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How long should homilies be?

November 16, 2016

“Eight minutes, with 15 minutes as maximum,” according to Abp. Malcom Ranjith who used to be the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship (CDW) of the Vatican. “Eight minutes, the average time a listener can remain listening,” agrees Abp. Nikola Eterovik, former Secretary General for the Synod of Bishops of the Roman Curia.

“Eight minutes,” agrees Fr. Andre Headon, vice rector of the Venerable English College in Rome which prepares men to become priests. “There’s a saying among clergy,” adds Fr Headon, “’If you haven’t struck oil in seven minutes, stop BORING.’”

“It should be brief,” cautions #138 of Evangelii Gaudium, and should not be “a form of entertainment,” [emphasis mine] as many priests, it seems, take it to be. If the homily goes too long, e.g., 45 minutes, it disturbs two characteristic elements of the liturgical celebration: its balance and rhythm,” reminds Evangelii Gaudium. This means that “the words of the preacher must be measured, so that the Lord, more than his minister, will be the center of attention.”

Unfortunately, some priests seem to think otherwise. Look at them sing. Or crack jokes. Or talk about last night’s episode of a teleserye. Did they really intend the singing to help the faithful understand the need for sorrow for sin in these days leading to Advent? Or is it simply to call attention to their singing prowess?

Was the joke intended to make a wealthy business owner listener impatient to get home so that he can give the instructions that will give SSS and Philhealth coverage to his employees, long denied of this basic employees right? Or did Father oblige with a joke because that is what most Catholics, sad to say, come to church for: to be entertained?

And the teleserye. Did Father mention that in order to stir the congregation into such a fervor they would henceforth look at their wealth not as theirs, but as a good common to all, ready to be given to everyone in need? Or did Father do that for the “Okay si Father” comments that invariably come with it?

Homilies must be scrupulously prepared for one week in advance, and, as Pope Francis has said, must be limited to the Scripture readings of the day, avoiding sociologism, politics, or vainglory, the last one apparent the moment the priest starts talking about himself.

Especially to be avoided is useless chatter. To include in the homily the diocesan priests’ retreat in Betania, Tagaytay, and how they would be going there on different flights to make sure there’ll be priests left in case of a mishap is dangerously approaching “useless chatter,” especially on a Sunday when St. Luke talks about persecution, and about the need to even speak all the more about Christ.

Homilies are difficult to prepare, because it takes a lot of effort to keep homilies short. But it doesn’t require a 45-minute homily to whip the congregation to fervor and to specific and firm resolutions where they can apply the message of the day’s readings in their lives.

In fact, precisely the opposite is bound to happen. Often along the way, the homily hits paydirt, and a firm resolution forms up in the heart of the listener. But instead of wrapping up, Father rambles on for another 10 minutes, so you listen, and finds out that Father is talking about Bato de la Rosa now and Pacquiao’s all-expenses-paid-US-trip gift to him. Then Father suddenly ends his homily which leaves you wondering what it was Father was driving at. Worse, in the process, you have forgotten your firm resolution.

Finally, it'd help if the preacher checks his facts first. It wasn't Nero who destroyed the Temple of Jerusalem, and watched it burn from a distance. The Babylonians did the first time, and Titus (not the bishop of Crete) under orders from his emperor father Vespasian did the second time, but it was not Nero.

Something bereft of love cannot be pleasing to God. Long homilies, to the extent that they’re often but not always the product of ill preparation, simply have no place in such a celebration as the Holy Mass.

Long homilies must end.

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