Friday, August 27, 2010

The Place of Preaching

The Deacon's Bench has a thread running about where a homilist should be - in the pulpit or in the aisles. The discussion was prompted by this piece by Fr. Z:
"Perhaps we can learn something about the idea of preaching outside the sanctuary, and strutting about like a peacock, from the Church’s rubrics for the sign of peace. This is another occasion in which priests will jack-in-the-box out of the sanctuary where they belong and, sometimes, go to absurd lengths to see and be seen, to demonstrate how caring, warm and matey they are.

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal states that funerals are one of the rare occasions when the priest is permitted to leave the sanctuary for the sign of peace...If there is a person of note present, the celebrant can leave the sanctuary to give the sign of peace. These are exceptions to the general rule that the priest belongs in the sanctuary. Period."
As he notes, the rubrics do not actually forbid preaching from other than the pulpit, so I fail to see why anyone should be taken to task for it. Fr. Z draws on the rubrics around the exchange of the sign of peace to suggest (by extension) that it should not be done. He is as entitled to his opinion as I am mine (and neither of us are allowed to legislate it).

What I am seriously bothered by is his caveat that for a "person of note" it is all right for the presider to leave the sanctuary for the sign of peace. And just who might we think is a "person of note"? Particularly for one acting in persona Christi?

I imagine it would be the elderly parishioner in the front row, the mother struggling to ride herd on four young children. Or perhaps the mentally ill person pacing in the back, or the man who lives in the local shelter but who appears for the vigil Mass each week dress with painful care? If that is not who is meant, then I am mystified.

I was relieved to note that the actual instructions do not say anything about "a person of note" - just special occasions (and the limitations are not as tight as implied):

The priest may give the sign of peace to the ministers but always remains within the sanctuary, so as not to disturb the celebration. In the dioceses of the United States of America, for a good reason, on special occasions (for example, in the case of a funeral, a wedding, or when civic leaders are present) the priest may offer the sign of peace to a few of the faithful near the sanctuary. At the same time, in accord with the decisions of the Conference of Bishops, all offer one another a sign that expresses peace, communion, and charity. While the sign of peace is being given, one may say, Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum (The peace of the Lord be with you always), to which the response is Amen. [GIRM 154]
Fr. Z and his readers appear quite concerned about narcissistic priests. I might suggest the traditional Carthusian remedy for grandstanding homilists: preach only by reading from a written, previously prepared text. That alone would substantially improve the overall quality of preaching in the Roman Catholic communion -- regardless of where the homilist stands.

Photo is of the pulpit in Mission San Miguel in California.

Related posts:
  1. Pray Tell what makes a good homily
  2. (Not a) Homily for Holy Saturday Morning


  1. Isn't it funny that the part that caught at my heart was also "person" of note.

    I had a flash of a grieving widow in the front row, and the priest coming down to shake the hand of the law partner of her recently deceased husband.

    I think another remedy for the fears of narcissistic priests or others who may distract with their loose relationship to the essence of Christ's sacrifice, might also gain some sense of perspective by looking within -

    Ranting at length with such a cleverness and a barely concealed contempt in the most public of places (the Internet) may not be a much better version of a person acting in persona Christi.

    But that's just me.

  2. I am always so interested, from a Prostestant POV, in what you come up with re: preaching.

    And I find that I completely agree with everything Cindy says, both explicit and implicit.

  3. I'm just not sure how much limiting the homilist's location would stop "grandstanding." In my experience, those who engage in that kind of behavior can manage it from the pulpit as well as outside it.

  4. It seems to me as a priest who spends time preaching at both the ambo as well as away from it that there are good reasons for both, which is probably why the GIRM allows for both.

    When I first arrived at my current parish, I almost always preached from the ambo and as I came to know the community more, realized that they were better served as a whole for me to preach away from the ambo.

    I understand the concern of priests who use gimmicks and form more than substance, and have a general disdain for it, but it seems to me that just because my own personal preference is to be at one place or the other, shouldn't move me to judge someone else's preference.