Homilies While Walking?

Author: Father Edward McNamara


Homilies While Walking?

ROME, 31 AUG. 2004 (ZENIT)

Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University.

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 times.

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 of show.

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 retreats.

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 priority.

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

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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 'Imagine' — by the Beatles or by one of the Beatles — and 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 future.

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

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