Liturgy Matters — The homily

Dr. Judy Bullock
Dr. Judy Bullock

By Dr. Judy Bullock

Surveys taken in the last few years report that, for most Catholics, the homily is one of the most important parts of the Sunday liturgy. The recent document on liturgical preaching, “Preaching the Mystery of Faith: The Sunday Homily,” says, “An increasingly important objective of the Sunday homily in our day is to stir the hearts of our people, to deepen their knowledge of the faith, and to renew their living the faith in the world and participation in the church and her sacraments.”

There is the expectation that the homilist will help the people make connections between the Scripture or the texts of the Mass and their everyday lives.

What is the difference between a sermon and a homily?

Although these two words are commonly used interchangeably, there is some distinction in the documentation when it refers to preaching in particular circumstances. The term “homily” is the designated from of preaching at Mass or in the celebration of a sacrament. The homily is to be based on the Scripture readings of the day or one of the liturgical texts of the liturgy.

A sermon is a different type of preaching for other occasions and expresses the teaching mission of the church. Sermons can be thematic or catechetical in nature.

The homilist

Although there are many challenges within the scope of a parish priest’s ministry, the homily may be one of the priest’s most difficult responsibilities. Even with all the helpful resources available to the homilist, the preparation to deliver a homily of quality within the recommended 8-10 minutes requires a great deal of prayer, diligence and time.

The methods for preparation of a homily vary greatly from one person to another. In our archdiocese, small groups of priests gather together for Lectio Divina, a method of prayer and meditation on the Scripture readings. The Gospel for the upcoming Sunday is read aloud, followed by a brief period of prayer and reflection on it.

This process is repeated twice more. Later the group convenes to discuss and share their insights on the Scripture or prayer text.

Other groups of priests take turns preparing and delivering a homily to the group for suggestions on improving the preaching and offering additional reflections on the text.

There are other priests that meet regularly with a group of their own parishioners to read the Scripture or text upon which they will preach. Hearing the responses of their parishioners presents the opportunity to be in touch with the minds and hearts of their parishioners and what they most need.

Even with all of these efforts there are factors today that challenge every homilist. Preaching the Mystery of Faith” points out that the “homilist of today must realize that he is addressing a congregation that is more culturally diverse than previously, one that is profoundly affected by the surrounding secular agenda and, in many instances, inadequately catechized.”

Is there always a homily given on Sunday and Holy Days?

Yes, the homily is always a part of the Liturgy of the Word and is not an optional element of the Mass. A homily is recommended for the weekday Mass as well.

Who may give the homily?

The main celebrant for Mass, the priest presiding at the liturgy, is the homilist. On occasion the presider may delegate this responsibility to a concelebrating priest or even to a deacon. Preaching the homily is the right and duty of the ordained, specifically described in the rites of ordination.

Although lay men and women trained for this ministry and with the permission of the bishop may preach during other types of liturgies or services, when a homily is specified only the ordained may give it.

Dr. Judy Bullock is the director of the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Office of Worship.

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One reply on “Liturgy Matters — The homily”
  1. “a homily of quality within the recommended 8-10 minutes”

    Recommended by whom? Does this come from a particular liturgical document, or is this a diocesan recommendation peculiar to Louisville?
    Our present Holy Father’s wont is toward much shorter ones, it seems to me.
    Benedict’s, IIRC, were considerably longer, but never seemed so.
    In a parish with a crowded Mass schedule, getting the parking spaces empty for the next congregation might dictate a homily that is very…. “pithy” shall we say?
    I think circumstances might allow for, perhaps even demand, a greater range of recommended length for homilies.

    (Save the Liturgy, Save the World)

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