Skip to comments.Catholic Liturgy Follow Up Question - Gospel Reflection by a Layperson?
Posted on 08/26/2004 6:12:18 AM PDT by NYer
In the wake of the July 27 column on the abuse of lay people giving homilies at Mass, I will take the opportunity to answer a couple of related questions.
A reader from Prague in the Czech Republic asks if the homily is obligatory on weekdays.
The homily is obligatory on Sundays and holy days of obligation at all Masses that are celebrated with the participation of a congregation. On these days it may only be omitted for grave reasons.
Regarding other days, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, No. 66, states: "It is recommended on other days, especially on the weekdays of Advent, Lent, and the Easter Season, as well as on other festive days and occasions when the people come to church in greater numbers."
Therefore a homily is recommended every day although on weekdays it may consist of a brief reflection or even be omitted if, for example, those attending are commuters with limited time.
A priest from New Zealand asked if it legitimate for a priest to deliver a prepared sermon from a liturgical Internet site instead of preparing his own homily.
The instruction "Redemptionis Sacramentum," No. 67, dwells on the quality of the homily:
"Particular care is to be taken so that the homily is firmly based upon the mysteries of salvation, expounding the mysteries of the Faith and the norms of Christian life from the biblical readings and liturgical texts throughout the course of the liturgical year and providing commentary on the texts of the Ordinary or the Proper of the Mass, or of some other rite of the Church.
"It is clear that all interpretations of Sacred Scripture are to be referred back to Christ himself as the one upon whom the entire economy of salvation hinges, though this should be done in light of the specific context of the liturgical celebration.
"In the homily to be given, care is to be taken so that the light of Christ may shine upon life's events. Even so, this is to be done so as not to obscure the true and unadulterated word of God: for instance, treating only of politics or profane subjects, or drawing upon notions derived from contemporary pseudo-religious currents as a source."
Certainly there are many valuable resources found on the Internet as well as in specialized reviews and books of reflections on the liturgical year.
These may all be profitably used in order to draw insights and inspiration from the sacred texts. But such reflections are usually designed to be read and not delivered orally. They usually read like a scriptural commentary and they are not tailored to the spiritual needs of the specific congregation.
All the same, there is no explicit prohibition of using pre-prepared homilies and in times when the shortage of clergy makes such huge demands on a priest's time they may considerably shorten the time required to prepare a personal homily.
This personalization requires the prayerful mediation of the priest as he tries to weave the insights garnered from others into a cogent whole and applies it to the needs of his faithful.
I personally believe that the priest should start preparing Sunday's homily on the previous Monday morning, preferably by meditating on the texts so that he delivers to others the fruits of his contemplation.
Even when a priest decides to closely follow a prepared text he should strive to assimilate it so that it is delivered from the heart and not consist of mere reading which is rarely efficacious and often fails to move the congregation.
Recourse to prepared texts should never spring from laziness on the part of a priest as this would also indicate a lack of due care for the spiritual welfare of those entrusted to his pastoral care.
Still, the grace of God is greater than man's weakness. If God was able to deliver a spiritual message through the mouth of Balaam's donkey (Numbers 22:28) then Christ can give spiritual inspiration through an unprepared homily.
As the poet George Herbert said about preachers:
"God calleth preaching folly: do not grudge
To pick out treasures from an earthen pot
The worst speaks something good; if all want sense
God takes a text and preacheth patience"
I've seen it done by a lay person, unfortunately.
I've seen the priest take a seat after the Gospel and then enquire "Now does anybody have any thoughts on those readings?"
As you might imagine, a couple of people in the congregation were only too happy to spring to their feet and share their inspirational insights.
This was not in the USA but I'm sure it's happened here. Everything else has.