Monday, November 22, 2010

The Homily..A Fairy Tale

And so it comes time for the homily during a parish Sunday mass.

The congregation has heard the Word of God proclaimed.

Does Father walk to the ambo to deliver his homily?

As the faithful sit, waiting to hear an exposition, perhaps on the readings of the Sacred Scripture that day, they see Father moving away from the sanctuary, not towards the ambo but to the people.

Father then invites all the children present to come forward and sit on the steps of the sanctuary, in front of the altar, and therefore in front of the tabernacle, and Father wanders around, asking questions of the children, making a few jokes, having the congregation laugh, at his jokes and at the cuteness of the children.

A fairy tale perhaps?

I wish.

So why am I the stick-in-the-mud, the grumpy mother of seven who cringes at this style of homily? Why am I the lone wolf crying in the wilderness?

Why does it even matter?

It matters because it affects how and what we believe as Catholics. It matters because it, this style of homily, gathering children or lay people on the steps of the sanctuary, affects how we view the sacredness of the altar, the sacredness of Holy Mass, of where bread and wine truly become the body and blood of Our Lord. It matters because it affects how we view mass - mass centred on we the people or mass and thus adoration for and worship of God and therefore truly concerned for we human souls.
It matters because of taste, and style and reverence. If one wants cuteness and kitsch, one can turn on TV. If one wants worship and communion with other believers, if one wants lasting change in society as we claim Christ
as King, then our souls need to be fed within Holy Mass. Not entertained.

What does the General Instruction for the Roman Missal have to say about the homily within mass?

65. The homily is part of the Liturgy and is strongly recommended, for it is necessary for the nurturing of the Christian life. It should be an exposition of some aspect of the readings from Sacred Scripture or of another text from the Ordinary or from the Proper of the Mass of the day and should take into account both the mystery being celebrated and the particular needs of the listeners.
66. The Homily should ordinarily be given by the priest celebrant himself. He may entrust it to a concelebrating priest or occasionally, according to circumstances, to the deacon, but never to a lay person. In particular cases and for a just cause, the homily may even be given by a Bishop or a priest who is present at the celebration but cannot concelebrate.
There is to be a homily on Sundays and holy days of obligation at all Masses that are celebrated with the participation of 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 festive days and occasions when the people come to church in greater numbers.
After the homily a brief period of silence is appropriately observed.

Mmm. The homily is "necessary for nurturing Christian life"...not, then, for our entertainment or for the priest to gain popularity or even to make Mass more relevant for children. As a mother and a teacher, I know that children love to be challenged, not necessarily entertained. They will rise to the challenge of a homily pitched towards them yet still containing Truth and making them think. They, too, are tired of platitudes, of being fed dumbed-down material and deserve better...deserve to be shown, by the adults around them, and most especially by the priest, what it is that mass is all about. What it is that the Scripture passages tell us. What it means to be a Catholic child. How Christ loves us, appearing on our altars in the Eucharist. And how we love Him, by giving Him due worship and adoration. With reverence and without self-centredness.

"After the homily a brief period of silence is appropriately observed." How can we have silence after the homily when, indeed, we had no silence during the homily? When the homily consisted of questions and answers, a priest walking up and down, children laughing and fidgeting or, worse, looking bored, while sitting around or in front of the altar ? What was there to reflect upon? Any salient points that may have been made have become lost in the blur and noise of bodies, of movement, of distractions, of laughter, of cuteness.

Better to move straight on to parish notices. Just keep it moving along, in case we, the faithful, get bored or restless or have time to think or reflect or pray in silence.

Yes, better to move on, rather than have the faithful absorb the religion -and-popular-culture mix of sentiments that may be contained in the homily.

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. Redemptionis Sacramentum

So, if the story above was a fairy tale, a tale of a homily, how would it end? Now, this would not be a bitter, dark fairy tale. In this tale, a tale of a homily, we would see a moral.

The moral being that we, faithful and priest alike, see that abuses “contribute to the obscuring of the Catholic faith and doctrine concerning this wonderful sacrament”.and " hinder the faithful from “re-living in a certain way the experience of the two disciples of Emmaus: ‘and their eyes were opened, and they recognized him’” ( Ibid). In my version of this fairy tale, we come to see that our internal disposition must affect our external actions. And vice verse. Even in liturgy. Even in homilies.

Or should I say especially in liturgy and in homilies?

The observance of the norms published by the authority of the Church requires conformity of thought and of word, of external action and of the application of the heart. ...The liturgical words and rites, moreover, are a faithful expression, matured over the centuries, of the understanding of Christ, and they teach us to think as he himself does; by conforming our minds to these words, we raise our hearts to the Lord. ( Redemptionis Sacramentum)


Greg said...

I like the rhetorical conceit of the fairy tale! And, of course, the quotes from Church documents backing up your argument along the way, making clear the fact that what debate there might be on the subject doesn't come down to a matter of personal taste, but is a matter of agreement with and obedience to the living Tradition embodied in the Church, or, conversely, a rejection of that authority, that Tradition and knowledge, in order to indulge one's own taste for 'cute'.

Fr. Benedict said...

I agree Leonie... it does come down to catechesis... I'm sure a lot of people would have found this cute, and made comments like "oh how wonderful to get the children involved"... but this isn't the point. I've made the comment many times in my homilies "I am not here to entertain you!" I stand by that. Children & teenagers are bombarded with entertainment 24/7, coming to Mass is their one moment, together with their family, to be transformed spiritually, to raise their hearts and minds to Almighty God, rather than being pulled further into a vortex of the mundane! Do people get bored at Mass? well the answer is yes! Should it matter? NO!

laurenfernando said...

There have been a few priests I've seen do this, and I guess they're all at your parish now. Growing up I did enjoy it as it was different. That said- our church is weirdly set up that you can't everyone and so I suppose it was easier to see everyone that way.

But sometimes it did feel like Dr. Phil or some sort of game show. And you would duck your head and avoid eye contact so they wouldn't ask you question. Or worse those hypothetical questions posed in a way that you weren't sure if it was or not.

The only time I actually appreciated it was at the Christmas Children's Mass when we were invited to the altar. That was it. I don't think I've seen anyone else do that at a regular Mass. Even at that, this was mainly for babies and tots.

Fr. B- I don't get bored with your Homilies. You're too awesome.

Leonie said...

Lauren, Fr, Greg, thank you for your comments!

I guess I also feel that it is not so much about the priests we may have in our parish now or before. It is not about what priests we like and what priests we don't like. It is not about what you or I may have appreciated. It is about Church teaching , as Greg says, and about catechesis, as Fr Benedict says.

And thank you again everyone for comments and discussion!

Leonie said...

Fr, love the comment about the one moment to be transformed spiritually!

Leonie said...

And Greg - very much agree that we it is not a matter of personal taste but of living Tradition.

Hopewell said...

Interesting. As a kid, attending a Methodist Church for a while, I never understood why we had to go up for the dumbed down version of "Church." As an adult I'm still against it. I think separate Children's Church is fine [I'm not pro Family Integrate Church and all it's ultra-right-wing connotations as they are here in the USA] and I do accept that some Churches are too small in membership to offer this, but on the whole I like Sunday School separate then everyone "old enough" [say over 13] goes to "Big Church" [a name I don't like] together.

I DO get tired of the lengths many pastors go to to "entertain"--inside jokes with their "Gold Circle Members" etc. This isn't to say I'm against excellent quality music or drama or video or dance in the worship--all are great when they really add to the teaching of God's word.