FIYH 40-43: The Homily and Faith

After a bit of a break, let’s continue with our close examination of the USCCB document, Fulfilled in Your Hearing, in which the American bishops address the homily at Sunday Mass.

Having covered the listeners and the preacher, the bishops begin a long section (paragraphs 40-77) to consider the homily itself. We begin with a brief introduction:

[40] The Sunday Eucharist is a privileged point of encounter between a local Christian community and its priest. Within this Eucharistic celebration the homily is a moment when this encounter can be especially intense and personal. We want now to look at the nature and function of this form of preaching, to relate it to the issues we have already raised in speaking of the assembly and the preacher, and finally to suggest a method for building and preaching the homily.

The next three paragraphs are entitled, “THE HOMILY AND FAITH.”

[41] Like all preaching, the homily is directed to faith. As Paul writes, ” But how shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe unless they have heard of hIm? And how can they hear unless there is someone to preach?” (Romans 10:14). Some preaching is directed to people who have not heard the Gospel and is meant to lead them to an initial acceptance of Jesus Christ as Savior. Other forms of preaching are directed to a deeper understanding of the faith or to its ethical implications.

It is significant that the Catholic homily is not necessarily directed to the intellect. Faith encompasses all aspects of the integrated believer. So is the homily as a teaching exercise? Only as part of a whole:

[42] The homily is preaching of another kind. It may well include evangelization, catechesis, and exhortation, but its primary purpose is to be found in the fact that it is, in the words of the Second Vatican Council, “a part of the liturgy itself” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 52). The very meaning and function of the homily is determined by its relation to the liturgical action of which it is a part. It flows from the Scriptures which are read at that liturgical celebration, or/more broadly, from the Scriptures which undergird its prayers and actions, and it enables the congregation to participate in the celebration with faith.

If the homily is indeed part of the liturgy, it is part of the core definition of worship: the praise of God. Like the liturgy, it stands as a human attempt to cooperate with the sanctification of the faithful (see Sacrosanctum Concilium 7). Note also the emphasis here on enabling lay participation. Homilies should lead people to participation, the bishops remind us. This participation is imbued with faith, a faith the preacher should presume as a grounding for the homiletic effort:

[43] The fact that the homily is addressed to a congregation of believers who have gathered to worship indicates that its purpose is not conversion from radical unbelief to belief. A homily presupposes faith. Nor does the homily primarily concern itself with a systematic theological understanding of the faith. The liturgical gathering is not primarily an educational assembly. Rather the homily is preached in order that a community of believers who have gathered to celebrate the liturgy may do so more deeply and more fully – more faithfully -and thus be formed for Christian witness in the world.

Where faith is present, the homily should act to deepen it. And such faith should be evident by “Christian witness” in the world–an external and active participation if there ever was one.



(All texts from Fulfilled in Your Hearing are copyright © 1982 USCCB. All rights reserved. Used with permission.)

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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