September 10, 2011

The Homily

In my last post on Verbum Domini, we learned a little bit (I hope) about the lectionary. Right after that - both at Mass and in the second part of the Holy Father's exhortation - comes the homily.

The clergy and laity have different responsibilities when it comes to the word of God, but we do all have responsibilities. We laity must listen to and meditate on God's word; that is our duty, not just something we may do in response to really exceptional preaching or a particularly good mood. The homiletics road goes both ways, and the Holy Father both reiterates his call (from the 2007 exhortation "Sacramentum Caritatis") that "the quality of homilies needs to be improved" and reminds laity to "welcome the word which was proclaimed and..let it bear fruit in their lives."

What does this latest exhortation tell us about the homily?
  • It "is meant to foster a deeper understanding of the word of God".
  • A good homily "helps the faithful to realize that God's word is present and at work in their everyday lives."
  • It should not be "generic and abstract" or draw "greater attention to the preacher than to the heart of the Gospel message."
  • Christ "must stand at the centre of every homily."
The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM, PDF version) refers to the homily in several places:
  • The homily is a "living commentary on the word" that should foster "a fuller understanding and a greater efficaciousness of the word". (¶29)
  • It develops the main part of the Liturgy of the Word, which is "the readings from Sacred Scripture together with the chants occuring between them." (¶55)
  • The Priest may give the homily "standing at the chair or at the ambo itself or, if appropriate, in another worthy place". (¶136)
  • "(A) period of silence may be observed", but the General Instruction does not require it. (¶136)
  • The homily may be given by a Deacon (¶171) or a concelebrant (¶213).
  • No other exceptions are listed in the General Instruction; the norm appears to be "(t)he Priest... gives the Homily." (¶136)
We need to pray and support our priests in this aspect of their ministry. The Holy Spirit gives different gifts to different people, and not all priests (just like not all laity) find it as easy to research, write, or deliver a homily. Where there are difficiencies, let's work to build them up. (Consider buying your priest an excellent commentary, like the Navarre Bible or the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible.) And let's not forget to praise the good when we see it, as well. Thank your priest for a good homily, and tell him why it was good.

Let's remember, too, our own responsibilities as laity to listen to Scripture, to read it outside of Mass, and to make it part of our lives. `

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