Is this a homily? Or a stage production?

Via Pixabay/Creative Commons

My friend Fr. Matthew Schneider opines: 

I want to go a little deeper than matters such as the “effectiveness” or “process” of preaching to focus on the arguments around the homily as a liturgical act. Preaching can be anything from street preaching, to homilies, to a bioethics course for clergy. The situation in such cases is so different that we can’t really come to a universal rule regarding technology. Maybe on the street corner, showing a 3-D holographic version of Jesus’ life is the most effective; and in the case of bioethics, you probably want slides showing stats or details of procedures. What concerns us is the homily, and what is unique about the homily compared to all other forms of preaching, which is that it is liturgical. It is not an additional flair, like a musical setting of Beethoven. Vatican II goes so far as to declare that the homily, “Is to be highly esteemed as part of the liturgy itself.” Thus, we will focus on technology in the homily as part of the liturgy, not preaching in general.

I will argue that technology can be used around the homily, but not in it.

He has much more to say, and writes about it at length in the Homiletics and Pastoral Review, as well. Check out his blog for more. 

I once served Mass with a priest who decided to play a song from his iPad during his homily. He couldn’t get the thing to work. He was forced to fumble through an explanation of what the song was saying, paraphrasing and ad libbing. It was worse than awkward.

I’ve never seen anyone attempt to use a PowerPoint for a homily, though I suppose it could be done if there were a screen (or blank wall) available. But is it necessary? Is it helpful? Does it break open The Word — or does it reduce The Word to something like a college lecture?

I’m likewise leery of using props for a homily — though they can be helpful in some circumstances, and for a younger audience can help make the abstract concrete.

But really: less is more.  When I began my career in broadcasting, nearly 40 years ago, I was schooled in the ways of radio, which at CBS we always considered “the theater of the mind.” I still hold that to be true. Preachers, use the power of ideas and the power of imagination to bring the scripture alive and make it relevant. Paint pictures with words. Be concrete. Make it real. Keep it real. Don’t reduce a homily to just another talk. You have seven or eight minutes to capture hearts, stir ideas and inspire hope.

Don’t waste them.


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