Saint Peter’s, Rome ... a cardinal in the Vatican told Roman Catholic priests to pump up their sermons and make them more exciting (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)
EM8824: Liturgy, Worship and Spirituality
Year II, 14:00 to 16:00, Mondays, Hartin Room:
14 November 2011
6.3: The Ministry of the Word: workshop on integrating homiletics and liturgy, reflections and experience.
Last week, a lot of media attention turned to a story about Roman Catholic priests being urged to pump up their sermons and make them more exciting. The advice came from a cardinal in the Vatican who advocates the use of Twitter and social media.
Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi claimed that preaching has become so boring it is almost “irrelevant” in the internet age.
Cardinal Ravasi urged priests to jazz up their “formulaic and boring” sermons in a bid to move with the times.
Cardianl Ravasi, who is head of the Pontifical Council for Culture and is often described in the media as the Vatican’s unofficial Minister for Culture, told the Daily Telegraph that priests need to smarten up their act.
“The advent of televised and computerised information requires us to be compelling and trenchant, to cut to the heart of the matter, resort to narratives and colour,” Cardinal Ravasi told a seminar in Rome.
“Too many priests employ theological language that is grey, dull and flavourless. Instead they should spice up their sermons with graphic stories contained in the Bible which use much more forceful imagery,” he said. “The Bible is crowded with stories, symbols and images.”
The cardinal also advocates the use of Twitter and social networking sites by priests.
He adds: “We need to remember that communicating faith doesn’t just take place through sermons. It can be achieved through the 140 characters of a Twitter message.”
“Whether they like it or not, priests in the pulpit should be aware that their congregations are the children of television and the internet.”
Cardinal Ravasi, who writes a blog for the website of Italy’s financial daily newspaper, Il Sole 24 Ore, said priests should be aware that their congregations were “the children of television and the internet.”
As a consequence, one chat show on RTÉ Radio 1, The John Murray Show has spent the last week looking for nominations for the best preacher in Ireland.
Balancing Word and Sacrament
An icon of Christ with Word and Sacrament, seen in a shop window in Thessaloniki ... how do we integrate Word and Sacrament in the Liturgy? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)
It is often said in the US that there are many people who go to their local Roman Catholic parish church for the Mass and the Holy Communion and go to their local Protestant church for good preaching.
But why should they be forced to make a choice?
Are the two mutually exclusive – good sacramental liturgy and good preaching liturgy?
And what about the way we are taught in preaching seminars and lectures that the sermon should always be based on the Scripture readings?
Is this focus too narrow and absolutist?
Of course, the preacher may decide to preach on the readings, the liturgical prayers themselves, on the feast or memorial, or on what the people – at that time and place – may need to hear.
But when did you ever hear a sermon on the Old Testament reading?
On the Psalm?
On the Collect of the Day?
How often, when we decide on a series of catechetical sermons, do we chose readings that fit the sermon – forcing the text to fit the sermon rather than basing the sermon on the text. In other words, how often do my words take primacy over the Word?
Writing in the Church Times ten days ago [4 November 2011], after his recent very public resignation as Chancellor of Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London, Canon Giles Fraser said:
“The lectionary can be a cruel mistress. The evensong readings set for what was my last sermon at St Paul’s gave me Luke 6: ‘Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God ... But woe unto you that are rich! For ye have received your consolation.’
“The whole point of having a lectionary is that it obliges the preacher not to avoid the hard bits of the Bible. Were the readings up to me, I would have chosen something much safer. But that is the whole point of having a lectionary: it stops you retreating into safety. There are some things that just must stay on the agenda, however uncomfortable.”
Preaching in Saint George’s and Saint Thomas’s Church in inner city Dublin ... but how long should we preach for?
How long should we preach for?
How long should we preach for? This depends on many factors:
● What is the type of liturgy?
● What has to be said to make the message worthwhile?
● What is the capacity in patience and in comprehension of the listeners?
● What is the expected length of sermon?
These days, sermons are usually:
● shorter at the Eucharist/Holy Communion than at Morning Prayer,
● shorter in southern diocese than in northern dioceses;
● shorter in Church of Ireland churches than in Methodist or Presbyterian churches.
But different approaches to preaching are needed when the service involves more children, when the children leave for Sunday school before or after the sermon, and so on.
There is a basic dilemma with longer sermons, and that is the balance and rhythm of the Liturgy. A long sermon and a short Eucharistic prayer may switch the balance between the Liturgy of Word and the Liturgy of Sacrament.
If people are encouraged to read the readings in advance, their experience is going to be very different.
Theoretically, sermons should engage with the readings.
What about sermons that are preached as:
● moral exhortations?
● catechetical moments?
A sermon should make the Word relevant to the World and the World relevant to the Word
They must connect not only with the readings, but also with the lives of the people listening. The congregation should not be passive in response to the preaching, but should be encouraged to actively engage with it.
Where, when and how do we preach?
There are two different places for the sermon at the Holy Communion/the Eucharist: see The Book of Common Prayer (2004), pp 183 and 204. What does this mean liturgically and in other theological terms?
Where does the Sermon come at Morning Prayer and at Evening Prayer?
Originally, the intention was that Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer would be daily services during the week, and the expectation was that the sermon would be preached on Sundays at the Holy Communion or Eucharist.
Over time, as Morning Prayer came to be a (or the) main Sunday morning service, the sermon was “tagged on” at the end when the service was over, after the Grace. The a hymn was introduced to mark the transition between the end of the service and the beginning of the sermon – some might say even to give the preacher time to take off his surplice, don his preaching gown and make his way up the steps of the pulpit.
But that did not provide for a satisfying end either, and so in time another hymn was added, followed by a blessing.
This pattern was followed in other traditions too, so that traditionally the sermon still often comes at the end of the service in Presbyterian and Methodist churches.
This is still the position for the sermon in Order 1 for Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer (see The Book of Common Prayer (2004), p. 97). But Order 2 quite rightly makes the connection between proclaiming and receiving the Word (The Book of Common Prayer (2004), p. 111).
A Sunday sermon is different from a sermon at a baptism, at a wedding, at a funeral or, as you may have found yesterday, on Remembrance Sunday.
But then I have been at Baptisms on Sundays when the sermon has been based on the Sunday Lectionary readings, and has had no relevance to the baptism that has taken place and has had no relevance for the families of both parents present.
Note 3 for the Funeral Service in The Book of Common Prayer (2004) regarding the sermon say:
“There should be a relevant exposition of the Scriptures read. An appropriate place for any ‘tribute’ to the deceased is before the Penitential Kyries” – The Book of Common Prayer (2004), p. 480.
But is this your shared experience?
The notes in The Book of Common Prayer (2004) on sermons at Service of the Word says:
“8 The use of the terminology, The Sermon, the legally recognized word in the Church of Ireland, does not rule out a variety of ways of proclaiming the message of the Gospel; these may include drama, interviews and other techniques” (The Book of Common Prayer (2004), p. 167).
In the pulpit in the Chapel of Trinity College Dublin ... but where should we preach from?
Where do you preach from? I seldom preach from the pulpit when there is a small congregation. But do they feel short-changed? Would I do that at a funeral? I would certainly never do that in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. But if I do not preach from the pulpit, where do I preach from? The chancel steps? The lectern? The nave? The altar?
One preacher complains that Sunday sermons are “often pampering and grossly approving because many clergy are afraid of alienating the numbers in the pews and depleting the money gathered into collection baskets.”
The core message of the Gospel is not exhausted or angry. Priests who show enthusiasm or excitement about the Christian faith and Gospel are the most effective.
We should be on fire with the faith if we want those in the pews to be ignited.
It is impossible for a priest to give what he does not have. God’s servants should be so in love with God that this love spills over in their service of others. Preaching should reflect a life of prayer and a drive to save souls. My preaching should move God’s people to greater faith and acts of service to Christ and my neighbour.
Next week (Monday 21 November 2011):
7.1: Baptism and Eucharist (2): liturgical renewal among Catholics and Protestants in the 20th century.
7.2: Seminar: readings in ecumenical statements: ARCIC, WCC Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry, and the Church of Ireland Methodist Covenant.
For the ARCIC Final Report, see: http://www.prounione.urbe.it/dia-int/arcic/doc/e_arcic_final.html
For the WCC report, Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry, Faith and Order Paper No 111 (The Lima Report) see: http://www.oikoumene.org/resources/documents/wcc-commissions/faith-and-order-commission/i-unity-the-church-and-its-mission/baptism-eucharist-and-ministry-faith-and-order-paper-no-111-the-lima-text/baptism-eucharist-and-ministry.html
For a study guide to the Lima Report, see: http://www.oikoumene.org/resources/documents/wcc-programmes/ecumenical-movement-in-the-21st-century/youth/study-guide-on-baptism-eucharist-and-ministry.html
For the Church of Ireland Methodist Covenant, see: http://www.ireland.anglican.org/index.php?do=about&id=47
Practicum or end-of-semester visit
Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. These notes were prepared for an introduction to a seminar on 1 4 November 2011 as part of the Module EM8824: Liturgy, Worship and Spirituality on the MTh course.
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