What are Homilies Supposed to be Like?

fr. earlYou may have noticed, especially if you go to daily Mass, that homilies can be a varied sort. The questioner of this monthly’s column key’s on that point and asks Fr. Earl Fernandes, Dean and Associate Professor of Moral Theology at the Athenaeum of Ohio, what’s up, in this his October column for The Catholic Telegraph.

Dear Father, What’s the purpose of a homily? Is it to reflect on the scriptures, to teach or give catechism, to talk about the saint of the day or current events?

Dear Reader, the answer to your questions can be found in recent church documents. Your question deals with the function of the homily. First, we need to look at its context. Pope Francis (Evangelii gaudium, 135) teaches that “The homily can actually be an intense and happy experience of the Spirit, a consoling encounter with God’s word, a constant source of renewal and growth.” Benedict XVI noted (Verbum Domini, 6): “The novelty of biblical revelation consists in the fact that God becomes known through the dialogue which he desires to have with us.” Pope Francis also proposes this dialogical approach, situating the homily within its liturgical context (EG, 137): “The homily has special importance due to its eucharistic context: it surpasses all forms of catechesis as the supreme moment in the dialogue between God and his people which lead up to sacramental communion. The homily takes up once more the dialogue which the Lord has already established with his people.”

The Lord Jesus was a preacher. His first homily (Mk 1:14-15) was remarkably short: “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” In Preaching the Mystery of Faith, the US Bishops point out, “All effective homilies have this sense of urgency and freshness, revealing the startling beauty and the promise of the Kingdom of God and of the Jesus who embodies it…” The homily intends to bring about conversion of heart and belief. The bishops continue: “A good homily is an occasion to find healing precisely through confidence in Christ Jesus.”

The bishops reflect on the disciples’ journey on the road to Emmaus, during which they encounter the Risen Lord (Luke 24:13-35). The homily should be like this dialogical encounter and journey, inflaming the heart and helping the faithful recognize Him in the “breaking of the Bread.” It is an encounter with the Risen Lord and, therefore, out to be deeply rooted in the Paschal Mystery. This encounter happens for real people in concrete situations; hence, the need to speak to current events and to be relevant: “First, the homilist is speaking to people, who are at least to some degree, searching for Jesus Christ and the meaning that the Gospel can give to their lives.”

Pope Francis reminds us what a homily is not (EG, 138): “The homily cannot be a form of entertainment like those presented by the media, yet it does need to give life and meaning to the celebration. It is a distinctive genre, since it is preaching situated within the framework of a liturgical celebration; hence it should be brief and avoid taking on the semblance of a speech or a lecture.”

Continue reading What are Homilies Supposed to be Like?

Feature photo, Early Parchment Leaf,courtesy of Creative Commons/flickr.

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