We used to have a 'sermon'... (from the Q and A page)

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presbyter
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We used to have a 'sermon'... (from the Q and A page)

Post by presbyter » Mon Dec 29, 2003 12:57 am

Someone asked, "We used to have a ‘sermon’ and now we have a ‘homily’. What is the difference?"

The Society's reply is:

Answer
In brief, a homily is an explanation of Scripture, whereas a sermon may be an address on any religious matter (eg the miraculous medal).
Since the 1970 revision of the Roman Missal, the purpose of the address after the Gospel has been to explain the Scripture readings of the celebration. The new (2002) General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) refers to the homily as ‘a living commentary on the word’ (cf n 29).
In the homily, the word is broken open for us as Christ explained the Scriptures to his disciples on the Road to Emmaus. It is in Christ’s name, and in the name of his body, the Church, that the Scriptures are explained, so a homily may only be given by an ordained minister of the Church (namely a bishop, priest or deacon) normally, by the celebrant (cf GIRM 2002 n 66).
Since the purpose of the homily is the explanation of the Scripture readings, addresses such as mission appeals (even if given by a priest) should be given following the Prayer After Communion rather than following the Gospel.


Well yes - all right - but what about paragraph 65 of GIRM 2002 (cf paragraph 41 GIRM1975)? The Scriptures are not the only source from which one may draw one's material. The Prayers of the Liturgy itself may be used and then there's that profound pastoral point, taking "into account the mystery being celebrated and the needs proper to the listeners."

Doesn't this raise the question of appropriate preaching style? Homilein, after all, means 'to have a familiar conversation' with people. I will welcome any tips to help me preach effectively. What are your thoughts?

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Post by musicus » Mon Dec 29, 2003 9:56 am

A few words of explanation for our visitors. The Q and A (Question and Answer) section to which Presbyter refers is in another part of the SSG's web site. The idea is that people can ask questions about aspects of liturgy and get answers. The answers are researched by members of the SSG's Editorial Board, calling upon a wide range of knowledgeable people. Naturally, there will often be more that could be said, as in this instance.

M

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Post by Benevenio » Tue Dec 30, 2003 8:31 pm

presbyter wrote:I will welcome any tips to help me preach effectively. What are your thoughts?

An interesting request!
Given that the Church only permits ordained ministers to preach, can presbyter enlighten us as to what training is given to the clergy to enable to do this effectively?

presbyter wrote:Homilein means 'to have a familiar conversation' with people.

Let's consider that a little further. There are many times when I have sat listening to a homily where there have been points which I should have liked to discuss further with the homilist. There is no opportunity within the Liturgy to do this - though I recall, as a teenager, having a dialogue (albeit a rehearsed dialogue) with the Priest during a homily within a Youth Mass and it worked effectively as a presentation tool to grab the attention of the young people and make them listen to the enquiries and the answers given. If the Homily is a place where the word of God is shared (similar to the four-fold eucharistic action take-bless-break-share), is there not room for more open discussion? OK! OK! I accept that this could make for a very open-ended liturgy and, if not controlled well, could even be misleading, with uninformed opinions being bandied about.

I suppose that many principles of any oral presentation might be appropriate to the style of delivery of a homily. My personal wish list:
  1. Keep it short, keep it focussed, keep it interesting.
  2. Know the scriptures on which you are preaching inside out, their background, to whom they are addressed and so on.
  3. Relate it to where the people are - spiritually, culturally, socio-economically - as well as where they might be led by your preaching.
  4. Preach without notes, addressing the assembly with the authority the Church invests in you.
  5. If the assembly is large, use multimedia aids, such as Macromedia Flash, or, if you must, MS-PowerPoint, to leave the salient points so that people can read as well as listen, or to use illustrative pictures to augment a point. This is possibly not advisable on a weekly basis, but might be considered for large events.
  6. Be relaxed in your delivery, rather than formal.
  7. Avoid your own personal agenda.
  8. Don't mention the parish finances.
  9. Watch the delivery of Archbishop Nichols. He is a master at presenting the Homily, communicates his points clearly, and keeps me listening, even when there are doubts raised by what he has to say... but that goes back to the point about dialogue above!

Just my thoughts. Surely others must have their ideas too?!
Benevenio.

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Post by presbyter » Tue Dec 30, 2003 10:12 pm

Benevenio wrote:Given that the Church only permits ordained ministers to preach, can presbyter enlighten us as to what training is given to the clergy to enable to do this effectively?


In my seminary days - late 1980s - we were plunged into homiletics right from week one of year one. Nothing like being thrown in at the deep end.

Homiletics appears occasionally as an "in service" topic too in my - and most, I should think - diocese.

Benevenio wrote: I recall, as a teenager, having a dialogue (albeit a rehearsed dialogue) with the Priest during a homily within a Youth Mass and it worked effectively


Yes, dialogues work very well with children and youth.

Benevenio wrote: Know the scriptures on which you are preaching inside out, their background, to whom they are addressed and so on.


Well - all right - with the caveat that the faithful are going to switch off rapidly if the homily tends towards an academic exegesis of each pericope ........... and if the reader is now rushing for a dictionary ......... one of my own personal rules is not to do what I've just done: use technical or "churchy" words.

Interestingly perhaps (well it was to me) - the most spell-binding homily I have listened to lasted for over half an hour (it was during a retreat - I am not recommending half an hour on a Sunday in the parish). It was given without notes yet it had manifestly been well thought out and was highly and logically structured. I asked the homilist afterwards about his technique. He had had a classical upbringing and had taken Cicero's rhetoric as his model. Now that's not taught in seminaries!

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Post by Tsume Tsuyu » Wed Dec 31, 2003 1:18 am

Vocabulary I don't understand is a turn off during a sermon. I love words and I'm always eager to learn the meaning of new words but, in the midst of a sermon, it's hardly appropriate to pull out a dictionary. I've been known to repeat unfamiliar words over and over again until the end of Mass to be sure I don't forget them before I get a chance to look them up. This inevitably means that the rest of the sermon is completely lost on me.

Simple language doesn’t have to mean ‘kiddie talk’ – just easily understandable vocabulary. This would also give the ‘kids’ a chance to follow what is being said.

I don't mind a long sermon if it is a good one. If it's long and bad, I'll be planning lunch, or even an entire week's menus, rather than listening! Maybe those who are less gifted in homiletics ought to have this gently pointed out to them and a shorter, more effective technique taught.

Are seminarians taught presentation skills? I think this would be beneficial – eye contact, body language, use of hands etc., are each important aspects of successful delivery. The message is so important and yet, so often, I’ve struggled to stay with sermons when the priest has mumbled into his vestments, or has simply failed to engage me, peering over the heads of the congregation and never once ‘connecting’.

I’m not a fan of ‘gimmicks’ – projectors, slides, PowerPoint presentations etc. although I can see how they might work for one-off, larger Masses. I don’t think these aids would do anything to improve the delivery of someone who is simply not good at preaching.

When I was younger, I used to look forward to the sermon because I knew I could daydream for 15 minutes or so. Now I’m older, I know I will daydream when I should be paying attention! It takes a good sermon, short or long, but well delivered, to hold my attention. Perhaps this is a weakness on my part and I should discipline myself to be more attentive – the message is the most important thing, after all – but (and this goes for any speaker/audience situation) it is very hard to stay focused on a boring speaker making a boring speech.

I hope this is constructive! :)

T.T.

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Post by presbyter » Wed Dec 31, 2003 10:10 am

Tsume Tsuyu wrote: ....someone who is simply not good at preaching....


The first task in the 'job description' of a priest is that he is a preacher. When he preaches he acts in the person of Christ. Am I always making the hearts of disciples burn within them? I wish I were. But I do wonder if the faithful have much (or any) sense that the homily has this sacramental quality by virtue of the sacrament of Holy Orders.

Now how might a priest who may not be so good at preaching be helped by the faithful? Priests - like anyone else - can be crushed by criticism which can just lead to despondency.

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Post by presbyter » Wed Dec 31, 2003 10:16 am

Tsume Tsuyu wrote:I'll be planning lunch, or even an entire week's menus.


Will that be with a nice soup and gravy then T.T.? (Look her up on Google folks :wink: )

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Post by musicus » Wed Dec 31, 2003 10:30 am

Tsume Tsuyu wrote:Simple language doesn’t have to mean ‘kiddie talk’ – just easily understandable vocabulary. This would also give the ‘kids’ a chance to follow what is being said.


Indeed. Some of the most effective homilies I ever heard were delivered by very clever people (e.g. Jesuits, academics, etc) who, nonetheless, were aware of their audience and pitched their vocabulary accordingly.

However, I think that young people are going to need more help than that. If they have regularly accompanied their parents to church from an early age, they may well have learned that the homily is one of the more extended opportunities within Mass to regain their parents' attention (play with a toy, look at a picture book, etc). If Children's Liturgy provides alternative fare at this point, what is being done (in CL) to prepare them for homilies and what they're about?

Then again, there are the cultural difficulties. Older priests who still speak about the Church in which they were brought up, and all the (often para-liturgical) things that characterised parish life then. (Not to mention those 'young fogies' who speak about the Church in which they would prefer to have been brought up!) If homilists can so easily alienate adults, how much easier it is for them to totally turn-off young people.

Jesus had the knack, of course. Simple language, everyday situations, common ground with his hearers, and startling, challenging insights.

M
Last edited by musicus on Wed Dec 31, 2003 10:46 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Post by Tsume Tsuyu » Wed Dec 31, 2003 10:35 am

Arigatou, Presbyter!

Personally, I prefer the alternative meanings:

Tsume - claw
Tsuyu - dew

Old Japanese proverb say:

Nou aru taka wa tsume wo kakusu. The hawk with talent hides its talons (The person who knows most often says least).

and another:

Nurenu saki koso tsuyu omo itoe.
People want to avoid the dew before they become wet.

Although I suppose these could also be translated as 'The hawk with talent hides its soup' and 'People want to avoid the gravy before they become wet!'

T.T.

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Post by musicus » Wed Dec 31, 2003 10:38 am

Touché, Presbyter!

But let's stay on topic...

M

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Post by Benevenio » Wed Dec 31, 2003 10:42 am

Benevenio wrote:Know the scriptures on which you are preaching inside out, their background, to whom they are addressed and so on.

presbyter wrote:with the caveat that the faithful are going to switch off rapidly if the homily tends towards an academic exegesis of each pericope ...

I do not think that what I said implies that you need to speak in an academic way...
Whenever I listen to a presentation, I can tell if the person speaking a) knows the subject and b) has a passion about what they do.
Not to know your stuff puts you firmly in the category of bullsh!tter, and that's a turn off.
Not to have a passion about your subject will means that I know you do not believe in what you preach, an equal turn off.
Benevenio.

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Post by Tsume Tsuyu » Wed Dec 31, 2003 11:33 am

Presbyter wrote:Now how might a priest who may not be so good at preaching be helped by the faithful? Priests - like anyone else - can be crushed by criticism which can just lead to despondency.


I don't know the answer to this. I agree that criticism, however constructive, can be crushing. That's why I feel the work needs to be done in the seminary, in a learning environment where it would be entirely appropriate to try and improve delivery, style etc. For those priests already out there, preaching badly, it's difficult to know what to do. Many of the faithful are critical enough as it is of how priests do things - "Father So and So never did it like that!" etc. It may well to do more harm than good for the faithful to try and help. Perhaps there needs to be a roving diocesan sermon inspector who can make suggestions and offer encouragement and support?

T.T.

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Post by Benevenio » Wed Dec 31, 2003 11:51 am

Tsume Tsuyu wrote:a roving diocesan sermon inspector

.. from the Office for Sermon Inspection, OfSIn ? :lol:
Benevenio.

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Post by presbyter » Wed Dec 31, 2003 12:01 pm

Benevenio wrote:Whenever I listen to a presentation, I can tell if the person speaking a) knows the subject and b) has a passion about what they do.


All right but I would suggest that homiletics doesn't quite fit into the mould of secular presentations: lectures, business presentations or even talks on jam-making at the WI, whatever.... Of course, anyone who engages in any form of public speaking should approach the task in a professional manner. Not to do so would be an act of discourtesy to the audience.

Secular presentations can teach, give information, entertain etc.... and a homily can do so too. Yet there's a common, underlying purpose to all homilies, which we could call "the subject", and I don't know of any priest who is not "passionate" about it - no matter what their strengths and weaknesses may be. If off the top of your head, you had to summarise the purpose of any homily in one short sentence, what would you write? I'd be interested to read the answers. (There are no wrong answers BTW. Your answers will just reflect what it is you think you are receiving.)

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Post by Tsume Tsuyu » Wed Dec 31, 2003 2:40 pm

Presbyter wrote:If off the top of your head, you had to summarise the purpose of any homily in one short sentence, what would you write?


For me, the purpose of the homily is to help the faithful apply the words of scripture to their lives today. I think! That's what I am looking for, anyway.

(I'm glad there are no wrong answers :) )

T.T.

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