Saturday, March 13, 2010

"The homily should not be longer than eight minutes," says the Vatican prelate


Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, Secretary General
of the Synod of Bishops at the Vatican

Photo courtesy:

Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, the Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops in the Vatican, says in a book that Catholic homilies should not be longer than eight minutes, reports the Catholic News Agency. A homily is a sermon or a form of preaching in the church during holy Mass on a topic or quotation from the Bible.

In his book, The Word of God, he reflects on the 2008 Synod on the Word of God. On the homily, he writes that it is "useful to remember that in general the homily should not be longer than eight minutes, the average time listeners can concentrate." He took into consideration the short span of concentration in people in general.

In his book, this Croatian archbishop elaborates on methods priests can follow in preparing their Sunday homilies. Some of these methods are:

  • Making adequate planning and preparation and avoiding improvisations for the homily: After the example of Pope Benedict XVI, Archbishop Eterovic says that the pope begins his Sunday preparations on the Monday before, so that he "has sufficient time to understand the passages from the Sunday [Bible] readings. The readings become the object of profound meditation, in light of specific events, at personal and community levels."
  • Following the form of Lectio Divina: The preparation for the Sunday homily "can also take on the form of Lectio Divina" and priests who use this method usually "see generally positive results."
  • Taking steps for improving homilies: "Determine the main theme of the homily; inspire interest in the faithful; do everything possible to transmit one's own convictions by appealing to their hearts and intellects; help the faithful to memorize the theme of the homily; and prompt an active response in the faithful by suggesting concrete actions such as prayer, readings, activities in family, in the parish, at work or in society," he says.
The archbishop also adds, "The preacher [bishop, priest or deacon] can write the homily, but at the time of delivery he should use an outline, a special guide that will allow him to follow a logical line of thought while looking at the faithful." He also explains that in order to keep up-to-date, the preacher should use the Bible and a newspaper [for relevant daily life examples] in preparing homilies.

According to the Guardian, Father Andrew Headon, vice-rector of the English College [that trains seminarians for priesthood] in Rome, welcomed Archbishop Eterovic's advice on the homily. He said, "There is a saying among clergy, if you haven't struck oil in seven minutes, stop boring."

Father Headon further adds, "The hardest sermons to write are the shortest [ones]. You have to be really disciplined and they have to be extremely well-crafted. A sermon should not be a lecture, nor is it academic. You need to give spiritual food for thought that will stay with someone for a week."

It is noteworthy that some priests, due to really busy schedules or some flimsy reasons, do injustice to the homilies they deliver without sufficient or any preparation. After a whole week when Catholics come to the Sunday Mass and hear the shoddy, boring, and sometimes even irritating homilies, they are not only deprived of good spiritual food, but also become victims of priestly negligence.

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