An exorcist comes to know from experience what he can expect by way of violent behavior; and, for their own sakes, possessed people must usually be physically restrained during parts of the exorcism. The assistants therefore must be physically strong. In addition, there may be a straitjacket on hand, though leather straps or rope are more commonly used.
It is up to the exorcist to make sure that his assistants are not consciously guilty of personal sins at the time of the exorcism, because they, too, can expect to be attacked by the evil spirit, even though not so directly or constantly as the exorcist himself. Any sin will be used as a weapon.
The exorcist must be as certain as possible beforehand that his assistants will not be weakened or overcome by obscene behavior or by language foul beyond their imagining; they cannot blanch at blood, excrement, urine; they must be able to take awful personal insults and be prepared to have their darkest secrets screeched in public in front of their companions. These are routine happenings during exorcisms. Assistants are given three cardinal rules: they are to obey the exorcist’s commands immediately and without question, no matter how absurd or unsympathetic those commands may appear to them to be; they are not to take any initiative except on command; and they are never to speak to the possessed person, even by way of exclamation.
Even with all the care in the world, there is no way an exorcist can completely prepare his assistants for what lies in store for them. Even though they are not subject to the direct and unremitting attack the priest will undergo, it is not uncommon for assistants to quit-or be carried out-in the middle of an exorcism. A practiced exorcist will even go so far as to make a few trial runs of an exorcism beforehand, on the old theory that forewarned is forearmed-at least to some degree.
Timing in an exorcism is generally dictated by circumstances. There is usually a feeling of urgency to begin as soon as possible. Everyone involved should have an open schedule. Rarely is an exorcism shorter than some hours-more often than not ten or twelve hours. Sometimes it stretches for two or three days. On occasion it lasts even for weeks. Once begun, except on the rarest occasions, there are no time outs, although one or other of the people present may leave the room for a few moments, to take some food, to rest very briefly, or go to the bathroom. (One strange exorcism where there was a time out is described in this book. The priest involved would have preferred one hundred times going straight through the exorcism rather than suffer the mad violence that caused the delay.)
The only people in an exorcism who dress in a special way are the exorcist and his priest assistant. Each wears a long black cassock that covers him from neck to feet. Over it there is a waist-length white surplice. A narrow purple stole is worn around the neck and hangs loosely the length of the torso.
Normally, the priest assistant and the lay assistants prepare the exorcism room according to the exorcist’s instructions. They and the exorcee are ready in the room when the exorcist enters, last and alone.
There is no lexicon of Exorcism; and there is no guidebook or set of rules, no Baedeker of Evil Spirit to follow. The Church provides an official text for Exorcism, but this is merely a framework. It can be read out loud in 20 minutes. It merely provides a precise formula of words together with certain prayers and ritual actions, so that the exorcist has a preset structure in which to address the evil spirit. In fact, the conduct of an exorcism is left very much up to the exorcist.