On Wednesday Pope Francis touched on a topic close to home for both parish priests and people in the pews, offering his recipe for what makes a good homily, saying they should be short and well-prepared.
However, he also pointed to the amount of complaining that happens when people are unenthusiastic about homilies, and told faithful that even when bored, they also have to make an effort by actively listening, and being patient with the limits of their pastor.
“Those listening have to do their part too,” the Pope said Feb. 7, saying Mass-goers must give “the appropriate attention, thus assuming the proper interior dispositions, without subjective demands, knowing that every preacher has both his merits and his limits.”
“If sometimes there’s reason to get annoyed about an overly long homily, one that lacks focus or that’s incomprehensible, other times it’s actually the prejudice [of the listener] which creates obstacles,” he said.
However, he also urged those giving the homily, whether it’s a priest, deacon or bishop, to remember that they are “offering a real service to all those who participate in Mass.”
The homily has been a source of pastoral concern and interest for the Pope since the beginning. He devoted a large portion of his 2013 apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium – often seen as a blueprint for his papacy – to the homily.
Quoting the document, Francis said the homily “is not a casual discourse, nor a conference or a lesson,” but is rather a way of resuming “that dialogue which has already been opened between the Lord and his people, so that it finds fulfillment in life.”
“Whoever gives the homily must be conscious that they are not doing their own thing, they are preaching, giving voice to Jesus, preaching the World of Jesus,” he said. Because of this, homilies “should be well prepared, and they must be brief!”
To drive the point home, Francis told a story, recounting how a priest had once told him that when visiting another town where the priests’ parents lived, the father had said “I’m happy, because me and my friends found a church where they do the Mass without a homily.”
“How many times have we seen people sleeping during a homily, or chatting among themselves, or outside smoking a cigarette?” he said. When people laughed at the notion, Francis responded, saying “it’s true, you all know it…it’s true!”
“Please,” he said, “be brief…no more than 10 minutes, please!”
Pope Francis spoke during his weekly general audience in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall, continuing his catechesis on the liturgy. After reflecting on the Liturgy of the Word last week, today he focused on the Gospel and the homily.
Just as with the liturgical celebration, in scripture “Christ is the center and the fullness,” Francis said. “Jesus Christ is always there at the center, always.”
On the readings, he noted that while all the readings are significant, the Gospel is especially important, which is seen by the fact that the priest kisses the text and incenses it before reading the daily passage, and the congregation stands to listen to the reading on their feet.
“From these signs the assembly recognizes the presence of Christ who brings them the good news which converts and transforms,” he said, explaining that we don’t stand to hear the Gospel itself, but Christ, who speaks to us through the reading.
“It’s for this reason that we are attentive, because it’s a direct conversation,” he said.
Because of this, the Gospel isn’t read during Mass simply to “know how things went,” but to increase our awareness that these are the things Jesus himself said and did.
“The Word of Jesus which is in the Gospel is living and arrives to my heart,” he said. And because Jesus still communicates with us through the Gospel readings, every Mass we must give him a response, Francis said, adding that “we listen to the Gospel and we must give a response in our lives.”
According to the Vatican Gendarmerie, roughly 8,000 people attended the Pope’s audience. After his address, they were all treated to a performance with juggling, balancing acts and other tricks by members of the Rony Rollers Circus. The spectacle has become a regular appearance in general audiences, with different circus troupes performing every few weeks.
Francis also noted how tomorrow marks the World Day of Prayer against Human Trafficking and voiced support for the event, which takes place annually on the Feast of St. Josephine Bakhita.
He also gave a shout-out to the Winter Olympics, which opens on Friday in Pyeongchang in South Korea, and which will be attended by Msgr. Melchor Sanchez de Toca, Undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for Culture, who is representing the Holy See at the opening ceremony Friday, Feb. 9.
This year’s games will hold a special importance, he said, noting how the delegations from both North and South Korea will march in together under one flag depicting the entire Korean peninsula, and will compete as one team.
“This fact gives hope for a world in which conflicts are resolved peacefully with dialogue and mutual respect, as sports teaches (us) to do,” he said, and prayed that the Olympics would be “a great celebration of friendship and sport.”