|ROME, 31 AUG. 2004 (ZENIT)
Answered by Father Edward
McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical
Q: During the homily after the Gospel, is the priest allowed to walk down
the aisle while preaching?
R.F., Bombay, India.
A: The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) is rather sparse
regarding this point.
No. 136 says: "The priest, standing at the chair or at the ambo itself or,
when appropriate, in another suitable place, gives the homily. When the
homily is completed, a period of silence may be observed."
It would probably be an excess of legalism to interpret "standing" as
meaning necessarily immobile or fixed in one place.
The reason for mentioning "standing" is far more likely to distinguish the
priest's posture from that of a bishop, who may preach while seated in his
cathedra, or throne.
Preaching while seated symbolizes the bishop's role as teacher and guide
of his people. This was the customary posture of teachers since ancient
While perhaps the GIRM does not strictly forbid moving around while
preaching the homily, it certainly indicates a preference on the part of
the Church that the homily be preached from a stable position.
I personally do not favor the practice of wandering around while preaching
the homily, as it can give rise to theatrics that distract from the
message. Such theatrics are often inappropriate in the context of the
entire celebration as there is a danger of converting the Mass into a kind
Thus once the homily is over it may be difficult for the people to recover
their recollection and prepare themselves to participate in the sacrifice.
However, I don't want to make categorical statements on this point. Some
priests have particular talents in this regard and use such methods to
great spiritual effect, especially in Masses for young people.
This method may also be used while preaching outside Mass, such as during
When preparing a homily, a priest must also consider the most effective
mode of delivery. And he should remember that his first and foremost duty
is to present Christ's message.
Getting the message across to the best of his ability has to be his
If his oratorical resources tend to draw attention away from the message
and toward his personality, then in some way he is not completely
fulfilling his mission. ZE04083120
* * *
Follow-up: Homilies While Walking [from 09-14-2004]
The column regarding homilies-while-walking-about (see Aug. 31) brought to
mind a related question from a South African correspondent.
She wrote: "Instead of a homily, a certain priest played the song
by the Beatles or by one of the Beatles
then pranced about the altar and up and down the aisle. Is this type of
behavior in keeping with the liturgy? I was not present but two
independent persons called me to ask whether I knew if this is what we can
expect in the future."
After the publication of the recent instruction "Redemptionis Sacramentum,"
I certainly hope we can expect no more of this kind of thing in the
Of course, if the congregation took John Lennon's imagination seriously,
especially the lines about imagining no heaven and no religion, the good
father would be prancing down the aisle of an empty church.
"Redemptionis Sacramentum" Nos. 67 and 68 are very clear regarding the
qualities of the homily:
"Particular care is to be taken so that the homily is firmly based upon
the mysteries of salvation, expounding the mysteries of the Faith and the
norms of Christian life from the biblical readings and liturgical texts
throughout the course of the liturgical year and providing commentary on
the texts of the Ordinary or the Proper of the Mass, or of some other rite
of the Church.
"It is clear that all interpretations of Sacred Scripture are to be
referred back to Christ himself as the one upon whom the entire economy of
salvation hinges, though this should be done in light of the specific
context of the liturgical celebration. In the homily to be given, care is
to be taken so that the light of Christ may shine upon life's events. Even
so, this is to be done so as not to obscure the true and unadulterated
word of God: for instance, treating only of politics or profane subjects,
or drawing upon notions derived from contemporary pseudo-religious
currents as a source.
"The diocesan Bishop must diligently oversee the preaching of the homily,
also publishing norms and distributing guidelines and auxiliary tools to
the sacred ministers, and promoting meetings and other projects for this
purpose so that they may have the opportunity to consider the nature of
the homily more precisely and find help in its preparation."
Thus it is evident that the practice you mention in no way corresponds to
what a homily should be, and indeed it deprives the faithful of their
right to have God's Word and the Church's teaching imparted to them.
The practice described is further weighed down by the superficiality and
overall lack of respect shown toward the liturgy by the intromission of
elements that are totally alien to the sacred rite.
While the song in question is not without merits, it hardly reflects
Christian theology. But the principle that no external element may
substitute the homily would hold true even if the priest had played
specifically Christian music. Not even Handel's Halleluiah Chorus or
Mozart's Requiem, can replace the preaching of God's word.
It is also difficult to excuse as a momentary slip due to the deliberate
planning required in carrying out such an operation.
As "Redemptionis Sacramentum," No. 79, says: "Finally, it is strictly to
be considered an abuse to introduce into the celebration of Holy Mass
elements that are contrary to the prescriptions of the liturgical books
and taken from the rites of other religions."
If the priest in question were to continue engaging in similar practices,
the diocesan bishop, who, as seen above in RS 68, oversees the preaching
of the homily, should be informed in a sober and factual manner so that he
may orient the priest to a correct understanding of his mission as
preacher of God's word. ZE04091422