The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

Want better preaching? Do your part


Over at his blog, Msgr. Charles Pope has some intriguing ideas about one way to improve the quality of homilies:

My own experience as a priest powerfully underscores the role of congregation in helping to craft the preaching moment. I have served almost all of my 20 years in African American parishes. In these settings the congregation takes an active part in the preaching moment. Acclamations and affirmations such as “Amen!” “Go on!” “Make it plain preacher” “Hallelujah” and the like are common. Hands are often raised in silent affirmation, nods of the head move through the congregation. Now all of this affects the preaching moment powerfully for me and helps it take shape and come to life. There is also an air of expectation in the church as the Homily moment arrives. African American congregations want a good sermon and are eager to hear what the preacher will say. People expect to hear a word that will change them. I have heard some in the African American community refer to tangible energy in the room as “the hum.” 


That there are high expectations of me is both encouraging and challenging. That I am expected to do well means I have to prepare, I have to pray, I have to summon my talent, memory for scripture and experience of culture and weave them into a homily that is from the heart but well prepared. High expectations encourage me to strive for sermons that are not just adequate but also aimed at the superlative. And the beauty is that it is not all up to me. The congregation knows its role and they pray and work with me when I preach and together we form a kind of partnership. To be sure, I am the one who teaches with the authority that Holy Orders confers. But I am not alone delivering a monologue of sorts to a largely passive audience. All this brings the preaching moment much more to life. There is an enthusiasm in the congregation that is contagious and leads me to enthusiasm for what I say.


Check out the rest and see if you agree.  

From my experience, an effective homily is almost a dialogue, not a monologue: the speaker engages the listener, and the listener’s attention helps energize and focus the speaker.  It begins with prayer and preparation, and having something valuable to say.  
If I look out at the congregation and see a lot of people leafing through the bulletin, I haven’t done my job.
And I still like Oscar Wilde’s quip about preaching: “A good sermon should have an interesting beginning and a memorable ending.  Preferably close together.” 
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posted October 29, 2009 at 11:57 am

I don’t need emotionalism for my homily. All I ask is a homily that is not heretical, doesn’t involve a cute story about the pastor’s cat or his dislike of the pope.

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posted October 29, 2009 at 1:22 pm

Great blog post. Superb. Exactly what I needed this morning. Good ideas from which to draw upon. The underlying idea of such worship being a communal affair — not a sterile monologue — is spot on.

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posted October 29, 2009 at 2:52 pm

Any homily that leads me to God and not to another game of Catholic Buzzword Bingo works for me. Well done!

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Mike L

posted October 29, 2009 at 5:08 pm

Since our pastor generally reads a 40 minute diatribe against the evils of the world, and seldom looks at the congregation, many of us have learned to appreciate a Sunday morning nap.

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posted October 29, 2009 at 5:34 pm

The napping will no doubt prompt a homily on the evils of slothfulness.

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