From a reader…
Our pastor is a wonderful, faith-filled priest who absolutely loves the traditional liturgy. We are lucky to have him. He’s also a magnificent preacher.
However, I’ve noticed he sometimes doesn’t preach at Sunday Mass. Even though he is really good at it, he has admitted that it is exhausting for him and he really doesn’t like it. Of course we only attend one Mass on Sundays, so I can’t say for sure if he doesn’t preach at all the Sunday Masses, or just the one we attend. And it’s not every Sunday. Just every so often.
Some fellow parishioners and I have grown concerned that he may be violating Canon Law by not preaching at Mass on Sundays. As far as we laymen understand, it’s required at Mass on Sundays by the pastor.
Is there something we don’t understand in this situation? And if our pastor is doing something incorrect, how do we approach him about it?
Here’s what the 1983 Code says in Can. 767
§2. A homily must be given [habenda est] at all Masses on Sundays and holy days of obligation which are celebrated with a congregation, and it cannot be omitted except for a grave cause. [nec omitti potest nisi gravi de causa]
§3. It is strongly recommended that if there is a sufficient congregation, a homily is to be given even at Masses celebrated during the week, especially during the time of Advent and Lent or on the occasion of some feast day or a sorrowful event.
§4. It is for the pastor or rector of a church to take care that these prescripts are observed conscientiously.
My initial reaction is to muse, with St. Augustine, about Father’s preaching. Your feedback is different from the complaint Augustine received from some preaching in his day. To wit:
“You have had to acknowledge and complain that often, because you talked too long and with too little enthusiasm, it has befallen you to become commonplace and wearisome even to yourself, not to mention him whom you were trying to instruct by your discourse, and the others who were present as listeners.”
You say that Father is a good preacher, so that’s out. Nevertheless, we who step into the pulpit can all take that to heart.
Preaching comes easier to some than to others. Augustine addresses this in Book IV of De doctrina christiana. For some it just flows and for others it’s like pulling your own teeth. I have known priest who suffer from real “stage fright”. They man up.
The Council of Trent in Session 24 demands something that goes back long before Trent, that is, preaching saltem diebus dominicis et solemnibus festis… at least on Sunday and solemn feasts. At least, not “only” and not, “if you want”.
Vatican II’s Sacrosanctum Concilium 52 says: “at those Masses which are celebrated with the assistance of the people on Sundays and feasts of obligation, [a homily] should not be omitted except for a serious reason.”
Look familiar? Can. 767 §2 was taken from SC 52.
So, Father may not, except for a grace reason, omit preaching on Sunday. The Canon says, “all Masses” on Sundays. Not some.
What could be a grave reason?
Bombs are falling. There is an invading swarm of locusts. The church is on fire. An altar boy is on fire. FATHER is on fire.
Father feeling ill could be a reason. If Father is frail and preaching is so exhausting that he can then barely get through Mass, that could be a grave reason. Even then, he could probably manage to say something.
Nothing in can. 767 determines how long, how loud, or how involved the sermon must be. Short sermons can be good things. Looooong sermons can be good things. Too long sermons are too long. How do we determine how long is too long? Father’s of the Church could go on for a couple hours at a time. The congregation didn’t have iPhones and therefore they had attention spans longer than rabid squirrels.
Not liking to preach is not a grave reason, unless that dislike is so overwhelming that it renders Father unconscious. I suggest then that he needs help.
No, Father needs to preach on Sundays. It his duty and privilege unless there is some grave cause. He should fulfill his task, diebus saltem dominicis.
How do you approach him?
You might jot down what you find in Trent, Session 24 – look it up in English, the 1983 Code, Sacrosanctum Concilium 52, and…
… let him take to heart the approach of St. John Chrysostom:
“Preaching improves me. When I begin to speak, weariness disappears; when I begin to teach, fatigue too disappears. Thus neither sickness itself nor indeed any other obstacle is able to separate me from your love….For just as you are hungry to listen to me, so too I am hungry to preach to you. My congregation is my only glory, and every one of you means more to me than anyone of the city outside….Oftentimes in my dreams I see myself in the pulpit speaking to you.”