Vatican City – A homily at Mass is not a mini catechism class, the Vatican says in a new document on homilies, but it is an opportunity to explain Church teaching using readings from Scripture and the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
“In the broadest sense, the homily is a discourse on the mysteries of faith and the norms of Christian life,” says the Homiletical Directory published by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments.
Dated June 29, 2014 and approved by Pope Francis, the repertoire was published at the Vatican on February 10, along with an appendix of passages from the catechism corresponding to each of the three readings of the triennial cycle of Sunday and major masses. holy days. It also includes notes on preaching at weddings and funerals, two occasions when, he says, many of those present may not be regular congregants.
Guinean Cardinal Robert Sarah, whom Pope Francis named prefect of the congregation of worship in November, told reporters that for many Catholics, the homily, experienced as “beautiful or awful, interesting or boring”, is their basis to judge an entire mass.
British Archbishop Arthur Roche, the congregation’s secretary, said it was important that “a homily is not boring”. Looking at Francis’ homilies, he says, “there is nothing boring. There is always something that challenges people. That’s the point.”
Montfort Missionary Father. Corrado Maggioni, undersecretary of the congregation, said lay people can help their priests. “We priests maybe need someone to tell us, ‘It’s too long’, ‘It’s too repetitive’ or maybe ‘Small notes might help you not go off on a thousand tangents ‘.”
Pope Benedict XVI had asked the congregation to write the repertoire after many participants in the 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist and the 2008 Synod on the Word of God requested a manual to help priests in their homilies.
Because of the “integral link” between the homily and the Eucharist and because the homily itself is “an act of adoration”, the directory reaffirms the discipline of the Church that only ordained ministers – bishops , priests or deacons – must deliver the homily at Masse.
“Well-trained lay leaders can also give strong instructions and moving exhortations, and opportunities for such presentations should be provided in other settings,” but not at this time after the readings and before the Eucharistic liturgy at Mass, he said.
By preaching at Mass, the homilist must show people how the word of God is fulfilled in their midst, how it calls them to growth and conversion and how it prepares them to celebrate the Eucharist, says the Directory.
“The homily somehow parallels the distribution of the body and blood of the Lord to the faithful during the communion rite,” he says. “In the homily, the holy word of God is ‘distributed’ for the nourishment of his people.”
The document includes quotes from the long section on the preparation and delivery of homilies in Francis’ 2013 Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”), including his belief and practice that the homily “should be brief”.
In making suggestions, the directory notes that its application can and should vary depending on the congregation and the individual preacher with his “gifts and limitations.”
In general, however, it is said that an effective homily always requires prayer, preparation, knowledge of who will be in the congregation, reflection on what is happening in the community and in the world, and an invitation to the Holy Spirit “as the principal agent who makes the hearts of the faithful open to the divine mysteries.”
“The homily will be delivered in a context of prayer,” he says, “and it must be composed in a context of prayer.”
Although the directory offers suggestions on how to relate specific Sunday readings to church teaching on a variety of theological and moral topics, it emphasizes that a homily cannot “address a question completely unrelated to the liturgical celebration and its readings” or “doing violence to the texts provided by the church by twisting them to fit a preconceived idea.”
“The homily is not a catechetical teaching, even though catechesis is an important dimension of the homily,” he says. And, while the preacher’s personal experience may help illustrate a point, “the homily must express the faith of the church and not simply the priest’s own story.”
The second part of the repertoire, centered on “the art of preaching”, gives practical suggestions for linking prayer, Bible study and catechism in the preparation of the homilies for the masses of the Triduum and during Easter time, Christmas time and Sundays of Lent and Advent.
On the Feast of the Holy Family, immediately after Christmas, for example, he encourages preachers not to ignore the “great challenges” facing families, but “rather than just giving a moral exhortation on family values “, they should reflect on how the readings present the family as a school of virtue and discipleship.
It even includes suggestions for handling this Sunday’s optional reading which includes verses 3:18-19 from St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians: “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as befits the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and avoid all bitterness towards them.”
The shorter version of the reading is permitted, and the repertoire suggests that priests use the shorter version if they are not going to address the phrase that wives are subordinate to their husbands.
However, says the directory, it is possible to explain the passage. “The originality of the Apostle’s teaching is not that wives should be subject to their husbands; that was simply assumed in the culture of his day,” he says. “What is new, and properly Christian, is, first, that such submission must be mutual” and, second, that “mutual submission in the family is an expression of Christian discipleship”, of giving one’s life for others.