Hollow Sunday homilies

DECEMBER 4, 2014


Hollow Sunday homilies

I was intrigued by this very short post on the blog of Fr. John Zuhlsdorf.

Your Sunday Sermon Notes


Posted on 24 November 2014 by Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Was there a good point or two made during the sermon you heard for your Sunday Mass of obligation? Let us know!


Looking at the blog archives, I found that he would frequently enquire of his readers about the homilies — or “sermons” as he calls them — which they hear on Sundays.

The importance of these homilies cannot be understated. A component of the “Liturgy of the Word”, they are almost the only situation that provides catechesis for the vast majority of Catholics.

Every holy Mass on Sundays and Days of Obligation has two readings, a psalm and a passage from one of the four evangelists.

The homily being an important liturgical action, priests have a most awesome responsibility and duty towards the faithful.

The homily of a priest in India never usually exceeds twenty minutes which is one-third of the time that an average Mass takes. That’s quite a lot of time. It is understandable if some people dread the sermon part of the Mass, and there may be many reasons for that which we won’t really delve into here.


That there is a very great thirst for the Word of God and good preaching is evidenced by the considerable number of Catholics (I’m not one of them now, though I was in my days of comparable ignorance) who flit around from the crusades of one Protestant evangelist to another, tune in to TBN and God TV, and follow Catholic evangelists who imitate them.


Church history shows that good preachers draw crowds to their Masses from beyond the parish boundaries.

A good preacher may speak for a full hour or more without people getting restless and we see this at retreats. This nation boasts of dozens of retreats centres that are always busy and always packed.

I myself have made easily more than a year (if put together) of retreats during my life of 65+ years and have thoroughly enjoyed homilies and sermons, not in the sense of entertainment but in growing in knowledge of my Catholic Faith, and “working out my salvation with fear and trembling”, Philippians 2:12.

“We have seen the Lord” in the Liturgy means that through songs, prayers, readings and homily we see what should be changed in our life, we go out from the church more enlightened about what God wants from us and how much more he helps us to do it. –Bishop Camillo Ballin, Vicar Apostolic of Kuwait, 2007-2008 Pastoral Letter


So it’s not like one cannot sit through the twenty-minute delivery every Sunday.

But I must confess that I’m one of those Catholics who sort of dread hearing the words of the priest, “My dear brothers and sisters…” in anticipation of what usually follows.

If the congregation is subjected to a poor homily, the faithful are deprived of “spiritual nourishment”, Christ is not made present to them through His Word, and they do not hear the voice of God, cf. G.I.R.M. #29 and 55 below. In no less than FOUR places in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (G.I.R.M.), the observation of “sacred silence” is recommended as part of the Liturgy of the Word, including after the homily. How many of us have been led into such “sacred silence” by the preacher?


From the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (G.I.R.M.):

#29. When the Sacred Scriptures are read in the Church, God himself speaks to his people, and Christ, present in his own word, proclaims the Gospel. Therefore, all must listen with reverence to the readings from God’s word, for they make up an element of greatest importance in the Liturgy. Although in the readings from Sacred Scripture God’s word is addressed to all people of every era and is understandable to them, nevertheless, a fuller understanding and a greater effectiveness of the word is fostered by a living commentary on the word, that is, the homily, as part of the liturgical action.[42]


#45. Sacred silence also, as part of the celebration, is to be observed at the designated times.[54] Its purpose, however, depends on the time it occurs in each part of the celebration. Thus within the Act of Penitence and again after the invitation to pray, all recollect themselves; but at the conclusion of a reading or the homily, all meditate briefly on what they have heard


#55. The main part of the Liturgy of the Word is made up of the readings from Sacred Scripture together with the chants occurring between them. The homily, Profession of Faith, and Prayer of the Faithful, however, develop and conclude this part of the Mass. For in the readings, as explained by the homily, God speaks to his people,[58]
opening up to them the mystery of redemption and salvation, and offering them spiritual nourishment; and Christ himself is present in the midst of the faithful through his word.


#56. The Liturgy of the Word is to be celebrated in such a way as to promote meditation, and so any sort of haste that hinders recollection must clearly be avoided. During the Liturgy of the Word, it is also appropriate to include brief periods of silence, accommodated to the gathered assembly, in which, at the prompting of the Holy Spirit, the word of God may be grasped by the heart and a response through prayer may be prepared. It may be appropriate to observe such periods of silence, for example, before the Liturgy of the Word itself begins, after the first and second reading, and lastly at the conclusion of the homily.[60]


#65. The homily is part of the Liturgy and is strongly recommended, [63] for it is necessary for the nurturing of the Christian life. It should be an exposition of some aspect of the readings from Sacred Scripture or of another text from the Ordinary or from the Proper of the Mass of the day and should take into account both the mystery being celebrated and the particular needs of the listeners.[64]

#66. The homily should ordinarily be given by the priest celebrant himself. He may entrust it to a concelebrating priest or occasionally, according to circumstances, to the deacon, but never to a lay person.[65] In particular cases and for a just cause, the homily may even be given by a Bishop or a priest who is present at the celebration but cannot concelebrate.

There is to be a homily on Sundays and holy days of obligation at all Masses that are celebrated with the participation of a congregation; it may not be omitted without a serious reason. It is recommended on other days, especially on the weekdays of Advent, Lent, and the Easter Season, as well as on other festive days and occasions when the people come to church in greater numbers.[66]

After the homily a brief period of silence is appropriately observed.


#136. 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.


#360. At times, a longer and shorter form of the same text* is given. In choosing between these two forms, a pastoral criterion must be kept in mind. At such times, attention should be paid to the capacity of the faithful to listen with understanding to a reading of greater or lesser length, and to their capacity to hear a more complete text, which is then explained in the homily.[142]
the Lectionary has a special selection of texts from Sacred Scripture for Ritual Masses


#391. It is up to the Conferences of Bishops to provide for the translations of the biblical texts used in the celebration of Mass, exercising special care in this. For it is out of the Sacred Scripture that the readings are read and explained in the homily and that psalms are sung, and it is drawing upon the inspiration and spirit of Sacred Scripture that prayers, orations, and liturgical songs are fashioned in such a way that from them actions and signs derive their meaning.[150]



[42] Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, nos. 7, 33, 52.

[54] Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, no. 30; Sacred Congregation of Rites, Instruction Musicam Sacram, On music in the Liturgy, 5 March 1967, no. 17: AAS 59 (1967), p. 305.

[58] Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, no. 33.

[59] Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, no. 7.

[60] Cf. The Roman Missal, Lectionary for Mass, editio typica altera, 1981, Introduction, no. 28.

[63] Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, no. 52; Codex Iuris Canonici, can. 767

[64] Cf. Sacred Congregation of Rites, Instruction Inter Oecumenici, On the orderly carrying out of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 26 September 1964, no. 54: AAS 56 (1964), p. 890

[65] Cf. Codex Iuris Canonici, 1can. 767§; Pontifical Commission for the Authentic Interpretation of the Code of Canon Law, response to dubium 1: AAS 79 (1987), p.regarding can. 767 1249; Interdicasterial Instruction on certain questions regarding the collaboration of the non-ordained faithful in the sacred ministry of priests, Ecclesiae de mysterio, 15 August 1997, art. 3: AAS 89 (1997), p. 864.

[66] Cf. Sacred Congregation of Rites, Instruction Inter Oecumenici, On the orderly carrying out of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 26 September 1964, no. 53: AAS 56 (1964), p. 890.

[142] The Roman Missal, Lectionary for Mass, editio typica altera, 1981, Introduction, no. 80.

[150] Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, no. 24.




It was the 24th of November, 2014, a Monday, when Fr. Z posted his blog and I read it that same day.

Now, the previous three Sundays, my wife and I had been attending the 9:00 a.m. English Mass at our parish church. The celebrant on two days was the same priest, and on a third Sunday there was another, visiting from outside to help the parish priests.

Catholics who use their Missalettes will know that the theme of the readings of the last few Sundays including those of the First and Second Sundays of Advent in Cycle B was the “Day of the Lord”, preparing us spiritually for the “coming of the Lord” Jesus on Christmas day.

We are warned in Scripture to be fearfully prepared for the Lord’s coming not only in the general sense, but in a particular sense, the separation of the sheep and the goats, and so on.

The readings offered tremendous scope and opportunity for soteriological and eschatological preaching.

But the priest who came for two Sundays in succession, apparently the “social justice” type, touched on none of that. Instead he kept telling us that we were to be productively occupied and busy materially, not idle and be caught unawares! Not a single word about being spiritually prepared for death and judgement.

His two homilies were empty, devoid of any challenge or useful instruction and a travesty of the readings of the Sunday.

Thankfully, the visiting priest who said Mass and delivered the homily on the first Sunday of Advent, November 30, preached an excellent sermon that covered all aspects of all the Sunday’s readings, doing complete justice to them in twenty minutes. He fulfilled his obligation toward us and did not skip the warnings that the Scriptures carried by giving his own interpretations to them as the other priest did.

I can honestly say that I hear a good Sunday homily maybe twice or thrice in a year.


Outside of retreats, though the Readings provide them ample opportunity to do so,

I have never heard priests speak against contraception and a number of other pro-life and pro-family issues;

I have never heard priests talk about partial and plenary indulgences;

I have never heard priests citing the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the YouCat, the Compendium, Vatican documents, papal encyclicals, apostolic exhortations and the like.

I have never heard priests definitively calling sin “sin” and warning us of its consequences.

I have never heard priests preach about a thousand other things that Catholics should know.

What I hear are “safe”, non-challenging, cunningly crafted sermons that say nothing new or different that we don’t hear Sunday after Sunday throughout the year, whoever the preacher is.

What will they answer when they are called to give an account of their ministries to the Lord?


Address of Cardinal Francis Arinze
at the Catholic Institute in Paris


October 26, 2006

4. The Homily
The Vatican II Council said that “the homily, therefore, is to be highly esteemed as part of the liturgy itself” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 52). In the homily, the bread of the Word of God is distributed to the faithful. The Holy Scriptures are compared with realities of life in today’s world. And it is true that a good homily, prepared well, warms the hearts of the faithful who listened to it, that is, with the “fire” mentioned in the Gospel about the two disciples of Emmaüs (cf. Luke 24:32).
Unfortunately, many homilies, delivered by priests or deacons, do not achieve this much desired goal. Some of them greatly resemble speeches marked by considerations of a sociological, psychological nature, or, even worse, political style. These homilies are not sufficiently rooted in the Holy Scripture, the liturgical texts, the Tradition of the Church and a solid theology. In certain countries, there are people who do not appreciate the fact that the homily, during the Eucharistic celebration of the Sacrifice, is a pastoral ministry reserved only to ordained ministers: the deacon, the priest and the bishop. However, although it is true that the faithful laity can very well impart the catechesis outside of the Mass, they are not entitled to deliver the homily, for which it is necessary to receive ordination.
A Higher Institute of Liturgy can thus help to spread right convictions about the homily. It can help to create a climate of opinion for homilies where the People of God could find a more substantial spiritual food. On this subject, it is appropriate to recall that, for many Catholics, the homily is probably the only religious and catechetical continuing education which they receive during the week (cf. Letter of the Pope John Paul II, N. 4; Synod of Bishops of October 2005, m. 19).


Bishop Camillo Ballin, Vicar Apostolic of Kuwait, 2007-2008 Pastoral Letter EXTRACT

VIII. The Homily
The Constitution of Vatican II on the Liturgy affirms that the homily is an integral part of the Liturgical Celebration: Thus, on Sundays and holydays of obligation with the people assisting, it should not be omitted (SC 52).
According to the teaching of the Church, the Priest delivers the homily for these purposes:
a) In order to proclaim God’s wonders in the history of salvation. The Old Testament (= the first reading) is a preparation and the New Testament (= second reading and Gospel) its fulfillment. The homily must be inspired by the readings; the Priest will find their connection and unity and will discover the message of God and His love.
b) In order to prepare the faithful to the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The Word invites us to open our hearts to God’s grace; the Eucharist communicates this grace.


c) In order to apply the Word to the concrete situation of life. The Word runs the risk of remaining like “a dead letter”; on the contrary, it becomes alive and active (Hebrews 4, 12) if the Priest applies it to our life situation so that it produces fruits of Christian life.
The homily is followed by a time of “sacred silence”. It is “sacred” because it is a real part of the sacred action. It is not meant to reduce the faithful to mute listeners and spectators; rather, it reaches its purpose when the faithful take to heart the Word and reflect upon it; enter in dialogue with the Father; express to him their gratitude and their desire to conform their life to his Word; and implore from him the gift of his Spirit in order to live in conformity to his message. I know that we are not used in our churches to at least one minute of silence after the homily, so let us start this precious habitude.
The homily cannot be improvised; neither can it be prepared some minutes before the Mass. The good Priest, who realizes its importance and wants to convey a fruitful message must give time to its preparation: This demands that the homily be truly the fruit of meditation, carefully prepared, neither too long nor too short, and suited to all those present, even children and the uneducated (General Introduction to Lectionary, n. 24).
All the readings along with the homily unify us: by becoming true Christians we overcome our national, ritual and family divisions. They are transforming us: by becoming new men, we give up the bad habits and customs of our life. So, the purpose of the readings and the homily in the Eucharist is not only to remind us the teachings of Jesus Christ, but especially they are a strong invitation to conversion, to discover where I am in comparison with what I heard. I have to ask myself: what are these readings and homily telling me? In this way we realize that God is walking with us hand in hand in our life, He is leading us with an unlimited patience and love; in one word, we experience that He is our loving Father!, that no one in the world loves me as He does! Therefore, we can now profess our faith with joy and, later, when the Priest will say: Let us give thanks to the Lord our God, we can answer with all our heart and a strong voice: It is right to give him thanks and praise, and we know why.
a. If you are a priest or deacon: do you give time and prayer to the preparation of the homily, so that your words are a “true proclamation of God’s wonderful Works in the history of salvation”, (General Introduction to Lectionary, n. 24) or do you prefer to improvise it?
b. If you are a layman: do you simply “listen to the Priest”, in order to comment on his capacities as a preacher, or are you eager to get from his words “a message regarding your Christian life’?
c. If you realize that the homily of the Priest is too poor in Liturgical and Pastoral content, do you have the courage to approach him and to share with him your feelings and suggestions?


Here are 2 of 24 readers’ comments on Fr. Zuhlsdorf’s blog:

1. The good thing I learned was not to ever again attend the Masses at my parish celebrated by the “young” 75-year-old liberal retired priest who says incessantly, “you know what I think…” during his Masses, does not follow the Rubrics, and yesterday was no exception.


2. Heard 4 homilies because I was using yesterday’s gospel as a test to see if the priests believe in hell. Three of them avoided the topic and didn’t have anything else interesting.





Michael Prabhu
archmsml@gmail.com; George Antonysamy; George Antonysamy

Sent: Tuesday, December 09, 2014 8:11 PM




Dear Archbishop George,

For your kind information please.



The report is attached herewith.

Michael Prabhu


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