Synod Prop 15: Homilies

Another proposition from the Bishops’ Synod, this one on Homiletic updating and “Directory on the Homily.” Let’s see what the synod forwarded to Pope Benedict:

The homily that updates the proclaimed Word: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). It leads to the mystery celebrated, invites to mission and shares the joys and sorrows, the hopes and fears of the faithful, thus disposing the assembly both to the profession of faith (Creed) as well as the universal prayer of the Mass.

A homily at every Mass–every Mass with people at it, that is. Have a look at these three questions that follow:

There should be a homily in all Masses “cum populo,” even during the week. It is necessary that preachers (bishops, priests, deacons) prepare themselves in prayer, so that they preach with conviction and passion. They must ask themselves three questions:

— What do the proclaimed readings say?

— What do they say to me?

— What must I say to the community, taking into account its concrete situation?

I don’t quite agree with the order here, but maybe you have something to say. In my experience with Lectio Divina, the first reflection is to receive the word or phrase or message from the Scripture. Addressing what the proclaimed readings say usually means looking to the Scripture scholars. In tapping the intellectual side first, there’s a danger (and I know it) of glossing over one’s own insights.

The preacher should above all allow himself to be questioned first by the Word of God he proclaims. The homily must be nourished by doctrine and transmit the teaching of the Church to strengthen the faith, call to conversion in the framework of the celebration and prepare for the action of the Eucharistic paschal mystery.


To help the preacher in the ministry of the Word, and in continuity with the teaching of the post-synodal apostolic “Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis” (No. 46), the synodal fathers desire the elaboration of a “Directory on the Homily,” which should show, together with the principles of homiletics and of the art of communication, the content of the biblical topics that appear in the lectionaries that are used in the liturgy.

I heard about this homiletic directory. I’m not sure it’s a great idea in the sense that it might become a tool for lazy homilists. We already have lazy homilists plunking down great “concepts” that lack connections to personal reflection and the needs of the faith community.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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4 Responses to Synod Prop 15: Homilies

  1. Liam says:

    Unfortunately, it seems that many preachers tend to misunderstand the issue of reception of the Word as something having to do with how they get their homiletical topics or themes. Which results in homilies that start off with “I was [gerundive verb] last week…” or a ramble about how hard/banal the readings are to preach on.

    Also, however clever a “hook” it may be to start homilies off with humor and/or pleasantries, it diverts immediately from the reception of the Word.

  2. Gavin says:

    Liam, your 2nd paragraph reminded me of something I read. If I may quote at length the great and reverend Fr. Cranky ( :

    I also want to write about ‘clever devices’ to attract the parishioners’ attention at the beginning of your homily. Many people find them effective for doing what they are designed for, getting attention. But too often, this is where the attention stays, in the ‘clever device.’ Some of you, especially those who want to use clever devices, will disagree violently with me. I accept that, but be warned.

    Some examples:

    I began a homily with “I wish to report a death to you . . . the death of Christendom.” I then expounded on how society no longer upholds basic Christian values. It seemed to work. Two weeks later, I was asked. “Who died two weeks ago? I heard you gave a whole homily on them. Were they someone special in the parish?”

    A seminary student once gave a presentation beginning with great shouts and noise. To this day, the people remember the shouting, but can’t tell you the point of it all.

    A priest almost always brings in a brown paper bag with him at the start of Mass. At the homily, he takes out the prop (stuffed animal, old shoe, book, etc.) and uses it to illustrate his point. Parishioners, especially the older parishioners, wait to see what is in the bag, and then leave. They got what they came for, ‘to see what Father has in the bag this week.’

    After a few years of active priesthood, a friend stopped using the ‘clever devices’ to start his homilies. Concerned parishioners asked him, after Mass, a few months later, if he was sick or mad at them. He understood the question, and asked them if they remembered the point of any of his homilies where he used attention grabbers, the answer was “no.”

    I used a box of obsolete computer parts in a pro-life homily. I talked about how our society views people in the same way as these obsolete parts. Almost a year later, folks remember the box of parts, but can’t tell me the point of the homily.

  3. Brendan Kelleher SVD says:

    As both a homily giver and a listener I am more than aware of homily beginnings that see me turn off. We had a classic example here at the seminary this morning (Jan 16th). The homilist began by summarizing the short biographical note on St.Anthony, Abbot, given in the daily missal pamphlets we use here in Japan. Did he think we were incapable of reading it? My immediate reaction was, if that was the only thing you have read on St Anthony then this homily is going nowhere. It didn’t go anywhere, or what I heard didn’t sound as if he’d given much thought to what he wanted to say.
    After thirty odd years of preaching I can’t say I’ve found the magic trick that is the perfect start to a homily, but I have tried to give hints at how much more there is in any gospel passage beyond the immediately evident or obvious reading/meaning. Asking different questions about a passage as you read it, asking how near or distant is the central focus of the passage to the experience of the congregation you will celebrate the Eucharist with. I once had to preach at a Mass in English for the ex-pat community, then preach at a Mass for a Japanese congregation. I ended up with two very different homilies.
    Maybe some of your commentators could give us examples of homily beginnings that worked. I do know that among homilies I’ve preached that have seen positive feed back were ones where I have laid out my theme/topic quite clearly and then slowly unwrapped it in dialog with the readings.
    I’ve read my share of homilies on the internet, some by very emminent Churchmen, ones the blog writer was very enthusiastic about, and after a few paragraphs knew I’d even have trouble quoting anything from it. Consequently the idea of a homily directory of any sort, particularly one written in Europe, the USA or Rome, is not one I could support. We also already have more than enough on the nature and purpose of the homily in both offcial Vatican documents, and at the level of local hierarchies. Some have been excellent and warrant revisiting, particularly that produced by the US Bishops, “Fulfilled in Your Hearing”(1982). Reading the homilies of respected preachers can be both helpful, and also theologically and spiritualy nourishing, eg.the writings of the late Walter Burghardt SJ.
    Listen to the Word, both when you’re up and when you’re down, listen to your life when you’re up and when you’re down, and listen to the joys, the hopes, the sorrows and the heartaches of those you are called to preach to. A homily by one who is a listener is a homily from someone who has a home in their heart for the Word of God, and that Word will nourish the word they use when they proclaim the Word.
    And remember above all that you are called to preach the Good News, both in season and out.

  4. Sister Maria says:

    Dear friend,
    Just very nice to have fallen over your blog accidentally. For us in our community, the Word synod was a daily excitement; we shared the Synod Fathers’ contributions with fascination and enthusiasm. After some of the things one meets on the net, it is such a relief to feel there are other people who think that the Lord, life and the liturgy are about truth and joy and to be lived as Jp the Great said in the eucharistic spirituality of openness, affection, forgiveness and understanding…..

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