Once more unto the preach, dear friends

Here is a sad story. One of my daughters arrived at my house on Christmas Day with her non-Catholic husband and three (young adult) children. She was exasperated by the Mass she had attended. “There I was, at a Christmas Mass, where you would expect that a number of occasional Catholics would make the effort to turn up, and none of us could make out the sermon. It was virtually inaudible. What a missed opportunity!”

I had to agree. I have heard countless sermons from countless priests, in countless places, and I doubt if more than one sermon out of five could be regarded as approaching competence. Naturally, I am not talking about the theology or doubting anyone’s good intentions, I am talking about competent presentation. And that is important because it is a key occasion of contact between the teaching Church and the listening Church. I accept, of course, that not everyone is a natural public speaker but everyone can improve their skills. We are not inclined to excuse a doctor of medicine who does not care to improve his medical skills. Why should we not expect as much from a doctor of souls?

Having spent much of my life as a speaker, I think I know where the problem lies. In order to maintain an acceptable standard I need to expose myself regularly to direct criticism. That is, I charge one or two trustworthy people in my audience to give me constructive feedback. It can be tough to hear, but like any professional I need a coach. If I cannot set that up, I use my pocket recorder so that I can play my presentation straight back. It is painful to recognise my imperfections. Will I one day be so experienced that I no longer need the help? I have been training for 70 years. I’ll let you know when I’m good enough.

So I would advise anyone whose function it is to preach, priest or deacon, that he has a duty to sustain and develop his professional skill. And he will only do this by constant practice and with constant feedback. Without this, it’s a pound to a penny that he is at best mediocre and at worst causes scandal. I had the motivation of surprisingly generous fees: he has the motivation of the greater glory of God.

Some may be fortunate enough to have neighbour priests for joint in-service training. Others would do well to join an active secular organisation like Toastmasters. I can promise that your fellow members will be eager to help.

Since I cannot turn this column into a mini public speaking course, I will confine myself to one piece of advice. It has the advantage that anyone who takes it will never go far wrong and anyone who neglects it can spend the rest of his life studying public speaking and never succeed.

The most important stage in preparing an address is setting out objectives. And the process starts with asking the question: “What do I want to have happened to my congregation/audience between the time I stand up and the time I sit down?”

It’s as simple as that, but note the distinction: the objectives are not about what I do. They are about what should happen in the listener’s mind as a result of what I do. And every objective must pass the CROW test. That is, a satisfactory objective must be Concrete, Realistic, Observable and Worthwhile. It’s a high standard. “I am going to tell the congregation how the story in the Gospel today can affect them in their everyday lives” differs importantly from “My congregation should recognise how the story in the Gospel is relevant in their everyday lives, and they should already be thinking of an instance or two in which they could apply it.” It is the second which focuses the preacher’s mind on the ways he might achieve this change in the congregation. From then onwards every aspect of preparation should be measured against its effectiveness in achieving the objectives.

This will cover a number of issues. Will there be a clear structure so that the audience can follow what they are hearing? Does that structure reflect that attention and recall are best achieved at the opening and the closing? Are the illustrations likely to have impact on that particular congregation? How many points are to be made, given that one memorable point is better than three which are forgotten? How long should it be, accepting that at the average Sunday Mass every minute beyond seven detracts from rather than adds to the message? It’s hard work: at least a couple of hours will be needed to distil the preparation into a five-minute message in which every word counts. A 10-minute message takes rather less time.

Some may argue that this world of techniques and tricks and tropes is unworthy of the sacred duty of preaching. Surely the plain word, straight from the heart, is enough. No doubt there are some whose deep holiness combines with native ability, who need no further skills. And who would deny that the spirit bloweth where it listeth? But I think these to be rather few.

We might take some comfort from the thought that rhetoric is a high art, not easily acquired. Even today, following the custom of classical education, the final year in a Jesuit school is called Rhetoric. Only then is the scholar fit to take his place in the world, or in the pulpit.

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About Quentin

Science Editor, Catholic Herald. Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
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97 Responses to Once more unto the preach, dear friends

  1. I always thought that this was the single, most important skill taught in the Seminary. Am I wrong?
    To compose a sermon and communicate it to all parishioners, in a sense, encompasses everything that a Parish priest should do.
    A knowledge of Catholic doctrine and theology is implied. Ability to relate to parishioners is essential. Familiarity with everything that is happening in the parish goes without saying. And so on.

    At present in our parish the ‘priest in charge’ is a Nigerian. It is not his fault but his sermons are almost completely unintelligible. When he reads the prayers of the Mass we know what he is saying and can follow it, but when he is preaching there are differences in the pronunciation of words, the structure and emphasis of sentences which make it impossible to relate to what he is saying.
    At least we get to hear Mass – but that is all.

    • milliganp says:

      Nope!
      Homiletics, at most seminaries is a second class subject.

    • milliganp says:

      On an entirely different note, I believe the parachuting of African priests into parishes is counter productive. They have made no effort to understand our culture(sic) and make no effort to be understood.

      • I wouldn’t put as baldly as that! We are grateful for at least the opportunity to hear Mass daily, well almost – Wednesday is an Eucharistic Adoration organised by a lay minister.
        I do wonder why Nigerian priests come to this country, surely there must be a shortage of priests in Nigeria!

      • milliganp says:

        Horace, i always overdo it – sadly it’s part of my nature. However I have a workmate who is in a “dual-Nigerian” parish and he says that, despite going to Mass for the Eucharist, he has not heard a helpful word from the altar in 3 years.

  2. Ann says:

    Our pp is pretty good at sermons. He comes down off the alter and stands in front of the congregation. He is clear speaking, mircophone always works etc. I’ve never timed his sermons, but I would say around 15-20 mins.

    • ionzone says:

      I wish ours was more like this. We have had some amazing ones, and some that bored me to the point I wanted to yell. Public speaking is a fine art and you need to get that to be a priest. I have been to way too many sermons where the priest made their big point….and then carried on for ten minutes on some tangent.

      To speak well in public you have to set a BRUTAL time limit on yourself. Think of yourself as the guy in the film who has to sell the big idea that’s going to save the world and run with that feeling. That’s how you do everything from school presentations up. If you haven’t got their attention in a death grip, you aren’t putting enough energy or relevance into it. Take a leaf out of Jesus’s book and frame lessons as stories! Put high theological concepts in everyday language. And above all, try to give it energy and focus.

    • milliganp says:

      We were taught that 7mins was a boundary of boredom. Your priest has to be exceptional to make 20.

      • Ann says:

        I could be far out there on time, maybe it seems longer than it is on some sermons, i’m going to time him tonight now! lol 🙂

  3. Nektarios says:

    What is a real preacher?
    A real preacher is first and foremost one who is sent by God.
    A preacher is one who is steeped in the word of God.
    A preacher is one whose life is saturated with prayer.
    A preacher is one whose life is filled by the Holy Spirit

    The power with a preacher is not a matter or mere oratory, though it may on the outside appear like that. The real power is God’s as any real preacher will tell you.

    A real preacher can be a Evangelist, a Pastor, Priest or a lay-person, a Missionary, anyone who God chooses to use at any given time. It may be a lifelong calling, or for a specific task.
    A real preacher sent by God cannot do anything else but preach and with power and authority.

    • milliganp says:

      Amen.

      • Singalong says:

        The Cure of Ars was renowned for the power and inspiration of his sermons even though his voice was not very powerful, and there were no microphones in his time. His holiness and zeal overcame all other disadvantages, and had an overwhelming effect on those who heard him, resulting in many conversions to good and saintly lives.

      • Vincent says:

        Yes, Singalong, I agree with you – there are such exceptions. I believe that the Curé d’Ars nearly didn’t make it to ordination because he did so badly in his studies.
        At evening Mass today, the Lesson was read with great beauty by girl of 15 or 16. It was obvious that she had thought much about her text, and her interpretation was a sermon it itself – and rather better than the quite competent sermon which followed.

    • milliganp says:

      Perhaps to expand. I spent 30 years in computer sales and there were various “crafts” of salesmanship which involve the manipulation of the person being sold to. As I lay in front of the Bishop at my ordination I prayed that I would never use this “craft” in preaching the Gospel.
      Preaching the Gospel has to come from the Spirit within and indeed Jesus tells his disciples not to prepare but to say what the Spirit inspires them to.
      However, in the Pre-Vatican II church, oratory was a subject included in training. Knowing how to speak effectively and using that skill is not the same as the manipluation I saw practised in computer sales.

  4. Brian Hamill says:

    I think that one of the real issues with regard to sermons and homilies is that, within the Caholic tradition, of the two components of the Mass, the Sacramental aspect is taken far more seriously than that of the Word. This is unlike the general Protestant tradition where the Word is dominant. Therefore, as Horace Townsend says, ‘At least we get to hear Mass’ and, given the tradition of the silent Latin Mass of yesteryear which still casts a long shadow, the congregation at Mass do not come for the Word but for the Sacrament. A good sermon is a pleasant bonus. And who dares criticise his/her parish priest’s sermon to his face? So, in like manner and for the same reasons, very few tell him of their appreciation either. It is not that important, but of course it is.

    • St.Joseph says:

      A good sermon to some will be boring to others’
      What is a good sermon to everyone?
      The saying is ‘you can please half the people all the time ,all the people half the time,but not all the people all the time!
      On Sundays we hear the Word in two readings,and the the Gospel, The pries as I always understood is that he bring them all into context with the Magisterium and today’s living experiences.
      There are always ways and means of picking up a homily to prepare for Sundays.

      • Nektarios says:

        Not much room left for the Spirit of God to work there then?
        This goes back to the last topic, and begs the question, what is the need of the hour for the Church one is addressing?
        Otherwise one is simply churning out homilies and sermons, and there is a difference
        apart from length.
        I don’t buy it, that the attention span of people is so short the can only take in a few minutes, while then the same people can watch a film for an hour-and a -half or, read a book for a couple of hours, or listen to music or go to a evening out and listen to music for several hours….. but can only manage to give attention to a sermon or homily for a few minutes only – nah, I don’t buy the argument.
        It is not that some people in congregations have a short attention span, rather it is the sad reflection that they don’t want to give attention to such homilies or sermons.

      • milliganp says:

        Nektarios, I agree that we should not merely bow to the modern problem of lack of attention span, There are some topics that can’t be compressed into 7 mins and there are members of our congregation that genuinely want more. However I’ve listened to many a 10min homily which was a 3min homily repeated 3 times.
        St Joseph, if we base our homilies on scripture we should never have to diverge from the settled truths of our faith but I don’t feel the need to consult the catechism every time I preach.
        The more difficult areas are when we need to preach to the moment, such as during the legal redefinition of marriage or on matters relating to marriage and family life. Most preachers tend to just avoid difficult subjects so few Cathoics have ever heard a coherent homily on family planning or the importance of marriage. (Or they handle them insensitively.)

    • John L says:

      Brian,
      I don’t dispute what you say – you write of your own experience.
      I grew up in the “long shadow” of the Latin Mass, but knew not that there was any shadow. Yes, the sacrifice and sacrament were predominant, but there was excellent exposition of the word too. There was exposition of the Mass itself. When we had curates (remember them?) to assist the PP, we often used to have one priest celebrating Mass and another in the pulpit explaining what and why was happening. Meanwhile those who chose to use missals had the Latin and English in parallel columns. I submit that then, as now, it all depended on the effort one was prepared to make oneself.
      The only interruptions to clear catechetical courses from the pulpit were “letters from the bishop” which, as I have remarked elsewhere, were often turgid and seemed to a young generation to bear little relationship to one’s day-to-day life.
      My current PP preaches on the scripture used in the Mass of the day (as I understand is expected of him). What he has to say is usually well worth hearing.
      I can’t help thinking back to an occasion when my wife was involved in a catechetical group for very young children, there being no Catholic school. One of the young mothers remarked “I wish someone would do something like this for US!”, It made me very aware of my extreme good fortune in having had Catholic primary and secondary education, and I feel sorry that there is not more direct catechesis from the pulpit. For many it is their only opportunity to understand their faith.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Singalong.
      The late Bishop Fulton Sheen where EWTN shows his programmes and various other good speakers,ought to be listened too.
      There is no excuse for anyone not to know their faith when there is so much information on EWTN and on web sites,

      But we must accept the fact that some are not gifted with the gift of public speaking. I am thankful that we have priests who can say Mass for us at all.
      Priests are getting older and tired and it ought to be expected that we take some of the responsibility and seek what we should ourselves.
      Our schools are the important place to teach our children next to the home,We also have the CCC and good books and lives of the Saints.
      Of course it is a bonus if we hear a good sermon,but the Blessed Sacrament is more important
      These priests are someone else’s son,.We thank God for them and their failings.
      Where I worship the sermons are written by the priest and read by him!
      And we could not get better, however Holy Mass and readings are more important.they are the Word of God.

      • milliganp says:

        St Joseph, I thoroughly agree that we need to consider what we can reasonably expect of our clergy, most of whom are ageing. In the days of 3 priests per parish the burden of preaching was spread in a way not possible today. I used to preach at 3 Masses and by the time I got to the third I was bored with the sound of my own voice. Give numbers attending our parish could easily reduce the number of Masses but people are used to having choice and object if “their” mass is abolished.

  5. St.Joseph says:

    Nektarios.
    How do you know all that. ?
    You said once that a Catholic Priest takes Holy Communion to your wife every fortnight and you always have a chat to him.
    Is it he is is giving you all this false information on the Catholic Church,or are you looking at a picture of the crucified Christ and seeing no beauty in it!!
    Remember we have to leave the weeds to grow with the good seeds or else we destroy them all.
    You in your mind seem to be a very good job at doing that with your thinking!
    You ought to centre your attention on society then you will understand a little more about the RC Church. I can not presume to speak for the Orthodox as I don’t know much about it!..

    • Nektarios says:

      St. Joseph
      The first sentence of your posting is correct, all the rest is simply nonsense.
      Do you think my interest is to down and to strive with the RCC about differences in doctrine and emphasis? Think again.
      I am well aware that liturgical Churches follow the Christian Calendar throughout the year.
      Other Churches are not so constrained by that formulation.
      What I am talking about is preaching and preachers for that in part is the topic.
      Truly, I desire the best for all my Christian brethren even those who are sometimes too forthright in there opinions about myself.

  6. Singalong says:

    Like Ann. we are very fortunate in our parish now with a priest and two deacons who all give good sermons which are usually based on the Mass Readings, but it has not always been so in other places and times. It is particularly disappointing when a non Catholic friend or lapsed member of the family comes, and the opportunity to teach and inspire seems to be missed, which is likely to be at Christmas, or for weddings and especially funerals.

  7. RAHNER says:

    The quality of many sermons given by secular priests in the UK is poor. Many priests lack an effective theological language. A sermon should not be a theology lecture – but neither should it be an opportunity to simply regurgitate a few pious platitudes.

  8. St.Joseph says:

    Nektarios
    Note my comment at 10.47.!!! Which you ridiculed!.
    You realise we have a view do you?

    • Nektarios says:

      St Joseph,
      I did not ridicule your posting of 10:27.
      Yes, of course I realise you have a view sincerely held no doubt, but when applying it to myself you were wrong on all counts. That was all that should have been inferred.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Nektarios.
        I was not applying it to anyone in particular.
        Definitely not to you. A Church full of people will obviously react to homilies differently some will say .I did not understand that, or what was all that about?.
        I can respect people who think differently to me,as I hope they will respect me who think differently to them. That does not mean that the same Spirit is not working with us all.(re your comment)
        Thinking is not the same as believing-that is something that you and I differ on.
        If take a non-catholic to Church with me, I don’t expect them to believe in everything that is said,but do expect their respect for taking them their,and if they want to discuss anything with me I expect it would be with respect..The same if I went to another denomination.
        I married a Methodist you married a RC.My husband converted through his own reasoning not through any pressure from me.Through the power of the Holy Spirit.
        He is not fussy who He lands on,only wants people to be open to His Gifts.

  9. claret says:

    Possibly not every parishioner realises that the only person authorised to give the homily in Mass is the PP and he must relate it to the readings of the day with the emphasis on the Gospel.
    So a lot of issues that are pertinent to being a Catholic are not spoken of from the pulpit unless they can be justifiably linked to the scripture readings. This can be frustrating to a listener hoping for some guidance, on say for example, gay marriage.
    Similarly the PP is not at liberty to invite a lay person to give the homily.
    When we hear ‘appeals’ speakers then they should be heard at the end of Mass and not during it.
    I too think that this so-called ‘seven minute ‘ rule is a mantra that has no basis in fact. A person’s attention span is not governed so much by time as by content. It seems to be almost a Catholic tradition to want a short sermon, and to be delighted if there is no sermon at all !
    (My dear Father (may in he rest in peace,) was one of those who had a simple, but sadly misguided view of: Short sermon , good: Long sermon bad!) Content would seem to be unaffected by this, dare I say, Catholic approach.
    I was once asked about a new priest being sent to take over our parish who i had some knowledge of. The question posed to me the most about him was not as to this man’s qualities but were his sermons short!
    To take up Quentin’s point it is not just the Priest that needs feedback and training but the congregation too !

    • Claret
      As far as I know all your qualifications are correct – however : “he must relate it to the readings of the day with the emphasis on the Gospel.” I never heard mentioned [or perhaps read] until post Vatican II.

    • milliganp says:

      I presume your parish has only 1 priest and no deacon. Any priest or deacon can preach at a mass, it does not have to be the celebrant. However the laity, including religious, are not peromitted though it does happen despite the regulations.

  10. John Candido says:

    One of the best Priests that I had the pleasure to hear preach always talked at our level. Meaning that he never used his full vocabulary if he could avoid it, and had panache for using stories from radio, television and newspapers to expand on or begin with his sermons. This was before the rise of the internet.

    During weekday masses he never went longer than 5 minutes & Sundays were about 15 to 20 minutes in length. He gave the impression of having a serious message to give without being threatening or fearful. He is a very confident fellow and he easily projected this through the mass and his many sermons. There are many Priests and religious who you can say are the salt of the earth, and he easily fitted the bill.

    Enthusiastic and a person of deep integrity; he was one of a handful of Priests who defended ordinary parishioners and their children after the avalanche of the sexual abuse scandal erupted. He has always considered their plight far more important than the Church’s reputation. I remember him saying on television that he thought the Roman Catholic Church should go down on its knees and beg forgiveness for what it was responsible for. He has literally given the coat off his back to any unfortunate people needing clothes, and has listened for hours on telephone to the stories of those who were abused as children many years ago. He has long since left my parish, but occasionally he would appear on television or in The Age. I consider myself blessed for coming into contact with him.

  11. Ignatius says:

    We are on homiletics at the moment. Taught by a brilliant Dominican priest at the seminary. Our PP does best in the prison where his homilies are very good. Two weeks he was speaking on the importance of family to an audience of sex offenders -men convicted of pretty nasty things. the atmosphere in the chapel was something to experience. Homiletics is difficult to teach and I think from all the above, and having spent years preaching regularly myself, that you are all missing out the poor old PP who might be excellent in many areas but not gifted in speech…Probably we could all do with forking out a bit for better sound systems I agree and some ongoing training could be helpful. We are taught the 8 minute principle not so much from attention span but from the belief that 8minutes is enough to elaborate a key issue. Context is the thing.

    Coming from a Free church and Evangelical background we all used to speak for 20 mins. Now whenever I go to such a gathering I find myself getting bored with all the repetition.

    • St.Joseph says:

      When my children used to tell me Mass was boring, I would tell them that Our Lord is offended when they say that,I would then tell them that Jesus did not have much time to be bored when He Hung on the Cross, for their salvation Can you not spent 1 hr with Him and forget about yourself for once! Maybe being cruel to be kind. However it has not put them off yet ,now middle aged. I hear them saying similar things to their children.
      It is not a case of putting up with it but what we do for love..
      Midnight Mass is usually packed with people who only go at that time, they don’t realise that they will not find under the Christmas tree a greater gift that the Real Presence.

      It is wonderful that people go even at Christmas,but it is true what a priest told the children at my grandsons first Holy Communion last year ‘That if we really love someone we would not be happy with one hour a week’. He is a young priest-says Latin Mass every day, a school priest, it does not take a lot of words to tell the Truth..

  12. John Nolan says:

    I can happily sit through an hour-long lecture from someone who knows what he is talking about, but a sermon which goes much above the ten-minute mark has me fidgeting. This is because it is usually an interpellation into the Mass which holds up the action (particularly in a sung Mass which with the attendant ceremony would last over an hour anyway). This is why in the EF the celebrant removes his maniple before ascending the pulpit. The OF rubrics would claim that the “homily” (an unfortunate translation since in English the word implies a sanctimonious admonition) is part of the liturgy, but one of the problems with the vernacular Novus Ordo is that it resembles an extended lecture with the celebrant facing the congregation throughout, and being encouraged to add additional comments ad libitum.

    My pet hate is the priest who does not prepare a sermon but rambles on interminably, and then realizes he has gone on too long and so uses EP2 so that he can complete the Mass in the shortest time possible. I have heard some good sermons recently; the Oratorians are excellent in this respect and Fr Hunwicke of the Ordinariate is brilliantly entertaining and yet profound. Pope Francis, too, rarely goes over the ten-minute mark and is, in my opinion, a better homilist than his two predecessors, although Benedict was always worth listening to – a German who could actually expound theology in a direct and (for a layman) understandable way, which in itself is remarkable.

  13. Ignatius says:

    I think this is the point about catholic preaching, much of it it takes place within the context of mass and therefore is rightfully constrained. We have the liturgy of the word then the liturgy of eucharist. At seminary we are taught not to adorn the word excessively for this very reason.

    • John Nolan says:

      For those of us with long memories the standard Sunday afternoon fare in a lot of parishes was ‘Rosary, Sermon and Benediction’. As a child I enjoyed Benediction with its bells and smells but was bored by the first two elements. I must have been taken there quite regularly, because by the age of nine I was familiar with much of the Westminster Hymnal, and we didn’t sing hymns at Mass.

      I think preaching at a weekday Mass is unfair to both priest and people, and inserting a homily into Vespers is deplorable (was this something we borrowed from the Anglicans?) Thankfully, it’s not usually done in the best places.

      • milliganp says:

        During a period out of work I attended daily Mass at my parish and did a “thought for the day”, 2 min homily after the Gospel. This ran for 3-4 months. When I went back to work the weekday Mass congregation kept telling me how much they missed it, so it can be done if you keep it simple and to the point.
        In my childhood, as an Altar server, attendance at weekly Benediction (and daily for the months of May and October!) was mandatory. I have to say I loved it, but I was on the Altar which is a different vantage point to the congregation. Our PP was a man who left you in no doubt that God was present on the altar so I never had a sense of anything other than awe at being able to take part.
        I did, once, attend Evensong at Wells Cathederal. I have never since felt the urge to try it a second time.

    • Quentin says:

      And rightly so, I think. Different occasions call for a different kind of rhetoric. One of the challenging aspects of preaching is that one must achieve one’s objectives without anyone seeing the seams. Neither Demosthenes nor Cicero would go down well now. And we no longer look to Aristotle or Cassius Longinus for our instruction. Eheu fugaces (That’s for John Nolan)

  14. Ann says:

    Just under 15 mins 🙂

  15. John Nolan says:

    It is being excessively legalistic to insist that the homily be on the Scripture readings – GIRM 65 has the subjunctive (sit oportet) and even so widens the recommendation to include other texts from the Ordinary or Proper. If the Mass is that of a saint (even a simple memorial) it would be entirely appropriate to preach about him or her. The reading that usually needs most in the way of ‘explicatio’ is the first one, since few Catholics are familiar with the Old Testament. It might be useful to expatiate on some of the Proper prayers, particularly the Collects; some of them are taken from ancient sacramentaries and their theological implications can be drawn out (this would not have been possible before 2011 since we didn’t have accurate translations).

    The tradition of having a guest preacher for the patronal feast is a good one. Although the GIRM blathers away in its inimitable fashion about concelebrating clergy (even the Latin is woolly, it really needs tearing up and rewriting) it is clear that he can simply be in choir.

    • milliganp says:

      One of the undoubted downsides of preaching on the readings is that it leaves little oppotunity to deal with those matters of faith not explicit in the readings. It also makes it difficult to, for instance, do a 3-4 week programme of preaching on a specific subject (the church, marriage and family life, the sacraments for instance). This was one area where the old mass had a strength, there was no specific need to link to the Gospel.

      On a wind-up note how can you judge the linguistic quality of a language dead for over 1000 years, it’s a bit like saying Americans don’t know how to speak English.

      • John Nolan says:

        milliganp

        There is still no specific need to link to the Gospel in the ‘homily’. Your last paragraph makes no sense to me; I would have thought linguistic quality is dependent on the ability to communicate clearly, and modern English usage seems to have lost the knack – too often it has to assume that the listener or reader understands what the speaker intends to say or write, rather than what he actually does say or write.

        Someone who wrote a prayer in the first millennium knew what he intended to say, and would have been aware that the Latin in which he thought and wrote had nuances. But a modern Latinist knows this as well. Far from being a dead language, Latin was spoken in this island even before Julius Caesar arrived in 55BC, and since then not a day has gone by in which Latin is not spoken somewhere in this country.

  16. Quentin says:

    A pleasant surprise this morning. A priest I did not know. He accompanied his words with sign language. He had some speech and hearing difficulties, although easy to understand. We were taken Immediately into the world of those who have been asked to face special challenge in their lives. And this was our alter Christus on the altar.

    His sermon was just about 5 minutes. His contact with the congregation was so strong that when he said that few people could remember their baptism, an elderly lady, in this big and rather formal church, was surprised into raising her hand, and saying out loud “I can”.

    His message was absolutely simple: Jesus had asked John for baptism because he wanted to be within the congregation of the faithful, not external to it — and his final message — of our individual value to Christ — was greeted by the total silence of a rapt congregation.

    • RAHNER says:

      NHS alert……….Stand by for apoplexy attacks amongst some crackpot traditionalists…..

      • John Nolan says:

        And stand by for apoplexy attacks amongst some crackpot liberals – Pope Francis celebrated Mass in the Sistine Chapel this morning facing the altar! With his back to the people! Shock! Horror!

        I’m glad ++Vin has got a red hat. Now Cormac can hang up his and stop floating around Rome causing mischief.

  17. Singalong says:

    There must be something in the air of my hometown!

  18. Iona says:

    Maybe I’ve been particularly lucky, but I don’t seem to have had the unfortunate experiences many of you have had when listening to homilies. Our own PP more often than not preaches on the readings of the day, but certainly on occasion (the occasion usually having been presented by items in the news) has preached on the redefinition of marriage, on abortion, euthanasia, the “culture of death” generally, and attempts by liberals (with a small “l”) to elbow Christians and especially Catholics out of public life. I haven’t timed his homilies but would guess they are between 5 and 10 minutes. They are always worth listening to. They often include nuggets of illuminating information (historical; or, relating to the exact meanings of the original Greek or Hebrew words). I have also attended Mass several times at a church in London where I have heard homilies which were interesting and held my attention.

    • Ignatius says:

      Iona,
      “Our own PP more often than not preaches on the readings of the day, but certainly on occasion (the occasion usually having been presented by items in the news)”
      This is the ‘context’ I was mentioning earlier. Context is strongly emphasised in our homiletics module -but it is quite a tricky concept to get right…your PP obviously does!

  19. Iona says:

    And as to Nigerian priests in the UK:
    Our PP was away on New Year’s day, and three of us were disappointed about this, as we like to make a point of attending Mass that day. We live in a sparsely-populated part of the UK, and Catholic churches are miles apart; however, we tracked down a church about 50 minutes drive away where we were assured there would be a NYD Mass. And indeed, there was. It was celebrated by a Nigerian; his accent took a little bit of tuning in to, but this only needed a few minutes listening. He was not the PP, but had driven about 70 miles to ensure that the parishioners could attend Mass, – the PP for that parish being a friend of his, also a Nigerian, who had gone home to Nigeria for Christmas; and on his way he had celebrated Mass at another church. His homily was excellent. He was immensely cheerful. He stayed for coffee after Mass and chatted to everybody. And why is he (and his Nigerian priest friend) here rather than in Nigeria? – Because they are studying here, a subject they could not study in Nigeria.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Iona.
      I like your post, .
      It is interesting that your PP speaks about the subjects you mention.
      I wonder if he has ever given a sermon on ‘Fertility Awareness’ in his homily on abortion or if you know of any priest’s that do?.Or that anyone else has heard it spoken. Perhaps that is kept for the confessional,if confessed!
      I believe that abortion is in the actual ‘use of the contraceptive pill’ other than the intention. of preventing a birth!.;

      • Vincent says:

        Just clarify, St Joseph, please. Are you saying that those who use the pill intend to kill the foetus? Or are you saying that the very rare occasions of a foetus being conceived may lead to its miscarriage — an unintended event?

  20. St.Joseph says:

    Vincent
    Whether one intends to prevent a birth or the fertilization of an ovum and sperm. Once conceived will grow into a baby. The womb is aggressive and the baby is lost with the next menstrual cycle.
    You say a very rare occasion.,.Which it isn’t-how do you know this ? The same applies to the morning after pill, coils and some other contraceptives.
    One is not ignorant of the consequences if they do take contraceptives that are abortifacants.
    I had 3 miscarriages not through any use of contraceptives, it is all in the intention.
    Your ‘miscarriage’ word is misleading and while it may ease ones conscience it wont deceive God.

    • Vincent says:

      Morning after pills and coils operate by stopping embryonic development; the contraceptive pill operates by stopping ovulation. The moral issues are entirely different.
      You may remember that the use of the pill for menstrual regulation, and thus the possible, but unintended, destruction of an embryo, is specifically permitted by the Church

      • St.Joseph says:

        Vincent It is permitted but not when having intercourse. Abortifacants are never permitted.
        If one is infertile one wont become pregnant. Menstrual regulation will become known by the use of fertile.mucus, If one is infertile they will not become pregnant What has irregular menstrual periods got do with it?.Irregular periods are common after childbirth, and coming off the pill and breast feeding! Also in lots of females ,hence the certainty of knowing ones fertility;
        Are you saying that contraceptive pills that cause abortions are not sinful?

      • St.Joseph says:

        Where did you read that the contraceptive pill operates by stopping ovulation?

      • Vincent says:

        St Joseph, I think there is some confusion here. HV is quite clear (para 15) that the pill can be used for therapeutic reasons “even though they have a contraceptive effect”. Now I wouldn’t know what the therapeutic reasons might be — you would have to ask a gynaecologist. And I am told that, following HV, there was a big rise in the number of women who referred themselves as having a therapeutic need for the pill.

        The therapeutic reasons had nothing to do with achieving contraception but, I suspect, the correction of gross irregularities or the occurrence of endometriosis.

        My point here is not the whys and wherefores, but that the Church allows the use of the pill in therapeutic cases, despite the dangers of the destruction of an embryo,

        You may recall that the Papal Commission, whose conclusion was overruled, was triggered by the advent of the pill.

      • Vincent says:

        Straight off the internet in 5 seconds
        “Birth control pills prevent pregnancy through several mechanisms, mainly by stopping ovulation. If no egg is released, there is nothing to be fertilized by sperm, and the woman cannot get pregnant. Most birth control pills contain synthetic forms of two female hormones: estrogen and progestin. These synthetic hormones stabilize a woman’s natural hormone levels, and prevent estrogen from peaking mid-cycle. Without the estrogen bump, the pituitary gland does not release other hormones that normally cause the ovaries to release mature eggs.”

  21. John Nolan says:

    St. Joseph
    Is a priest the best person to address the subject of ‘Fertility Awareness’? More gynaecological than theological, I would have thought. And a sermon on the dangers, both moral and physical, of homosexual practices would not be suitable for the children in the congregation.

    • St.Joseph says:

      John if a priest is addressing the subject of abortion it is just as impertinent to address abortifacants, as Iona mentioned in her comment.
      My priest mentions abortions when it is the subject of the SPUC White Flower collection.

      Children listen to more inappropriate language than that on TV.
      There are ways and means to express something delicately for adult ears.
      If he is a good preacher.
      It is destroying an unborn child ,not a potential one but a child with potential.
      There are always ways and means But then the priest has to be converted!

      • St.Joseph says:

        Pertinent not impertinent.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Vincent. Para 15 of HV You say.
        There is a big difference between contraception and abortion.
        Where does it say that a woman can destroy the life of a baby for therapeutic reasons?

        I don;t know why you are speaking about contraception, that is none of my business , I am not concerned what other people do with their own bodies and free will, only concerned when there is a perfectly simple answer to birth control and infertility. without taking the life of a child.
        Read the instruction on the inside of the Pill.
        In 1968 little was known about the effects of the Pill.In fact it was more dangerous in those days..

  22. St.Joseph says:

    Vincent
    No need to tell me how it should work I have taught it for over 50 years and met more women who had failings, it is not 100%effective, all it needs is a cold ,sickness, stomach upsets etc. If ovulation takes place then the womb which is supposed to be the safest place for a baby expels its down the sewerage drain. Not a nice thought is it? Does that make Our Lord and His Blessed mother happy,when he gave females he gift of childbirth. You can search the web as much as you like.But the fact is even if one baby the lifetime of a women is at risk of been unnecessarily aborted should put us to shame,.
    Especially when there is an answer
    I sounds as though you agree with it!.I am surprised you being a Catholic.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Should be over 30years!

      • Vincent says:

        St. Joseph, I have the greatest respect for your opinions and, since I have done my best to make the position clear without success, I think I had better leave it there. God bless.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Vincent .
        Your comment above can you explain please.
        I would dearly like to know what the position is that you speak about.
        We really must get to the bottom of this.It is an important issue and ought not to be left in the air. To confuse readers..
        .

  23. Nektarios says:

    ….But to get back to the subject of Preaching and Preachers.
    Whether one is a preacher, PP or Minister or deacon or lay-member of the Church, ones
    life lived is the sermon seen and read by all.
    So in the words of a famous Preacher of old, Rowland Hill, speaking about sermons, homilies and the Christian life in general, said:
    “Let it start with God, continue with God and end with God, otherwise it is nothing at all.”

    • St.Joseph says:

      Nektarious.
      God sent His only Son so that we would get to know Him.
      God is not someone who only lives in the clouds in a place we call Heaven.
      He came to teach us about Himself and sent the Holy Spirit to enlighten us.
      Scripture as you spoke about was for His Life on earth and important to read.
      However life goes on in the Church and we are here as Christians to continue through the Holy Spirit how He wants us to live in Him.As we move further into to modern world.
      Preaching and sermons are important but so is how we live our lives in Christ.
      Speaking about the ways we ought to live it is also ‘preaching’ the Word of God.
      Jesus spoke about His Father but He also spoke about how we could get there.
      That is how I see’ starting with God continuing wit God and ending with God’!.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Vincent.
        Can I suggest to you toThe book by Randy Alcorn. ‘Does the Birth Control Pill Cause Abortions.
        Read the reviews also Plenty from users and Doctors..

      • Vincent says:

        St.Joseph do please just accept that I have never accepted abortion, or any action intended to bring about an abortion.

      • Nektarios says:

        St. Joseph & Fellow Bloggers,
        The world as far as man is concerned has hardly changed at all. He is as barbaric, parochial, petty-minded, greedy, selfish, and as much a rebel against God as he has always been since the Fall.
        There are a plethora of so-called experts both religious and secular who will speak about how one ought to live, but that is not preaching the Gospel, that is mere philosophy.
        It is this sort of attitude towards the Word of God and true preaching that is depriving mankind of spiritual life, just as depriving man of water apart from which, he cannot live. There is the modern day Philistines clogging up the wells to the Water of Life our forebears dug for us. It would seem this modern day is full of Philistines -rebels against God, deny God, and puts man at the centre of his own destiny.
        Modern man with all his modern gadgets house and home, money, distraction of untold pleasures when someone comes along preaching
        the Gospel, when you really hear it, that is, would say, `What do I need that for?’

        These rebel Philistines against God have made sure the people are totally conditioned to
        believe so-many mere theories of Science and so many other experts and egotists, they put there views, their theories on the same plane as what God says to man.
        If mankind generally, even within Christian communities who seem at times to be more interested in their particular community, their particular devotions, and bow and genuflect,
        yet their hearts are far from God.
        As long as people will not listen to God, then man is slowly but surely on the way out.
        Long before that however, you have what we see now, man in the midst of sorrows and miseries and suffering. Still they rebel and won’t listen.
        Lets become religious, Catholic or Orthodox, Protestant or any other religious group
        but as long as man remains a rebel it will not benefit him, or her, one jot.
        Sin is the effect of this problem. His nature is in rebellion against God. and the Wrath of God awaits man at the end.
        Some have been deluded with such terms as God is a God of Love, Jesus loves us, no matter what we are like, He will save us.
        If this is what some may think who are not submitted unto God, but to his own will,
        consider this message in the Book Revelation 6:13- 17.
        Oh yes, this Jesus, many have spurned, not submitted themselves to Him, will experience, the wrath of `the Lamb! verse 16.
        Do read it before we say another word, voice another opinion on what one thinks of true preaching and preachers sent of God.

  24. St.Joseph says:

    Vincent.
    I accept what you say however Jan 13 at 2 01 your description of the Pill is misleading to say the least.It needed to be verified.

    ‘We should not permit what we want to believe to distract from what the evidence indicates we should believe’!.

    • Vincent says:

      No, St.Joseph, it was exact. If you think that the pill does not work by checking ovulation, please give me a link. Just feed ‘how does the contraceptive pill work?’ into Google, and you will find out for yourself.

      • St.Joseph says:

        I suggest you read the book I told you to read.
        You will find it on Amazon and read it on there . Then come back to me.! Vincent you are so naive.

  25. St.Joseph says:

    Nektarios.
    My grandmother used language like Rev chpt 6-13-17 when I was very young only she used to include ‘wearing sack cloth’s when running to the hills.
    She never said it in a frightening way just as a warning for the wicked at the second coming.
    I do not relate it to the fallen empire of ‘Holy Mother Church’.as the footnote may relate it to the ‘Roman Empire’.
    I am not as pessimistic as you, the world yesterday and today and hopefully the future will always be holier than before Christ came to show us the way.
    I don’t forget those who have and are still suffering and dying for the faith,or all those who do good works with Christian charities etc. and those of no faith at all but genuinely good people who do good works unknown to anyone but the Lord.!
    ,.

  26. Here is an interesting little quote from Michael Voris.:-
    Talking about a book – REBUILT – The Story of a Catholic Parish. “It has a forward in it by Cardinal Dolan of New York” . . . “One chapter dealing with the horrendous lousy preaching in most parishes couldn’t be more spot on, for example.”
    So its not only in the UK!

    • Nektarios says:

      Ah, we are slowly getting there, that is, to the truth of the matter about
      preaching and preachers for the most part in our day. So, what are we going to do about it?
      I make the suggestion to go over the postings I have made on this topic and begin to apply
      and may God add His blessing.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Horace Townsend.
      If Cardinal Dolan was aware of the ‘lousy sermons,should it have been corrected at the time and find out the problem then and there. Surely that is neglect on his part.Where does the blame lie for these lousy sermons!
      We can not blame lousy sermons for the decline in Church attendance..when the majority are not there to hear a good one or a bad one.

  27. Ignatius says:

    “..I make the suggestion to go over the postings I have made on this topic and begin to apply..”
    Hmm, I wonder why the word ‘megalomania’ springs to mind?

    • Nektarios says:

      Ignatius
      It is not about me, sir, I have been there, done the work and worn the tea-shirt.
      Am a preacher, and been a pastor. Taught evangelism, held campaigns, seen many souls one, done the work of an evangelist too.
      God blessed me in His calling. What I have done sir, was as simply as I could to pass on some of my experience to a forth-coming generation would be called of the Lord to serve Him in the work of Ministry.
      You do me and the Lord who sent me, a grave dishonour to accuse me of megalomania.

      • Nektarios says:

        Corrections
        it should have read:
        Seen many souls won,…
        also
        a forth-coming generation who would be called….

      • St.Joseph says:

        Nektarios.
        I am interested to know if you have ever watched EWTN or if the Orthodox Church has the equivalent to such a wonderful way to bring the Gospel to the world with its amazing media coverage,?. It make me proud to be a Catholic..

      • Ignatius says:

        “St. Joseph
        The first sentence of your posting is correct, all the rest is simply nonsense….”

        As grave a dishonour as you do above perhaps Nektarios?

  28. St.Joseph says:

    Perhaps we need some more Billy Grahams!Or maybe another St John the Baptist.

    It is one thing to preach,but another thing to know what to say.,how to say it and when and where.
    It may be a good idea to begin with the parents whose responsibility is in the first place.
    Preachers can preach as much as they like unless, one is open to listen it lands on deaf ears!.

  29. John Nolan says:

    Reference Cardinal Dolan – I don’t doubt his orthodoxy, but I saw the video of the first Mass he celebrated in NY as a cardinal, and it was dreadful. He processed in like a media celebrity, waving to the crowd and glad-handing everyone within reach. The jocular and self-advertising style continued for most of the Mass. The music was appalling. The audience (not surprisingly) lapped it up. It is quite astonishing that this degradation of the Church’s public worship has taken place in only two generations.

  30. tim says:

    Sermons vary wildly in content and quality (I specialise in truisms and platitudes). Parish priests cannot be good at everything, however desirable this is as an objective. It is good to hear of some success stories, But as a former parish priest of ours (now sadly lost to the ministry) used to say: “Some people are homilectically challenged”. No doubt there is a duty to help these improve. .But it needs more tact than many of us have, if you are not to do more harm than good.

    • Quentin says:

      I’d be interested to know whether you or other preachers are helped by Evangelii Gaudium, paras 135 to 175, which are wholly devoted to preaching. It’s pretty demanding stuff. Were you in fact tempted towards truisms and platitudes, you’d have to think again!

      • tim says:

        Quentin, it’s possible that my inept drafting has misled you? My preaching is confined to blog posts (so far, at least). I will look at your reference, though, as it may help the Apostolate of the Blog.

      • tim says:

        Thanks for that reference. It is indeed impressive stuff. You can hear Pope Francis’s voice as you read it, and it’s inspiring.

  31. Singalong says:

    http://www.newliturgicalmovement.org/#8147645311044862770
    This should be a link to an interesting article by Peter Kwasniewski entitled Where have all the Good Preachers Gone?

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