Monday, July 31, 2017
Fr. Eduardo Barrios, SJ
The appreciation of the homily or liturgical preaching has grown inordinately. There are parishioners who choose the Sunday Mass not for the convenience of the schedule, but for the preacher, whether bishop, priest or deacon.
The faithful make a mistake when they evaluate the Mass only by the quality of the homily. It may happen that the homilist lacks eloquence, but says all the prayers with clarity and devotion, making the Mass a success, a fruitful act of worship.
When the celebrant does the prescribed gestures and pronounces the texts as they appear in the Missal, he allows the Supreme and Eternal Priest Jesus Christ to shine in the celebration. Our Lord is the main celebrant. The Second Vatican Council teaches, "the liturgy is considered as an exercise of the priestly office of Jesus Christ" (Sacrosanctum Concilium No. 7).
The bulk of the Mass is comprised of the three great prayers, namely, Opening Prayer, Prayer Over the Gifts, and Prayer After Communion, the Bible readings plus the Ordinary of the Mass with its Eucharistic Prayers. This is when the High Priest acts sovereignly. A Mass that is well celebrated is valid by virtue of the rite itself, or as the scholastics said, "ex opere operato". The divine element prevails.
On the other hand, the homily depends more on the preacher's talent, that is, on his great or little proficiency. Returning to the scholastic terminology, the "ex opere operantis”, the action of the homilist, counts more in the homily. The human factor prevails.
As proof that the homily is not the main passage of the Mass, note that it is only mandatory on Sundays and other days of precept (see SC No. 52). Although many bishops and presbyters preach at all Masses, it is not obligatory. Pope Francis preaches daily in the chapel at St. Martha’s House, but St. John Paul II did not when he celebrated Mass during the week with small groups of the faithful.
Now, there is no doubt that the homily is a great opportunity to strengthen the faith of those who participate in the double banquet of the Word and the Eucharist. It is important, though not the most important.
There are allocutions that are not homilies but are circulating under that name. It is not a conference, a catechesis or a thematic sermon. The homily is a sacred oratory piece "sui generis."
Unfortunately, there are homilists who focus their preaching on personal anecdotes and on religious issues unrelated to the ongoing liturgy.
Liturgical preaching must be based on liturgical texts so that it does not turn out to be foreign to the celebration; the exposition is usually based on readings from the Lectionary. The preacher must know the texts and their context well to explain their primary meaning, then descend to the relevance of the message in the here and now of the Church. The actualization of the message should not become an asphyxiating moralism. Showing what God does for us rather than insisting on what we should do for God obtains better conversion results.
Other parts of the Mass are also appropriate for preaching. There is a wealth of messages in the three prayers of the Mass and in the prefaces. Particularly illuminating are the prefaces recited once a year, those of the solemnities. They usually sum up very well the mystery that is celebrated. Prefaces like the ones for Holy Trinity, Corpus et Sanguis Christi and the Sacred Heart come to mind. There are also very good Marian prefaces for the solemnities of the Mother of God, the Immaculate Conception and the glorious Assumption.
The people are hungry for the Word of God and sound doctrine. The homily should be used to feed the hearts and minds of the parishioners. It also helps to highlight the heroism of the saints during their feasts or memorials.
Celebrants should beware of "showing off" in the homily by talking for more than half an hour and then bumping off the Eucharistic Prayer II in less than five minutes. Such an aberration is very common.
Another anomaly is to dedicate the homily of a funeral to extolling the life and miracles of the deceased. Although the mandate is that there not be a panegyric on the deceased, many celebrants find it difficult to focus on the biblical texts that expose the comforting eschatological doctrine of Christianity.
May the Lord grant the Church preachers who act as His docile instruments. Amen.