Thursday, June 01, 2006

How Long Should a Homily Be?

I've been going to church a lot recently. Mainly because I started helping at the St. Francis Soup Kitchen, and that put me back in touch with my original impression of Catholics as people who basically tried to do good things but without much sentimentality. In recent years the impression of old central Europeans saying bad things about gay men, while absolutely living the campest lives possible (it is just not possible to be butch and swing a thurible while wearing a lace surplice).

So now I face the big issue -

How long should a homily be?

I have noticed at various Catholic churches a tendency for sermons to get
longer and longer. Ten to twelve minutes used to be the norm: now twenty minutes can be getting away with it easily.

One of the problems, however, of having as many priests available to preach as there used to be, is that some preachers seem to loose self-control, and take the opportunity to preach, and an opportunity to go on and on for up to 25-minutes or half an hour.

In reality this is a dumb thing to do, as a preacher an make a very good
impression in the first ten-twelve minutes and then alienate most of the congregation, by going on, and on, and on. Such preaching it seems to m, is a form of abuse of power. A problem in a Baptist town like Jacksonville, however, is that some of the worst offenders, and so now more an more seem to feel justified in subjecting us to Presbyterian-length sermons.

The problem is that , on the whole Catholics do not like this. Some argue
that if a preacher has wonderful things to say, they should take as long as
they need. I am sorry, but remarkably few preachers have such wonderful
things to say, and those that do can usually say it much faster.

On the other hand, if people come for the first time, and like the
community, the music, the ability to go to communion, and to let the body and eye pray as they taken in the church's art having to suffer through 25 minutes of "what my spirituality class over this past month", means might not come back.

Moreover, not all of us feel "spiritual;" all the time. Weekly mass
attendance might be all we do. Or we might go through periods of intense
spiritual evolution, and then dry patches. And many people -- the vast
majority -- are simply not called to be mystics, nor is this required by
the Church or any part of its tradition. In these cases, going to mass is
part of a regular "prayer of the body", but in needs to fit into a regular
schedule. If it helps in going to mass, that you expect it will take 1 hour
to 70 minutes, and then you go out with friends for a meal, there is
nothing wrong with that. If you come to mass late on Sunday, and then go
home because of work the next day, there is nothing wrong with that either.
But if all this becomes subject to the whim of long-winded preachers,
something gets upset.


James R. said...

Speaking as one who grew up in a Protestant church, let me tell you, it was a breath of fresh air to have a 20 minute homily! It was not at all unusual for our Baptist preacher to go on for two hours, or three when he really got wound up!

Paul C. said...

George Burns said that a good homily should have a good beginning and a good ending, and that these two should be as close together as possible. Attention spans are probably a lot shorter than they once were. I aim at seven minutes.