Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Giving up Sermons for Lent?


Dr Joseph Shaw, has a very wise little piece on children at the Traditional Mass, I know the Holy Father has be speaking a lot about the art of preaching, indeed it takes up a great deal of his encyclical, and the CDW have just issued some guidelines about preaching. Nevertheless every year I think I should give up preaching for Lent. I never have but I think I should.

In the days when we had so many people here, and so many priests too, Mass on Sunday was on the hour and half hour it seems that the only Mass that had more than perfunctory sermon was the last Mass of the day advertised as "High Mass with Sermon", even then it must have been by Protestant standards of the time rather short because the High Mass had to be within an hour and quarter, because there was then a Polish Mass which did indeed have notoriously long sermons, the Polish chaplain preached everywhere and whenever he could, even at gravesides in blinding blizzards. It seems that sermons here really took place for those who chose to go to them in the evening at Rosary Vespers, Benediction and Sermon.

In the Old Rite the sermon wasn't until the Pius XII (that great moderniser) considered part of the Liturgy, purist even now will remove their maniple and possibly even the chasuble whilst preaching.
I must say I feel less need to preach at the Old Rite, than the new. The simplicity of the Traditional Mass seems to be sermon enough, the New Rite as Joseph points out seems to need further interpolation.
In the immortal words of a working-class Catholic in Newcastle, interviewed by the sociologist Anthony Archer, on the New Mass:It’s just like a lecture, man. It goes on and on. Not because it is actually longer, but because it comes across as a long stream of verbiage. Archer's argument is that the New Mass is appreciated most by intellectually-minded, educated, articulate, middle class Catholics.

One might add that it is often said that women are more oriented to verbal communication than men. It is also said that spoken, as opposed to written, words, are less easily taken in by modern people, an argument frequently made against the use of lectures in education today. Pope Paul VI remarked 'modern man is sated with words'. These observations, taken together, would explain a lot about the typical size and composition of the Novus Ordo congregation, but that would take me off the point.
I was struck on Friday evening at the Taditional Mass, on Fridays we have Mass in the morning too in the New Rite, that of the total congregation a fifth were women, four fifths were men. It was almost the reverse of congregation in the morning where most were women, at both Masses there were about 25 people each and at the Traditional there were even a few children. I joked with server afterwards that I should tell women present that this was the men's Mass theirs was in the morning.

http://freebloghelp.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/library.jpgWhat I think is interesting and worth making the point is that in the past, sermonising was not how most people were catechised or formed in the faith. One of my reasons for considering giving up preaching in Lent is a vague feeling that it makes us priests lazy. Rather than getting the faithful to experience something we simply throw more words at them, it is just too easy to do, and actually put people off.  The problem is that words add to complexity. In many ways they are the antithesis of worship and real 'active participation'. They tend to get us to relate to the priest rather than to God. If they haven't caused the mind to glaze over, they stimulate it rather than cause it to be lost in awe and wonder. Like most priests I have to remind myself none of it is about me, all is about God.

I remember as a young convert struggling with the idea of the Real Presence and Transubstantiation, I read what Trent had said about it, what St Thomas had said, what the Gospels and St Paul had said about it but actually it was a group of Irish labourers kneeling and bowing at Benediction that really gave me an understanding of what we believe. In the same way a server observing the corporal scraping, the joined fingers, the careful checking of the vessels for fragments, the double ablution, which I now tend to do at both forms and also other servers occassionally not receiving Holy Communion, that caused him to say 'Now I understand why I should kneel and receive on the tongue'.

Another reason for not preaching is that after years and years of preaching I am not convinced my sermons have lead to the salvation or repentance of a single soul, not even mine yet I am convinced that the beauty and 'awesomeness of the mysteries' I have celebrated have changed the lives of many.


Interesting: I've just put the phone down, it was a retired permanent deacon who was arranging his funeral, he wanted Mass in the old rite. "Why?" I asked, he then told me as a young man he thought how beautiful the Mass was, how he would lost in silent adoration and prayer how he was able to enter into the stillness of God. I think really what he was saying is that he experienced God in the Mass. Wordiness is no substitute for the experience of God, indeed they often get in the way.

26 comments:

vetusta ecclesia said...

The New Mass was invented by mid C20 Europeanised intellectuals and it shews. They backed the wrong horse - by the C21 the age of the visual had returned.

Pelerin said...

Please don't give up preaching father!

However if I may be permitted one slight criticism - you do tend to always lower your voice for the last sentence of your homily which I am sure is always an important summary of the points brought up. Unfortunately I have rarely heard the last sentence even though I now try and sit nearer the front!

Frank Karwatowicz said...

In the days of yore when I was an altar boy, the requirement was to have the entire mass, practically, memorized in Latin. Of course, I did not understand what I was prying with the exception of the common prayers and verses.
However, on days when attending mass as a worshipper and not as an altar boy I remember praying from a missal one side of which was in Latin (with pictures of what the priest was doing)and the opposite page in English.
I felt as if I was celebrating the mass along with the priest (in silence)and the sermon seemed unnecessary if not an intrusion.

Sean W. said...

"And he said to him: Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord: and behold the Lord passeth, and a great and strong wind before the Lord over throwing the mountains, and breaking the rocks in pieces: the Lord is not in the wind, and after the wind an earthquake: the Lord is not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire: the Lord is not in the fire, and after the fire a whistling of a gentle air. And when Elias heard it, he covered his face with his mantle ... ."

Mark said...

No! Don't do it! Some folks travel far and wide to hear your sermons!

Genty said...

Perhaps you might consider not preaching during the weekday Mass. It must be desperately hard to think of something to say every day, day after day, and a quite unnecessary burden on a priest.
Pre-Vatican II, sermons on a weekday were unheard of and it gave priests a chance to galvanise their thoughts for Sunday.
On the other hand, I am sure most of us would find the loss of the bidding prayers a terrible penance. . . .

Fr Ray Blake said...

Mark, Some people travel far and wide not to hear them too.

RichardT said...

Didn't Trent insist on a sermon?

Fr Ray Blake said...

Yes 'a' sermon, at the principle Mass, the priest was obliged to preach it but no-one was obliged to listen to it. I suppose if you have to attract people to it, rather than obliging them to hear it, it takes on a very different character.

Vincent said...

Father, if you're looking for sermons (or indeed any of your readers), http://www.fatherfrancismaple.co.uk has a daily sermon throughout the year (and during Lent a daily Station of the Cross).

I tend to find it a lot easier to digest a good sermon outside Mass; during Mass a long sermon feels like a burden, especially now that most EF Masses seem to be sung and take a little too long (I think the longest a sung Mass should be is about 1 hour 10 minutes).

A good sermon is like a good wine. To be savoured. Not thrown into the middle of something else...

Woody said...

Thank you for this post, Father. I attend a Novus Ordo parish here in the States but I use a 1962 missal during the Mass. I get so much more from Mass as I read in English the EF. I read the priest's parts and wish the priest saying the Mass would be saying those. What I enjoy reading every week is the final Gospel by St. John. Also, I enjoy your blog. Thank you and God Bless you.

Katharine B. said...

Just preach some of St Jean Vianney's sermons instead of your own during Lent, that'll do it!

John C said...

Dear Father, thank you for your thought provoking blog. In relation to the sermon, I have to concede a different experience.

It seems to me that the people generally , regardless of gender, thirst to hear the Word of God in a way they can apply to the reality of their lives. It takes me all week to prepare just one homily for the Sunday, which is simply an oration of how the Word impacts me, first. I am led to believe such is helpful. As is always the case for our work as priests, any gain is achieved by the Lord in any event.

So, with respect, don't underestimate the power of your homily, which is no doubt informed by much prayer and study. I am sure your congregation would be much the poorer for its absence.

John C

Savonarola said...

Even better, why not give up blogging for Lent? It only leads to inflated egomania - I have such clever and important things to say (I include myself) - and encourage others to sound off about the many iniquities of the Church today in the usual superior way. What a waste of time. Do some prayer instead, it's what Lent is for.

Fr Seán Coyle said...

What you said about the effect of the faith of the Irish labourers on you, Father Ray, is very similar to the experience of an older German woman I met in Canada some years ago. She had been a Lutheran and had been on the verge of becoming a Catholic for some years but could not make the 'jump'. One weekday, when she was feeling confused and despondent about this she happened to come by a Catholic church that was open and went in. While she was there a group of teenage boys came in, genuflected and prayed silently before the Blessed Sacrament for a while, genuflected again and left. That for her was the moment of grace.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Savonrola, Blogging is one of my Lenten penances I have taken on for Lent, that doesn't exclude you from not reading or commenting on blogs for Lent.

Frank Karwatowicz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
TheRoyspears said...

Pray for the Saintly Pius X11 now in Heaven. Roy

johnf said...

Father
This reminds me of an anecdote told to us by a priest at University (St Patrick's Soho) where he claimed that in the Middle Ages, if the congregation had had enough of a sermon, they would cry "satis audivimus!" or "descende!"

Josemaria Paulo Jeromino Martin Carvalho-Von Verster said...

Well,Some folks I know when bored or annoyed or even feel that the Homily fails on Delivery done well prefer to pray instead.

GOR said...

Back in the day my preference was for daily Low Mass with no Sermon (we didn’t have ‘Homilies’ as yet…). There was no distraction and it wasn’t about the celebrant because he could have been any priest - known or unknown.

My impression of many celebrants today is something the ebullient and loquacious golfer Lee Trevino often said about himself: “I can’t wait to get up in the morning to hear what I have to say…”

leutgeb said...

I am very pleased that so many men are enthusiastic about the Old Mass.

The fact that I persisted in attending Mass every Sunday between the ages of 18 and 38, was despite not because of the Novus Ordo, which I attend out of obedience, because the Church says I must go to Mass every Sunday.

If I had the option I would NEVER attend the Novus Ordo again.

I do not have that option.

This, despite being a woman.

I can't find any point in Church history where the Mass was 'for' men or woman, nor do I read the NT in such a vein. Maybe I am in error and should only read the passages where Our Lord addresses woman.

There are, BTW, about 4 million lapsed Catholics in this country who attend no Mass on Sunday.

Sorry if I lack a sense of humour. I am part of the collateral damage created in the wake of Blackfen. I no longer feel safe in the Catholic Church, now I know how much the Bishops hate lay people like me.

Just another mad Catholic said...

If I may be so bold Father, perhaps one of the reasons the Friday evening service is dominated by men is that in the morning they're probably at work.

Anita Moore said...

Last Sunday I heard a priest declare from the pulpit that it is not necessary to be a Christian or even to believe in God in order to be a good person. I wish that priest would give up preaching not only for Lent, but for good.

gemoftheocean said...

For me, Benediction is ceremony that makes wordless contemplation so sublime. Btw, in TLM NO woman EVER has the privilege of seeing "In the same way a server observing the corporal scraping, the joined fingers, the careful checking of the vessels for fragments, the double ablution, which I now tend to do at both forms and also other servers occasionally not receiving Holy Communion," So 50 percent missed the chance as a youngster "back in the day." I am pleased to say that when I assisted at Fr. shipley's mass in San Diego, and also trained the servers at the 5:15 Mass, I always pointed out to them how faithful Father was to this older rubric and why he did it.

gemoftheocean said...

Julia, I don't know your work sched. but be aware that in addition to the 8:00 weekday mass, it is not infrequent for a TLM to be said at Brompton Oratory in St. Wilfred's chapel at 5:30. It's not said every day, which is why it isn't advertised it. The priest who does it is not an Oratorian but a priest who lives elsewhere who comes to do it. I believe you can call ahead to find out what days for a given week he'll be saying it. Also the Oratory does a NO Latin Mass that is very dignified at 6 every weekday evening. That might help. -- Karen --- I keep all of you from the Blackfen community in my prayers.