Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Pray Tell what makes a good homily?

Last December, St. John's Seminary/School of Theology and Liturgical Press launched PrayTell - a blog devoted to things liturgical, which I've been enjoying. For someone who hears far more homilies than she gives, I've been thinking quite a bit lately about what makes a good homily. I finally sat down to write something and sent it to PrayTell, where it appeared today.

The hallowed dictum ex opere operato says that sacraments work automatically, apart from the dispostion of the minister or recipient, if the rite is done validly, because grace comes from Christ and not from human effort. Does ex opere operato apply to the homily? Could it be that it doesn’t matter how well or poorly prepared or preached a homily is, since the homilist is acting not as himself but in persona Christi (”in the person of Christ”)? That like baptism, or transubstantiation, it works, no matter what state the homilist – or the homily - is in?

I recently came across an op-ed in a Catholic publication that just brushed the edge of this argument. The quality of a Mass doesn’t depend on the homily, the writer suggested, nor should we should expect it to. To yearn for good preaching, to seek it out, undervalues the true point of the Mass, the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. I was left with the vague sense that my desire to have an effective “living commentary” [GIRM 29] on the Scriptures was at best something of an imposition on busy priests, and at worst, a sign of failing faith in the Eucharist. It is sufficient that there is a homily.

I don’t buy it.......

Read the rest here.


  1. It is written: A woman shall compass a man and create a new thing in the earth (Jer 31:22), the man is Satan(Isa 14:16), the new thing is turning the hearts of the fathers to the children. Satan has deceived the whole world (Rev 12:7), until the heel of time(Gen 3:15). Check out the bruising of Satan at http://thegoodtale.blogspot.com or at http://thegoodtale.wordpress.com please read all posts before you make a judgment.

  2. This is terrific, Michelle.

    One of the most fascinating things about my journey of the past three years is coming to a beginning understanding of the word and sacrament in the Word and Sacrament. Since I move back and forth between Protestant and Catholic worlds and just finished an academic program centered on preaching the Word, with many faculty focused on the Barthian insistence that the real Word is Jesus Christ, others on the importance of homiletic skill, and others expressing frustration with the historical Protestant neglect of sacrament (such groups forming a Venn diagram, with overlaps and separations in surprising places), I am sensitive to and curious about these questions these days.

  3. Robin, It's an interesting question to me on any number of levels...the homily seems to me to be a spot where Word and sacrament meet in the person of the preacher.

  4. This was great! I didn't totally understand it (which is part of why I liked it), but, on a practical level (not sacremental?) it seems to get to the difficulties of teaching well (which is how I relate to the text). I thought the comment (on the PrayTell site), "And remember: no soul was ever saved beyond the seven minute mark." was spot on--true for chemistry learning too! (Not that you can't talk for more than 7 minutes, but you have to change it up at least every 7 minutes or so)

    Also--it seems like some people might want a more geeky homily (More Primary Sources!) than others? Perhaps services could be labeled thusly?

  5. emily -- I love the idea of a "geek homily" - and I probably push the idea of primary sources because I am a geek!!

    I started thinking about the homily in the context of teaching, most in the sense about how to get and give good feedback (or any, in the case of the homily)!

  6. Went over and read your reflections--well timed as preaching looks to become more frequent in my life again, praise God/dess!

    Your emphasis on primary sources encouraged me down a path I had sensed a draw to in this week's Good Sam homily (Augustine's take on Christ as the Good Samaritan coming to us when we are beaten and half dead by the road). I had a lovely time pulling out the patristic commentary compilation and meditating on the entry for that Gospel, and it reminded me to keep doing that for future preaching. So thanks!