Sacraments of Initiation
At each Mass, the presiding priest breaks the bread so that it can be distributed and consumed. The image of "breaking bread" is helpful in describing the function of the homily. In addition to Holy Communion, we are also fed at the "table of God's word". A homily is like the breaking of the bread in that it takes the word of God proclaimed in the Scriptures and makes it "receivable" and "consumable". It takes the word once preached long ago in a life-context other than our own and makes it current for us today. To give a good homily, one must be in touch with the Scriptures and the here and now congregation. As one great preacher put it: the homilist must have the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.
The homily brings the word of God to the present assembly. It is a continuation of the preaching of Jesus.
Even before the period of canonical penance, preaching was an important part of the liturgical assemblies, especially eucharistic and baptismal assemblies. As early as about 150 Justin the Martyr tell us how, following the reading of Scripture, the bishop would instruct and encourage the assembly to imitate the things they had heard in the readings. During the period of canonical penance the penitents would be encouraged and strengthened in their penance by the homilies and instruction of the bishop following the readings at the Sunday assembly. There was no homily associated with tariff penance or with the modern practice of confession because there were no scripture readings.
During the time when the sacrament of penance was evolving to its modern form, preaching was in decline at both Eucharist and Baptism. The catechumenate disappeared and infant baptism became the common practice, often unaccompanied by ongoing catechetical instruction. The homily at Mass was replaced by a simple moral exhortation. When visiting early New England churches, we often find on their front walls three large plaques containing the texts of the Lord's Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and the Apostles' Creed. These would often serve as the text of the sermon.
In the Roman Catholic Mass, preaching was often considered something apart from the liturgy. The liturgy, after all, was in Latin and preaching was in the vernacular. Every word of the liturgy was determined by the liturgical books, whereas preaching was not done from a prescribed text.
The Second Vatican Council directed that the proclamation of the word of God and the homily be restored as integral parts of the liturgical action.
Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy
35. That the intimate connection between words and rites may stand out clearly in the liturgy:
1. In sacred celebrations there is to be more reading from holy Scripture and it is to be more varied and apposite.
2. Because the spoken word is part of the liturgical service, the best place for it, consistent with the nature of the rite, is to be indicated even in the rubrics; the ministry of preaching is to be fulfilled with exactitude and fidelity. Preaching should draw its content mainly from scriptural and liturgical sources, being a proclamation of God's wonderful works in the history of salvation, the mystery of Christ, ever present and active within us, especially in the celebration of the liturgy.
52. By means of the homily the mysteries of the faith and the guiding principles of the Christian life are expounded from the sacred text during the course of the liturgical year; as part of the liturgy itself therefore, the homily is strongly recommended.
General Instruction of the Roman Missal
41. The homily is strongly recommended as an integral part of the liturgy and as a necessary source of nourishment of the Christian life.
97. The homily is given at the chair or at the lectern.
Rite of Penance
2 cont. The Son of God made man lived among us in order to free us from the slavery of sin and to call us out of darkness into his wonderful light. He therefore began his work on earth by preaching repentance and saying: "Repent and believe the Gospel" (Mk 1:15).
This invitation to repentance, which had often been sounded by the prophets, prepared people's hearts for the coming of the kingdom of God through the voice of John the Baptist, who came "preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins" (Mk 1:4).
Jesus, however, not only exhorted people to repentance so that they would abandon their sins and turn wholeheartedly to the Lord, but welcoming sinners, he actually reconciled them with the Father.
9a. The Church exercises the ministry of the sacrament of penance through bishops and priests. By preaching God's word they call the faithful to conversion; in the name of Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit they declare and grant the forgiveness of sins.
25. The homily, taking as its source the scriptural text, should lead the penitents to examine their conscience and to turn away from sin and toward God. It should remind the faithful that sin works against God, against the community and one's neighbors, and against the person of the sinner.
Therefore it would be good to recall:
a. the infinite mercy of God, greater than all our sins, by which again and again he calls us back to himself;
b. the need for inner repentance by which we are genuinely prepared to make reparation for sin;
c. the social dimension of grace and sin whose effect is that in some way the actions of individuals affect the whole Body of the Church;
d. the duty of expiation for sin, which is effective because of Christ's expiation and requires especially, in addition to works of penance, the exercise of true charity toward God and neighbor.
52. The homily which follows is based on the texts of the readings and should lead the penitents to examine their consciences and renew their lives.
The inner dynamic of the proclamation of the scriptures at a celebration of reconciliation, as described in the general overview of this part of the sacrament, is that as we hear the word of God and recall God's love for us, we are confronted with our own lack of response to that love and thus we are, from within, as it were, convicted of sin. It is important then that those who are planning the celebration take care that the assembly actually hear the word in such a way that the wonders of God's love, especially as manifested in Jesus, are clear and compelling. The readings and the homily speak of the constancy of God's love. Then the compelling presence of Christ in the liturgical word draws us to conversion and repentance. This movement is aided by the witness and prayer of the assembly. We participate in celebrations of reconciliation not only to repent of our own sins, but to give witness and support to our sisters and brothers, and to make visible a community that acknowledges its continuing need for purification. This inner dynamic is usually best achieved during times of silence and intense prayer.
Sin and Repentence
The Rite of Penance states: "The faithful listen together to the word of God, which as it proclaims his mercy invites them to conversion; at the same time they examine the conformity of their lives with that word of God and help each other through common prayer." How does this come about in the structuring and celebration of the rite? The process is outlined in the following table: [This process is one way of understanding what the Rite means when it states that: "The sacrament of penance should begin with a hearing of God's word, because through the word God's people are called to repentance and lead to a true conversion of heart."]
How do you understand "Repentance"? Some answers from 2/10/87: Turning to the Word of God / New Beginnings / Time of God's visitation / Time of abundance / Time of God's presence / The kingdom draws near / Repentance leads to FREEDOM / Doing God's Will (pneuma over sarx) / Let the NOW be.
Implications for pastoral practice
point out the sin / point out God's love
recall our sins / recall God's goodness and provident love
question motives and circumstances / witness to God's love
legal judge: announce sentence / biblical judge: announce restoration
"In sacraments, we celebrate our experience already begun and, in this way, deepen that experience by bringing it to a new level of expression." [Gula p 44] Apply this statement to each of the seven sacraments.
A sacrament has been traditionally defined as "an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace." What is grace? What is the grace of the Sacrament of Reconciliation? How is grace given in the Sacrament of Reconciliation?
Can you name grace as easily as you can name sin?
Is it easier for you to preach about "Original Sin" or "Original Grace"?
The ordering of the "acts of the Penitent" e.g. The woman taken in adultery:
1. She has sinned (Sin)
2. Jesus forgives her (Absolution/Justification)
3. She is overwhelmed with forgiveness (Peace/Reconciliation)
4. She repents (Contrition/Repentance)
5. She does penance (Penance/Satisfaction)
Dynamic of Sin and Repentance
In the Scriptures
Implications for the Pastor
We remember (anamnesis) what God has done. As we hear the Word of God we remember our story and what wonderful things God has done for us. – Create a space where the penitent can remember. This atmosphere of reflection calls forth thanks and praise (eucharistic).
Those who are planning the rite should ensure that the celebration allows the assembly to hear the word in such a way that the wonders of God's love, especially as manifested in Jesus, are clear and compelling. The rite creates a space, an atmosphere, of reflection in which the faithful can remember God's goodness to them.
As we remember we are led to sentiments of gratitude, a thankful (eucharistic) appreciation for God's love. – Tell of God's goodness and love in scripture and in personal witness.
The rite must speak to us of God's love, both by the scripture and in the homily and by the witness of the forgiven and repentant community, laity and clergy.
This gratitude for God's love makes us aware of how little we have loved back. Love given calls for love to be returned. Our remembering illumines our own ingratitude for so great a love. This awareness of the difference between how much we have been loved and how little we have loved in return is the conviction of sin or sense of sin. – Allow the conviction to take place within the penitent. Allow – don't force.
There must be time in the rite to allow this conviction of ingratitude and sinfulness to take place within the celebrating community. Conversion is a free gift of God's grace. It cannot be forced by accusations, harangues, or browbeating people with lists of sins or ponderous accusations of guilt and unworthiness. Only love has the power to draw us to conversion; as St. Paul reminds us, there is no power in the law.
This sense of our ingratitude then moves us to acceptance of God's love even in the face of our own sinfulness. While yet we were sinners, God loved us. This acceptance is the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, assuring us of "forgiveness." – Announce God's Love for the sinner and God's forgiveness. Help the penitent to be open, accepting of God's gift.
Those who are planning the rite do not need to concentrate on how to cause God to give forgiveness; God is always ready to forgive. Rather we must concentrate on finding ways – – rites and symbols – to enable the sinner to accept and to experience God's forgiveness. The problem is not with the "giving" but with the "receiving" absolution.
Forgiveness is recognized by the gifts (charisms) of peace and freedom. Our word of sorrow meets God's word of forgiveness and explodes into shalom, wholeness (at-one-ment). – Celebrate the gifts of peace and freedom.
The rite should then create a space in which the community can joyful and gratefully celebrate these gifts. Made whole in the sacrament, we are strengthened go forth as ambassadors of reconciliation.
Preparing the Celebration
To Think About...
What do you consider to be the main differences between a sermon and a homily?
If the homily is to speak to us of God's love, when will the parish ever hear about sin?
Should those planning the liturgy of reconciliation also plan the homily?
Is there a place for members of the parish other than the priest to witness to God's love and forgiveness?
In your parish is the homily followed by a sufficient time of silence?
Of what use is it for a person to participate in a parish celebration of the sacrament of reconciliation when he or she does not personally feel any need for reconciliation at this time?
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© Copyright: Tom Richstatter, Franciscan Province of St. John the Baptist, Cincinnati Ohio, Order of Friars Minor. All Rights Reserved. This page was created by Fr. Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M. Every effort has been, and is being made, to acknowledge sources when the ideas are not my own. Any failure to comply with the United States Copyright Act (Title 17, United States Code) will be corrected immediately should I become aware of it. This site was updated on 03/20/15 . Your comments on this site are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.