ASK FATHER: Can a nun give a homily?

From a reader…


I have a serious question. Should a nun w or wo a habit (I got wo habit of course) be allowed to give a homily by the priest who just got done reading the Gospel. I was under the impression that was not on. More importantly should I have stood up and yelled at sister liberal suit pants. Am I over reacting? Am I mistaken? Is my internal compass less than Catholic at this moment? I am not a liturgy expert but this bothered me to the core. It did not help when she began to plead for the poor immigrants. You know the type. I am not going to sink the ship of a person perfectly willing and able to do the job herself. Thank you for your answers. you service is invaluable. Even to those of us who have never had the privilege of the Latin mass.

Of course a lay person (married, single, or vowed religious) cannot preach a homily at Mass. That is reserved to those in Holy Orders: bishops, priests, and deacons (if they have the faculty to preach).

For years, liturgists found “wiggle room” in the rubrics, and went to great lengths to make artificial distinctions between a priest delivering a homily and a lay person offering a “reflection.” Sometimes, the priest would stand at the pulpit and say some quick, vacuous statement, which would then be followed by a de facto homily. At other times, a lay person would be invited to “reflect” but not use the pulpit to do so.

Liberals are great at playing childish games if they don’t get their way.

Any uncertainty about the matter was wholly clarified in 2004 with the publication – at the behest of St. John Paul II – of the CDW’s Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum which has three concise paragraphs about the matter:

64 The homily, which is given in the course of Holy Mass and is a  part of the Liturgy itself, should ordinarily be given by the priest celebrant himself. He may entrust it to a concelebrating priest or occasionally, according to circumstances, to a deacon, but never to a layperson.  [Not really ambiguous, is it.]

65 It should be borne in mind that any previous norm that may have admitted non-ordained faithful to give the homily during the eucharistic celebration is to be considered abrogated by the norm of canon 767, 1. This practice is reprobated, so that it cannot be permitted to attain the force of custom. [So, the short answer is “No.”  The long answer is, “Noooooooooooo.”]

66 The prohibition of admission of laypersons to preach within the Mass applies also to seminarians, students of theological disciplines, and those who have assumed the function of those known as ‘pastoral assistants;’ nor is there to be any exception for any other kind of layperson, or group, or community, or association. [Yep, it’s “nope”.]

Article 74 explains that, occasionally (not as a regular practice) a layperson may give an “instruction or testimony” after the prayer after Communion, and these may not replace the homily, nor be of such a nature that it could be confused with a homily. A good example of what this article refers to would be a brief invitation to a parish event, the introduction of a seminarian who will be staying in the parish for the summer,  or the announcement by a group of religious women who will be conducting home visitations within the parish over the next few weeks.

All that said, proper decorum and the sacredness of the Holy Mass in general precludes standing up in the moment and yelling imprecations at Sr. Libby Pantsuit, RSM.

Just because she’s wrong and she gravely mars the holiness of moment by this abuse doesn’t mean that we should sink to her level.

Alternatives could be …

  • standing up (ideally, with others) and walking out to the vestibule to pray a decade or so of the rosary while this nonsense goes on;
  • a few stern but reasonable words to Father after Mass;
  • a politely worded letter to the bishop if it would do any good;
  • redirecting some of one’s financial support of the parish to another worthy cause for as long as this sort of abuse goes on.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, ASK FATHER Question Box, Liturgy Science Theatre 3000 and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Peter in Canberra says:

    I have a question about what I thought was a legitimate exception to this rule.
    Before that, for the avoidance of doubt, I do not support the principle of the non-ordained preaching, or in other words I furiously agree with what Fr Z has re-presented here.

    But, about 2 decades ago, I heard an orthodox Dominican, an English speaker, recount how he had arranged for a layman to read a homily in Italian for an Italian congregation. The Dominican could not speak Italian. My recollection was that the priest outlined how this was provided for in legislation. I cannot recall if the Italian speaking layman simply translated Father’s text or had some other role.

    In any event, is there a provision for such a thing? and is there a differentiating principle between a layperson ‘delivering’ a homily of a priest for the priest, and the [liberal desire of a] layperson preparing their own sermon and delivering it instead of the priest?

  2. scribbly says:

    Thank you Father.

    I was greatly heartened last Sunday when the visiting Priest strongly and calmly enforced Article 74 when the Reader of Notices pre-empted the final prayers.

    A breath of fresh air to our Parish Priest who can tag-team during the homily with a lay person, and finish with something like ‘I couldn’t do better myself’ (which is hardly the point)

Comments are closed.