The homily: “The homily is part of the liturgical action and is meant to foster a deeper understanding of the word of God, so that it can bear fruit in the lives of the faithful. […] For this reason preachers need to be in close and constant contact with the sacred text; they should prepare for the homily by meditation and prayer, so as to preach with conviction and passion” (Benedict XVI, Apostolic Exhortation, Verbum Domini, No. 59).
After two straight weeks of joyously positive experiences at a graduate’s coloquium marking the successful conclusion to years of study, and a beautiful convocation and liturgy presided over by his excellency Howard Hubbard, bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, I felt my faith in our Roman Catholic tradition was in a phase of regeneration and revitalization; then I just happened, as if nudged to the television room to watch the celebration of the Sunday Eucharistic liturgy at St Patrick’s RC church in Ravena, New York, presided over by none other than Fr James Kane, the so-called “pastor” of that starving flock, and who is also director of the Commission for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany. It was then and there that I felt that sinking, bitter feeling rising again!
No sooner had Kane concluded the reading of the Gospel than he set off on a mercenary, pharisaical, pecuniary, worldly diatribe on the Bishop’s Appeal, and continued his disgraceful performance with a detailed, almost scrupulous step-by-step instruction on how to complete the Bishop’s Appeal envelope, and proceeding to instruct the greeters and ushers on how to collect the envelopes. The entire pitch was made from the ambo, with the Gospel (Lectionary) open in front of him and serving as a convenient support while he filled out a [mock] envelope during his “teaching.” All of this immediately following the Gospel proclamation and in lieu of the homily!
Isn’t Kane aware that this sort of worldly administrative junk is to be done at the end of the liturgy, during the time set aside for idiotic announcements?!?
To my knowledge, Jesus Christ is not depicted on any currency denomination of any nation; so why does Kane take the time reserved for breaking open the word, probably the only time much of the congregation has for catechesis at all during the week, to talk about Bishop’s Appeal, filling out envelopes, and tithing? True, the local bishop can make exceptions but only in very special circumstances and I doubt that even in the Albany Diocese the time for homily and teaching would be set aside for Kane’s abominable display. In his ecumenical and interfaith activities, has Kane become contaminated with some of the bad habits and obsessions of the Reformists? (Probably not. At least they know how to preach.)
For Kane’s benefit, here are some notes on the importance of the homily:
The “Homily” is treatise given during the Catholic Mass in which the priest or deacon discusses the readings of that day (old testament, epistle, and gospel readings), not the bishop’s appeal! The Priest may discuss how the daily readings from the Bible relate to issues of the day and other moral and religious points he wishes to make. Not how to fill out the bishop’s appeal envelope! Homilies are the kind of preaching that was used by the Apostles and Fathers in addressing the faithful. The homily is expository of the Word (sermo in latin) of God and therefore is not considered a sermon, the Word of God itself. This time for the Liturgy of the Word is not set aside to instruct greeters and ushers how to hand out envelopes or to inform those in the pew where the pencils are!
A group of theology students receive this lesson from an elderly teacher of homiletics – the art of writing and delivering homilies: “When you preach, remember that the first five minutes are for God, the second five are for the faithful, and the third for the devil.” Alongside the “guidebook” for the “Catholically correct” believer, there is something similar for “updated” homilies for services. The homily doesn’t always capture the attention of the faithful during Mass – quite the contrary. So why don’t we teach our so-called preachers how to preach?!?
The problem is quite clear to the men of the Church. Benedict XVI became concerned with the issue two years ago with his post-synod apostolic exhortation Verbum Domini, which gathers the reflections and proposals emerging from the XII General Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which met at the Vatican from 5 to 26 October 2008 with the theme “The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church.” The Pontiff’s theological recommendation was to “avoid generic and abstract homilies” as well as “useless digressions.” In short, the quality of sermons “must be improved.”
“Sacred scripture is of the greatest importance in the celebration of the liturgy. For it is from scripture that lessons are read and explained in the homily, and psalms are sung; the prayers, collects, and liturgical songs are scriptural in their inspiration and their force, and it is from the scriptures that actions and signs derive their meaning. Thus to achieve the restoration, progress, and adaptation of the sacred liturgy, it is essential to promote that warm and living love for scripture to which the venerable tradition of both eastern and western rites gives testimony.” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, No. 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; the homily, therefore, is to be highly esteemed as part of the liturgy itself; in fact, at those Masses which are celebrated with the assistance of the people on Sundays and feasts of obligation, it should not be omitted except for a serious reason.” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, No. 52)
“Sacred theology rests on the written word of God, together with sacred tradition, as its primary and perpetual foundation. By scrutinizing in the light of faith all truth stored up in the mystery of Christ, theology is most powerfully strengthened and constantly rejuvenated by that word. For the Sacred Scriptures contain the word of God and since they are inspired really are the word of God; and so the study of the sacred page is, as it were, the soul of sacred theology. (3) By the same word of Scripture the ministry of the word also, that is, pastoral preaching, catechetics and all Christian instruction, in which the liturgical homily must hold the foremost place, is nourished in a healthy way and flourishes in a holy way.” (Dei Verbum, No. 24)
“The proclamation of the Gospel and the homily are reserved to the ordained, while a lay person is prohibited from preaching at any time during Mass, even in the cases of a seminarian or pastoral assistant. Instructions or testimonies by a lay person, however, may be given after the Prayer after Communion for a serious reason, but the homily should not be omitted. Such matters are regulated by the Diocesan Bishop.” (USCCB, Thirty Questions on the Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum for Diocesan Liturgy and Communications Personnel, No. 18)
On the the importance of the homily, Verbum Domini continues:
“Each member of the People of God “has different duties and responsibilities with respect to the word of God. Accordingly, the faithful listen to God’s word and meditate on it, but those who have the office of teaching by virtue of sacred ordination or have been entrusted with exercising that ministry”, namely, bishops, priests and deacons, “expound the word of God”. Hence we can understand the attention paid to the homily throughout the Synod. In the Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, I pointed out that “given the importance of the word of God, the quality of homilies needs to be improved. The homily ‘is part of the liturgical action’ and is meant to foster a deeper understanding of the word of God, so that it can bear fruit in the lives of the faithful”. The homily is a means of bringing the scriptural message to life in a way that helps the faithful to realize that God’s word is present and at work in their everyday lives. It should lead to an understanding of the mystery being celebrated, serve as a summons to mission, and prepare the assembly for the profession of faith, the universal prayer and the Eucharistic liturgy. Consequently, those who have been charged with preaching by virtue of a specific ministry ought to take this task to heart. Generic and abstract homilies which obscure the directness of God’s word should be avoided, as well as useless digressions which risk drawing greater attention to the preacher than to the heart of the Gospel message. The faithful should be able to perceive clearly that the preacher has a compelling desire to present Christ, who must stand at the centre of every homily. For this reason preachers need to be in close and constant contact with the sacred text; they should prepare for the homily by meditation and prayer, so as to preach with conviction and passion. The synodal assembly asked that the following questions be kept in mind: “What are the Scriptures being proclaimed saying? What do they say to me personally? What should I say to the community in the light of its concrete situation? The preacher “should be the first to hear the word of God which he proclaims”, since, as Saint Augustine says: “He is undoubtedly barren who preaches outwardly the word of God without hearing it inwardly.” The homily for Sundays and solemnities should be prepared carefully, without neglecting, whenever possible, to offer at weekday Masses cum populo brief and timely reflections which can help the faithful to welcome the word which was proclaimed and to let it bear fruit in their lives. (Verbum Domini, No. 59)
“As Saint Jerome reminds us, preaching needs to be accompanied by the witness of a good life: “Your actions should not contradict your words, lest when you preach in Church, someone may begin to think: ‘So why don’t you yourself act that way?’ … In the priest of Christ, thought and word must be in agreement”. (Verbum Domini, No. 60)
I had occasion to comment on another recent televised liturgy at St Patrick’s when I observed the deacon, James O’Rourke, in total oblivion of what was going on at the altar while he was conspicuously occupied with what was going on in the pews. (See my post Deacon Watch: The Distracted Deacon. )
This most recent circus performance from the ambo was an absolute disgrace. Kane has been the subject of a great number of adverse observations from members of that parish community and he’s not collecting better marks as he continues his interfaith adaptations of the Roman liturgy. Get on the same page as the rest of us Kane or take a hike! But more than that, I hope that this post has helped Fr Kane to better understand the importance of the homily.
Here are some selected quotes from the Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini: Selected Quotes from Verbum Domini (Zenit).
To learn more about the community in which Fr James Kane operates the Church of St Patrick, visit the blog at Smalbany.
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hireling and not a shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hireling and cares nothing for the sheep. (John 10:1-30)