You might be aware that the Church has a thing called a “General Directory of Catechesis”. It was issued by the Congregation for the Clergy (interesting) back in 1997, and is a significant document for understanding the place of catechesis in the Church’s ministry of evangelisation. Significantly, it has been used most widely in the area of Catholic education, and many teachers who have been specifically trained in Catholic eduction are familiar with it. In my teaching on Pope Francis’ post-synodal apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, I have had reason to highlight his references to “the kergyma” and “the first proclamation” (cf. para. 164 of EG). When I ask my class if anyone has ever heard these phrases (let alone knows they mean), it is always the teachers who put their hands up, and it is always the General Directory of Catechesis where they first encountered this language.
Now, I like to make a distinction between three types of communication of the Gospel (effectively, three modes of evangelisation): 1) Kerygma, 2) Didache (or Catechesis), 3) Dialogue. We will leave the third one to one side for the moment; the other two are completely different, and yet, when it comes to “preaching” (one possible translation of the Greek word “kerygma”), it is surprising how many homilies are almost 100% catechesis/didache, rather than proclamation.
So I have for some time been particularly interested in the plan, first put forward at the Synod of the Word in 2008 and in Pope Benedict’s post-synodal apostolic exhortation Verbum Domini (cf. para. 60), that “a Directory on the homily, in which preachers can find useful assistance in preparing to exercise their ministry” should be prepared. In a similar vein, we read this in 9th proposition of the Propositions of the 2012 Synod on Evangelisation:
The Synod Fathers propose that guidelines of the initial proclamation of the kerygma be written. This compendium would include:
– Systematic teaching on the kerygma in Scripture and Tradition of the Catholic Church;
– Teachings and quotations from the missionary saints and martyrs in our Catholic history that would assist us in our pastoral challenges of today; and
– Qualities and guidelines for the formation of Catholic evangelizers today.
I wondered – I hoped – that the 2008 call for a directory on the homily might morph into something much more extensive, something that would take its rightful place alongside the Directory on Catechesis, namely a “Directory of Kerygma”.
Well, now, at long last, we have the “Homiletical Directory”, this time released by the Congregation for Divine Worship. As the source would have it, the directory is particularly concerned with preaching in the form of the liturgical homily. The word ‘preach’ is used over 100 times, and the word ‘proclaim’ 43 times. ‘Catechesis’ is used 5 times, and ‘dialogue’ twice. But, tellingly, the word ‘kerygma’ never occurs at all.
Which is a huge disappointment as far as I am concerned, because in my own humble opinion the one thing most needed for priests to recapture the vitality of the Gospel in their preaching is an understanding of the mode of communication which IS ‘kerygma’, proclamation, preaching. It is not the same thing as teaching (catechesis/didache). It is not the same thing as dialogue. To proclaim the Good News is the enact through performative speech the breaking in of the Kingdom of God. It is to make possible, through direct 2nd person forms of address, the encounter between the hearer and Christ himself which ‘which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction’ (cf. Pope Benedict in Deus Caritas Est para. 1). The ‘first proclamation’ is, as Pope Francis puts it in Evangelii Gaudium (p. 164), the continually repeated message that
“Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.”
Whatever the Homiletical Directory might be, it doesn’t plumb these depths. It is not the directory on kerygma that the Synod on Evangelisation called for. And, for that, it is the poorer as a potential aid to the improvement of Catholic preaching.
For two contrasting reviews of the new Directory, see
1) Fr William Skudlarek OSB at the PrayTell blog (he doesn’t like it either, because he is comparing it to an earlier USCCB directory on the homily that started with the life situation of the congregation rather than the exegesis of the scriptural passages; hence his reason and my reason for disappointment at the new Directory is actually poles apart);
2) the review in by Fr Shane Crombie in Homiletic and Pastoral Review.