Vatican gives tips on preparing homilies, tying them to catechism
VATICAN CITY — A homily at Mass is not a mini catechism class, the Vatican says in a new document on homilies, but it is an opportunity to explain church teaching using the Scripture readings and the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
"In the broadest sense, the homily is a discourse about the mysteries of faith and the standards of Christian life," says the Homiletic Directory published by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments.
Dated June 29, 2014, and approved by Pope Francis, the directory was released at the Vatican Feb. 10, along with an appendix of passages from the catechism matched to each of the three readings for the three-year cycle of Sunday Masses and major holy days. It also includes notes on preaching at weddings and funerals, two occasions when, it says, many of the people present may not be regular churchgoers.
Guinean Cardinal Robert Sarah, whom Pope Francis named prefect of the worship congregation in November, told reporters that for many Catholics the homily, experienced as "beautiful or awful, interesting or boring," is their basis for judging an entire Mass.
British Archbishop Arthur Roche, congregation secretary, said it is important that "a homily isn't boring." If one looks at the homilies of Pope Francis, he said, "there is nothing boring. There is always something that challenges people. This is the point."
Montfort Missionary Father Corrado Maggioni, congregation undersecretary, said laypeople can help their priests. "We priests may need someone to tell us: 'It's too long,' 'It's too repetitive' or maybe 'Little notes might help you not go off on a thousand tangents.'"
Pope Benedict XVI had asked the congregation to draw up the directory after many participants at the 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist and the 2008 synod on the Word of God requested a handbook to help priests with their homilies.
Because of "the integral bond" between the homily and the Eucharist and because the homily itself is "an act of worship," the directory reaffirms church discipline that only ordained ministers -- bishops, priests or deacons – are to deliver the homily at Mass.
"Well-trained lay leaders can also give solid instruction and moving exhortation, and opportunities for such presentations should be provided in other contexts," but not at the moment after the readings and before the liturgy of the Eucharist at Mass, it says.
Preaching at Mass, the homilist should show people how God's word is being fulfilled in their midst, how it calls them to growth and conversion and how it prepares them to celebrate the Eucharist, the directory says.
"The homily in some sense parallels the distribution of the Lord's body and blood to the faithful during the Communion rite," it says. "In the homily God's holy word is 'distributed' for the nourishment of his people."
The document includes quotations from the long section about preparing and delivering homilies in Pope Francis' 2013 apostolic exhortation, "Evangelii Gaudium" ("The Joy of the Gospel"), including his belief and practice that the homily "should be brief."
In making suggestions, the directory notes that its application can and should vary depending on the congregation and the individual preacher with his "gifts and limitations."
In general, however, it says an effective homily always requires prayer, preparation, knowledge of the people who will be in the congregation, a reflection on what is happening in the community and the world, and an invitation to the Holy Spirit "as the principal agency that makes the hearts of the faithful amenable to the divine mysteries."
"The homily will be delivered in a context of prayer," it says, "and it should be composed in a context of prayer."
While the directory offers suggestions for how to tie specific Sunday readings to church teaching on a variety of theological and moral topics, it insists a homily cannot "address some issue completely unrelated to the liturgical celebration and its readings" or "do violence to the texts provided by the church by twisting them to fit some preconceived idea."
"The homily is not catechetical instruction, even if catechesis is an important dimension of the homily," it says. And, while the preacher's personal experience can help illustrate a point, "the homily should express the faith of the church and not simply the priest's own story."
The second part of the directory, focused on the "art of preaching," gives practical suggestions for putting together prayer, biblical study and the catechism in preparing homilies for the Masses of the Triduum and Easter season, the Christmas season and the Sundays of Lent and Advent.
On the feast of the Holy Family, immediately after Christmas, for example, it encourages preachers not to ignore the "great challenges" facing families, but "rather than simply giving a moral exhortation on family values," they should reflect on how the readings present the family as a school of virtue and discipleship.
It even includes suggestions for handling that Sunday's optional reading which includes verses 3:18-19 of St. Paul's Letter to the Colossians: "Wives, be subordinate to your husbands, as is proper in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and avoid any bitterness toward them."
The shorter version of the reading is permissible and the directory suggests priests use the shorter version if they are not going to address the phrase about wives being subordinate to their husbands.
However, the directory says, it is possible to explain the passage. "The originality of the Apostle's teaching is not that wives should be submissive to their husbands; that was simply presumed in the culture of his day," it says. "What is new, and distinctively Christian, is, first, that such submission should be mutual" and, second, that "mutual submission in the family is an expression of Christian discipleship," of laying down one's life for others.
— Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service
College of Cardinals to be briefed on progress of Curia Reform
VATICAN CITY — High-level discussions continue on how exactly to reform the Roman Curia, but the idea of consolidating several offices into two large groups -- one with family, laity and life, and the other with justice and peace, migrants and charity -- seems to be taking form, the Vatican spokesman said.
Briefing reporters Feb. 11, the third day of meetings of Pope Francis' international Council of Cardinals, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, insisted "there is not and has never been" a draft document of a constitution providing a new list of all Curia offices and their responsibilities.
But there does seem to be a "concrete" and "more developed" proposal to put the pontifical councils for laity and for the family, along with the Academy for Life into one office and the pontifical councils for justice and peace, Cor Unum (charity) and migrants and travelers into another, he said.
"It does not seem to me that there are many other concrete ideas" that are ready for discussion by the entire College of Cardinals, Father Lombardi said.
Part of the Council of Cardinals' meeting Feb. 9-11 was dedicated to preparing summaries of the nine-member council's work to present to the entire College of Cardinals, whom Pope Francis called to the Vatican Feb. 12-13 to discuss the reform, he said.
Australian Cardinal George Pell, secretary for the economy, was scheduled to brief all the cardinals on the work of his office and on the ongoing process of preparing the formal statutes of the related Council for the Economy. In addition, Boston Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley, president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, was to explain the commission's work to the College of Cardinals.
Father Lombardi said he had no indication that the Council of Cardinals formally discussed an article by Cardinal Gerhard Muller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, on "theological criteria for a reform of the church and the Roman Curia." The article was published in the Feb. 8 edition of L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper.
"The Curia is not merely an administrative structure," Cardinal Muller wrote, but is "essentially a spiritual institution rooted in the specific mission of the church of Rome, sanctified by the martyrdom of the apostles Peter and Paul."
The Roman Curia advises the pope and helps him carry out his mission as head of the universal church, Cardinal Muller wrote. "The Synod of Bishops, bishops' conferences and the varied groupings of particular churches belong to a different theological category than the Roman Curia does."
Bishop Marcello Semeraro of Albano, Italy, secretary of the Council of Cardinals, said the reform of the Roman Curia aims to ensure that church structures are not focused on self-perpetuation, but on assisting the pope and the entire church to proclaim the Gospel and God's love.
"The process of reforming the Roman Curia is in line with that 'poor church' that the pope has spoken about since the beginning of his ministry," Bishop Semeraro told SIR, the news agency of the Italian bishops' conference.
Quoting a homily Pope Francis gave in 2013, the bishop said, "The church is not a nongovernmental organization. It is a love story. Offices are necessary, but only up to a point, only as an aid to this love story. When the organization takes first place, the love declines and the church, poor thing, becomes a nongovernmental organization."
Bishop Semeraro said he did not know how much longer it would take to enact the reforms. However, Father Lombardi announced that the Council of Cardinals would meet again April 13-15.
— Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service
Life is enriched with the birth of children, pope says at audience
VATICAN CITY — Children are a blessing, not a burden, and are a sign of the confident hope of a couple and of society, Pope Francis said.
"If a family that has been generous in having children is looked upon as a burden, something's wrong," he said Feb. 11 at his weekly general audience.
Pictured: Pope Francis holds up his hand as he talks about being from a family of five children during his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Feb. 11. The pope, speaking about children as a blessing, said his mother would refer to her five finge rs when speaking about her five children. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
"The generation of children must be responsible," as Blessed Paul VI wrote in his encyclical "Humanae Vitae," the pope said. "But having more children cannot be looked upon automatically as an irresponsible choice. What is more, not having children is a selfish choice."
Continuing a series of talks about the family, Pope Francis said birthrates are a clear indication of the optimism and hope of a couple and of the society in which they live.
A society that pressures people not to have children, "that considers them a concern, a burden, a risk, is a society that is depressed," he said, pointing particularly to European countries with declining populations because of their low birthrates.
"Life is rejuvenated and energies are increased when life multiplies," he said. "It is enriched, not impoverished!"
"Think about this," he said. "Children are the joy of the family and of society. They aren't a problem of reproductive biology or another way of self-realization. Even less are they a possession of their parents. No! Children are a gift. Understand?
"Children are a gift," he said. "Each one is unique and unrepeatable."
Departing from his prepared text, Pope Francis told the estimated 11,000 people in St. Peter's Square that he was one of five children. "I remember my mom would say, 'I have five children. Who's my favorite? I have five children like I have five fingers. If you slam this one, it hurts. If you slam that one, it hurts. All five would hurt. All are mine, but they are all different like the fingers on my hand.'"
"A child is loved not because he or she is beautiful or has this quality or that one. No," he said, parents love their children because they are their children.
Being a son or daughter is an experience of unconditional love, he said, because "children are loved even before they are born." Pope Francis said he is always moved when a pregnant woman "shows me her belly and asks for my blessing. These babies are loved even before they come into the world. This is love."
People love their sons and daughters "before they have done anything to deserve it, before they can speak or think, even before they are born," he said. "Being sons and daughters is a fundamental condition for knowing the love of God, who is the ultimate source of this authentic miracle" that is new life.
Children, who rightly hope to make the world a better place, must do so without "arrogance" and always with respect for their parents, he said.
The fourth commandment asks children to "honor thy father and mother," he said. "A society of children who do not honor their parents is a society without honor."
Pope Francis ended his talk asking parents to pause in silence to think about their children and asking everyone to think about their parents "to thank God for the gift of life."
He also offered prayers at the audience for more immigrants who died trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Italy. At least 29 immigrants died of hypothermia Feb. 9 and another 200 were reported dead Feb. 11 after two boats capsized during the crossing from North Africa.
— Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service
Pope calls for solidarity with migrants after deadly sea crossing
VATICAN CITY —Pope Francis once again urged solidarity with migrants who risk their lives crossing the Mediterranean Sea for Europe, and assured prayers for the victims of a deadly crossing in early February.
During his general audience Feb. 11, the pope called for a spirit of solidarity with migrants "so that no one lacks necessary aid."
He said he was following the news coming out of Lampedusa "with concern." Lampedusa is a southern Italian island that serves as a port of entry for many of the migrants illegally entering Europe by sea.
Pictured: A sailor from the Greek Coast Guard monitors the Mediterranean Sea for undocumented migrants Sept. 24, 2014. (CNS photo/Orestis Panagiotou, EPA)
The pope was responding to reports Feb. 9 that 29 migrants had died of hypothermia after being rescued by the Italian coast guard; they were part of a group of 105 African migrants whose raft had capsized in the Mediterranean. Their raft had set off from Libya Feb. 7.
Later, the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that the loss of life in the Mediterranean over the weekend of Feb. 7-8 was feared to be as high as 300 people, including children.
The revised report came after nine more migrants, who were saved from the Mediterrane-an Feb. 9 and arrived in Lampedusa Feb. 11, told UNHCR officers that a total of four boats had set off together from Libya. The 29 who died of hypothermia were on the first boat. But, the nine survivors said, the other three inflatable rafts each had about 100 people on board and they were the only ones who survived.
Several church organizations have responded to the tragedy by once again issuing a call for better search-and-rescue operations in the Mediterranean, migration reform and joint government cooperation in Europe.
So long as "Europe looks the other way and pretends not to understand that Italy is really the door to Europe and that what happens in Italy belongs to everyone, things will continue like this, with these tragedies at sea," Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco of Genoa told L'Osservatore Romano, the Vati-can newspaper. The cardinal serves as president of the Italian bishops' conference and vice president of the Council of European Bishops' Conferences.
In a statement Feb. 11, Jesuit Refugee Service said the latest deaths demonstrate "the fail-ure of European border policy" and "may have been avoided if the European Union had implemented a search-and-rescue operation of the same size and scope as the former Italian rescue program, Mare Nostrum."
The E.U.'s Operation Triton, which replaced Mare Nostrum, is "vastly under-equipped and focuses almost exclusively on border security and surveillance," the statement said.
JRS also accused European states of setting up "legal obstacles" to those fleeing conflict in Africa and the Middle East and of not taking "the necessary measures to save lives in the Mediterra-nean."
"We will not and cannot accept that the Mediterranean continues to be a migrant grave-yard," said Jesuit Father Camillo Ripamonti, director of JRS Italy. "It is crucial that the E.U. and its mem-ber states swiftly act to ensure the safety of refugees."
— Laura Ieraci, Catholic News Service