You might be able to improve the preaching in your parish and change a priest’s life. Wherein Fr. Z suggests.

Sometimes I muse on the truly horrible formation we seminarians in the 80’s received in Sacred Scripture.  I broke through that deficit with my knowledge of classical languages and studying Patristic Theology at the best place to do so in Rome.

We tend to learn in plateaus.  We have break throughs and then settle in.  After a while we climb again.

This was my experience with Scripture, at least.  I have to give due credit for this especially to the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology and the work of Scott Hahn.

I saw a sample video of a new course they are offering, in particular for priests, but for lay people as well, on the upcoming readings for Sunday Masses in the Novus Ordo.

The video left me thirsty.  That’s the best way I can describe it.  I simply wanted more and more.  Isn’t that how this is supposed to work?  What did the Emmaus disciples say after the Word broke open the Word?

I warmly recommend that you consider getting a gift subscription for your local priest.  Check with him first, perhaps, in case he already got it.

My suspicion is that you will note a change in his preaching, if he is sticking to the readings (which is pretty much de rigueur in the context of the Novus Ordo).


Do not hesitate to get a gift subscription for priests who say only or mostly the Vetus Ordo.  Scripture is Scripture is Scripture.  Contrary to popular belief there is quite a linkage between readings of the Vetus and the Novus, though sometimes that link is through parallel passages.

PRACTICAL NOTE: Once you are at the Word of the Lord page, scroll down to see “Purchase gift subscription”.  Once you do that, you receive information which you can pass on to the person for whom you bought it. It’s a bit clunky, but I suppose it works.

I’ve been making up over the years for lost opportunity from seminary, especially.  Give your guys a hand up.

And I self-interestedly wouldn’t mind a subscription for myself.  Really.  (As above, check in case someone else stepped up.) [NB: Thank you MF for the subscription!]

PS: At the bottom of the subscription order form there is an “Order notes” box.  Tell them Fr. Z sent you!

Here is their sample episode for the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (yesterday, as I write).

BTW… at about 31:30 or so, there begins a fantastic part about the sanctification of our work, no matter what it is.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    So, I have a question I ask in all ignorance, not meaning to be disrespectful, but it has been bothering me for a long time. What curriculum do priests follow in seminary? In my two principle areas of the hard sciences and musicology, there are standard undergraduate and beginning graduate level courses that everybody takes. All hard scientists take calculus, differential equations (theorists take other additional math courses), all chemists take Gen Chem, Organic Chem, Physical Chem, and either Inorganic or Biochem, all physicists take statics/dynamics, quantum, thermodynamics, etc. as undergrads. In grad school, they repeat these subjects, or parts of them, at more advanced levels, then, for the doctorate, they can take specialty topics. In music, every undergrad does four semesters of theory, sight-singing/ear-training, keyboard, and a year or at least a semester of music history (general history). In grad school, specializing in musicology, everyone does at least one individual semester each of Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Romantic, Twentieth-century, and maybe Avant-garde history, in addition to form and analysis and perhaps counterpoint classes. For the doctorate, one has specialty seminars.

    The result is a type of homogeneous training, so that everybody is on the same page with regards to background training. If someone talks about the Claisen condensation in organic chemistry at a conference, everyone thinks the same thing. No one has a different idea of what the term means. Everybody is on the same page. In musicology, everybody knows what the ripieno is in a Baroque concerto.

    I was talking to a friend, yesterday, who is a Ph.d historian about this and he said that in history, there is no standardize curriculum, except for historiography, which made me wonder how historians in other fields are trained to be able to communicate with each other.

    At Mass, yesterday, the deacon, who gave the homily, mentioned that he took a course called, Reconciliation and Forgiveness, which should have been a course about the sacrament of Penance (so, why would the deacon be taking it?), no, but from his description, sounded like a social work course in conflict resolution, since he mentioned, “listening circles,” in describing a scenario related to the class. This re-ignited my curiosity about the systematic training of priests.

    Hard sciences are constrained by the laws of nature and all that is studied is just applications that must be consistent with them. One scientist cannot claim a different speed of light than another. Divine law, being a higher order than even natural laws, would seem to admit even less shenanigans than a scientist trying to use a different definition of the speed of light than the accepted norm. Yet, I see so much variability in what I hear about moral theology and biblical interpretation that it makes me wonder why all priests are not on the same page. Scientists can’t do science as a community without common presuppositions; I can hardly doubt that priests should even have more tightly unified training.

    Is this not the case? Is there that much variability in a priest’s academic training that what is sin for one would not be recognized as sin by another? In science, we have standards committees which set an almost world-wide uniform standard for training, so that colleagues in Poland and China can cooperate in shared experiments. Should this not be the case for priests? Is this the case for priests? Why, then, do I see so much variability? If chemists or physicists don’t have uniform training in shared experiments, things can blow up and people can die. How much more essential is a uniformity of training for priests necessary when the fate of the soul is concerned?

    I am just curious about how things work in priestly formation and how there can be so many different answers to even simple questions. Are priests formed more like historians or like scientists. Theology is a science, so I could hope for the latter, but I suspect the former is true.

    The Chicken

  2. Chicken: Back in the day there was no consistent approach. Each place handled it differently. It might be different now, since the Holy See has issued some guidelines about formation (entirely inadequate because of their avoidance of a couple points (e.g., Latin, Thomas Aquinas)).

  3. michele421 says:

    Most priests could also use a couple of public speaking courses as well.

  4. CasaSanBruno says:

    I was at a low Mass offered by an Institute priest one Sunday. After Mass I told him that was the best sermon I had ever head him give. He turned red, got a bit embarrassed and then confessed to me: “I was in a rush and didn’t know how to approach the Gospel for this Sunday, so I cheated and went to the St Paul Institute website for inspiration.”

  5. acardnal says:

    I suspect that the books that both Hahn and Bergsma are holding in their hands is a single volume of Bergsma’s four volume series on the Sunday Mass readings. Cycle A, B and C and another for Solemnities. I purchased all four from Amazon.


  6. The Masked Chicken says:

    “ Back in the day there was no consistent approach. Each place handled it differently. It might be different now, since the Holy See has issued some guidelines about formation (entirely inadequate because of their avoidance of a couple points (e.g., Latin, Thomas Aquinas)).”

    Well, that explains a lot. I really think it was the revolutionaries who disputed neo-Thomism from the 1940’s onward (with some rumblings starting back in the 1920’s – it is hard to describe how disruptive WWI was on societal norms) that started the fracturing of theological training in the 1950’s and early 1960’s and leads in a straight line to the chaos of today in addition to emboldened the child abuse crisis in the 1960-1980’s. Imagine where the Church would be, today, if Thomas Aquinas were the standard, with additional study of the Church Fathers (in the original Greek and Latin, of course). Of course, this simple, obvious change would revolutionize the Church and remove ego from the center of much of what stands for theological training, today. This would be a true test of humility for the Church.

    The Chicken

  7. Danteewoo says:

    If I could just get my pastor to preach in English! But it’s all Ukrainian. Actually I’m happy with the situation, since I am delighted with the Mass.

  8. JGavin says:

    The person who comes to mind,when hearing the state of the seminaries, is St Charles Borromeo . We could use another bishop like him right now.

  9. hwriggles4 says:


    About public speaking – I agree and several colleges today do require certain majors to do presentations in classes. This is done in order to get comfortable speaking in front of a group.

    A few years back some of the college and pre-theologate seminarians told me they take turns practicing saying Mass and saying homilies. This way the seminarians get more comfortable with presenting. My pastoral administrator has a book out titled “The Crisis of Bad Preaching.”

    On a secular level, I attended a small college where most majors required a 3 hour speech class that involved presentations and listening to presentations, as well as using visual aides. Years later I went to another college where I was an engineering major. We had a 1 hour credit class our junior year that required two presentations with one having to be technical. We had graduate students from the English department as instructors. To this day that one hour seminar class was time well spent in college. Ditto for the speech class at the smaller college.

  10. Pingback: TVESDAY EDITION – Big Pulpit

  11. ClairefromMaine says:

    Hello Fr. Z, I would love to purchase the gift subscription for you. just want to make sure you have not already received it. When ordering the subscription it looks like you have to pay for it before you fill out the priest who will be getting it. I would like to do this for you in thanksgiving for the support you have given my dear friend Fr. Gordon MacRae. Please let me know if you have or have not the subscription.

    [I did receive a subscription but I thank you all the same. May I suggest that you get a subscription for Fr. MacRae? I don’t know how much he is permitted to see the internet, of course. What happens is that you buy the subscription and you receive a code/coupon. You give that code to the priest. Then Father has to go to the St Paul Center site and go through the procedure of buying the subscription but with the application of that code, which covers the entire price. It is clunky but it works.]

  12. ClairefromMaine says:

    Fr MacRae has no access to the internet-his tablet only allows him to make telephone calls and messages. He has his emails read to him. I pray for all the priests who have ever touched my life in my daily rosary and you are one of them.

  13. Dominicanes says:

    Not to sound prejudice but maybe Dominicans should be asked to teach preaching in seminaries.

  14. Iconophilios says:

    As a seminarian at the final stretch before Holy Orders, perhaps I offer The Masked Chicken a bit of insight into my experience.
    I have studied at two different seminaries, one for philosophy and another for theology. I think, generally, quality of instruction here is on an upward trajectory, and that is because of deliberate interventions by the past two archbishops of the diocese where the sem is located. This semester, for instance, I am taking the Patristics class that was added this year. As for preaching, we have one class that is more “theoretical” (reading the great preacher saints and reading some theory on what/how to preach), and one that is more “practical” (actually composing and delivering reflections), and finally two in-house practica delivered at Mass (for the deacons) or Vespers (theologians). This is at one diocesan seminary, but I know that this may not be the program elsewhere. I suppose that’s the point you made: there is, despite the ratio fundamentalis Pastores Dabo Vobis, there is still a lot of variation from one institute of formation to another.

  15. adriennep says:

    Even before I was Catholic, I thought it was required for all priests to know Latin well. You know, because maybe you gotta read the Church documents sometimes. When did Latin stop being required? Obviously when you don’t require Latin it will cease to be considered important. And neither will Western culture.

    Our local formerly Catholic private independent 6-12 school used to be known for rigorous Latin years. They were taken over in late 1990s by the Communist Chinese government (Confucius School) and now only have advanced Mandarin. They are going strong and still listed in Diocese of Portland Oregon website: St Mary’s in Medford. What a scandal.

  16. TheCavalierHatherly says:

    A funny historical tidbit on clerical illiteracy of Latin:

    “Item exemplum de illo qui quaesivit a magistro Johanne Cornubiensi quis esset busillis? Putabat enim proprium nomen regis vel alicujus magni viri fuisse. Interroganti autem magistro Johanni ubinam hoc, et in qua scriptura inveniretur, respondit quoniam in missali; et currens propter librum suum, ostendit ei in fine columnae paginae unius scriptum “in die,” in principio vero alterius columnae “bus illis,” quod recte distinctum facit “in diebus illis.” Quo viso, magister Johannes dixit ei: “Quoniam de divina pagina hoc erat principium, videlicet evangelii, se velle in crastino in publico scholae suae auditorio istud inquiri.” Quo facto, cum sequutus esset omnium risus, ostendit magister, hinc occasionem sumens, exemplis variis quantum accidat in clero dedecus et scandalum ex ignorantiae tenebris et illiteraturae.” – An incident of John of Cornwall, as reported by Gerard of Wales

    The “in die Busillis” bit is always a hit at parties. “Nothing under the sun is new, neither is any man able to say: Behold this is new: for it hath already gone before in the ages that were before us.”

  17. I am reminded of the country priest who went by foot out on the road to meet the horseback cortege of the Bishop coming to make his regular visitation!

    Surely you know the story!

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