QUAERITUR: Priest won’t preach on Sunday assigned to deacon

From a reader:

This Sunday my family and I attended a OF mass, [or "Ordinary Form" or Novus Ordo] at the homily, ironically the reading was Christ’s first homily; the priest informed us “This was the Deacons week to preach, do you see a Deacon? No? Therefore no homily” and then proceeded onto the Profession of Faith. I was under the impression that a homily was a must on Sundays and holydays of obligation. Is this correct?

No, this is not correct.  This is actually rather shabby.  Unless….

Unless the priest was suffering from laryngitis or some other malady which made it difficult for him to talk.

Not being prepared just isn’t a good enough reason. 

A priest ought to be able, must be able, to stand up in front of a congregation and at least say something.

Is that to much to ask?

Even if Father just picks a phrase from the Creed … makes a point about the importance of going to confession … gives a fervorino about loving God or some edifying experience he has had as a priest. 


He doesn’t have to be erudite or prolix or dynamic.

He just has to be faithful, direct and brief.

In a pinch a sermon doesn’t have to be polished or scholarly or pertain to the readings. 

Sooooo many problems for preaching … as well as some advantages … have come from the nearly iron-clad conviction impressed on clergy that they must must must stick to the day’s readings… but I digress….

In any event, unless there is a very good reason, a very good reason, priests are to preach at public Masses on Sundays or see to it that there is a sermon by someone authorized.

So, my reaction to that priest – if that happened as you described, with that rather brutal dismissal of his obligation to preach is…

"Father, shut up and preach."

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in ASK FATHER Question Box, SESSIUNCULA. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. AndyMo says:

    Worse yet, the public embarrassment of the deacon at the hands of the priest, in public at Mass, is completely unacceptable. Bad form.

  2. Mariana says:

    Fervorino, what a nice word!

  3. robbini says:

    Heh, my first reaction was that the priest was being commentating on the lack of vocations in the parish.

  4. patergary says:

    It is possible that the deacon is suppose to preach that Sunday and he got sick and didn’t show up and the priest was not prepared to deliver a homily that Sunday. [Sure.. that is possible. That is probable, as a matter of fact. But… perhaps you might review my comments at the top?]

  5. William says:

    This leads to a broader but timely discussion of priest/deacon tensions, etc.

    This I told a newly ordained deacon: “The pope reminds the bishop that he’s not the pope; the bishop reminds the priest that he’s not the bishop; the priest reminds the deacon that he’s not the priest; and the deacon reminds the parish administrator that she’s not the Archangel Gabriel.

  6. Gabriella says:

    Unfortunately, my reaction to my ‘Novus Ordo’ priest is soon going to be “Father, shut up and don’t preach” – the few old women present at his masses never understand what on earth he’s talking about! [But that really isn’t the point of this entry, is it.]

  7. Salvatore_Giuseppe says:

    It seems like any of this Sunday’s readings would have been easy to talk about. The one body metaphor certainly could have been discussed. As somebody else put it, he could have taken the opportunity to discuss vocations.

    He could have even added a slight humor, and said since Christ’s homily was only a sentence, mine will be too: [insert basically anything here].

  8. Sometimes we tell people to “man up”. This priest needs to be told to “priest up”.

    It wouldn’t have killed him to say something constructive, even if his voice were a croak or he couldn’t think of anything to preach. Sheesh, the airport priests put a lot of meat into homilies that are just a couple minutes long.

    How would he have liked it if the next hymn announced had been, “#00 in your hymnal, “If Father Won’t Bother, Why Should We?” That’s #00 in your hymnal.”

  9. FrCharles says:

    This happened to me once. A mission priest was supposed to preach but didn’t make it. So what was I to do, since I was unwilling to preach unprepared, but knew that the people had a right to a homily and didn’t want to sin against God and them? I read them some of St. Augustine’s sermon on the gospel for that day. Any priest could always do something like that too.

  10. Brian K says:

    Are there any guidelines for homilies at daily masses? We have several priests locally that never preach at daily mass.

  11. DavidJ says:

    Ideally, any priest should be able to give at least brief thoughts on any readings on any day. I mean, education’s all part of the formation process, right? Doesn’t have to be much, but at least something, please.

  12. Brian: Preaching at a weekday Mass is at the discretion of the priest. It wasn’t common a daily Mass to have a sermon until recently. There are advantages also to not having a sermon at a weekday Mass, though I often hear people desire them.

  13. chadmyers says:

    Bad form? Ordinary form! At least he didn’t use a rubber chicken or bring dancers up on the “stage” to perform. In some parishes, it’d probably better if the priest didn’t preach and instead remained silent. But I digress…

  14. Choirmaster says:

    This past week at my church the priest was sick, his mother was in critical condition, and he only had (by my math) about 3 hours of sleep. He did his usual brief commentary on Mass offerings and parish business before he updated us on the gravity of his situation (which we were all eager to learn about so we could more efficiently pray for him) and he apologized about the lack of a homily and continued on to the Credo.

    I think my case is an exceptional case where the omission is acceptable. Especially because his homilies are ordinarily some of the best, most orthodox, and concise I have ever had the privilege to hear.

    One time, a while back, he said that he had no homily prepared so he would give us a short-but-good one: “Do good, and avoid evil.”

    I would gladly give up 2 or 3 homilies a year just to be guaranteed to hear him the rest of the time!

  15. Father S. says:

    I am with Fr. Z. on this one. If a priest is praying and reading the Scripture, while he may not be able to have a wonderful sermon at the drop of a hat, he ought to be able to offer at least something.

  16. Rouxfus says:

    “And when they shall bring you into the synagogues, and to magistrates and powers, be not solicitous how or what you shall answer, or what you shall say; For the Holy Ghost shall teach you in the same hour what you must say.” [Luke 12:11-12]

    “Fear not; believe only…” [Luke 8:50]

  17. TJerome says:

    A simple message staight from his heart would be fine. It doesn’t have to be a great oration to make an impact. I agree the celebrant should be able to
    come up with something. Some of the more memorable homilies I’ve heard have been short and to the point. Tom [Which is probably why you remember them!]

  18. RichardT says:

    I agree with Frs Z & S. Surely any priest ought to be able to make a few simple comments on at least one of the day’s readings without preparation.

  19. RichardT says:

    This reminds me – do those sermon subscription services still exist, where a priest can “buy in” his weekly sermons? My parish priest years ago used one (to occasional amusement when he realised halfway through that he didn’t agree with it).

    If so, is there a reliable website that reviews them?

    If not, this might be a valuable service that a good, orthodox priest could perform for his less well trained brethren.

  20. Folks… I am a little tired of the cheap shots at the Novus Ordo.

    Sweeping condemnations of the Novus Ordo because of abuses if not acceptable.  Criticize it on the basis of what it actually is…. fine.  Make your arguments.  But abuses are just that: abuses of the rite and foreign to it.

    The Novus Ordo is susceptible to more abuses, but they don’t define it.

    I also understand that people can get frustrated and they can, on this blog, find a place to vent on occasion.

    But stupid or heretical or bad preaching does NOT define the Novus Ordo.

    Some of the most incompetent sermons I have heard, ever, have been at TLMs. They weren’t heretical.  They were simply lousy sermons. REALLY bad.

    That does not constitute a criticism of the TLM in itself.

    Some of the best I have ever heard have been at Novus Ordo Masses.

    So… sure.. you would prefer silence to a lousy sermon. But if you are going to comment I suggest you think before posting.

  21. Orlandu84 says:

    Getting back to the topic of deacons’ preaching, I would like to share my bishop’s new policy. Interpreting the instruction that deacons preach “occasionally,” he allows deacons to preach once a month at Mass. My bishop has also noted that a deacon is allowed to assist at only two Masses on a given day. Consequently, in my diocese a deacon can only preach at three masses a month (all three Masses being on the same weekend with one Mass being a vigil). Now, I would simply like to know how my diocese compares to others in how often deacons preach. [No… let’s not. That is not the subject of the entry. The entry concerns willingness to preach when called upon to do so… as any priest or deacon ought to be able to do. So… this is a rabbit hole and I am closing it.]

  22. Fr_Sotelo says:

    Fr. Z:

    Hear, hear, and an AMEN.

    William: Your comment about pope to bishop, bishop to priest, etc. was hilarious. I am going to keep that one in my file.

    What Fr. Z is true, sometimes a priest is sick and can just barely make it through Mass. I have an ugly sinus infection and so preaching was difficult this weekend. However, I always enjoy preaching and have never been able to just walk away from the pulpit. The folks joke about me that most of the time I have something to say (as in a good homily), but on occasion I don’t but still have to say something LOL (as in a so-so homily).

    But on a weekend when the priest Esdras proclaims the book of the Law, and Our Lord publicly reveals Himself as the true Messiah, and a Catholic athlete walks away from a chance at the baseball pros to study for the priesthood, and the priest couldn’t say something at least about vocations? There is hardly ever news which busts out on the national level and is such great news for the Church and vocations, how could a priest just sit down and say, “sorry, no deacon”?

  23. Random Friar says:

    I hate, hate, hate preaching without prepared text. Mostly because I lose my train of thought, and end up babbling for 10 minutes instead of 5. I write better than I speak. That said, yes, try to give a Sunday sermon by all means. It sounds like the presider was having a really bad day more than anything else.

    And there are “canned” homily services online, but the problem with them is you end up reading them and sounding like you’re reading programming instructions to the DVR/VCR. That might work if you have time to prepare, but last minute, it’s hard to inflect well. I’d rather “wing it.” Never used a canned homily in my life — always freshly prepared, although sometimes hastily put together. :)

  24. Lee says:

    “Sooooo many problems for preaching … as well as some advantages … have come from the nearly iron-clad conviction impressed on clergy that they must must must stick to the day’s readings… but I digress….”

    A couple of aspects of this drive me nuts. One is that many priest do little more than rehearse the readings that we only heard minutes earlier. How many homilies have I heard go like this: “In the first reading we heard….In the second reading we heard….In the gospel we heard….” Boring, boring beyond belief. One priest I tried to remonstrate with about this told me that one does not get to heaven by being disobedient! Nobody wants disobedient priests, but surely there is a common thread running through the readings, or a way in which one of them can be thoroughly discussed that applies to our lives…
    Honestly I long for the days of sermons, when thunderbolts came crashing down from the pulpit. “We do not get our religion from the Chicago Tribune!!!!” thundered Msgr Luke at St. Petronille’s in Glen Ellyn, Il many years ago. He was like Moses. He was salt. He was light.

    As a boy I never understood what the fuss was about, but he and other fearless pastors and preachers were holding back the darkness. Now that their mouths are stopped with dust, it has come rolling in upon us.

    Nobody, and I mean nobody of late, dares to say that anything is a sin. We are not cautioned about TV or the movies, or about contraception or divorce. Recently my wife and I were reading the sermons of Caesarius of Arles where he tells priests that even if they are not eloquent, still they can open their mouths to tell the people to keep the commandmensts, to be chaste, not to be gluttons, not to take the Lord’s name in vain, to keep Sunday holy.

    Just to take that one example, I cannot remember in the past four decades any priest urging us to keep Sunday holy, not to shop on Sunday. That silence itself is a profanation of the Sabbath is it not?

    We are an ignorant people living in darkness. We do not go to confession because so far as we know or believe there is nothing to confess. For me homily is a namby pamby term that is creating a church full of spiritual marshmallows. “Evanglize…forgive….do not judge….” Fine!!! Is there anything else you’d like to tell us before we both appear before the judgement seat of God?

  25. Tradster says:

    A nice solution for any priest would be to write and then save a couple of brief, generic, all-purpose homilies tucked in the back of the prayerbook for those rainy day emergencies. Since he wrote them he wouldn’t sound wooden as he would with a canned speech (assuming he bothers to reread or replace them from time to time).

  26. Sam Schmitt says:

    “Faithful, direct, and brief”

    I like that.

  27. Agnes says:

    We’re really not there for a long lecture on patristics, [But… but… ?!?] but please do give us something to go on. “Do good and avoid evil.” I like that a lot.

  28. AnnLewis says:

    My one comment is that he could have handled the situation with a little more…I don’t know…panache? He came across as lazy, regardless of what his intentions may have been. He could have simply said, “today was the deacon’s day to do the sermon, and he had to be away suddenly. So let’s pray for him and his family, and continue with the Mass.”..

    No gritty details, no looking like a schlub. Works in my opinion…

  29. AnnLewis says:

    BTW – thanks, Fr. Z, for the correction on the OF bashing. I attend both forms, and I’ve had good and bad sermons in both situations.

  30. david andrew says:

    It is a pity that many priests rely so heavily on smooth, polished “Toastmasters International”-style preaching replete with clever anecdotes and witty “bon mots” they spend tortured hours preparing, and yet so many of these carefully-worded, “relevant” speeches lack any real substance. More often than not they’re terribly dumbed-down and designed to be comfortable and unchallenging. Few priests I’ve heard preach even dare to speak about the basic tenets of the Faith: the importance of frequent reception of the sacraments, the importance of proper disposition for reception of Holy Communion, the need for the exercise of discipline and use of sacramentals in strengthening one’s faith.

    Who among us who have spent much time “in the trenches” of the typical “spirit of the Council” suburban parish can say we heard anything about the Four Last Things or the Church’s understanding of the Communion of Saints preached in November?

    This desire to make the homily something that tickles the ear I believe is an unintended consequence of the “reforms” (celebrating the Mass versus populum, for example), thus placing the attention on the priest as the center of attention.

  31. ray from mn says:

    Most five minute sermons given at weekday Masses are better than the 20 minute sermons on Sundays.

    The priest has the opportunity to make one or two points and those can be very memorable.

  32. Supertradmom says:

    The top ten best sermons I have ever heard were from Novus Ordo priest. He knew his Scripture and was obviously inspired by the Holy Spirit.

  33. An American Mother says:

    My grandfather-in-law was a Methodist minister. He told me that he had two ironclad rules in preaching:

    1. Always have an extra sermon stowed away in your coat pocket in case of emergencies.

    2. No souls are saved after the first twenty minutes.

  34. TJerome says:


    I grew up with the EF. This is only my opinion, but I think in those days the sermon/homily was not given the same emphasis as it is today. In those days the Sunday sermon/homily was not necessarily directed to the meaning of that day’s Epistle or Gospel, as is more common today. I think that is why it was so jarring that the priest failed to speak to the readings when the deacon didn’t appear. People today expect a sermon/homily. It does not have to be long. I have an elderly priest friend who taught homiletics at a very sane seminary. He could speak Latin and Greek like a vernacular, as well as French, Italian, Spanish and German. His sermons were no more than 5-7 minutes in duration and delivered in a straightorward manner that no one other than those of us who knew him was aware that he was an accomplished speaker in many other languages. But his sermons were memorable for their beautiful simplicity. I always think fondly of him. Tom

  35. Francisco Cojuanco says:

    While not the same situation exactly, I remember one time when the priest assigned to Mass that day couldn’t say it due to his being drunk as a fish (we found out later), so the other priest, who literally was told about his fellow priest’s condition half an hour before the first Mass, basically used the situation as a teaching moment, warning the congregants against the sins of gluttony and overindulgence* (like I said, we had no idea what happened to the other priest until the next Sunday) – talking later, apparently it was the first subject that came to his mind.

    This was at an OF mass, of course, but still, it shouldn’t be that hard to deliver a bare-bones homily – even something as simple as “Do good and avoid what is evil” ought to suffice. Besides, some of the homilies I remember most easily were some of the shortest relatively.

  36. Margaret says:

    I know at least one priest, whose grasp of English is shaky at beast, who routinely reads a section or two from “In Conversation with God” as his Sunday homily. The book series is written by a priest of Opus Dei. There is a longish three-part reflection (probably 15-20 minutes read aloud?) for each Sunday (A, B & C) plus weekdays and feast-days. The reflections use the day’s Gospel reading as a springboard for reflection on some aspect of the Christian life– prudence, Confession, life of prayer, devotion to Our Lady, etc. The series is really more intended for personal devotional prayer, but it certainly works in a pinch.

  37. Jahaza says:

    I came in to make the point Fr. Charles made, but he beat me to it! The priest can always read a homily from the fathers (even the one in the Office of Readings for the day if he’s truly without time to prepare.

  38. Agnes says:

    Fr. Z, But…but…but as said in another post, how do we get lapsed Catholics in the door and keep them there? Preach the basics. Kerygma.

    Then have a parish lecture series on Augustine, Origen, et al. for the diehard armchair theologians! Good compromise?

  39. Breck says:

    I seem to remember that Benjamin Franklin told the story of a protestant preacher in Philadelphia who acquired a great reputation until it was discovered that he was simply reading someone else’s sermons.
    Franklin rather thought that a good secondhand sermon was better than a poor original one.

  40. Ogard says:

    I find most sermons boring, and tend to switch off automatically if from the first sentences I realize that there is nothing to expect. What the priest wishes to convey, if anything, can be said in 2-3 minutes.

    I am not exaggerating. I remember my young years living in vicinity of a church attached to convent of religious sisters. It was the church I went to Mass most Sundays. Their spiritual advisor was residential priest who was also professor of pastoral theology at the Faculty of Theology. His sermons took less than 5 min; always concentrated on a single point spelled out in 2-3 long sentences, and that was it. It was one of the rare specimens I wanted to hear continued.

    A Catholic priest doesn’t have to be a public-attracting orator, climbing on a pulpit, but a person who can sincerely say: “He must increase, but I must decrease”.

  41. Ellen says:

    Our priest preaches very short sermons, but they are meaty as can be. I can spend a week thinking about them. I’ve only been to one Mass where the priest didn’t preach, but he got up and said he had had a very hectic week and didn’t have time to prepare a sermon. He apologized and then said he’d have one next week. And he did.

  42. RichardT says:

    I liked “No souls are saved after the first twenty minutes.” But actually I think the preacher would have to be very good to reach anyone after 4 minutes.

    I was told that there is a technical difference between a homily and a sermon, that a sermon can be on any topic but a homily must be about the day’s scripture readings. Is that correct?

  43. bookworm says:

    I noted on another thread, that just this Sunday, I heard a priest give a quite lengthy homily on the right to life and its importance — a homily that I would say, must have gone at least 25 minutes, definitely longer than the norm, since I got out of Mass about 15-20 minutes later than usual. The assembly applauded him at the end — and I cannot remember the last time I saw that happen.

    It’s not just the length of the homily that counts, but how passionately the priest feels about the subject he is preaching.

  44. lofstrr says:

    Sigh, how hard can it be? He hears the same readings as everyone else. Reread the gospel quickly when you get up to the ambo and then tell people what you think, what strikes you, what jumps out at you.

    Back in my church of Christ days I had to preached off the cuff a couple of times and I didn’t have a set reading for the day to at least give me a topic. And this was a small country congregation of rabid fundamentalists. They don’t have a good song service and no instruments to help cover it. Preaching is all they have and they KNOW their chapter and verse. Mess up and you will have a riot of little old ladies dressing you down.

    When I first found out about the lectionary cycle when I started coming into the Church, my first thought was “No way, that’s like cheating! Absolutely brilliant! I love this Church.”

    The old retired priest who does our daily masses always has short 5 min or so reflections on the readings and great life stories to go with them. Every single day. But then he was a World War II vet and has also been in sales, broadcasting, law enforcement, farming, married, permanent deacon, widowed, and has now been a priest for almost 15 years. I don’t think I have ever been so impressed with a man in all my life. So he has the advantage of a lot of life experience to draw from.

  45. cpf says:

    I think that it was indeed bad form for the priest to publically embarrase the deacon. However, having been in many different situations and seeing how frustrated priests can become, especially with a deacon who just shows up and preaches willy-nilly, it might be that the priest was at the end of his rope and WANTED to publically embarrase the deacon. I have known many “permoids” who have more money than God, preach terribly banal homilies in which all they do is mention their wife, and every time the priest might actually need help from them, they are “too busy” or are “away on vacation.” I’m just suggesting that it might have been building for this priest for a while.

Comments are closed.