obsessed with the devil, that is, even though Satan has never once bothered them, they are convinced that he is after them all the time and in every way. These people do not need an exorcist for exorcism, but it would be good to give them words of encouragement and to know how to send them on their way for the help they need. But, again, you may be the last stop also for them before they go off and commit suicide. Always be gentle with such vulnerable people who come to you for help. It’s good to know yourself, what bothers you. For instance, I know that I dislike it when people say they are harassed by the devil, but are saying that only to make themselves seem important, to get attention for themselves. They are plenty of such people. But, again, always be good and kind. This disarms even such people as this.
At any rate, the Church has never admitted of various categories of harassment by the devil. Instead, it just has to be serious enough whereby you judge that such a case is appropriately treated by exorcism. Forget about saying that this or that person is merely obsessed with true harassment, while this or that other person is truly possessed, so that only the later will gain the benefit of the sacramental of exorcism. The definitions of words start to get fuzzy, which is not helpful. One’s person spiritual harassment may be a thousand times worse for his soul than another person’s unwilling walk on the ceiling because that’s what Satan has him do. The latter activity gets the attention of film makers and some less experienced exorcists. Whatever. Don’t leave the others out of your purview. If you think that this makes it harder for you, that you’ll all of a sudden be under pressure to use prudential judgement after looking much more closely at the details of the case, well, you’re right. That’s part of your mandate from the bishop. Don’t forget that Christ only expects what is possible. Don’t forget that Christ chose us, fallen human beings. He knows more than we do just how inept we are for everything, not only exorcism, but offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, acting in Persona Christi.
Some exorcists wrongly set out on some kind of esoteric study of levels of harassment by this or that devil, so that they have everything categorized and under control… in their own minds. Now they are safe and secure because they have everything figured out! As if Satan were obedient to such rules of conduct! Not! Sure, Satan will act in this way if the priest is so arrogant as to think he is on top of the situation. And then Satan will break the rules he tricked the priest into making, so that he will no longer be noticed by the exorcist, for what is happening will be outside of the rules he so stupidly made. Satan is not a pet dog of the exorcist. There. I said it. It had to be said.
We’ll have to do more posts on terminology, such as about exorcisms which are called major or minor, and so on. I’m thinking there are going to be some hundreds of posts to this series.