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.
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.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.
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.
What 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.