Why Do Passionate Preachers Make Some Catholics Squirm?

Why Do Passionate Preachers Make Some Catholics Squirm? September 9, 2013

I recently had a terrific Mass experience that has me mentally trying to answer something, so I thought I’d share my befuddlement here in the hopes that you might have some answers.

Case in point: me, sitting in Mass, listening to an amazing homily by a passionate preacher. He’s on fire, and actually has been since he processed down the center aisle at the beginning of Mass. He doesn’t just “say Mass”, he proclaims it with his entire person. His prayers aren’t said by rote. This priest varies the cadence of his proclamations each time I hear him say Mass, emphasizing different words at different times.

I’m good, until I notice the couple sitting near me, snarls on their faces. At first I think their snarls are prompted by the music, but then I realize that it’s just that they are completely uncomfortable with this particular style of passionate preaching. They’d prefer to come to Mass, stick to the cadence they’ve always known, and not to venture out of their comfort zone. I think there are likely others like them in the congregation, but since I intentionally sit towards the front of any Church to avoid my built-in tendency to muse during Mass, I don’t see the other nay-sayers.

But I know they’re out there.

So I bring this question to you, my fellow Catholic blog readers: Why Do Passionate Preachers Make Some Catholics Squirm? 


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  • Molly Alley

    You worded it in a way that makes the answer hard to see. If you instead said, he prays the mass in a way that is personally expressive, I could see a problem. He’s supposed to be acting in persona christi, if he’s too focused on acting as himself, it can fill up all the room and make it hard to let God in. There’s a tendency to make the mass about ourselves, when it should be about God.

    • lisahendey

      Molly this is a great response that I hadn’t considered… I’m going to consult a few priest friends on this too, but I thank you for raising this point.

  • Deacon Steve

    We were taught in formation to preach with passion, meaning to truly believe what we are saying, but to not go over the top with our delivery. If we are overly theatrical then the focus becomes the messenger, not the message. I try to be passionate about what I preach, but keep my tone fairly even. Too much histrionics and variation can also make it difficult for people with hearing difficulties to understand what we are saying. But we should not preach as robots with no variation or inflection in our voices. That also turns people off. We need to use our voices and our mannerism to draw people into the message, not beat them over the heads with it.

    • lisahendey

      Deacon Steve, I’d say your parishioners are fortunate – it’s sounds like your approach is energetic, yet measured. Thank you for your service to our Church!

  • Are you asking about the homily, or the praying/saying of the Mass? I can certainly see having exuberant, passionate preaching, but I’m not sure how that translates into the “style” of the Mass. I’m planning on some preaching the homily with passion this weekend, and I do expect that some people will be uncomfortable. Generally, being uncomfortable is what leads to change.

    As regards “in persona Christi”, that is not an idea that is applicable in the homily in the same manner it is during the Eucharistic prayer. As I deacon, I do not preach “in persona Christi”, as we mean in the technical sense.

    • lisahendey

      Can I say I’m super psyched to have holy Deacons commenting on this thread?! I think what was bothering these people was almost more the parts of the Mass, as opposed to the homily. And call me crazy, but with all that is happening in our world, I think we need some fairly passionate preaching to wake some of us up!

  • DeaconsBench

    It depends, I think, on what you mean by “passionate.” Are we talking Elmer Gantry or Pope Francis? Some priests have a flair for this sort of thing and let a certain staginess creep into the way they pray the Mass and preach. You ever watch Fr. William Casey on EWTN? He does mission retreats on the network. While I appreciate what he says, I can’t get past HOW he says it, which I find a bit melodramatic and affected. But that’s me. Your mileage may vary. 🙂

    • lisahendey

      Will you get mad at me if I say I have no idea who Elmer Gantry is? And now I’m off to youtube to find Fr. Casey…