Homilies: 'nourishment from
the table of the word'

By Archbishop Charles Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.

November 13, 2002

We've arrived at the homily in our reflections about the Mass. A homily should always occur on a Sunday or holy day. It can inspire and enrich the faithful any other day, as well.

A priest or deacon always gives the homily during Mass. No other person should assume this role, even if he or she is an excellent speaker, a religious, seminarian, deacon candidate, or a member of the laity.

This may not seem to make sense for some people, especially if they've had to experience inadequate preaching. But the reading of Scripture and its interpretation in the homily are acts of nourishment for us from the table of the word, which is deeply linked with our nourishment from the table of the Eucharist. (Remember how the Book of the Gospels was first placed on the altar at the beginning of Mass.)

 

The Church — as a matter of universal law, not local preference — has set apart her ordained ministers in a particular way for the preaching of the word. Not only have they received a formal training and commission, they've also received the gift of the Holy Spirit in a special way to communicate the word of God to the assembly. In the words of Vatican II, "It is the first task of priests ... to preach the Gospel to all men" (PO 4), and "it pertains to the office of a deacon ... to instruct and exhort the people" (LG 29).

If the celebrant wishes to have someone speak about a new parish program, request funds for a good work, or give a personal witness, the proper time for that follows the Prayer after Communion (Introduction to the Lectionary, 27).

The homily is the privileged time for the priest or deacon, guided by the Holy Spirit, to be an instrument helping God's word to penetrate hearts. For their part, having been attentive to God's word in the readings, members of the assembly now act by listening. Understood in this light, a "dialogue" homily is not suitable. A period of silence serves well after the homily to allow the homilist's words to open us to the Holy Spirit, who will draw us deeper into the paschal mystery as it unfolds before us.

On all Sundays and solemnities, the Profession of Faith follows. This draws us deeper into the mystery of our faith. We publicly affirm the truths of our faith, which we've heard in the Scriptures and through the homily (Introduction to the Lectionary, 29). We should remember to bow profoundly, from the waist, at the words, "by the power of the Holy Spirit who was born of the Virgin Mary and became man" to manifest our reverence to the Son of God, who willed to become one like us. On the Annunciation and Christmas, we should kneel momentarily at that time.

The General Intercessions, often called the Prayer of the Faithful, are exactly that — a series of intercessions on the part of the baptized, responding to the word of God they've just heard. The needs of both the universal and local Church, and the world, are remembered in brief and thoughtful petitions.

The one who reads the General Intercessions does so out of his or her baptismal — i.e., "common" — priesthood. As the first among equals in the common priesthood, the deacon should preferably read these intercessions.

This may be a new discipline for many of our parishes where the lector or another person has traditionally read the intercessions. Of course, if a deacon is not present, or in a special occasional circumstance to be determined by the pastor, (GIRM 138, 197) then it is properly the role of a layperson to announce while the celebrant always introduces the General Intercessions and gives the concluding prayer.

Next: The Liturgy of the Eucharist begins.