ASK FATHER: Seminarian gives homily at Mass

From a reader…


It has happened at least two times now where our pastor has preached 30 second homily and then says, ” and now our resident seminarian will offer some words on today’s gospel. ” The seminarian then gives a 15 min homily. I understand that seminarians need to practice, but I was under the impression that this is not allowed. If not, is it something I should bring up to Father?

The 2004 Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum is perfectly clear. After establishing that the homily is ordinarily to be given by the priest celebrant (64), with another priest, or a bishop, or deacon able to fill in on occasion, it explicitly excludes laypersons and adds

“The prohibition of the 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.”

As clear as the law is, some want to skirt, disregard, ignore, or dance around the law.

Seminarians, in particular, are in precarious situations. Oftentimes their formation is dependent upon recommendations given by people with little desire to observe the law. Even though most seminaries are long past the dark days (though there is evidence that the dark days are returning), there are still folks involved in formation who see it as their bounden duty to “test” these little bundles of fervor and orthodoxy and shake them up. In an effort to prove to these men whom they perceive as naive waifs that there exist grey areas and difficult situations, these priests (and others) put the seminarian in a situations where they are forced to chose between obedience to the law, or obedience to the pastor.

The seminarian who resists and stands firm in the law and tradition of the Church can then be labelled “rigid,” a term that might not hold as much sway in seminaries as it did a generation ago, but is still trotted out as a slur by certain members of the in crowd… such as the Pope.

For laity, the situation can be awkward. While you have every right to the liturgy of the Church as the Church intends it (which includes a homily given by one qualified), bringing these facts up to the pastor might cause problems for the seminarian, especially if the pastor thinks that the seminarian set up the confrontation.  It need not be the truth that the seminarian did so, but the perception – his accusation – can be just as damning and harmful in the seminarian’s evaluations.

Pray for the seminarian, who is likely struggling with the propriety of doing what he’s told by the pastor, while trying to remain faithful to the law of the Church.

He has probably had to make several decisions about which battles are worth fighting and which are best to practice the virtue of nodding, smiling, and saying, “Yes, Father.”

Meanwhile, if those priests who put seminarians in this position know what Redemptionis Sacramentum says continue to put seminarians in that position… I fear for them at their judgment.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Matimus says:

    In our diocese we end up with a “resident seminarian” who has been ordained a deacon. After his 3rd year of major seminary, he is ordained and then sent for several months to a parish for pastoral experience. Since he is a deacon, is he then allowed to give the homily? WE also have a permanent deacon who does the homily every month or so. Is this allowed?

    [Deacons can preach.]

  2. bombcar says:

    Matimus – deacons can give the homily. It’s not that the homily is particular to them (so if you have a deacon throw a homily at him), but they’re permitted.

    Another factor in “Redemptionis Sacramentum” is that it is making clear that certain customs or traditions will not attain the force of law – even if people keep doing them. Personally, in this case, I would obey the pastor and pray over the law, as the law binds the pastor directly and the seminarian indirectly.

    When Fr Z is Pope (for his sins) he can require every homily to simply be a reading of one of St Augustine’s. That’d light some people up.

  3. ChesterFrank says:

    Like Matimus I have also been to Masses where a seminarian, who also is a deacon, have given homilies. It has been often at parishes that have sponsored that seminarian, and usually for a special event that raises funds for the seminarian. I also attend a parish where the permanent deacon gives a homily nearly more often than the pastor.

  4. Ralph says:

    Father, I’m sad to say but your advice to not put the seminarian in an awkward situation is sound. I’m afraid we are entering another period where, once again, an orthodox seminarian will have to play “submarine” as my old pastor used to say. Good young men must keep the fact that they are faithful to the gospel and traditions of the Church hidden “under water” if they have any hope to make it to ordination. What a terrible situation to be in!

  5. murtheol says:

    Got it. But, Fr. Z, seminarians are still lay people and should not be wearing the garb of clergy such as cassocks and Roman collars. If they re prohibited from preaching, they should not simulate clerical dress. I’m just saying. [Give it up.]

  6. Bthompson says:

    I have SAID masses wherein I was informed by my betters that I would not be preaching and a lay person would do so instead (i.e. I am to give a sub-1-minute homily-cum-introduction about the person “witnessing”). I don’t like the abuse, and I know what the GIRM and/or Redemptionis Sacramentum says, but I am not in a position to stand my ground. [You will be!]

  7. Michael_Thoma says:

    The seminarian should probably be very careful on what he says in his homily as well, God forbid an authentic firm (rigid) stand founded on the orthodox Apostolic faith. It would be much safer (special ops) to leave it at generic “God loves everyone, yes He do!”, lest one be accused of hating V2.

  8. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Tangential questions (if they be here suffered):

    When 65 refers to “any previous norm that may have admitted non-ordained faithful to give the homily during the eucharistic celebration” are there specific ‘things’ in mind?

    When 161 pronounces “As regards other forms of preaching, if necessity demands it in particular circumstances, or if usefulness suggests it in special cases, lay members of Christ’s faithful may be allowed to preach in a church or in an oratory outside Mass in accordance with the norm of law”, does this include during or in connection with other Offices (e.g., Matins, Vespers)?

    Do things like C.S. Lewis preaching represent a continuation of mediaeval practices, subsequently reformed or superseded in the Latin Church? If so, do they have reference to regarding all ‘academics’ as in ‘minor orders’?

  9. PhilipNeri says:

    Once a seminarian has been called to ordination to the diaconate (candidacy) by his bishop, he is considered a cleric, and he is eligible to wear clerical garb. Candidacy is usually granted at the end of the fall semester of the third year of seminary (diocesan). [NO. Candidacy is interesting, but seminarians should wear clerical garb according to the mandates of the seminary and bishop.]

    Preaching a *homily* is restricted to the ordained. No seminarians, no religious brothers or sisters, no lay folks. Deacons and those ordained to the priesthood only.

    Our seminarians are often told by ministry-site pastors to preach at Mass. This puts our guys in a difficult situation (as Fr. Z. notes). Some of them demur w/o any negative consequences. Some do as they are told. And some get negative feedback on their evals for refusing to break the rules. Fortunately, the formators know that they shouldn’t be preaching a homily, so we don’t hold it against them if they get a bad review.

    We don’t often run into pastors giving seminarians bad reviews for refusing to break the rules. . .for this, we give God thanks!

    Fr. Philip Neri, OP

  10. PhilipNeri says:

    After my ordination to the priesthood in 2005, I was invited by my OP sister supervisor to celebrate Mass for her community. I accepted and noted that I would be using the Roman Rite (O.F.) and preaching. She responded, “Let me get back to you for a day when a sister will let you preach.” She smiled at my facial expression. We found a day and all was well. . .

    Fr. Philip Neri, OP

    [“Let me get back to you…”]

  11. Grumpy Beggar says:

    Thank you for this post Padre. In this neck of the woods , there was a time (I say “was” a time because I was in touch with a lot of seminarians then – so, not sure if the practice still exists a few years afterwards) when, similar to Bthompson’s comment and similar to the format in the reader’s question :

    The priest would begin the homily, then a space would be provided within the homily for a seminarian to provide a ,um , “reflection” (note the convenient wording) after which the priest would conclude his homily.I believe the duration of the beginning and end portions of the homily in these cases (if I recall correctly) was between 5 and 10-15 minutes respectively.

    “The seminarian who resists and stands firm in the law and tradition of the Church can then be labelled “rigid,” a term that might not hold as much sway in seminaries as it did a generation ago, but is still trotted out as a slur by certain members of the in crowd… such as the Pope.”

    What a lot of geniuses fail to understand – purely from the point of practicality, is that a little excess in rigidity is much easier to cure than lax liberalism : In the former, one simply relaxes a little, but in the latter case, the subject already has stuff spilling out all over the place when and where it shouldn’t be. . . Good luck with trying to rein all that in.

  12. bombcar says:

    I’d rather have a seminarian than a recording of the Cardinal asking us to give him moneydollars.

  13. hwriggles4 says:

    The best homily I ever heard from a transitional deacon was a few days after the Obergfeld vs. Hodges decision. This was at my NO parish and was at the bilingual Mass. This transitional deacon (who was ordained to the priesthood 7 months ago) is Hispanic, and he clearly explained end Ingles y Español that the courts decided Obergfeld vs. Hodges, NOT the Church. This was one of the best homilies I have heard on that God defined marriage as “one man and one woman.” I applaud good priests and good deacons who aren’t afraid to preach on these topics – our pastor became a bishop recently, and I hope he continues to remain strong.

    I also know some good Catholic priests who entered through the Pastoral Provision, who give strong homilies. One who is now a widower, preached on a gospel reading a few years ago and said, “marriage is between one man and one woman, and no court can change that.”

  14. hwriggles4 says:


    I agree. I dread that one Sunday in January or February when our diocese does the appeal. I also cringe when certain deacons preach. Some are better than others, and some priests review their homilies beforehand.

    The last two pastors at my NO parish put deacons on a schedule, so the priest does most of the preaching. However, I am fortunate to have two deacons who uphold the sanctity of life, and aren’t trying to be comedians – the 80s are gone. One deacon I gave a big thank you one Sunday evening because he had enough guts to tell parishioners to “be careful about getting information on Church matters (including Pope Francis I) from the secular media.”

  15. sahn105 says:

    “The prohibition of the admission of laypersons to preach…”

    Is a subdeacon clergy or a layman? And since most Catholic seminarians no longer become subdeacons, can one who has received the ministry of acolyte preach? The reason I ask is because I understand instituted acolytes can fulfill the role of subdeacon at E.F. mass.

  16. comedyeye says:

    Several years ago this happened at a Saturday morning Mass I attended in the Chicago archdiocese. After Mass I asked the priest celebrant about having the layman (who was in the permanent diaconate program) give “words of reflection” in the space designated for the homily. He told me that Cardinal George had given his approval for it. I do not know if this was true.

  17. Orphrey says:

    I have experienced laymen and laywomen giving the homily many times. In the diocese of Maine, I experienced for many summers visiting religious sisters coming for “Mission Sunday” and being invited by the priest celebrant to give the homily, with the full approval of the bishop. One year, the sister gave a rip-roaring 45+ minute stand-up routine that had people slapping their knees and guffawing loudly in the pews. Before concluding and appealing for donations, she led the congregation in a heartfelt rendition of “What The World Needs Now Is Love”.

  18. frmh says:

    I oppose all ‘announcements’ in the period after having received Holy Communion and I think the introduction of this disruption to piety has been the cause of great evil.

    I make the announcements prior to the sermon for that reason,

    If I am obliged to have a visiting seminarian say something, like introduce himself and ask for money from the seminary, I will let him speak in the announcements period prior to the sermon.

    I am opposed to disrupting the piety and devotion of the post communion period, and that extends to the protestant practice of a priest shaking hands with people at the end of Holy Mass- this is the time for adoration and thanksgiving and petition.

  19. frmh says:

    Also, what about that thing in masses for children where the NO allows for a layman to say something if the priest thinks he isn’t up to it…..

    And then there is the ministry of the “commentator” or whatever they call it, who as a layman is permitted to comment on what is going on at Holy Mass for the benefit of the congreration.

    The general flavour of the NO missal is that anything goes for pastoral reasons…

    don’t like the Gospel- change it!…. pastoral reasons permit it.
    want to omit a reading…. pastoral reasons permit it.
    want some woman to comment on every action you are doing…. pastoral reasons permit it.
    want a layman to preach because he is more comfortable with kids…. pastoral reasons permit it.
    Want to use bongo drums and have a liturgical dance at the offertory…. pastoral (ie interculturation reasons) permit it.

    I don’t like any of this, but the NO is deliberately fluid……

    Some small directive in RS is up against the mighty spirit of the NO which for pastoral reasons will allow for an awful lot.

  20. SanSan says:

    Oh, so I guess the graduating Senior during the Bacculate Mass should not be the one giving the “homily” after the reading of the Gospel? :( While the Pastor sits off to the side, not taking the final opportunity to save souls!

    So tired seeing what and how things are done at so many parishes around me. Come Holy Spirit Come…..

  21. Poor Yorek says:

    > PhilipNeri re: candidacy

    Sed contra:

    Can. 266 §1. Through the reception of the diaconate, a person becomes a cleric and is incardinated in the particular church or personal prelature for whose service he has been advanced.

    Per receptum diaconatum aliquis fit clericus et incardinatur Ecclesiae particulari vel praelaturae personali pro cuius servitio promotus est.

    My Latin is insufficient to the task of construing whether the per receptum implies only through reception of the diaconate, but certainly nothing is said explicitly about ‘candidacy’ for Orders.

  22. PhilipNeri says:

    Fr. Z. and Poor Yorek, my apologies. . .I should’ve been more specific. At NDS, we allow candidates for ordination to wear clerics. Most do. Some don’t. A few switch back and forth btw clerics and civvies.

    I’m not saying that candidates for ordination may preach a homily. Only the ordained may preach a homily (regardless of the nominalist contortions).

    Fr. Philip Neri, OP

  23. ASPM Sem says:

    Re: PhilipNeri

    Canon 266§1 states “Through the reception of the diaconate, a person becomes a cleric and is incardinated in the particular church or personal prelature for whose service he has been advanced.”

    so candidacy does not confer the clerical state as tonsure did.

    Candidacy is also received all over the place; I received candidacy a month into my Theology I year. Just before or upon entry to major seminary seems to be the usual place, at least in most dioceses/seminaries I know of.

  24. ASPM Sem says:

    Also, custom for my seminary/diocese is for candidates for presbyterate (not permanent diaconate) to wear clerics. They ask us not to wear clericals/take off the collar for purely secular activities such as shopping/movies/etc so as not to confuse people.

  25. Hans says:

    As comedyeye points out, it isn’t just seminarians who are put into such situations of being required to preach before ordination, but it also happens to candidates for the permanent diaconate. I speak from personal experience. And in many (if not all) dioceses in the US, the parish priest doesn’t just write an evaluation; if he withdraws his support, we are gone from the program. I’ve seen it happen.

  26. As a lay person, I consider preaching by seminarians to be abuse of the congregation. While I understand what Fr. Z has said, I don’t think staying silent is a reasonable solution. As I get older, I am getting tired of being abused. If we stay silent, we just get abused more. It’s one thing for the seminarian not to make waves, but the congregation doesn’t have to be complicit. A simple note to the bishop to say, “please stop this immediately, and by the way, if you want to see more money in the bishop’s appeal, I’d better see some orthodox seminarians and new priests,” may be necessary in case retaliation is planned.

    [And then the seminarian is blamed and punished for something he had no part in.]

  27. Poor Yorek says:

    Fr. Neri,

    I was responding to (that is, denying) your statement that “he (a seminarian called to ordination by Candidacy) is considered a cleric …”

    I submit that the important distinction here is between “wearing clerics” and being, canonically, “in the clerical state.” A “boy bishop” is wearing “clerics,” but certainly is not, ontologically or canonically, a cleric, any more than I am, when wearing a cassock and surplice as an instituted acolyte.

    As per the original post (lest “OP” be misconstrued!), it seems that there are two separate categories here at play that, currently are coincident, but need not be so: the clerical state and conferral of Major Orders, i.e. at least diaconate.

    Canon 266.1 as cited above defines reception of the clerical state as ordination to the diaconate. It has not always been this way, if I understand correctly, before the suppression of the minor orders.

    On the other hand, current canon law licitly authorizes only a deacon or priest (bishop) to give a homily in the context of the Sacred Liturgy per: Can. 767 §1. Among the forms of preaching, the homily, which is part of the liturgy itself and is reserved to a priest or deacon, is preeminent; in the homily the mysteries of faith and the norms of Christian life are to be explained from the sacred text during the course of the liturgical year.

    Speculation: for the FSSP and such who enjoy the minor orders and subdeaconate, perhaps a canon 266.1.1 might state that for such institutes/orders, entry to the clerical state begins at the subdeaconate, yet canon 767.1 would still limit homilies to deacons & priests.


    PS It is a pleasure to engage discussion with a Dominican again; most of my systematics courses were taught by Rev. Dr. Brian Mullady, O.P., S.T.D., which I enjoyed thoroughly. I hope he is well.

  28. Cloths doth oft proclaim the man, it has been said. Seminarians should wear clerical clothing. There is a connection between “habit” and “habit”. Marine Corps recruits wear uniforms before they graduate. So too seminarians.

  29. Poor Yorek says:

    Seminarians should wear clerical clothing.

    I concur and hope nothing that I wrote above in this thread would suggest otherwise.

    In those halcyon days of mid-late 80’s seminary, we were discouraged to wear clerics (e.g. just a shirt/collar – much less the evil black gun cassock) even when carrying out hospital chaplaincy (CPE) or communion to the sick visits (save for some few summer assignments with a more traditional pastor).

  30. Nan says:

    frmh, I love Mass for the Children but mine isn’t like yours; mine is last chance mass at the local college seminary which is typically a full house. It’s fun to join a few hundred young people who are going to Mass on purpose. While there are elements I could live without, the overall experience cancels out the negatives.

  31. cl00bie says:

    As a candidate for ordination to the permanent diaconate, it has been floated by my deacon mentor that I give a “reflection” during the time of the homily. I have strongly pushed back. I am going to get my public “preaching” practice at the diocesan basilica where they hold novenas. It’s not during Mass, there’s a number of faithful there to listen, and critique sheets are passed out and filled in.


  33. OldLady says:

    A serious headache often follows reading on this site. Not complaining, just saying. What are we the little people supposed to do when there is so much “opinion” in clerics? Stick to your guns you orthodox padres, we need you more than ever. The little people & everyone else, pray for priests and seminarians every day. A good priest is a miracle from God. Appreciate what we have and if they need help pray for them from the heart. Nothing is impossible with God.

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