With a headline of “By comparison, homilies are not too long,” I was intrigued to read the article in a recent edition of The Catholic Virginian. The article discussed comparisons, based on Pew Research of the length and the topics various Christian religions use in the homily or sermon.
Unlike the Catholic Mass, most Protestant services focus on the sermon, with average length ranging anywhere from 24 minutes to 54 minutes, according to the data from the research. The average for a Catholic homily is only 14 minutes. As Protestants don’t believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the consecration of the Eucharist, it’s logical that the next important thing to focus on is the Word of God from Scripture. I’ve noticed that the Presbyterian Church around the corner from me usually advertises the sermon topic on the signage board several days before Sunday.
All homilies or sermons can be moments of teaching. In the Catholic faith, the priest or deacon may give instruction on the season, the feast day being celebrated, or the readings of the day. Homilies can give context to the ancient customs and how to apply God’s Word to our modern lives. While the average Catholic homily may be short now, that wasn’t always the case. In previous centuries, especially when most people didn’t read, the homily was a key way for people to learn and grow deeper in their faith. While the homily can and still does strengthen our faith, the plethora of Bible studies and commentaries, stories on the lives of the saints and the saints’ own writings also provide us opportunities to grow deeper in faith in addition to attending Mass.
One of the excuses commonly used for not attending Mass is that it’s boring, with people often citing the priest and his homily. But with the homily taking up only a small amount of time in the Mass, why would people let such a short amount of time limit them from building their relationship with God by attending Mass and partaking in the Eucharist? For those who face this dilemma, perhaps one alternative is asking God to speak to them through the homily? If they’re listening for God, they may just hear the homily totally differently than if they were listening out of politeness, or just feigning to listen. I’ve visited churches when the homily, or part of it, was used to discuss funds or the time and talent opportunities. Since I was not a regular parishioner, I see those as moments when I can ponder what jumped out to me during the readings and or just soak up being in the presence of God. Even when the priest is teaching something I already know, I find it a helpful reminder and a unique opportunity to see the topic from a different perspective.
At the very least, the homily is time to prepare yourself for receiving the Eucharist. After hearing the Word of God through the scriptures, the homily can help you reflect on God’s will for you and how you can welcome His Most Precious Body and Blood to strengthen you for your mission to bring His Kingdom into the world.