FIYH 69-70: A Pastoral Approach

Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me.” (John 10:14) This is the origin of the adjective “pastoral,” an important term even if it is occasionally misapplied. 

[69] In the last analysis the only proper response to these questions is a pastoral one. Priests will have to decide what form of preaching is most suitable for a particular congregation at a particular time. We would simply like to make two points here. First of all, social science research contends that the oral presentation of a single person is not a particularly effective way to impart new information or to bring about a change in attitude or behavior. It is, however, well suited to make explicit or to reinforce attitudes or knowledge previously held. The homily, therefore, which normally is an oral presentation by a single person, will be less effective as a means of instruction and/or exhortation than of interpretation that is, as a means of enabling people to recognize the implications, in liturgy and in life, of the faith that is already theirs.

The bishops, note, are not saying the homily is ineffective; they are referring to sociology and psychology to remind us that the homily is not the most effective way to communicate or inspire conversion. What does this mean? The homily must be part of a coordinated liturgical effort that includes music, ritual, and other factors that support change.

[70] The second point to be made is that the liturgical homily, which draws on the Scriptures to interpret peoples’ lives in such a way that they can recognize the saving presence of God and turn to him with praise and thanksgiving, does not exclude doctrinal instruction and moral exhortation. Such instruction and exhor­tation’ however, are here situated in a broader context, namely, in the recognition of God’s active presence in the lives of the people and the praise and thanksgiving that this response elicits.

The distinction is important. A homily may include “doctrinal instruction and moral exhortation.” When it includes little or nothing else, it is not a homily, and decidedly not liturgical. The bishops allude to the importance of the key elements of liturgy, God’s presence and the act of giving praise to God.



(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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