ASK FATHER: Mini homilies at the beginning of Mass

From a reader…

QUAERITUR:

I have a question, it seems to be very common for priests to give a sort of mini-homily at the very beginning of Mass. This has always annoyed me very much, but I have not been able to tell if it is a liturgical abuse or something that is permitted by the Novus Ordo Missal, as I understand how strange it would be for a priest to turn around and give this briefing at the foot of the altar in the Extraordinary Form.

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal 50 states,

“After the greeting of the people, the Priest, or the Deacon, or a lay minister may very briefly introduce the faithful to the Mass of the day”.

That’s leaves a certain amount of latitude. The “very briefly” statement would seem to exclude any kind of a “mini-homily.” The intention of the Instruction seems to mean something along the lines of:

“Today we commemorate St. Christina the Astonishing, who was known to seek solitude by praying in a heated oven. May her devotion inspire our own.”

GIRM 50 doesn’t seem to allow for much more than that.

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23 Responses to ASK FATHER: Mini homilies at the beginning of Mass

  1. Jack007 says:

    I see posts all the time saying things like “cleaning coffee off my screen” and other such obvious exaggerations…but Christina the Astonishing? I literally laughed so hard I had to stop and rest for a moment. Very witty, Padre Zeta! I needed a good laugh apparently…thanks for providing it!!!
    Jack in KC

  2. Fr Kurt Barragan says:

    On those occasions where some introduction to the Mass of the day seems appropriate, it is important to prepare these words beforehand – extemporised remarks are usually too wordy. I often find the relevant entry in the Martyrology a good place to start in forming something concise.

    So, for instance, the current Roman Martyrology for 24th July offers something like this: “In the convent of Saint-Trond, in Brabant, blessed Christina called the ‘Astonishing’ because God worked truly astonishing things in her, both in the body, in which she suffered much, and in her soul, enriched with mystical phenomena. (c. 1224)”

  3. Gaz says:

    ‘Briefly’ can be translated as ‘shorter than the homily’.

    I can remember going to a diagonal ordination. The ordinand commenced his remarks after the Prayer after Communion saying that the rule was that he was to keep his remarks shorter than the Bishop’s homily. That ordinand is now an Archbishop, and a very good one at that!

  4. Gaz says:

    I hate auto-correct. ‘Diaconal’

  5. Jack007 says:

    Sorry, I assumed Father was going in the direction of St. Ipsy Doodle…Now, after reading that there WAS a Christina the Astonishing, I must admit I thought it was a bit weird.
    Still had a good laugh!

  6. Sid Cundiff in NC says:

    In the middle of the last decade I went to Mass in a church in Downeast Maine. The pastor began Mass with one of these Mini Homilies that went on for easily 45 mins. Two years later he was a bit shorter, 20 minutes. It was a penance.

    We all hate it when a speaker takes advantage of a captive audience. And there is only so much that the human bottom can take. I suspect many folk don’t go to the Easter Vigil because of its length (I witnessed one in Maryland in 2004 that went on for four hours). Thus many Catholics miss the supreme Mass of the year, the Christian version of the Eleusinian Mysteries, the sublime passage from darkness to light, from profound sorrow to ecstatic joy, after which death has no hold on us. I’m happy to report that I’ve witnessed an Easter Vigil in Mount Airy, NC, that was over in 2 hours — and that with all the readings and psalm responses. The pastor is now pastor in Greensboro.

  7. Sonshine135 says:

    In my experience, the long-winded opening by Father typically occurs where he sees himself as the principle entertainer. Those typically end up being the Masses where I offer it up to God in union with His own suffering and the continuing sacrilege shown against Him. I always try to pull a St. Theresa Lesiux and be extra nice to Father on the way out. I also pray a little extra for him, because he needs our prayers.

    Father Z, I still think truth is stranger than fiction. Although you gave me a good laugh with St. Christina the Astonishing, I still chuckle over the fact that St. Lawrence of Rome, patron saint of cooks and pit masters was roasted to death on a spit. Who says Rome doesn’t have a sense of humor.

  8. JBS says:

    The GIRM mentions the “commentator”, who provides “brief explanations and commentaries”. Is it better to have a layman like this make comments, or is it better for the celebrant to make them?

  9. oldconvert says:

    The Life of Christina the Astonishing by Thomas de Cantimpré (1232), with a translation by Margot H. King, Toronto: Peregrina Pub. Co. paperback, 1999.

    She was more soberly known as Christina of Saint-Trond, she lived from 1150-1224, and the kindest description of the above biography is “an undeniably odd story” .

    I acquired the paperback when I was studying medieval Latin some years ago. Believe me, heated ovens were only a part of it!

  10. acardnal says:

    I attended a Mass at a parish last year where the celebrant gave a mini-homily after EACH reading! I leaned over to the couple next to me and asked if he always did that and they nodded “yes.” Weird.

  11. Sonshine135 says:

    oldconvert,

    Thanks for teaching me something new today. I thought Christina the Astonishing was tongue-in-cheek. I think it does show that the truth around the Saints certainly is stranger than fiction.

  12. Brian2 says:

    Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds have a song abiut St.Christina. it is on the Henry’s dream album. Most readers here might find Cave’s lyrics pretty rough (although not on the St. Christina song) but i appreciate them in a seedy Graham Greene or Flannery O’Connor kind of way. Which isnt to say Cave is Catholic…i think he is more of a seeker. Anyway, good song, check it out. I also recommend “there is a kingdom” and Brompton oratory, both off “the boatmans call”…probably his best work

  13. jaykay says:

    GBS: “The GIRM mentions the “commentator”, who provides “brief explanations and commentaries”. Is it better to have a layman like this make comments, or is it better for the celebrant to make them?”

    In my opinion it’s better to have neither.

    No, seriously. This sort of thing, along with the many permitted alternatives in the NO, has too often led to making the Mass a blather-fest. Fr. Barragan above referenced the need to at least have something prepared if it’s deemed necessary to have this introduction at all. Oh boy, I wish!!

    While I can understand the reason for having some (very brief) “intro” on a feast day, especially when it happens to occur on a Sunday e.g. All Souls and the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica recently, I can’t see why an ordinary Sunday Mass needs one at all, that can’t be just as well incorporated into the actual Homily.

  14. MGL says:

    Our bishop prefers to insert a mini-homily between the final blessing and the dismissal, on a topic of his choice. Once it was an exhortation to allow essentially unlimited immigration; another time to demand an end to weapons manufacturers (a particular focus of his, since he brought it up again in his Palm Sunday homily). These off-the-cuff remarks can go on for several minutes, especially given his tendency to insert lengthy pauses in between sentences. It is excruciating.

  15. That instruction must be the justification for priests just making up the penitential rite as they go. Why can’t we just have the Mass?

  16. Imrahil says:

    Well, “there may be an introduction” and then there’s leeway and leeway, of course. And somewhat in fact, too: I cannot see that the introductory mini-sermon can in any way be grounds for a formal complaint, or matter for the priest’s own confessional. (That is, by its existence and length, if that’s not totally abnormal. The content is another matter.)

    That said, I think the usual politeness of most congregations to remain standing for all of that sermon should be ended. Whenever I see that it’s going to be more than a very few words, I sit down for them, and do not care what the rest of the congregation does. The Gospel is a matter for standing; the sermon isn’t, and a fortiori the introduction isn’t either.

  17. Giuseppe says:

    I love Father Z’s saint references, as I never know if they are real or made up.
    They sometimes remind me of the list of the Car Talk guys staff members.
    http://www.cartalk.com/content/staff-credits

  18. JBS: “Is it better to have a layman like this make comments [that is, as the ‘commentator’ mentioned in the GIRM] or is it better for the celebrant to make them?”

    I don’t know what the GIRM intends, but my personal opinion is that it might make little difference whether the commentator is lay or clerical, so long as he is not the priest celebrating the Mass. Surely, commentator and celebrant are two separate and distinct roles, not to be played by the same person. Whenever the celebrant with comments or announcements says anything other than what’s printed in black in the altar missal (other than in his sermon) and thereby departs from his role of acting in persona Christi, he violates the integrity and solemnity of the heavenly liturgy–however common such violations may be, and however permitted by unfortunate GIRM options.

  19. At daily Mass, when in some cases more than one saint could be commemorated in addition to the regular weekday Mass, it is useful for someone at some point to explain which optional memorial, if any, is being celebrated, if only so the congregation knows which antiphons and psalms are being used. I know that sometimes I don’t get to look at my church calendar before I head out the door in the morning, and a brief, sober orientation for the disoriented and groggy is welcome. I think Father Z is pretty well on the mark here– a line or two is ideal, and certainly not a “mini-homily.”

  20. JimP says:

    A Jesuit temporarily in residence at our parish does an opening monologue following the greeting, touching on sports, weather, or whatever hits his fancy before proceeding to the Penitential Act. He also leaves the sanctuary during the sharing of the peace to come down and work the front pews like a candidate at a rally. I pray that he will soon be able to move on.

  21. Elizabeth D says:

    If a Jesuit comes to the pews to shake your hand, keep your hands folded and say “pax tecum” cordially.

  22. MikeM says:

    It seems to me that with permissions in Mass rules, we should take the same attitude that’s advisable for many other rules. When we have a role in making decisions, we should err on the side of strictness in interpreting the rules… And when other people are responsible for the decisions, we should judge their conduct according to the loosest reasonable interpretation of the rules.

  23. Some other valuable points to be done at this time:

    * ask the faithful to focus on a particular point in the readings “note what phrases from the 1st reading appear in the Gospel today” – prepping them for the homily so you can dive straight in after the Gospel without spending half the daily mass homily reading excerpts from the readings.

    * Mention the intention, especially if it noteworthy. For example yesterday was the 91st birthday of my Great Aunt, Sr Alice, and mom had sent a mass stipend to pray for her.

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