Tuesday, February 10, 2015


The new prefect for the Congregation for Divine Worship issues his first liturgical directive on preaching. I think it is good and in continuity with the great liturgist Pope Benedict :

Cardinal Robert Sarah presents the Homiletic Directory
Vatican City, 10 February 2015 (VIS) – In a press conference held in the Holy See Press Office this morning, Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, presented the “Homiletic Directory” drawn up by the same dicastery during the mandate of his predecessor, Cardinal Antonio Canizares Llovera. The cardinal was accompanied by Archbishop Arthur Roche and Fr. Corrado Maggione, S.M.M., respectively secretary and under secretary of the Congregation.
“Often, for many faithful, it is precisely the homily, considered as good or bad, interesting or boring, that is the yardstick by which the entire celebration is judged”, explained Cardinal Sarah. “Certainly, the Mass is not the homily, but it represents a moment relevant for the purpose of participation in the holy Mysteries, that is, listening to the Word of God and the communion of the Body and Blood of the Lord”.
“The Directory was not born without a reason. The aim is to respond to the need to improve the service of ordained ministers in liturgical preaching”, he continued, noting that during the 2005 Synod of Bishops ordained ministers were asked to prepare their homilies carefully, and basing them on adequate knowledge of the Sacred Scripture. “This is the first fact to bear in mind”, he underlined: “that the homily is directly linked to the Sacred Scriptures, especially the Gospel, and is enlightened by them”. During the same Synod, it was also requested that in the homily “the great themes of the faith and the life of the Church should resound throughout the year”, in order to “help demonstrate the nexus connecting the message of the biblical readings with the doctrine of the faith as expressed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church”. He added, “on the basis of these expectations, Benedict XVI in the exhortation Sacramentum caritatis … encouraged reflection on the matter”.
The bishops returned to this issue in the Synod on the Word of God, and Benedict XVI in the exhortation Verbum domini, while reiterating that preaching appropriately with reference to the Lectionary was “truly an art that must be cultivated”, also indicated that it would be opportune to compile a directory on the homily, so that preachers might find help in preparing for the exercise of their ministry”.
“The way was thus prepared and the Congregation initiated the project. A further impetus to bring it to a conclusion was provided by the emphasis placed on the homily by Pope Francis, who reserves 25 points to this theme in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii gaudium: 10 to the homily and 15 to its preparation”.
“The homily is a liturgical service reserved to the ordained minister, who is called upon by vocation to serve the Word of God according to the faith of the Church and not in a personalised fashion. It is not a mere discourse like any other, but rather a speech inspired by the Word of God that resounds in an assembly of believers, in the context of liturgical action, with a view to learning to put into practice the Gospel of Jesus Christ”.
Among the criteria mentioned in the Directory, the Cardinal mentioned, “first, the homily is inspired by the Scriptures inserted by the Church in the Lectionary, or rather the Book that contains, for all the days of the year, the biblical readings for the Mass; second, the homily is inspired by the celebration of which these readings form a part, or rather, by the prayers and the rites that constitute this liturgy, whose main protagonist is God, for Christ His Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit”.
“Obviously”, he concluded, “the homily makes demands of he who pronounces it. Therefore, the preparation of the homilist is of the first importance: this requires study and prayer, experience of God and knowledge of the community he addresses, love for the holy Mysteries and love for the living Body of Christ that is the Church”.


John Nolan said...

One of the best homilies I heard recently explained the first (Old Testament) reading by putting it in context. Most Catholics have little contact with the OT (except for the Psalms and where, as in Isaias, it clearly prefigures the NT). Even that great Catholic Hilaire Belloc once dismissed the OT (no doubt with his tongue firmly in his cheek) as 'Yiddish folklore'

Now that we have a proper translation of the prayers of the Mass it would not be out of place to preach on, say, the Collect. There is great theological richness in these prayers, as Fr Z never ceases to point out on his blog.

What we don't need are personal anecdotes or yet another commentary on the parable of the Good Samaritan.

A few years ago, at the Xmas Day Solemn Mass at the London Oratory the priest announced: 'You have had to endure sermons all year - I am going to give you a rest and let the liturgy speak for itself'. Since the Offertory collection on this day is one's personal gift to the Oratory fathers, it was an astute move!

Marc said...

Our bishop visited on Sunday, and he discussed the Prodigal Son since it was the Sunday of the Prodigal Son.

He took what I thought was a unique approach to the Gospel reading by discussing the phrase "he came to himself" from the Gospel and juxtaposing that with the Greek philosophical idea of "knowing thyself."

It was very thought provoking, which I think is the mark of a good sermon. I have been roused to emotionalism in the past by sermons, but that emotionalism has less lasting appeal than a sermon that leads to independent thought and reflection.

Anonymous said...

Folks in these parts are endlessly discussing the reasons why Catholics don't go to Mass, and how they might be lured back. I'd like to put this in the hopper. In general, the preaching in our Churches is pathetic. There are some among us, I believe, who take some perverse pride in that fact. Good preaching is too "protestant". We, being infinitely better than they, don't want to come down to their level. We have much more important stuff to do. As a result, we often end up with the priest paraphrasing one of the reasons as if he were instructing a group of children. If we had preachers like MLK, for instance, our churches would be overflowing. People want to be moved....inspired....A minister with his back to you speaking in Latin, is not gonna do it. I LOVE personal anecdotes. I still remember how I was inspired, many years ago, by a homilyst who began by saying "My name is John, and I am an alcoholic."

Anonymous said...

Unfortunate though it may be, for many if not most Catholics it is a rare experience to attend a Mass that would not have been improved by omission of the sermon.

Speak as you will of the homily as a liturgical action, at all too many Masses it nevertheless is a digression and even a distraction from the liturgy, one which serves only to dissipate any liturgical intensity and momentum that has been built up.

" ... let the liturgy speak for itself."

I wonder whether anyone could sensibly argue that, back in the day when a sermon was not usually heard at daily Mass, the liturgy had less impact on people than now. But then homilies might have been less needed then because the older form of Mass is based on Holy Scripture so much more than the newer form.

Anonymous said...

Father I am sure that all the priests will run right out and get a copy of this directive and follow it to the letter. After all they are so observant in following all the other rubrics of the Mass of Paul VI.

Anonymous said...

One of the READINGS....not REASONS...

John Nolan said...

The reason for homilies at a weekday Mass is that the Novus Ordo is so attenuated compared with the older Rite (especially without the Gloria, Credo and first reading and with the second Eucharistic Prayer) that it would be all over in under a quarter of an hour without the extra padding.

The idea that the homily is part of the so-called Liturgy of the Word is a recent innovation (one might even say a Bugnini conceit). In the classic Roman Mass the priest removes his maniple before ascending the pulpit, to show that the liturgy is interrupted at this point.

'My name is John and I am an alcoholic.'
'Er ... sorry, John, this is the yoga class.'

Gene said...

Anonymous at 11:59 should become a Baptist.

Regarding the OT…Quiz: Who said this: The Old Testament is the cradle of the New." Good Biblical homiletics remembers this.

Anonymous said...

"The idea that the homily is part of the so-called Liturgy of the Word is a recent innovation (one might even say a Bugnini conceit)."

I believe it is specifically a Bugnini concept. Unbeknownst to many traditional Catholics, Msgr. Bugnini was a dominant member of the committee that prepared the 1962 missal with its radical revision of the calendar, the removal of most octaves, Holy Week revisions, etc, and his fingerprints are all over it--for instance the new 1962 rubric #474, according to which

"After the gospel , especially on Sundays and holy days of obligation, a short homily should be preached to the people if it is convenient."

Of course, that "should be . . . if it is convenient" looks rather like Novus Ordo parlance for "forget about it if you want to". Prior to the 1962 missal, rubrics were generally stated as requirements rather than as suggestions.

Anonymous said...

Pastor, I'm kind of thinking more toward Unitarian Universalist....unless you'd like to take me with you to the Presbyterians. Or maybe you'd rather come along with me.

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

The homily, according to St. Justin Martyr, was an integral part of the mass in the third century. Is that just another archeologism?

Gene said...

Anonymous, RE: Unitarians..thank you for your honesty. It explains a lot. But, why a conservative Catholic blog? You just want an antagonist? You would not like the Presbyterians…well, you might now because most of them have gone secular/unbelief mode.

George said...

Fr. Kavanaugh:

Pope St. Sergius I (Reigned 687-701)added the Agnus Dei to the Mass. Archeologism?

Православный физик said...

Yet another document from Rome that will likely be ignored.

That said, the state of preaching in the West (for the most part, Eastern Catholicism has avoided this) is downright abysmal. (In addition to catechesis)

Homilies should come from the appropriate sources (Doctrinal, Liturgical, Scriptural, and such)...and not from vacation stories. Personally, I found the style of Pope Benedict XVI very inspiring.

Rood Screen said...

Keep it under six minutes, never refer to yourself or to many personal experiences, but instead just explain how Holy Mother Church views some point of the Biblical readings or of another text of the Mass. Keep it simple, wise and Catholic.

Anonymous said...

Father, what your comments on the latest controversy in Alabama, about probate judges refusing to issue licenses for same-sex couples? Should they just quit their jobs? Go along the federal ruling even though that violates traditional Christian views on marriage? Of course the trendy Left likes to compare Judge Roy Moore's opposition to the federal mandate to George Wallace's stances at the schoolhouse door in Tuscaloosa (University of Alabama) in 1963.

Southern Catholic said...

We are fortunate in our parish to have the best homilist in the Raleigh Diocese. His homilies are the best I have ever heard and many people take notes and/or record his homilies. They last 10-15 minutes and you could hear a pin drop when he speaks. Thought provoking, educational and inspiring with a little spiritual direction thrown in for good measure. Happily this priest was just transferred to our parish and will remain here until he retires in 7 or 8 years.

Marie said...

Homilies and hymn music are generally better and more inspirational in the protestant services because unlike the Catholic Mass, they don't have the Eucharist.

They have to be good at something.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

I think we should not be more rigid than the Church in terms of secular jobs and the like. For example all cable and satellite companies provide hard core porn , gay and other perversities, must everyone stop using cable? Dies a Catholic probate judge have to quit because of marrying anyone period, gay, straight multiple previous marriages, and of course this is feigning a sacrament, but is it only a legal, secular union, secular marriage not a true marriage?

Rood Screen said...


It seems to me we need to look at purposes. The purpose of a lunch counter, for example, is to serve lunch to paying customers. Race should not be a factor. But if someone sits at a lunch counter just to read a book, without buying lunch, the proprietor can remove him without violating his rights.

Similarly, marriage is for children, so that the state rightly reserves the status of marriage to those naturally oriented towards the begetting of children. Denying martial status to two men or two women does not affect their natural rights.

A politician or judge who fails to respect this natural order of purposes and rights loses his legitimate authority.

John Nolan said...

Justin Martyr describes in outline what happened when Christians gathered to celebrate the Eucharist on Sundays in second-century Rome. No more, no less. It's instructive that this outline is still recognizable in existing liturgies, including the Sunday sermon.

Fr Kavanaugh knows quite well what archaeologism means and in the unlikely event of his never having come across Mediator Dei, other commentators, including this one, have steered him in the right direction.

rcg said...

Frankly, the overwhelming majority of clergy come across as bored with the Liturgy, uninterested in the lessons, and contemptuous of the laity. Of course there are exceptions, but some how the environment seems to encourage these attitudes. It is understandable how priests could become cynical towards the congregation after years of frustration, or that the demands of the Office could seem repetitive after a time. Perhaps the Liturgy was reworked to ease the laity toward the discouraged state of mind these poor men had after the global failure of the twentieth century. Miracles were actually fortunate natural phenomenon, ethics don't need a divine source, making God a personal, if not altogether optional choice.

Does the holimly support the Mass and lessons? Or does it only provide an opportunity for the priest to opine on current events?

Gene said...

The middle panel of the Isenheim Altarpiece triptych shows a gaunt, tortured Christ on the Cross…clearly an image of suffering and torment. Standing to His left side is the equally gaunt figure of John the Baptist, clad in rags, with his "prodigious index finger" pointing to the crucified Christ. A famous theologian said of preaching, "This is the image to which all preaching should point…"
I might also point out that the third panel, which is of the Resurrection, depicts an eerie, almost surreal, image of Christ emerging from the tomb, with the guards reeling or falling all akimbo, the stone lying in a disordered position, and a supernatural greenish light shining over the entire scene…clearly a supra-natural event, a breaking of causality and natural order. This is no liberal Jesus, spouting platitudes about love and harmony or come to "make the world a better place." This is the Christ who breaks all the rules and has our orderly, rationalistic world of physics and biology under His feet…also our sometimes interesting ideas about Christology.

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

John - St. Justin's description of the second century Roman mass includes the homily. It is, therefore, incorrect to suggest that the homily is not an integral part of the mass or that it was an "invention" by Bugnini.

I read once that, on the inside of a pulpit somewhere, hangs a sign that is visible only to the preacher as he steps into the ambo.

The sign reads "Sir, we want to see Jesus."

Gene said...

Then, there was the Baptist preacher whose wife slipped him a note before his sermon that read, K.I.S.S. After church, he said to his wife, "Thanks for the sweet kiss note before my sermon." Wife replied,
"That did not stand for kiss; it stood for, "Keep It Short Stupid."

Gene said...

My own feeling about preaching is that it should be Christ-centered, exhortative while remaining exegetical, and devoid of self-reference on the part of the preacher. Long-winded exegesis of obscure aspects of Scripture, complex hermeneutics, and lectures should be avoided. If you cannot say it in fifteen minutes or less, sit down.

John Nolan said...

Come on, Fr Kavanaugh! Justin Martyr says that an exhortation was preached on Sundays. He does not say it was an integral part of the Mass. In the second century there was no lectionary as such and the prayers (including the Eucharistic prayer) were probably improvised. They worshipped clandestinely in one another's houses and our knowledge of early Christian worship is practically non-existent.

When liturgical texts became more or less fixed something as improvised as the exhortation or homily was seen as extraneous to the liturgy. This does not mean it was unimportant, and indeed surviving sermons by such as St Augustine and St Gregory the Great have been incorporated into the LOTH, in particular the long night Office (Vigils or Matins). But they are so as set texts.

Therefore I am not incorrect, and you must realize that using a very sketchy second-century source as the only evidence for your assumptions is jejune in the extreme.

George said...

The homily could be characterized as an accretion, but not a bad one. I have never had any objections to it being in the Mass. If done well, it serves its good purpose. It should enlighten the faithful on the truths of the faith the and exhort all those in attendance either explicitly or implicitly to imitate Christ in their life, and to do this not only for their own spiritual benefit, but as a good example to the unfaithful and unchurched.

Gene said...

Ultimately, though, the homily is an unnecessary part of the Mass. Now, if you are a protestant, it is an absolutely essential part of the service. Post-Reformation theology, with its rejection of the Real Presence and its radical doctrine of the Holy Spirit, removed the Mystery and replaced it with an appeal to rational thought. This continued through the Renaissance (see Trinkhouse, "The Christian Humanists of the Renaissance") and culminated in the Enlightenment theology of the neo-protestants in the 19th century. This led increasingly to exhortation, the "New Hermeneutic", and exegetical preaching as the "sacrament" for protestantism.