Bishops ready document on preaching for next year

Interesting development from the USCCB confab in Seattle:

Following a lively debate on the first day of their spring general assembly near Seattle, the U.S. bishops voted overwhelmingly to authorize preparation of a 50-page document on preaching for consideration in November 2012.

St. Louis Archbishop Robert J. Carlson presented the proposal on behalf of the Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations, which he chairs, but said the document would be drawn up in consultation with various committees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Archbishop Carlson said the document would be “at once inspirational and practical, … grounded in the tradition of the church” and would aim to “adequately convey the purpose of the homily at Mass: the personal encounter with the Incarnate Word.”

The topic seemed to light a spark in the bishops, more than a dozen of whom spoke in favor of the proposed document.

Describing himself as a member of “the first lost generation of poor catechesis,” Bishop Alexander K. Sample of Marquette, Mich., said his generation of post-Vatican II Catholics had “raised up another generation that is equally uncatechized.”

Although some have expressed the sentiment that “the homily should not be a time for catechesis,” Bishop Sample said “we cannot lose that opportunity to truly catechize and form our people” when they are gathered for Sunday Mass.

Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington, said that even at bishops’ meetings 35 years ago, “some would rise to say that we need to have something on sermons.”

“People are looking for it and desperately need it,” he said. “It is such an important part of our responsibility of bishops.”

Read the rest.

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10 responses to “Bishops ready document on preaching for next year”

  1. Dear Greg, et al.,

    This document was in the works while I was on the staff at the USCCB; in fact, I was part of the drafting team. This would have been back in 2004-2005. The need to update/expand upon the wonderful document “Fulfilled in Your Hearing” which most of us used during pre-ordination formation, was almost universally desired.

    The only reason it was tabled temporarily was that the Pope announced his intention to convene an Extraordinary Synod on the Word of God. Knowing that there would then be a post-Synodal papal document on the topic, our bishops decided to shelve the project until all of that was completed.

    So, now’s the time!

    God bless,

    Deacon Bill

  2. The full article mentions the questions of time constraints and of differing preaching styles (specifically black and hispanic). I hope the bishops will promote the greatest latitude. In my parish, we have a priest who visits regularly to fill in on Sundays, and he chafes under the pastors strong desire that homilies not go beyond eight minutes.

    Also, there is the matter of basic catechesis. There is so much that the faithful are not well catechized on. Some examples I would give would be the role of the Magisterium in formation of conscience, the sinfulness of detraction and rash judgment, the meaning of sex and marriage (Theology of the Body), the need for penance (especially on Fridays), and various aspects of social justice (such as the human right to migrate).

  3. “Describing himself as a member of ‘the first lost generation of poor catechesis,’ Bishop Alexander K. Sample of Marquette, Mich., said his generation of post-Vatican II Catholics had ‘raised up another generation that is equally uncatechized.'”

    Who is this bishop? Someone who speaks the truth of the lousy catechesis that wrecked the older Boomers and Gen-X? God bless him!

  4. I agree with Bill and think “Fulfilled in Your Hearing” is a wonderful document on preaching, indeed. I hope that it would be the basis for the next document. While I certainly agree with Bp Sample, who visits his sister every year here in Salt Lake and presides at a Sunday liturgy here at The Cathedral of the Madeleine (he is a very good preacher), that to a priori dismiss catechesis from the homily is a mistake, there needs to a distinction made between preaching and teaching. I also think preaching in Catholic Churches should, at least sometimes, be expository in nature, that is, exegetical. However, that would require better formation in Scripture on the part of many who preach.

    It will be interesting to follow this debate. As always, I appreciate Dcn Bill’s firsthand insights about these things, as well as Dcn Greg’s tireless churning for relevant stories and items of interest.

  5. Some of the best homilies I ever read (I do not hear as many good homilies as I read) are in the office of readings in the divine liturgy. Yes, many are instructional but even better, most express lives transformed by the mystical encounter of Christ. The Homily is part of the liturgy and the liturgy is not only instructional but life transforming. That should be the focus of the Homily. I have heard instructional homilies and truthfully, telling me what I should know or do is less inspirational than giving me Christ (I am not oposed to instructional homilies, they just aren’t usually done very well). Again, read the office of readings, that should be the model we strive for.

  6. The issue with poor homilies is that, unless the course is changed soon, it will become the standard. Some may venture to say that it already is the standard.

    Part of the problem is that we are importing more and more priests from around the world. In fact, another article on today’s CNS was titled, “Archbishop says Ghanaian church proud to send priests as missionaries”. This archbishop means that he is sending priests to the missions in the US and Europe. It is an answer to the priest shortage.

    In light of that, people come to Mass to have their souls filled and to receive inspiration that they can carry out into the streets and into their lives afterwards. Besides the readings of the day, a main part of the Liturgy of the Word is the homily. If the people in the pews cannot understand the presenter because of the dialect or they cannot appreciate the viewpoint of the presenter’s homily, the parishioners feel that they are wasting their time. They will start to seek for any other alternative that stirs their souls and fills the gap of their intellects. People come to Mass not only to worship and to receive Christ in the Sacrament, but they come to have the message of God tug at their hearts and lights a fire in their souls.

    I can testify to this from my travels around the US. In a major southern city, I heard a priest from Africa compare cannibalism with Catholicism. Another time I heard a priest preach that wives should accept that their husbands really do not love them and that they only need them to feel complete and to “satisfy the necessities of being a man.” Both instances I wanted to run out of the church screaming. I actually apologized to my wife and mother for them having to hear the completely off-base ranting of that second priest. My point is – if you do not grow up in an area’s culture and you are “imported” into that area to serve a function (whether it be a priest, doctor, lawyer, police officer, or garbage collector), you need to assimilate into that society for an extended period of time before you understand it’s people, customs, or ways of life. Just because you are on the altar doesn’t mean you are prepared to preach or lead a flock.

    We lose many people from our Faith to the Protestants and Evangelicals because they are finding the spiritual “well” empty in our churches and they still possess that yearning for God’s message. They will find it in other sources if we do not do a better job at the ambo each and every Mass.

    Good, clear, concise homilists are a major part of the answer.

  7. I also want to add – We have some great priests and deacons who preach. They prepare well. They speak clearly. They do a beautiful job of breaking open the Word and relating it to our lives. These priests and deacons are both born inside AND outside the US. I’m not picking on those who have immigrated to the US and perform ministry here.

    My complaint is that we cannot be so desperate for priests and deacons that we just take everyone and let them delivery homilies. This goes for all the clergy – foreign and domestic. We, as a church, have many priests and deacons that should not be presenting homilies because they are just not good preachers.

  8. Re: FrMichael #3:

    For many years in our area, a local deacon has given a three-part series on the History of Roman Catholicism in the United States. It was the third part of his series — covering 1960 – 2004 — that I remember most because he talked about the “Great Exodus” of 1968 and how it affected Catholic schools at that time. His take is that the folks who went through Catholic Schools from 1968 through to 1978 (and the Papacy of John Paul II) were “The Lost Generation.”

    About eight years ago or so, a young family moved into our parish. When I got to know them better, I found out that both were members of “The Lost Generation” and asked them one day to relate their experiences growing up in an unfocused church. The mother of that family told me something I had not expected — she had been “home-schooled”: and her own parents used the Baltimore Catechism as their primary text for the religious component.

  9. Re: “Down-Home” Deacon #7 and #8

    I’ve been a deacon long enough to see several phases in this whole scene of deacons and the faculty of preaching.

    In my area of the Midwest, deacons who were ordained from the start to about 1990 or so had the faculty to preach once they were ordained but many were so poorly trained that maybe 50-60% should have never been allowed to do so. In fact, many did not — either of their own choice or of their pastor’s choice.

    From about 1990 to about 2004 or so, lots of folks followed the “Cincinnati Model.” Deacons were not automatically given the faculty to preach upon ordination but, if they wanted to do that, they would have to attend a year long post-ordination series dedicated to just preaching.

    In the early 2000’s or do — in line with both “Fulfilled in your Hearing” and the new Vatican norms — it was realized that all deacons by the very sacramental nature of their ordination, are to automatically get the faculty to preach. The newer solution to potential bad-preaching came through a better application processes (more candidates with appropriate degrees and college coursework) and better formation itself.

    Now this is not the forum to debate whether graduate degrees in religious studies should be the requirement for admission to diaconal candidacy (as it is in some European countries). That is for a different time and place.

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