Friday, December 07, 2007

Excerpti: The Homily, Part III: What is the purpose of the homily?

This is the third installment in the current Excerpti (extracts) series on the homily. This is Part III: What is the purpose of the homily?

First, here are two dynamite quotes:
  • "The best catechesis on the Eucharist is the Eucharist itself well celebrated." (Synod of Bishops, XI Ordinary General Assembly, Propositiones, n. 19)
  • "Given the importance of the word of God, the quality of homilies needs to be improved." (Pope Benedict XVI, Sacramentum Caritatis, n. 46)
There seems to be a common misconception that all the homily is, is an explanation of the Scripture that was read and an application of it to our lives. (Of course, there's an equally common misconception that a homily is where off-topic jokes are told and valuable football-watching time is wasted.) A homily is more than that. In addition to exposition on Scripture, the homily teaches the faithful about the truths and mysteries of the faith, about proper Christian behavior, and about the liturgy itself.
  • The homily teaches and illustrates the truths and mysteries of the faith as well as the norms for Christian living, touching upon the whole of Christian teaching. (Cf. CIC, can. 386 §1, 528 §1, can. 767 §1; CCEO, can. 614 §1)
  • The homily provides liturgical catechesis. (Cf. GIRM, n. 13)
  • The homily explains the texts heard in the liturgy. (Cf. GIRM, nn. 29, 55, 65)
  • The homily is based on Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium. (Cf. Divino Afflante Spiritu, n. 50; GIRM, n. 65; Redemptionis Sacramentum, n. 67)
  • The homily should be relevant to the liturgical celebration of the day or season. (Cf. GIRM, n. 65)
  • The quality of homilies must improve: they must not be generic or abstract, they must not dwell solely on the profane and political, and they must not use pseudo-religious material as sources. (Cf. Redemptionis Sacramentum, n. 67; Sacramentum Caritatis, n. 46)
Western Canon Law
"The diocesan Bishop is bound to teach and illustrate to the faithful the truths of faith which are to be believed and applied to behavior. ... He is also to ensure ... that the whole of Christian teaching is transmitted to all." (CIC, can. 386 §1)

"The parish priest ... is therefore to see to it that the lay members of Christ's faithful are instructed in the truths of faith, especially by means of the homily on Sundays and holydays of obligation and by catechetical formation." (CIC, can. 528 §1)

"In the course of the liturgical year, the mysteries of faith and the rules of Christian living are to be expounded in the homily from the sacred text." (CIC, can. 767 §1)

Eastern Canon Law
"The homily, in which during the course of the liturgical year the mysteries of faith and the norms of Christian living are expounded from Sacred Scripture, is strongly recommended as part of the liturgy itself." (CCEO, can. 614 §1)

Other Documents
"[T]he holy Synod charges pastors, and all who have the cure of souls, that they frequently, during the celebration of mass, expound either by themselves, or others, some portion of those things which are read at mass, and that, amongst the rest, they explain some mystery of this most holy sacrifice, especially on the Lord's days and festivals." (Council of Trent, 1562 - Session XXII, Chapter VIII)

"Let priests therefore ... assiduously distribute the heavenly treasures of the divine word by sermons, homilies and exhortations; let them confirm the Christian doctrine by sentences from the Sacred Books and illustrate it by outstanding examples from sacred history and in particular from the Gospel of Christ Our Lord; and - avoiding with the greatest care those purely arbitrary and far-fetched adaptations, which are not a use, but rather an abuse of the divine word - let them set forth all this with such eloquence, lucidity and clearness that the faithful may not only be moved and inflamed to reform their lives, but may also conceive in their hearts the greatest veneration for the Sacred Scripture." (Pope Pius XII, 1943 - Divino Afflante Spiritu, n. 50)

"... the homily or sermon in which the official head of the congregation recalls and explains the practical bearing of the commandments of the divine Master and the chief events of His life, combining instruction with appropriate exhortation and illustration of the benefit of all his listeners." (Pope Pius XII, 1947 - Mediator Dei, n. 21)

"For it is from scripture that lessons are read and explained in the homily[.]" (Second Vatican Council, 1963 - Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 24)

"By means of the homily the mysteries of the faith and the guiding principles of the Christian life are expounded from the sacred text, during the course of the liturgical year[.]" (Second Vatican Council, 1963 - Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 52)

"Within the cycle of a year, moreover, [Holy Mother Church] unfolds the whole mystery of Christ, from the incarnation and birth until the ascension, the day of Pentecost, and the expectation of blessed hope and of the coming of the Lord. Recalling thus the mysteries of redemption, the Church opens to the faithful the riches of her Lord's powers and merits, so that these are in some way made present for all time, and the faithful are enabled to lay hold upon them and become filled with saving grace." (Second Vatican Council, 1963 - Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 102)

"A homily on the sacred text means an explanation, pertinent to the mystery celebrated and the special needs of the listeners, of some point in either the readings from sacred Scripture or in another text from the Ordinary or Proper of the day's Mass." (Sacred Congregation of Rites, 1964 - Inter Oecumenici, n. 54)

"Because the homily is part of the liturgy for the day, any syllabus proposed for preaching within the Mass during certain periods must keep intact the intimate connection with at least the principal seasons and feasts of the liturgical year, {Cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium, nn. 102-104} that is, with the mystery of redemption." (Sacred Congregation of Rites, 1964 - Inter Oecumenici, n. 55)

Regarding the celebration of marriage outside of Mass: "After the reading of the epistle and gospel from the Missa pro sponsis, there shall be a sermon or homily based on the sacred text. {Cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 52}" (Sacred Congregation of Rites, 1964 - Inter Oecumenici, n. 74/a)

"The people have the right to be nourished by the word of God proclaimed and explained. Accordingly priests are to give a homily whenever it is prescribed or seems advisable[.]" (Sacred Congregation of Rites, 1967 - Eucharisticum Mysterium, n. 20)

"The homily has as its purpose to explain to the faithful the word of God just proclaimed and to adapt it to the mentality of the times. The priest, therefore, is the homilist; the congregation is to refrain from comments, attempts at dialogue, or anything similar." (Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship, 1970 - Liturgicae Instaurationes, n. 2/a)

"[T]he homily ... explains the Word of God proclaimed in the liturgical assembly for the faithful there present, in a manner suited to their capacity and way of life, and relative to the circumstances of the celebration." (?, ???? - Eucharistiae Participationem, n. 15)

"The homily explaining the word of God should be given great prominence in all Masses with children." (Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship, 1973 - Directorium de missis cum pueris, n. 48)

"This remark is even more valid for the catechesis given in the setting of the liturgy, especially at the Eucharistic assembly. Respecting the specific nature and proper cadence of this setting, the homily takes up again the journey of faith put forward by catechesis, and brings it to its natural fulfillment. At the same time it encourages the Lord's disciples to begin anew each day their spiritual journey in truth, adoration and thanksgiving. Accordingly, one can say that catechetical teaching too finds its source and its fulfillment in the Eucharist, within the whole circle of the liturgical year. Preaching, centered upon the Bible texts, must then in its own way make it possible to familiarize the faithful with the whole of the mysteries of the faith and with the norms of Christian living. Much attention must be given to the homily: it should be neither too long nor too short; it should always be carefully prepared, rich in substance and adapted to the hearers, and reserved to ordained ministers." (Pope John Paul II, 1979 - Catechesi Tradendae, n. 48)

"The reading of Scripture cannot be replaced by the reading of other texts, however much they may be endowed with undoubted religious and moral values. ... Indeed the homily is supremely suitable for the use of such texts, provided that their content corresponds to the required conditions, since it is one of the tasks that belong to the nature of the homily to show the points of convergence between revealed divine wisdom and noble human thought seeking the truth by various paths." (Pope John Paul II, 1979 - Dominicae Cenae, n. 10)

"The purpose of the homily is to explain to the faithful the Word of God proclaimed in the readings, and to apply its message to the present." (Sacred Congregation for Sacraments and Divine Worship, 1980 - Inaestimabile Donum, n. 3)

"Christ is present in his word as proclaimed in the assembly and which, commented upon in the homily, is to be listened to in faith and assimilated in prayer." (Pope John Paul II, 1988 - Vicesimus quintus annus, n. 7)

"In the Catholic Eucharistic Liturgy, the homily which forms part of the liturgy itself is reserved to the priest or deacon, since it is the presentation of the mysteries of faith and the norms of Christian living in accordance with Catholic teaching and tradition. {Cf. CIC, can. 767 and CCEO, can. 614 §4}" (Directory on Ecumenism, n. 134)

"The homily, being an eminent form of preaching, qua per anni liturgici cursum ex textu sacro fidei mysteria et normae vitae christianae exponuntia, {Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 52; cf. CIC, can. 767, §1} also forms part of the liturgy." (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 1997 - Ecclesiae de Mysterio, art. 3 §1)

"Indeed, since the use of the vernacular in the Sacred Liturgy may certainly be considered an important means for presenting more clearly the catechesis regarding the mystery that is inherent in the celebration itself, the Second Vatican Council also ordered that certain prescriptions of the Council of Trent that had not been followed everywhere be brought to fruition, such as the homily..." (GIRM, n. 13)

"Although in the readings from Sacred Scripture God’s word is addressed to all people of every era and is understandable to them, nevertheless, a fuller understanding and a greater effectiveness of the word is fostered by a living commentary on the word, that is, the homily, as part of the liturgical action. {Cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 52}" (GIRM, n. 29)

"[I]n the readings, as explained by the homily, God speaks to his people, opening up to them the mystery of redemption and salvation and offering them spiritual nourishment; and Christ himself is present in the midst of the faithful through his word." (GIRM, n. 55)

"The homily is ... necessary for the nurturing of the Christian life. It should be an exposition of some aspect of the readings from Sacred Scripture or of another text from the Ordinary or from the Proper of the Mass of the day and should take into account both the mystery being celebrated and the particular needs of the listeners. {Inter Oecumenici, n. 54}" (GIRM, n. 65)

"Particular care is to be taken so that the homily is firmly based upon the mysteries of salvation, expounding the mysteries of the Faith and the norms of Christian life from the biblical readings and liturgical texts throughout the course of the liturgical year and providing commentary on the texts of the Ordinary or the Proper of the Mass, or of some other rite of the Church. {Cf. Council of Trent, Session XXII, Chapter VIII; GIRM, n. 65} It is clear that all interpretations of Sacred Scripture are to be referred back to Christ Himself as the one upon whom the entire economy of salvation hinges, though this should be done in light of the specific context of the liturgical celebration. In the homily to be given, care is to be taken so that the light of Christ may shine upon life's events. Even so, this is to be done so as not to obscure the true and unadulterated word of God: for instance, treating only of politics or profane subjects, or drawing upon notions derived from contemporary pseudo-religious currents as a source." (Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, 2004 - Redemptionis Sacramentum, n. 67)

"The Council Fathers also urged the celebrant to treat the homily as part of the liturgy, aimed at explaining the word of God and drawing out its meaning for the Christian life. {Cf. Sacrosanctum Consilium, 52}" (Pope John Paul II, 2004 - Mane Nobiscum Domine, n. 13)

"The best catechesis on the Eucharist is the Eucharist itself well celebrated. Because of this ordained ministers are asked to consider the celebration as their main duty. In particular, they must prepare the homily with care, basing themselves on an appropriate knowledge of Sacred Scripture. The homily should put the Word of God, proclaimed in the celebration, in profound relationship with the sacramental celebration {cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 52} and with the life of the community, so that the Word of God is the foundation and life of the Church and is transformed in food by prayer and daily life. The homily molded by the teachings of the Fathers of the Church is a true mystagogy, that is, a true initiation to the mysteries celebrated and lived. In addition, the possibility was suggested of taking recourse – stemming from the triennial lectionary – to 'thematic' homilies that, in the course of the liturgical year, could address the great topics of the Christian faith: the Creed, the Our Father, the parts of the Mass, the Ten Commandments and other arguments. These thematic homilies should correspond to what has again been authoritatively proposed by the Magisterium of the Church in the four 'pillars' of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and in the recent Compendium. With this objective, the elaboration of pastoral material was proposed, based on the triennial lectionary, which puts the proclamation of the Scriptures in relationship with the doctrines of the faith that spring from the same." (Synod of Bishops, XI Ordinary General Assembly, 2005 - Propositiones, n. 19)

"Given the importance of the word of God, the quality of homilies needs to be improved. The homily is ... meant to foster a deeper understanding of the word of God, so that it can bear fruit in the lives of the faithful. Hence ordained ministers must 'prepare the homily carefully, based on an adequate knowledge of Sacred Scripture' {Propositio 19}. Generic and abstract homilies should be avoided. In particular, I ask these ministers to preach in such a way that the homily closely relates the proclamation of the word of God to the sacramental celebration {Cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 52} and the life of the community, so that the word of God truly becomes the Church's vital nourishment and support. The catechetical and paraenetic aim of the homily should not be forgotten. During the course of the liturgical year it is appropriate to offer the faithful, prudently and on the basis of the three-year lectionary, 'thematic' homilies treating the great themes of the Christian faith, on the basis of what has been authoritatively proposed by the Magisterium in the four 'pillars' of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the recent Compendium, namely: the profession of faith, the celebration of the Christian mystery, life in Christ and Christian prayer. {Cf. Propositio 19}" (Pope Benedict XVI, 2007 - Sacramentum Caritatis, n. 46)


Tim A. Troutman said...

And here I was beginning to think the homilies were the part where the priest turns into a stand up comedian.

Thanks for this helpful series. Lots of useful information in there.

Anonymous said...

Lots of good stuff, indeed! Thanks for inviting me to scope it out--I'm "a catechist" from Fr. Z's. I've recently been looking for books on preaching & I'm struck that liberals seem over-represented in the field, mostly of the subtle sort--it shows up the the examples and authors they cite, and the omission of pro-life issues from "social justice" topics. But there's great stuff here & I appreciate it. I wish there were a top-notch book on preaching written by a conservative, but I haven't found it yet.

Glad to read you're interested in the permanent diaconate. I hope your wife is on the same page about that; when you're old enough to look into it seriously, you should be sure to ask the diocese's policy for the wife's participation in formation, which varies a great deal from one diocese to another. IT's unfortunately the case that many dioceses' expectations of the wife's attendance at classes makes it difficult (if not impossible) to become a deacon while building a family. I've certainly come across dioceses that say if the wife can't spend 8 hrs or a weekend away from the kids, the couple shouldn't apply. This policy can change, but if you're serious about it, you would do well to ask now how accommodating the program is to wives who might not be able to attend some classes because of breastfeeding or infant care. We were in a dioc. that was going to tell us to wait because of this, despite the fact I (the wife) am qualified to teach many of the classes and don't really need to sit through them. PRovidence is perfect--we moved to a more family-friendly diocese.

It's interesting that there are a number of deacons' websites out there (Deacon's Bench is good), but basicaly nothing at all for/by wives, and the few articles/book out there are not written for young, well-educated, women. I hope that will change soon.

On a lighter note, you might enjoy some of the stuff over at the Sci-Fi Catholic blog.