PREACHING ON ABORTION FROM SCRIPTURE
Fr. Frank Pavone
There is a concern among a significant number of Catholic clergy that it is difficult to preach on abortion because the topic does not seem to harmonize with the readings assigned for a given liturgy.
This concern needs to be addressed from at least two perspectives. First, the homilist is not constrained by the readings. Second, the Scriptures do provide countless links with the abortion issue.
A homilist is NOT required to limit himself to commentary on the assigned Scripture readings. The pertinent liturgical law is found in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM, which is printed at the beginning of every Sacramentary), paragraph 41. It reads, "The homily is strongly recommended as an integral part of the liturgy and as a necessary source of nourishment of the Christian life. It should develop some point of the readings or of another text from the Ordinary of the Mass of the day. The homilist should keep in mind the mystery that is being celebrated and the needs of the particular community." Notice that the homilist is given a choice. He can preach on the readings OR "another text" of the liturgy. These "other texts" include the prayers of the Mass which are constant, such as the Profession of Faith, the prayers at the Presentation of the Gifts, the Eucharistic Prayers, and the Our Father. They also include the "presidential prayers," which vary each day. [N.B. Paragraph 65 in the 2000 GIRM replaces 1975 GIRM #41]
In relation to abortion, the Profession of Faith has three powerful points of departure: "We believe in one God... Maker of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen... We believe in One Lord, Jesus Christ... through Him all things were made... We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life."
Paragraph 41 of the GIRM also indicates that the "needs of the particular community" are to be kept in mind in shaping the homily. Statistics prove that Catholics have a grave need to repent of abortion, and to become more informed about the horror and magnitude of this evil. With the constant barrage of pro-death slogans and perverse philosophies enveloping them, it is quite clear that the community has a paramount need to hear the truth about abortion.
When the homilist does preach more directly on the readings, he should note that there are countless ways to bring in the abortion issue. The GIRM says he may "develop some point of the readings." To "develop" a point indicates that the readings are a springboard rather than a straight jacket. What is preached does not have to be explicitly mentioned in the passages! A theme may be suggested in any one or several of the readings. The homilist is not limited to the Gospel. The other readings, including the psalm, provide powerful themes. The abortion issue is right in the firing line of such basic Scriptural themes as;
1) the dominion of God over human life,
3) defense of the weak and helpless,
4) creation of man and woman in God's image and likeness,
5) the covenant,
6) the prohibition of murder,
8) love of neighbor,
11) Christ as the Resurrection and the Life,
12) responsibility and solidarity,
13) God's victory over death, and many others.
Liturgy is, ultimately, a life-giving encounter with God. There can be no more appropriate setting in which to proclaim and defend the gift of life. The liturgical laws of the Church certainly leave the door wide open for such a proclamation and defense!
[Fr. Pavone, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, is with Priests for Life, P.O. Box 141172, Staten Island, NY 10314, an association of Catholic priests who give special emphasis to promoting and defending the sanctity of human life.]