On Homilies and the Sunday Eucharist: A little reminder of why I am Catholic…

…and the fact that being Catholic doesn’t solve everything.

Years ago, one of the catalysts that set me on the road to Rome was the fact that I could not always be certain, when attending a Lutheran Church on Sunday, that I would get the Eucharist. Often, what was served up in place of the ancient liturgy of the Church was some home made didactic “liturgy”.

What I could generally be certain of was getting a good sermon which proclaimed the Gospel accompanied by good hymns and music.

On the other hand, as a Catholic, I can always be assured that I will get the Eucharist on Sunday, generally without too much alteration to the set piece.

What I can never be assured of is hearing a homily that actually proclaims the Paschal Mystery of what God has done in Jesus Christ.

This is a real problem, but one that I think could be rectified (it is certainly a major theme at the current Synod of Bishops in Rome – hopefully we will see some improvement in Catholic preaching in years to come as a result). Also, one always hears the readings from scripture proclaimed well, and if one is listening, the Gospel is there. And certainly the Paschal Mystery is truly present in the valid celebration of the Eucharist.

So I generally swallow my concern and console myself with the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist if not in the Homily.

But last night I finally realise that perhaps one reason Catholic homilies are so bad is that we rarely give our priests any feedback on how they are doing. So I decided (in the Spirit of the Synod of Bishops) that I am not going to listen to another bad homily (or a good one for that matter) without offering the homilist some constructive but critical feed back.

I made this decision after returning from the Vigil Mass in the town we are currently visiting while on camp with my wife’s Lutheran parish. The Gospel (as you will known) was on Matthew 22:34-40, the question of the Greatest Commandment. The message of this pericope, according to the homilist, was simple: if you don’t love yourself you can’t love others. So, Jesus is telling you to love yourself.

In short, it was pop psychology without an ounce of Gospel in it. About half way through I thought to myself: “If he doesn’t say at least once in this sermon something along the lines of St John’s epistle (1 Jn 4:19) that we love others because God first loved us, I’m going to have a word with him afterwards.” Well, it didn’t happen. No where in the entire homily did he say anything about God at all really, let alone Jesus or what God has done through Jesus for us. Very, very sad. I often have protestant friends who say that Catholics just don’t get the Gospel, and, while I must affirm that no-one gets the Gospel like the Catholic Church, in the case of a very large number of individual Catholics, they are tragically right.

After the mass, the priest was engaged in conversation with parishioners and I had to get back to camp for tea, so I sent him my comments by email.

But in case I was getting to nostalgic for Lutheranism, I was brought up against the hard reality this morning. Although we have one of the parish pastors with us at the camp, this morning, instead of a Eucharist, they had a children’s hour of scripture and song (piloting their new Sunday School program). It was very enjoyable, but it wasn’t liturgy let alone Eucharist. Why? I don’t know. While the Lutheran Church get’s Liturgy and the Lord’s Supper, perhaps individual Lutherans just don’t get the idea that the Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith and without the Sunday Eucharist we would die.

So, there you have it. No perfect experience of the Una Sancta this weekend. I am Catholic because their Eucharist is authentic and the Truth may be found there – not because it is a perfect human institution. I stopped being Lutheran because I couldn’t find the Eucharist in the Lutheran Church – not because they didn’t preach the Gospel clearly and purely.

In any case, in the new year we will receive a new parish priest in my home parish. I will inform him of my new “sermon criticism” apostolate as soon as he arrives.

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0 Responses to On Homilies and the Sunday Eucharist: A little reminder of why I am Catholic…

  1. Fraser Pearce says:

    I am thinking of starting a ‘general criticism’ apostolate. I think that I might have a real gift in this area.

  2. Joshua says:

    David, I think Pr Pearce’s idea has merit: after all, isn’t this what most cranky Christians use their blogs for?

    (PE, long time no hear… this is your chance!)

  3. Joshua says:

    On a more serious note, one reason I am very lucky to have Fr Michael Rowe as my priest here in Perth is that he always preaches interesting, informative sermons that actually say something about the big issue – namely, salvation. When I compare his words to the many homilies I’ve heard from too many other priests, their attempts seem so banal and lacking in any great emphasis on saving our souls.

  4. Anonymous says:

    If you want to listen to some good Law and Gospel Lutheran sermons go to this web site for my church and listen to the podcasts. http://www.lcos.org/PODCAST/


  5. Victoria says:

    I am not going to listen to another bad homily (or a good one for that matter) without offering the homilist some constructive but critical feed back…it was pop psychology without an ounce of Gospel in it.

    David, I have a similar problem.

    My parish priest is a humble, good and kindly man. He celebrates Mass according to the rubrics even if he doesn’t say the confiteor and always says Eucharistic Prayer 2 but he is a woeful homilist.

    I have sat through years of ‘God lurves you’ and family anecdotes with a token nod to the gospel message. I have thought of sending him an email about his homilies but then I think that he has had at least six years in the seminary and there are many sound commentaries on the scriptures out there and homily helpers are only a Google away. If he really wanted to compose a homily which unpacked the readings in a meaningful way he could. I have to conclude he just can’t be bothered and so I leave him to it.

  6. Past Elder says:

    It points to one of the great tragedies of the Reformation — each side historically suspicious of even the good in the orher, because it is associated with the other.

    On our (Lutheran) side of the fence, there are those who seemingly are just sure that any sign of concern for the liturgy, reverence of the saints, Sunday Eucharist, even making the Sign of the Cross, means one will shortly be in Rome kissing the pope’s ring (or something else). There’s no Lutheran doctrine about this at all, it’s just practice based on what is assumed to be doctrine.

    On the other side of the fence — where I once was — emphasis on sermons was generally held to be characteristially Protestant, as, when you deny most of the sacraments and don’t even really have one of the two you keep, that’s about all that’s left, talk, which, having the sacraments, is not that important. There’s no Catholic doctrine behind this at all, just a practice based on what is assumed to be doctrine.

    Both sides of the fence are the poorer for it.

  7. matthias says:

    a friend of mine -who is a member of the Uniting Church of Australia- once went to a funeral of a neighbour who was a Catholic. The deceased had been active in local ecumenical events,and at the funeral,the priest commented that there must be quite a few Protestants present,as the hymns were sung with great vigour,than the normal hymn singing he usually experienced in Sunday morning Mass

  8. Joshua says:

    How far we are from the days when a disgruntled lady told Newman, after he preached, that she was most disappointed, as she had travelled a hundred miles to hear him and yet his sermon was over in less than an hour!

    Good points, PE – nice to see you’re still about.

  9. matthias says:

    St Thomas’s Catholic parish in Blackburn use to run St Paul’s chapel at Forest Hill Chase shopping Centre. Priests from the Missionaries of St Paul order celebrated Mass there every Friday 1.05 pm
    In August 2001 I had left a protestant Church ,quite angry at something-in retrospect in was stupid.One friday i went to the above chapel ,and the priest there preached a homily on “Let God Surprise you”.I felt the anger and bitterness lift,and I thanked the priest afterwards
    Priests/pastors need to be both encouraged in their sermons and also constructively criticised where the Gospel is not preached,or opportunties to preach it are lost

  10. Schütz says:

    Yes, we are all of us gifted in criticism, Fraser! The thing is: how to use this gift in a constructive way. I think Protestants are much more likely to give feedback on sermons than Catholics are on homilies – Victoria’s comment is a case in point.

    It isn’t our job to preach the sermon, but it is our job to listen to it, and surely a priest should not be adverse to hearing responses from those who have listened. Surely this will guide him in the future? (In fact, on Sunday, I felt very much like putting my hand up to ask a question – but that really WOULD cause a furore.)

    And Victoria, I would have been happy with “God lurves you”, but we didn’t even get that in this sermon.

  11. Past Elder says:

    I have it on the highest authority that the essence of homiletics is:

    If you preach the 0800 service get it over for everyone to get to the 0915 Sunday School and Bible Study; if you preach the 1030 service get it over for everyone to get to the Village Inn (a popular restaurant chain here) before the Methodists show up.

  12. Joshua says:

    Another angle on the problem:

    I had always thought that the thing for a priest to do, upon coming to a new parish, would be to say from the pulpit that the length of Mass (incl. sermon) would be inversely proportional to the amount of money given at the offertory: and lo! a miracle – Catholics would finally open their pockets and give as generously as Protestants.

    (At least here in Australia, most RC’s give very little – the average in my old parish, a fairly typical middleclass place, was I seem to recall $5 or less per person.)

  13. Past Elder says:

    God bless me, I’m not up on Aussie exchange rates, but if your $5 is anywhere close to our $5, that ain’t crap!

  14. Joshua says:

    On another tangent:

    I’ve just read the Pope’s homily at the end of the Synod on the Word of God (http://www.zenit.org/article-24082?l=english) and wonder how David, et al., would view it qua Law-and-Gospel… not being au fait with Lutheranism, I can’t honestly tell, but it does seem interestingly argued along such a line.

  15. matthias says:

    Perhaps this is not the right area to put this subject. At the Annual church srrvice of the Anglican girls school that my daughter goes to,that there was an acknowledgement First of the traditional aboriginal owners of the Land ,then came the prayer and opening hymn. I am a strong believer in reconciliation-it is in keeping with Christian ethics. But I would have thought that the welcome to “country” could/should have been done after the prayer etc.
    Am i wrong? is it a sign of the church trying to be relevant?

  16. Peter says:

    And Victoria, I would have been happy with “God lurves you”, but we didn’t even get that in this sermon.

    Gosh, flashback to lectures with Joe Strelan with that comment!

    Careful David, imagine what you yourself would have thought if a parishioner told you they would be giving you a weekly review of your homily.

  17. Fraser Pearce says:

    The priest would be assured, of course, that at least one person was listening.

  18. Louise says:

    At least here in Australia, most RC’s give very little – the average in my old parish, a fairly typical middleclass place, was I seem to recall $5 or less per person.

    In Adelaide it was at about $1 per person!

    And PE, currently $5AUD = $3USD roughly. So, I tell you, we’re really, really stingy here in Oz.

    AND the average pew-warmer really hates it when the Mean Nasty Ol Church tries to get more money out of him!

    When it comes to religion, Australians are just plain weird.

    But I love your idea Joshua I reckon that would work!

  19. Anonymous says:

    Having been back in the pew for a year and a half has been salutary for me too – sermons can be hard work (listening to them, that is). I prefer to preach ’em! Lutheran sermons around this region of Indiana are just as varied as anywhere in the LCA – just longer, and in some places, more brimstoney.

    But here on campus (University of Notre Dame) – an artificial context, I know – I’ve heard some wonderful homilies. Over the driveway from us is a campus community centre where we quite often go to mass – the priest there is a prof in anthropology, and his sermons are some of the best I’ve heard in a long time: biblical, incredibly insightful into the human condition, grace centered, without notes, and never over 15 minutes (long by RC standards probably). So, that’s been a blessing for us.

    I’ve been reading Aidan Kavanagh lately, and he reflects a lot on the split in Western culture between text and rite – Protestants took text, and Catholics took rite – but ultimately both are lost in the process. Word becomes didacticism, and rite (which devolves into “worship”) becomes regarded, not as conducive to Scripture, but as a hindrance to it. Liturgy, as AK says, becomes seen as Scripture’s step-child, rather than it’s natural home.

  20. Anonymous says:

    One Sunday the Parish priest had not prepared his homily, so come collection time my husband said to my daughter “Father didn’t prepare his sermon so he doesn’t get paid.”

    Imagine of the rest of us in our professional lives went to meetings or conferences or lectures unprepared. How long would we remain on the payroll?

  21. Schütz says:

    What-ho Linards! Good to hear from you.

    Kavanagh is good and well worth reading – but a little dated.

    You could have said this (about text and rite / Protestant and Catholic) in the 1970s but it isn’t so applicable now. And it oversimplifies the situation by dealing with characterisations.

    Nevertheless, there was a ton of stuff at the synod about the liturgy being the privileged place of hearing the word and the relationship between word and Eucharist.

  22. Past Elder says:

    Three bucks? Flying Judas in the belfry.

  23. Past Elder says:

    God bless me sideways, maybe I should “come home”. I thought I was being a little stingy putting in $20 American in the envelope, which would be about $33 Australian. So I’d save $17 a week, or $884 a year!

  24. eulogos says:

    Most of the Catholic sermons I used to hear in my territorial parish just fail to leave any impression on the mind. They generally had the message, which no one can object to, that we ought to love other people. This would be somehow or other tangentially related to the readings. The only sort of scriptural insights which were ever offered were of the archeological type…you know, about the gate into Jerusalem called the needle’s eye, and that sort of thing. A priest who thought himself intellectual might come out with some of the “Matthew’s community” type of remark, but this was rare.
    One homilist who was very easy to listen to, was an expert at a certain type of sermon; in ten minutes he would draw out one point from the readings, often tell a relevant story, and make this relevant to daily life. He did get something specific out of the readings, different from one reading to another,(unlike the sermons I spoke of at the head of this post), he did hold one’s attention, you could remember what he said, and sometimes it was even something one could apply in one’s life. But you didn’t learn all that much about what the readings themselves meant, or about any theological issues they raised or illustrated.
    A while back I went to the Latin mass (extraordinary form, a long standing “indult” community) and the reading was about the steward who was about to be fired, who discounted everyone’s debt to his employer, so he would have favors to collect when he was unemployed. The priest said the lesson was “Be honest. Don’t tell lies.” Huh?

    Contrast this with my husband’s pastor, an Anglican of Evangelical stripe. He preaches for half an hour, and he always explains the scripture. Sometimes he will preach on one scripture reading for two or three weeks in a row, letting the readings for the current week go unremarked, but he definitely preaches in depth. He preaches from his own very protestant-he says Calvinist-point of view, and I have to be very alert to figure out what that he says I can learn from and what I have to disagree with. But…why can’t I EVER hear someone preach like this from a Catholic point of view?
    Susan Peterson

  25. Anonymous says:

    OK, Perhaps Kavanagh was writing to where the pendulum was in the 80’s, but he was basically making a historical point about what happened from the 16th century onwards, that is, the demise of rite. Isn’t that the point of your experience of Lutheranism: that rite is regarded as somehow inimical to the word? That it is quite secondary to the real business of the assembly, which is “getting the message across”?
    Oh, the 1970’s feel might be due to the orange cover

  26. Schütz says:

    Not so much “inimical”, Linards, as simply irrelevant. There is a difference! I guess that is putting it more in the modern context. Earlier Catholics/Protestants may have consciously bought into the opposition between text and rite, but today it is more common to find the error where the depth of the interconnection between the two is simply ignored – the one is seen to be irrelavent to the other. And today you sometimes (believe it or not) even get Catholics who see the “rite” as irrelevant to the message. Kavanagh would have a lot to such about such ideas.

  27. Louise says:

    So I’d save $17 a week, or $884 a year!

    I doubt the Lutherans would stand for it, PE. You’d have to convert to be *that* stingy.

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