Tuesday, August 18, 2015


In my car this morning, I was listening on XM Radio, the Catholic Channel's Gus Lloyd's "Cease the Day" program.

One segment with call-ins focused on parish homilies and having the call in people rate the homilies in their parish from 1, the worst, to 10 the best.

It was a great discussion and those who did call felt homilies to be important to them and they wanted good homilies. There were many highly rated homilists by the call-ins. Many complained about priests from elsewhere who do not have a good command of the English language or their accents are too thick to understand.

One person was like a priest-groupie traveling 65 miles each Sunday to hear her favorite priest preach who had once been in her parish but now transferred. Many base their search of what parish to attend based on the quality of homilies.

When I was growing up, I can't say the homilies I heard were all that great. We had one priest I could not understand at all so thick was his Irish accent! The homilies to me were long and boring and I just knew that I had to endure it to get to the Liturgy of the Eucharist, which I viewed as the most important and awe inspiring for me, even if I did not receive Holy Communion that particular Sunday.

I don't know how my parishioners would rate my homilies or delivery. I work hard to produce homilies that are logical with a clear beginning and end and try not to preach more than 10 minutes.

I don't think I have any groupies following me because of  my personality, good homilies or brilliant delivery.

I hope my parishioners are following our Lord despite the priest who preaches or celebrates the Mass.

What do you think?


qwikness said...

I am always glad when you are processing. Wish I had the schedule for Mass so we could attend yours. Father Kavanaugh's are good too.

Jdj said...

Homilies are important if they focus on the readings in a heartfelt rather than cerebral way, and don't become a vehicle for a homilist's particular personal agendas. And, yes, command of the English language is important for a homilist In English parishes, but not necessarily a deal-breaker. I admit I have been known to switch liturgies depending on the celebrant-homilist, particularly when a poor homilist is also a poor celebrant and pastor.

rcg said...

I like it when they discuss the readings and explain them.

gob said...

In all of my years of listening to homilies (formerly known as sermons), I'm sure I could count the really great preachers on one hand.....if I could think of any. The fact that the homily should be about the readings and that the homilist should not inject any of his personality or emotion, (correct me if I'm wrong) is almost sure to result in the homilist just paraphrasing the readings as if he were explaining them to CCD class or to children. I think that the leakage of Catholics to the evangelical churches has a lot to do with preaching. (Now I'm ready for a lecture about how the homily is not the important part, the Eucharist is.) But there may be fewer and fewer people there for the Eucharist, because they're all down the street listening to the great preacher.

Lefebvrian said...

In my experience, the priests of the FSSP give the best sermons.

Unlike rcg, I prefer when the sermon is not a discussion and explanation of the readings for the day.

I sometimes like it when priests undertake over a period of several weeks' sermons to discuss one topic in detail.

Julian Barkin said...

I think priests have to 1) make the homily, next to the Eucharist, the most essential part of the Mass, because most people are lazy with their spiritual selves and that's all the spiritual nourishment they will get in a week at Mass. More importantly, the homilies cannot be feel good moments, nor just times to ramble on. They have to be hard hitting and do apologetics constantly today with people using any excuse to leave the Church. Sadly, to me, many priests just barely do this in the regular Novus Ordo parishes. I've been lucky with a few priests but most in my adult life are just ok or haven't been strong in their homiletics.

Anonymous said...

CEASE the Day? CEASE? Do try again. - editor

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

Thank you, qwik.

I can't fault someone for choosing a church or a particular mass at that church based on the homilist. (On the other hand, a few have sworn never to attend mass again when I am preaching, but I digress...) As we all know too well, some homilies can be deadly.

I don't think I can recall any homilies from my childhood days, although I can recall a couple of the homilists. Msgr., later Bishop, Andrew McDonald was a strong presence at Blessed Sacrament in Savannah, in the church and in the school. Tom Peyton was the only homilist my mother ever complimented, so we asked him to be the homilist at our mother's funeral. I do recall two or three really good homilies from seminary days, and they were from deacons, not faculty members! (Or maybe I had just tuned out the faculty preachers since I heard them so often...)

Inasmuch as the homily is an integral part of the liturgy, preachers have an obligation to preach well. Most people I know expect good homilies. Accents are a big problem for some, and bishops should encourage elocution lessons for those needing that kind of help. If a priest doesn't read constantly and widely, he won't, I suggest, be a good homilist. Poetry, fiction, history, science, etc - all these feed into the art of preaching.

There is much about preaching that can be learned and honed through practice, but there are always some who, despite their best efforts, will always be marginal preachers. It is as important to know what the Church does NOT teach as to know what the Church teaches. Too often a person's sincere but misguided beliefs or faulty assumptions about doctrine/belief find their way into the pulpit.

Lefebvrian said...

I knew an Orthodox priest who would oftentimes read a sermon by a Church father or other saint in lieu of preparing and delivering a sermon of his own. I actually think that is a pretty good idea, but I have never seen a Catholic priest do this, to my knowledge.

Mark Thomas said...

In his massive Apostolic Exhortation that few, speaking relatively, Catholics read..."nobody" reads such documents...Pope Francis devoted a lengthy section to the homily.

Beginning at #135 of that document, Pope Francis tackled the subject of the homily. Father McDonald-permitting, I will post a few excerpts from the document.

-- Perhaps the finest advice that Pope Francis offered about homilies is from #157: "In the Bible, for example, we can find advice on how to prepare a homily so as to best to reach people: “Speak concisely, say much in few words” (Sir 32:8)."

II. The homily

135. Let us now look at preaching within the liturgy, which calls for serious consideration by pastors. The homily is the touchstone for judging a pastor’s closeness and ability to communicate to his people. We know that the faithful attach great importance to it, and that both they and their ordained ministers suffer because of homilies: the laity from having to listen to them and the clergy from having to preach them! It is sad that this is the case. The homily can actually be an intense and happy experience of the Spirit, a consoling encounter with God’s word, a constant source of renewal and growth.

136. Saint Paul speaks forcefully about the need to preach, since the Lord desires to reach other people by means of our word (cf. Rom 10:14-17). By his words our Lord won over the hearts of the people; they came to hear him from all parts (cf. Mk 1:45); they were amazed at his teachings (cf. Mk 6:2), and they sensed that he spoke to them as one with authority (cf. Mk 1:27). By their words the apostles, whom Christ established “to be with him and to be sent out to preach” (Mk 3:14), brought all nations to the bosom of the Church (cf. Mt 16:15.20).

137. It is worthy remembering that “the liturgical proclamation of the word of God, especially in the eucharistic assembly, is not so much a time for meditation and catechesis as a dialogue between God and his people, a dialogue in which the great deeds of salvation are proclaimed and the demands of the covenant are continually restated”.[112]

The homily has special importance due to its eucharistic context: it surpasses all forms of catechesis as the supreme moment in the dialogue between God and his people which lead up to sacramental communion. The homily takes up once more the dialogue which the Lord has already established with his people. The preacher must know the heart of his community, in order to realize where its desire for God is alive and ardent, as well as where that dialogue, once loving, has been thwarted and is now barren.

138. The homily cannot be a form of entertainment like those presented by the media, yet it does need to give life and meaning to the celebration.

159. Another feature of a good homily is that it is positive. It is not so much concerned with pointing out what shouldn’t be done, but with suggesting what we can do better."


Mark Thomas

Bernard Fischer said...

Most of the homilies I hear are historical-critical explanations of the readings and how they would have been understood by the original witnesses of the Gospel stories or the recipients of Paul's letters. I've come to the conclusion that Catholic priests in my diocese understand ancient Middle East culture better than they understand the culture in the neighborhood around the parish. There's never any practical guidance about how to apply the experience of ancient Jerusalem to the challenges today.

It's a cliche to say that I've never heard a homily on contraception, abortion, the death penalty, gay marriage and the rest. But it's true, outside of the FSSP parish i attend occasionally. But then I started reading a book on the differences between Protestant and Catholic views of salvation and redemption and I realized I never heard a homily on any of that, either. And forget about anything that might be political in any way. I'm not sure I've even heard our pastor go out on the limb far enough to say something positive about the local sports team.

So what's the point? I get 10 minutes of historical-critical exegesis but 0 minutes on basic Catholic teaching or how anything about how to explain the faith to someone else. If the New Evangalization is supposed to be something more than a marketing gimmick then priests and deacons need to be delivering some "talking points" at least so when we go out to convert the pagans we know what to say. (I could tell them how lepers were treated in the 1st century, but I'm not sure that will pack them in.)

Mostly, I think Mass would be better if the homily was skipped. Maybe only have it when there's something important to say.

George said...

"I don't know how my parishioners would rate my homilies or delivery. I work hard to produce homilies that are logical with a clear beginning and end and try not to preach more than 10 minutes."

I would rate you with a high mark. I can't remember walking out of Church thinking to myself "that was not all that good of a homily". I do pay attention and listen closely. That doesn't mean a week or two later that I will remember all that much of it. I'm better at remembering what I read; I don't remember as much of what I hear. Father Godfred who just went over to Augusta is excellent. Father Dawid is very good. I like what I've heard so far from Father Vernon. Deacon Don and Deacon Tom are both very good. Each person has a different style but I have enjoyed what I've heard from each one. I have no complaints.

Mark Thomas said...

During his days in Argentina, Patriarch Sviatoslav Shevchuk of the Ukranian Greek Catholic Church knew then-Cardinal-Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio (His Holiness Pope Francis).

In 2013 A.D., Patriarch Sviatoslav stated the following in regard to Pope Francis and homilies.

"I can attest to the fact that his homilies are quite short, sometimes no longer than five or six sentences, but he manages to fill them with such deep meaning, always leaving the faithful in silent contemplation upwards of five-to-seven minutes".


Mark Thomas

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

Reading a centuries old sermon could be good for an adult ed group, but not as liturgical preaching. There is meant to be a direct connection between the liturgy of the day with it's readings and the homily of the day. This is not just some "topical" or "subject" connection, but a movement of grace that flows from the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist into the hearts and lives of the congregation.

I have come to understand that the true and lasting power of a homily comes from this synergy - that the preacher, having done his or her work, can and must rely on God's Providence to turn mere words and thoughts into vectors for grace. The lazy preacher, of course, cannot expect a "miracle." It is an insult to a congregation to preach unprepared.

Eloquence isn't needed, though with some congregations its can be helpful. Ecclesial erudition is needed - knowing the deep Scriptural/doctrinal background of the topic(s) to be presented. Being culturally aware is also a must, and I hope that "International Priests" are able to bridge the gaps that may exist between their homelands and the places where they homilize.

Anonymous said...

This practice (of reading a Church Father's sermon) is sometimes done in the Eastern Churches Lefebvrian, often on Christmas and Easter (we don't have this idea of re=inventing the wheel)...But I tend to agree with Fr. K, that under most circumstances it probably shouldn't be done.

I'd like to see more exegesis on the propers in the Liturgy (Introit, Gradual, Alleluia verses)...Most humans have an attention span of about 10-20 min. Just make sure you don't go on too long, lest one end up like Euclytus and fall asleep during one of St Paul's Sermons ;)

Joe of St Therese

John Nolan said...

Pope Francis is a good homilist. I suspect that Fr Kavanaugh is too (I hope the 'his or her' was a knee-jerk to PC language and he doesn't give his pulpit over to women).

The problem is, these days, that all too often the liturgy is overly didactic and wordy, with the celebrant facing his audience throughout, and often interjecting his comments even before the homily proper; the whole thing communicates on a largely verbal level and is such a bore that it takes a very good homilist to jolt the audience out of their torpor.

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

Torpor is such a good word. Thx for using it.

No, "his or her" is neither PC nor knee-jerk. The fact is that in many denominations, women preach. And many do a far better job than their masculine counterparts.

Get used to it.

The Greek said...

The fact is that in many denominations, women preach. And many do a far better job than their masculine counterparts.

Get used to it.

Not here, they don't.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

Former PI is being one of three things here in his statement: contrary, silly or just plain ignorant. This is what happens when one is involved in ecumenical work that blurs the distinctions between denominations of the protestant tradition which have absolutely no valid Holy Orders, and thus no valid Penance, Confirmation, Eucharist, and Anointing of the Sick. They do have valid Baptism (if performed correctly and with the mind of the Church) and Matrimony if all things are in place for the validity of marriage, no impediments.

In every Protestant denomination there are no distinctions between clergy and laity as the Catholic Church understands these two terms. So lay people, men, women, boys and girls and even an Orangutan that knows sign language can preach. Some of these laity are better than others and I suspect a Orangutan who knows sign language is better that some bishops and priests at preaching.

But as for those communions which have valid Holy Orders and thus all other 6 sacraments are also valid, there are not women who are preachers. This doesn't mean a woman can't preach outside the Mass or even give a talk after Holy Communion. But there are no women preachers in communions with valid Holy Orders.

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

Good Father - First, my involvement with ecumenical work has in no way blurred my understanding of the differences between our Catholic faith and other denominations. In fact, it has helped me understand more clearly the distinctions, the quality and history of these distinctions, and the paths that can be taken to heal the divisions.

Because you have had little or no such experience, you choose, most unfortunately, to caricature ecumenical work and to make absurd assertions about things you simply cannot know. Your ignorance and lack of experience is showing.

Second, your expectation that Protestants will understand distinctions between clergy and laity "as the Catholic Church understands these two terms" is absurd on the face of it. Why would you expect a Protestant to have a Catholic understanding of the distinction between clergy and laity? Your error is analogous to expecting the British to have an American understanding of the role of a monarch in the government of a nation.

The Greek said...

Yes, but Fr K, until you mentioned "many denominations" the only denomination being discussed here was Catholicism. John Nolan didn't comment on "many denominations," he commented on you specifically not giving your pulpit to women (and, one assumes, specifically during the liturgy, given the context of these comments).

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

No, Greek, until I mentioned "many denominations" Catholicism was not the only denomination mentioned.

Lefebvrian said...
I knew an Orthodox priest who would oftentimes read a sermon by a Church father...

Bernard Fisher said...
But then I started reading a book on the differences between Protestant and Catholic views of salvation and redemption...

Only AFTER those mentions of Orthodoxy and Protestantism did I make my gender-inclusive comment.

Some people, maybe including yourself, assume that homilies are given only in Catholic churches. But you and those who make that assumption are simply wrong.

The Greek said...

Some people, maybe including yourself, assume that homilies are given only in Catholic churches.

Why would I, an Orthodox priest, make that assumption? I must not realize I've been giving homilies every Sunday for like four years now. Thankfully I have you here to tell me! I don't know how I was able to get through school without you there to whisper me the answers.

Only AFTER the mention of Protestantism did I make my gender-inclusive comment.

My correction to your sentence is in bold. Women do not give homilies in the Orthodox Church. 'Tis prohibited.

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

Greek - Mercifully, God's grace operates outside the walls of your church. It also operates outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church. When a person, Catholic, Orthodox, Jew, Muslim, etc., thinks and speaks as if his/her religious tradition is the only one or the only one that matters, that person has a significant misunderstanding of grace.

No, Catholicism was not the only denomination being discussed before I mentioned other denominations. Lefeb mentioned Orthodoxy and Bernard Fisher mentioned Protestantism. Only after that did I mention "many denominations."

You assertion was factually wrong.

Jusadbellum said...

I don't think it's appropriate to bring in Fr. K's ecumenical work into the discussion. A certain amount of diplomacy and decorum is required for such high level confabs that might not be required when we're talking "within the family". But to ding someone for diplomacy is a bit much.

While we grasp that in our Churches there are homilies not sermons, he was speaking broadly. I get that. What would be contrary and silly is to assume he's trying to smuggle in female priests into this discussion. I highly doubt that's the case.

But this is all a side show. The point is the content of our homilies. Reading the early Church fathers or a saint to make a larger point is not bad. Morals and human nature does not change from century to century so the insights of the saints are perfectly current. Of course, abuse can occur if that's ALL the homily is about.

Why can't we take a 'both/and' approach? Grounding our affirmations and interpretations of today's scripture with a paragraph from a saint's sermon or writings.... if we invoke current events or current secular authors I see no reason to not inform the flock of our own Church's insights from times past.

The Greek said...

Fr. K,

You assertion was factually wrong.


Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

And . . . read more carefully.

Flavius Hesychius said...


It's clear Ignotus knows nothing about Orthodox teachings regarding grace. If he did, he'd know the Orthodox idea of grace makes it impossible to say where grace is not.

Ignotus, did you know the idea of 'gracelessness outside the Church' is a Latin one? It's one of the reasons St. Augustine is controversial in Orthodox circles.

Did you know one of the reasons the Church doesn't proclaim Catholic sacraments to be 'valid but graceless' is because she teaches she can't say who doesn't have grace?

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

Flav - No, I don't have much understanding of Orthodox teaching regarding grace, which is why I didn't make any comments about it.

The Catholic Church does not teach that there is no grace outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church.