What are some key differences in the way the protestant church performs exorcisms compared the catholic rituals? Is their way right or wrong in some ways?
The key difference is in the level of ritual and pre-scripted liturgy which defines the Catholic rite, and a much less formal and unscripted nature of Protestant exorcism. There is much that is similar in how Protestants and Catholics go about exorcising a demon once a person has been identified as being “demonized” (a better word than “possessed” to translate the Biblical term, ‘diamonidzomia’). Both use scripture, both (often) call for the demon to identify itself (though many Protestants feel the less interaction with the demon the better), both command the demon directly by the name and authority of Christ to depart the afflicted person. Both often call for the preparation of the Exorcist in times of confession and prayer and sometimes fasting (Mark 9:29, see footnote). Both usually encourage the Exorcist to have an assistant or helpers present to establish the power of Christ in the gathered church at the time of prayer (Matthew 18:20).
The Catholic rite has been defined by the Roman Church over time and involves invocations, prayers, creeds and responsive readings. You can find an example of the elaborate and lengthy rite online here: http://www.catholicdoors.com/prayers/english/p01975b.htm
The strength of the Catholic rite is that by it’s ritual it diminishes any sense in the Exorcist that they work under their own power or authority. Their total dependence on the power of Christ is explicitly stated in the given formula, and by the very act of repeating a formula, the Exorcist doesn’t put any stock in his own eloquence or special ability to make a devil comply. But this is also it’s weakness, since a formula may also mean that a person may think the script is magical somehow, and the Exorcist may be challenging Satan directly when they have no personal relationship with Christ, and thus are not functioning with the indwelling Spirit as their power and authority. The Bible tells of a time when someone reduced exorcism to a simple formula of “the right words” but without personal power through Christ, the results were disastrous. (Acts 19:13-16)
Having read the Catholic rite I would add that most of it’s scripted prayers are beautiful, and biblical, relying on the authority of Christ and not the worthiness of the pray-er. For example:
I command you, unclean spirit, whoever you are, along with all your minions now attacking this servant of God, by the mysteries of the incarnation, passion, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ, by the descent of the Holy Spirit, by the coming of our Lord for judgment, that you tell me by some sign your name, and the day and hour of your departure. I command you, moreover, to obey me to the letter, I who am a minister of God despite my unworthiness; nor shall you be emboldened to harm in any way this creature of God, or the bystanders, or any of their possessions.
The only real problem I would have with any of this is that some of the prayers contain what I see as inherently problematic in all Catholic theology and that is a dependence on the power, merit, and authority of Mary, the Apostles and dead Saints. Christ drove out demons by his Word alone, and Christ’s name was enough authority for his Apostles, surely it should be enough for all who are priests in His Kingdom.
There is no standard Protestant formula, which again is a strength and weakness. The strength is that a person praying for a demonized individual must not think that “magic words” make the devil comply. The devil is subordinate to Christ alone – who defeated him in a great and mysterious victory on the cross (Col 2:15). He is not subordinate to you or I, EXCEPT as we are IN Christ by faith and are clothed by Christ (Gal 3:27) and have his mind and authority (1 Cor 2:13) as his Priests (1 Peter 2:9) by that same trusting, humble dependence.
So even though Christ’s power is the important thing, the state of the Exorcist’s faith matters deeply. The very nature of demonic activity implies that spiritual warfare is real, and is just that: warfare! While God is almighty, his servants do still experience loss and resistance from a real enemy who can win battles (1 Thess 2:18). Thus, the equipping of the solider, (Eph 6:10-18: His faith in Christ, his love of Truth, his borrowed righteousness, his soul being saved, his love for the Gospel, his handling of God’s Word) is critical for him to stand in any fight with the Enemy.
Therefore, the weakness of the Protestant approach is that with such an emphasis on the believers authority, an ill-equipped but emboldened Saint may tackle a devil head on and not succeed in driving it out. This even happened to Christ’s Apostles (Mark 9:28), thus it will and does happen to modern saints as well. They pray in the authority of a Christ they themselves are not fully subordinate to, and thus they do not carry his authority and there is no lasting effect from their ministry.
Some find fault with the call to repeat the Catholic formula if there is no result, and this also has a Protestant version whereby the pray-ers increase their emotional/spiritual intensity during the exorcism if it’s “not working” (getting louder, praying in tongues etc). They see this as frenetic, human attempts to manufacture power, instead of a simple dependence on Christ. It may be that in many cases, however, I don’t see inherent fault in having to repeat exorcisms or for them being drawn out affairs. We all want such healing work to be permanent, effective and simple, but let us remember we are not dealing with Computer Viruses! These are powerful, willful, personal spiritual agents – who also are evil. Again, this is warfare, not charades. Jesus himself said a healing work could be effective only to need repeating – there are free wills involved here, that of the victim, and the demon(s) (Matthew 12:43-45). God has chosen not to usurp these, thus he chooses to work with the faith not only of the Exorcist, but also the victim, whether Catholic or Protestant.