Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Pope Francis on the homily

One might not expect humour in an Apostolic Exhortation, but Pope Francis does provide it. Here is what he has to say as part of his treatment of the homily in  Evangelii Gaudium nn.135 ff.:
We know that the faithful attach great importance to it, and that both they and their ordained ministers suffer because of homilies: the laity from having to listen to them and the clergy from having to preach them!
[My own experience suggests that homilies at every weekday Mass can add to this suffering, especially when there is an insistence on preaching on the Scripture readings of the day. Finding something significant to say is not easy, and tediousness too readily results. I am not sure how far Pope Francis example in this regard is one for others to follow.]

That Pope Francis takes the subject seriously, though, is indicated by the sentence which immediately precedes the above:
The homily is the touchstone for judging a pastor’s closeness and ability to communicate to his people.
and by the observations that follow it:
It is sad that this is the case. 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.

Let us renew our confidence in preaching, based on the conviction that it is God who seeks to reach out to others through the preacher, and that he displays his power through human words.
Pope Francis goes on to offer an extensive treatment of the art of preaching during the Liturgy, a treatment that is of considerable interest. He assumes that the homily will be on the Scripture readings, though the rubrics do allow the other Liturgical texts, or, indeed, the saint of the day, to be the subject of the homily. There is a particularly interesting reflection on the homily in its Liturgical context, seeing it as a moment in the dialogue between God and his people and oriented towards bringing both the preacher and the congregation to a communion with God in the Eucharist. Pope Francis is characteristically forthright when he concludes a paragraph asking pastors to prioritise giving time to preparing the Sunday homily, even if that means setting aside other activities, by saying:
Trust in the Holy Spirit who is at work during the homily is not merely passive but active and creative. It demands that we offer ourselves and all our abilities as instruments (cf. Rom 12:1) which God can use. A preacher who does not prepare is not "spiritual"; he is dishonest and irresponsible with the gifts he has received.
[It is worth noting that an unscripted homily is not necessarily an unprepared homily, though an unprepared homily will certainly be unscripted. I do not expect that Pope Francis homilies at morning Mass in the Casa Santa Marta are delivered without some preparation.]

No comments: