Monday, March 07, 2016

Morning Mass at the Improv

Fr. John Riccardo, a favorite "preacher" of ours.
You will not find me criticizing priests in public, especially when it comes to their homilies or celebration of the liturgy...unless it's my brother.  That being said, there is a most serious problem in our Church today.  I don't believe that we suffer any longer, or at least not as much as in recent years, from less than orthodox teachings emitting from the pulpit.

In fact, many of our priests today are loyal sons of the Church and her teachings.  Many of them are sons of St. John Paul II in their love for the faith, zeal for souls, and work in missionary outreach.

However, a crucial piece is sadly missing in many parishes today; a substantial and attention grabbing homily.  Most liturgies are beautiful or at least moving in that direction.  Much of the pomp and pageantry fitting the Holy Mass is returning on Sundays and even the more subdued daily masses.

Yet, I believe that one thing is missing; zealous presentation.  The flow of the Mass continually grows and builds, reaching a peak of beauty in both the consecration and reception of  communion.  Unfortunately, that flow is often disrupted or altogether stopped by homilies that are wonderfully prepared but poorly presented.  Occasionally poor homilies are prepared and poorly presented.  The worst offender, in my heart and mind, is the "series of teachings" that for the most part completely ignore the readings and are better suited to a Lenten or weekly mission talk.

Here is what the GIRM (General Instruction of the Roman Missal) has to say about the homily (emphasis mine) -

65. The Homily is part of the Liturgy and is highly recommended, for it is necessary for the nurturing of the Christian life. It should be an explanation of some aspect of the readings from Sacred Scripture or of another text from the Ordinary or the Proper of the Mass of the day and should take into account both the mystery being celebrated and the particular needs of the listeners.  (GENERAL INSTRUCTION of the ROMAN MISSAL - GIRM)

"It is necessary for the nurturing of the Christian life."  This is so often the complaint I hear from friends and family.  They basically say the same thing when they, and I state, "I'm just not being fed."  When we are not being fed, when we are hungry, that is when we go looking for something to eat, anything.

This past Sunday we heard the story of the Prodigal Son.  He was hungry.  He wanted to eat pig food.  He would go anywhere for food, even back to his Father's house.  Our fellow parishioners are hungry.  They want real food.  They want to be fed, not on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.  But, will they walk through the door for scraps?

So, after all of this complaining and hand-wringing, what would I propose?  I would like to suggest two things to seminaries, seminarians, and even priests.

First, study.  I mean really study the scriptures but always with the thought in mind, "how can this passage apply to today?"  I don't care if it is instruction from Leviticus on latrine building, find a connection for your flock!  God's word is eternal and meant for all of us, even in our "technologically advanced" civilization.  Study scripture, early church fathers, and homilies of ages past.

Making a connection with Scripture for your parish will do two things.  Firstly, it will feed them.  It will help them understand that these aren't simply ancient texts meant for another time and place.  They will instead see that they have real meaning today.  Secondly, it will teach them to see and study for themselves.  It will incite a hunger within them to "take up and read" scripture on their own.

Second, I would suggest improvisational or acting classes.  Yes, seriously.  Think of the dynamic preachers you have heard in your own walk with Christ.  Were their homilies monotone?  Was there no passion or inflection?  An acting class or improv class can help your delivery tremendously.

Please do not misunderstand.  I am not advocating for the Fr. Bob show nor do you need to flourish a cape like Bishop Sheen.  We are not asking for clowns or Benny Hinn.  However, a little passion, inflection, and an occasional flourish, combined with solid orthodox preaching can truly feed those who have never left the Father's side as well as their younger brother walking back through the door.

Resources: Public Speaking - Do you Talk Funny - A Great Article on the Importance of the Homily

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Mother's Day Weekend.