The Mass in Slow Motion – The Homily

The Homily – So now comes the part of the Mass that is often the most loved and the most hated moment. Preaching consistently well can prove to be a challenge for priests (and deacons) who often live very busy lives and are called to preach all week long at weekday masses, funerals and weddings, in addition to being thoroughly prepared to deliver “a barn-burner” every weekend. No excuses here, just explanations. The homily is obviously a critical moment in the Mass and there are high expectations  that the people of God will be edified and instructed. Sadly, Catholic priests do not have the reputation of being great preachers. We often think we are better than our people think we are. 🙂  One of the chief reasons people say they leave the Church is uninspired preaching compared to the relatively inspired and interesting preaching found in many non-Catholic denominations. There is work to do on improving our preaching to be sure but DON’T leave the Blessed Sacrament to go an sit in a “Word Church!” Even if the preaching is entertaining and informative it just isn’t worth the price of leaving behind Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.   (Also, good preaching can be over-rated. Paul, according to his own words was not a great preacher (1 Cor. 2:1; 2 Cor. 11:5;  Acts 20:7ff) and yet he was the greatest evangelist the Church has known).

So, What is a Homily? Years ago we just called it a “sermon.” Yet, in recent decades the Church has preferred the term “Homily.” This is probably due to the communal nature that the ancient word homily evokes. Homily comes from the Middle English omelie, from Anglo-French, from Late Latin homilia, from Late Greek homilein, and emphasizes a more interpersonal “conversation”, or “discourse” The Greek work homilein means to consort with or to address a kindred or related people. The root word homos meaning “same” is included in the word homily. Hence, this is more than an impersonal address to crowd of people only vaguely known (i.e. a sermon or lecture). Rather, this is a family conversation, a conversation or address to kindred spirits who share much in common (at least we hope!)

History – This is a pre-Christian element in the Liturgy. It was part of the Jewish synagogue service.  It is recorded in scripture that Jesus Himself preached in the synagogue (cf. Luke 4:16-31) Likewise Paul makes use of the synagogue homily to proclaim Christ (e.g. Acts 13:14ff). The early Christians brought the synagogue service into the Mass and thus the homily was tied to the reading of the scriptures. The preaching of a homily was the particular duty of the Bishop but priests were also allowed to preach. In the fourth century in the east, it was the custom, if several priests were present for all of them to preach in turn and then, finally the Bishop (Whew!).  After the fall of Arius (A third Century priest-heretic who denied the divinity of Christ and widely disseminated his views leading countless others into error) priests were forbidden to preach in Alexandria and North Africa. Likewise, in Rome they were also forbidden. This restriction was variously applied and enforced in different areas. Perhaps it should be stated that  the priests of this time were not always the most learned of men. The seminary system as we know it today did not exist and there would be concerns  about the orthodoxy of the sermon as well as its effective delivery. In general then, preaching at Mass seems to have declined after the problems of the third century but it would not be fair to say that it disappeared entirely. This is especially true when we consider that in many of the well established areas of North Africa and Italy there was a bishop present in even the smaller towns.

By the beginning of the Middle Ages there was a strong return to preaching of the Word of God. However, the character and liturgical role was changing. It was modeled more on sermons outside of Mass. There was the rise of the mendicant preaching orders (eg. Franciscans and Dominicans) at this time and they preached outside of the liturgy in town squares and meetings. This form of preaching began to enter the churches and influenced the nature and content of the Homily which became less and less a textual explanation and applications of the readings and  more and more was replaced by a catechetical format in which and an exposition of the Creed, the Our Father and the Ten Commandments was often the focus. This practiced continued to be the norm as a general rule.

The present Instructions emphasize that the homily is a part of the Mass itself and seems to nod to both traditions above. Namely, the homily is not merely to be an explanation of the readings but also should explain the mysteries of faith related to the readings and the liturgy of the day applying them especially to the norms of Christian life (cf. Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy # 52.)


Norms- The homily should develop some point of the readings or of another text from the ordinary or from the proper of the Mass of the day, and take into account the mystery being celebrated and the needs proper to the listeners. The Homily is required on Sundays and holy days of obligation at all Masses that are celebrated with a congregation; it may not be omitted without a serious reason. It is recommended on other days, especially on the weekdays of Advent, Lent, and the Easter season, as well as on other feasts and occasions when the people come to church in large numbers. The homily should ordinarily be given by the priest celebrant.

The homilist must be an ordained member of the clergy. A deacon, a priest, or a bishop may preach. This is not merely a question of being learned, for many members of the laity are quite learned in theological matters. Rather, as Catholics we are convinced that  the sacrament of Holy Orders confers a unique charism and grace which empowers the priest to speak for God in a supernatural manner. The Third Instruction On the Correct Implementation of the Constitution on the SacredLiturgy has the following to say: “…the Purpose of the homily is to explain the readings and make them relevant for the present day. This is the task of the priest. and the faithful should not add comments or engage in dialogue or anything similar during the homily.”(Liturgicae instaurationes # 3, 2.)

Finally we might be end with St. Paul’s Instruction to Timothy regarding the preaching and teaching task of the clergy: Loquare quae decet sanam doctrinam (speak that which befits sound doctrine).

One of our Greatest Catholic Preachers was Bishop Fulton J. Sheen. Here he gives the homily on Matthew 6.


Watch Our Father in Educational |  View More Free Videos Online at Veoh.com

You Know You Should…

.…confess your sins. I have posted on the Biblical roots of this sacrament before. Here is a printable PDF in case you have any doubts about:

  1. Why you should confess your sins to a priest.
  2. Why confession is required of a Bible-believing Christian
  3. Why Confession just makes sense

The PDF is Available here: Confession in Biblical

The following video is humorous and informative. Be sure to watch the outtakes at the the end.

Pentecost Sequence Hymn – Veni Sancte Spiritus

There are several Feasts of the Church wherein a “sequence”  hymn may be sung.  The sequence hymn is sung Just before the the Alleluia (Gospel acclamation). The feasts with sequence hymns are these:

  1. Easter – Victimae Paschali Laudes (To the Paschal Victim give praise)
  2. Pentecost – Veni Sancte Spiritus (Come Holy Spirit)
  3. Corpus Christi – Lauda Sion (Praise O Sion)
  4. Our Lady of Sorrows – Stabat Mater (Stood the Mother sad and weeping)
  5. All Souls – Dies Irae (Day of Wrath)

Since today is Pentecost we ought to sample the sequence hymn for today: Veni Sancte Spiritus. Here is the Latin text and a translation (fairly literal) of my own.

VENI, Sancte Spiritus,
et emitte caelitus
lucis tuae radium.
COME, Holy Spirit,
send forth from heaven
the rays of thy light
Veni, pater pauperum,
veni, dator munerum
veni, lumen cordium.
Come, Father of the poor;
Come, giver of gifts,
Come, light of [our] hearts.
Consolator optime,
dulcis hospes animae,
dulce refrigerium.
Oh best Comforter,
Sweet guest of the soul,
Sweet refreshment.
In labore requies,
in aestu temperies
in fletu solatium.
In Labor rest
in the heat, moderation;
in tears, solace.
O lux beatissima,
reple cordis intima
tuorum fidelium.
O most blessed Light
fill the inmost heart
of thy faithful.
Sine tuo numine,
nihil est in homine,
nihil est innoxium.
Without your spirit,
nothing is in man,
nothing that is harmless
Lava quod est sordidum,
riga quod est aridum,
sana quod est saucium.
Wash that which is sordid
water that which is dry,
heal that which is wounded.
Flecte quod est rigidum,
fove quod est frigidum,
rege quod est devium.
Make flexible that which is rigid,
warm that which is cold,
rule that which is deviant.
Da tuis fidelibus,
in te confidentibus,
sacrum septenarium.
Give to thy faithful,
who trust in thee
the sevenfold gifts.
Da virtutis meritum,
da salutis exitum,
da perenne gaudium,
Amen, Alleluia.
Grant to us the merit of virtue,
Grant salvation at our going forth,
Grant eternal joy.
Amen. Alleluia.

Here is the trational Gregorian Chant of this sequence:

And here is a rather nice modern version of the same text:


Pentecost Reading

Here is a dramatic reading of the Pentecost reading from Acts 2. Liberties are taken with the text but it is still all basically there. Enjoy and heed. God wants to set this word on fire. But you and I are meant to be the tongues of fire.

The Church’s Photo Album

Every now and then we Catholics get asked about statues and images. Sometimes we get accused of “worshiping” them. Well actually that would be pretty strange and stupid since plaster and marble and paint on canvas can’t hear us or respond. Not much of a god if you ask me. Of course we don’t worship these things, we aren’t stupid.

But what is with these statues and pictures? Why do we have them? Well the question is kind of odd since most people who ask us this really already have the answer. When I get asked this question I ask another question in return: “Do you have pictures of your family in your home, in your wallet or at your office?”  Most answer “yes.””Why?” I ask. The usual answer amounts to the fact that these things “remind me of my loved ones.” Exactly. And so to statues and images of saints. They remind us of family members (the saints) who have lived heroic lives.  While it is not common for us to have statues of loved ones in our homes, it is common to see such things in State Houses and museums. Just a little more formal than a painting or photo but its the same idea.

So really, folks ought to lighten up on us a bit. We are neither stupid nor idolaters here. We’re just venerating the memory of heroes who have gone before us. We are reminded to ask their prayers and imitate their example.

Here is another video from that Catholic Show that speaks on this topic further. I have one quibble with the video. It seems to imply that statues and pictures only came into use in the Church after the Renaissance. In fact they have been with us almost from the start. All the way back in the 8th Century the Church struggled with the Iconoclasts (image smashers) who went through churches smashing statues and images. They claimed it broke the commandment against idolatry. But the Church ruled that there was no violation of the commandment in the use of images for the reasons stated above. But the point here is that images and statues were in use far back before the Renaissance.

Even More Beautiful Churches

I put this video together, this time focusing on exteriors. The music is Nisi Dominus sung by the Majorstua Kammerkor. The Text of the psalm is rather long to produce in full here but the opening text, translated from the Latin, goes as thus:

Unless the Lord build the house, those that labor to build it do so in vain. In vain is your earlier rising and your going later to rest, you who toil for the bread you eat. For God pours gifts on his beloved when they slumber!

Enjoy the Video

More Self-Inflicted Wounds??

The latest issue of Gloria TV  News contains a strange and troubling event from the Church in Vienna. It appears that a rather appalling (and ugly) statue of a recently beatified saint is to go on display in St. Stephens Cathedral. Here is the text from the video:

Today, a sculpture allegedly representing Sr. Restituta Kafka will be unveiled in St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna. Sr. Restituta was arrested and murdered by the Nazis during the Second World War. In June 98 she was declared a blessed by Pope John Paul II. Her new sculpture shows a female face without veil and with big breasts. It will be placed in a side-chapel of St. Stephen’s Cathedral. The bust was created by Alfred Hrdlicka, the same artist who caused a worldwide scandal with a painting representing Christ’s Last Supper as a homosexual orgy. The controversial painting was exposed in the diocesan museum of Vienna. Hrdlicka calls himself an atheist and Stalinist.

It is unfortunate enough when modern artists attack the Church and the faith of simple believers, but it is even more troubling when Catholic Church leaders accept and display such “art.” Why has the Cathedral contracted with an artist who has clearly demonstrated contempt for the faith and who apparently has a thirst for scandal?  Once the artwork was completed and so clearly vulgar and impious why does the Cathedral display it?  Where is the local Archbishop in all this? Why these self-inflicted wounds? Clearly there are many who hate and ridicule our faith and relish in scandalizing the faithful, so why are we paying for this and displaying it? I feel safe in saying this would not happen in the Cathedral of Washington.

There is another item in this news report from Gloria TV on the question of the words of consecration: The Hungarian Bishops’ Conference has decided to implement a longtime wish of the Pope. Beginning with the coming feast of Pentecost the words used in Mass during the consecration of the chalice will be brought in line with the Latin original and with the Gospels. The present wording will thus be changed to say that Christ died “for many” instead of the current “for all.” While it s true that it is the wish of God to save all, it nevertheless reamins true that not all accept his offer of salvation. In a time when many people maintain unbiblical notions that just about every one will be saved, it is important that our prayers refelct the more sober biblical teaching that many in fact are lost (cf Matt 7:14 inter al.) For this reason, and for the important reason that our prayer texts correspond to scriptural texts, the Pope has asked that incorrect translations be fixed. Here in America a new translation is coming forth that reflects the correction.

Here is the video in reference. WARNING: the video contains some vulgar photos displaying the “art” in question. The photos are presented in order for the viewer to understand the story.

Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide – Catholic Teaching

One of my privileges as a priest is to have accompanied many people on their final journey toward death. I also journeyed with my father in his last days. (My mother died suddenly so I was not able to do that with her).  But in making these journeys  I have come to discover that some of God’s greatest and most necessary work takes place in and during the dying process.  When a person who has faith is dying many powerful things begin to happen. I have seen pride melt away, I have seen powerful contrition for past sins emerge. I have seen gratitude intensify, both in the one who is dying and in the love ones who surround him or her.  I have heard beautiful words like, “I just want to be with God now….I want to go home.” I have seem a letting go and a letting of God take over.  And even in the painful sight of once strong individuals reduced to weakness there is a kind of strange beauty. In the nursing homes of this land are people who once ran businessness, raised families, and led communities. Now many have returned to a kind of infancy. They cannot walk, or only with effort, some have to be fed, some can no longer talk, some clutch dolls and many even wear diapers. All this seems so horrible to many but important things are happening. The Lord says, Unless you change and become like little children you will not inherit the kingdom of God.   (Mat 18:3) And really are those in nursing homes really so different than you and me right now. Are we not little children to God? Does he not have to provide for our every need? Does he not have to feed us, clothe us and enable us to speak? Perhaps with the elderly and dying it is just that the illusion of self-sufficiency has been shed.

So, among the elderly and dying there is important work being done by God. Yet today our world frequently does not understand or accept God’s ways. There is a kind of hatred of the Cross and a refusal to accept that the cross and suffering both have important roles n our lives.  Increasingly there are those among us who demand the right to assisted suicide and that doctors should be legally permitted to end lives .  In the midst of this, we as Christians must once again reaffirm our acceptance of the cross. We must also reaffirm God’s absolute sovereignty over the time and manner of our death. For individuals to demand a right to end their life ultimately threatens us all because it implicitly denies the dignity of the dying. Failing to understand this dignity will lead to poorer care and increasing pressure for the dying to end their lives and no longer burden us. Further it arrogantly ends God’s work, either considering it unnecessary or unfair. No one likes the cross, but as Christians we have been taught by Christ that the cross is both necessary and saving. Think carefully before you support assisted suicide through some sort of limited notion of compassion. The truest compassion is to want for someone what they truly need to be saved. Only God can ultimately say what this is. We do not have dignity because we can control our lives, we have dignity because our life is in God’s hands.

Here are some quotes from the Catechism on this topic:

Those whose lives are diminished or weakened deserve special respect. Sick or handicapped persons should be helped to lead lives as normal as possible. Whatever its motives and means, direct euthanasia consists in putting an end to the lives of handicapped, sick, or dying persons. It is morally unacceptable. Thus an act or omission which, of itself or by intention, causes death in order to eliminate suffering constitutes a murder gravely contrary to the dignity of the human person and to the respect due to the living God, his Creator. The error of judgment into which one can fall in good faith does not change the nature of this murderous act, which must always be forbidden and excluded.

Discontinuing medical procedures that are burdensome, dangerous, extraordinary, or disproportionate to the expected outcome can be legitimate; it is the refusal of “over-zealous” treatment. Here one does not will to cause death; one’s inability to impede it is merely accepted. The decisions should be made by the patient if he is competent and able or, if not, by those legally entitled to act for the patient, whose reasonable will and legitimate interests must always be respected.

Even if death is thought imminent, the ordinary care owed to a sick person cannot be legitimately interrupted.  (CCC 2277-2279)

If you have time to watch this 14 minute video, it is a beautiful meditation on the process of dying with faith and the care of the dying.  It is also an articulate defense of the Church’s Teaching against assisted suicide. If you know of anyone who is going through the dying of a loved one this video can be a great help and support.