Monday, October 17, 2011

What Do You Expect From a Homily?

In the past I have written on this blog about my young friend, John H., who is in his first year of Seminary in England. John has been offered the opportunity to help set up a National Center for Homiletics in the United Kingdom and is looking for YOUR thoughts.

John wonders:

"What do you require from a homily at Mass? Are your expectations always met? What support could we offer to priests? Are there any suggestions to improve the standard of preaching?" Regarding younger members of the faith, John would like to know: "Are they bored; does the homily relate to their current faith issues?"

So, dear reader, what information can you offer to John? Is there a memorable homily that you will always treasure? Have you been completely turned off by a particular style? What would you like to glean from the words of the priest as he breaks down the Gospel each week? All shared thoughts will be most appreciated! Feel free to leave a comment or send me an email which I will forward to him.


  1. Personally, I like when the homily comes with practical pointers on how to apply the Gospel to our everyday lives. I also like homilies about virtues because it goes along with the practical pointers. I think a bit of humor in a homily helps, also. It captures people's attention and makes them listen more closely to what follows.

    One thing that I rarely hear about is Hell. To be honest, I don't think it would hurt if this subject was mentioned more often these days. Too many people no longer believe that there even is a hell.

    Anne, I left an award for you at my blog. If you've already received it please just ignore it. I just wanted you to know how much I appreciate your blog and your friendship.

    God bless!

  2. Anne, I have to second much of what Mary said. Practical application is always helpful. I like a homily where the priest isn't afraid to preach on difficult things like hell, purgatory and sin. We seem to have lost a sense of those things in our culture today. I don't mind a bit of humor, but the telling jokes from the pulpit has to stop. Unfortunately we have 2 priests who like to do this. One last one~ more on the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. I truly believe that much of the lack of respect seen in churches today is because many either don't believe in the Real Presence or have forgotten that Jesus is there.
    Prayers for John as he continues on in his vocation.

  3. I expect A LOT from the homilies at Mass. I used to be so frustrated, at times angry. This was why, even though I went to the Ukrainian Byzantine Catholic Church to get my dh back to church, I stayed because the homilies from our two priests were consistently awesome. I will also say that of the last 5 times I attended RC churches 4 of the 5 have been good---not excellent, but good.
    Excellent = focus on prayer, scripture reading, God's love for us, the requirement of our love and forgiveness of neighbor, quoting from current and future Pontiffs, quoting from western and eastern saints and church fathers, call to love generously and unselfishly, unabashedly standing for church teaching in face of the culture, and the potential of offending a would-be contributor. I find that the best homilies come from humble priests with a commitment to personal prayer, fasting, and service. As St. Benedict and other saints, including St. Bernadette said, they need to be a cistern and not a conduit.

  4. Have to add - focus on the truth, including the 4 last things is important, like Mary and Karin said. Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and we need to know what happens if we don't follow the teachings of Christ, and seek the intercession of the Blessed Mother to be formed by her spouse, the Holy Spirit, into a person that thinks, loves, and acts as unselfishly, generously, compassionately as Christ, and has the commitment to prayer life that Jesus had. We need to hear what happens if we are lukewarm in this following of Jesus, and what might happen if we are rejecting of Jesus all together. Our pastor is very clear about what happens during our personal judgement when we do not forgive others. Comes right out of the end of the Our Father. I also like practical helps for little souls, like we get from Fr. Gaitley in Consoling the Heart of Jesus.

  5. The best I hear follow Lectio Divina, telling what the author says/means, expanding it to our lives, and considering what it might mean for action in our lives.

    Two common weaknesses I see are trying to capture the audience with humor (or ballgame scores) and merely reciting back what was read. Scripture has and is meant to have meaning to us in our lives, or else it is useless. Your friend might try reading "Nourished By The Word -- Reading the Bible Contemplatively" by Wilfrid Stinissen for thoughts on how to bring Scripture alive.

  6. I wish we could edit comments. I meant current and past pontiffs. If a priest could quote from a future pontiff it would be truly amazing but the prophetic gift would be lost on me. :)

  7. Thanks everyone for these helpful words about what a good homily should contain! I'm sure that John H. will be pleased and helped by your words of wisdom! Thank you so much!


    are good sites for pulling insights from the Scriptures. I would love if all priests really mentioned something from all the readings, not just what they find from others, or for themselves, but what the Holy Spirit gives them for the people in front of them, and the people connected to them. I pray for our priests this way on the way to church and at liturgy on Sunday, and I hope they pray that way when they are preparing.

  9. First, a homily must capture the attention of the audience because in just a minute they could be sleeping while you're talking. How to get that is quite tricky. You need to mix some good humor, right choice of words and probably an inviting story that they could relate to.

    Second, do not make it longer than necessary. A short but full of impact homily is more than enough.

    Third, do not sound like it's a sermon or lecture because people are more willing to listen if their sins are not pounded in their faces. Make sure to sound like a friend who's just offering an advice.

    And lastly, smile. It's a great way to connect with anyone.

    That's it, hope this helps!