Author Martin Mosebach, who is not a fan of interrupting sacrosanct actions, suggests in The Heresy of Formlessness that the priest’s sermon metaphorically rends the liturgical garment in two. Mass begins with what is sacred, gets abruptly disconnected by human speech from the sermon, then resumes with the sacred mysteries. As Mosebach explains, “when the sermon begins, I feel as if the supratemporal world I have just entered has suddenly faded. Sobered, I find myself back in my own present-day reality, with all its weakness and half-heartedness” (p. 29).
Clearly, Mosebach needs to relax. Homilies are good. More homilies are even better. In fact, multiple homilies are an ingenious way to ensure that Mosebach’s concerns are resolved. Let me use a commonly experienced Novus Ordo Sunday Mass to illustrate.
To begin, a parish must discern why multiple homilies are necessary. This query is best addressed by the local liturgy committee at their weekly 9 A.M. Friday breakfast meeting. Once the bacon, eggs, and discussions on hair-dying salons are completed, the head liturgist in the parish, usually named Susan, can weigh in on the subject: “Probably that was what the early Church did.” Therefore, for substantial theological reasons, multiple homilies are desirous.
Now to examine each one individually. First, consider the opening address by the commentator. The commentator has the irreplaceable ministry of hushing the chatty congregation in order to announce which liturgical Sunday is being celebrated. Visitors are welcomed, though it is the role of the actual priest to have guests stand up for recognition at the end of Mass. The commentator must read a selection reflecting on the day’s Gospel, and the need to be kind to the marginalized. Then, a profound moment takes place. The commentator looks up, pauses meaningfully, and announces: “Please stand and welcome Father.” The worship song begins, as does the liturgy. This lay quasi-homily is the pre-worship address.
The first actual priest homily takes place immediately once the opening song finishes. Now, there are two schools of thought on this. One is that the priest should give the opening homily before the official Sign of the Cross. A danger is that he might forget to make the sign of the cross, especially if the opening homily exceeds five minutes. The other viewpoint is to get the Sign of the Cross out of the way before the homily begins. The opening homily should begin with “Good morning, sisters and brothers,” then reminding the faithful why they are there (to gather as a community), in case someone wandered in by mistake. It is appropriate to mention the weather at this point, who is sick in the parish, what country Pope Francis is visiting (if applicable), and any funny tidbits that come to mind (though not the official “joke,” which is for later). This is the first official homily.
Now move on to the priest’s pre-reading homilies. The pre-reading explanations are like trailers to movies. The priest must prepare the congregation for the readings by telling them what the readings are going to say, otherwise there is scarcely hope of comprehension. If a touchy subject is in one of the readings — Ephesians 5:23, for instance — then a suitable provision must be made, such as declaring that “God wills diversity with all sexes and religions, so the man isn’t really the head of the family.” Hence, the pre-reading homilies are necessary for avoiding challenging situations caused by the Word of God.
Following the readings and Gospel, the climax of the liturgy is reached: the main homily. Tangents on social justice are welcomed. So are bishop’s letters, if they relate to social justice. Occasionally, a short film is suitable, such as Bishop Barron’s thoughts on a new movie, or a YouTuber’s conversion story. However, it is still important for the priest to give his analysis of the video, lest Bishop Barron usurp the priest’s big moment.
Once a year, a local female minister should be invited to preach the main homily. Though on the surface it may seem that the minister is stealing the priest’s prominence, this is necessary so that the priest can demonstrate how well he listens to preaching. The priest must sit with hands on both knees, an intensely enlightened look in his eyes, and a nod with his head whenever words such as “migrant” and “marginalized” are used. A smirk when “Trump” is mentioned is also appropriate.
The next homily should be short, no more than two minutes. This is the homily to introduce the prayers of the faithful. Indeed, the prayers of the faithful are to be preachy in nature, so there is no need to state the same objective twice within such a short span of time. It is best to wait until at least the pre-Our Father homily to reiterate such preachy prayers.
This brings the liturgy to the pre-Our Father homily. It is a fitting time to reference those who are not present at the celebration. Mentions must be given to those sick, away at hockey tournaments, or busy making pancakes in the basement of the church. A prayer intention of Pope Francis’s should also be named, such as asking for a spirit of recycling and condemning clericalism. Undoubtedly, frequent unannounced denunciations of clericalism are key to ending clericalism. Finally, the prayers of the faithful intentions should receive one last mention.
Now the table is set. The meal is spread. All are gathered. No one is excluded. It is undoubtedly time for the sign of peace homily. This is to be an emotional and deeply intimate exhortation. The importance of fellowship and unity, and what they mean on a personal level, should be spoken by the priest. Showing fragility is key. People like that. Then, it is time to leave the table and shake hands with the important members of the community, starting with Susan from the liturgy committee.
After the emotional display shown at the sign of peace and subsequent Communion song, the final homily is best served with humor. That is, once the announcements are complete, it is time to garner a few chuckles. It is a known fact that when congregations are made to laugh following Mass, there can be upwards of 22% of Catholics in that same parish going to Mass the following week. To keep these liturgical attenders coming, a priest must have them in good humor. “Who was the greatest comedian in the Bible?” the priest might ask. Susan, or some other parish celebrity, could shout out: “Not the Sadducees!” “Haha! No,” counters the celebrant, with suspense building, “it was Samson…he brought the house down!” With hearty guffaws, Father then has all visitors stand to receive proper greetings. After, he leads the People of God in singing “happy birthday.” If there are no birthdays, then the song is sung anyway, “in case it’s someone’s birthday somewhere.” With more chuckles, the priest declares that the smell from the basement is telling him that the pancakes are ready. Let the final hymn begin. Time to Go Make a Difference.
Thus explains the purpose for each homily at Mass. Now for addressing how these homilies resolve Martin Mosebach’s concerns of the liturgical garment being rent by a sermon. Simply, the more homilies given, the less likely it is that worshipers will experience the supratemporal nature of Mass. If the supratemporal is not experienced, then the congregation will not be jolted between the sacred and the profane. Therefore, in the innovative Novus Ordo Mass, the liturgical garment is not rent in two by the sermon. Rather, unending chatter shreds the garment to unrecognizable pieces.
Dan Millette is a husband and father of four. He teaches in Saskatchewan, Canada. Millette is a graduate from Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College in Ontario and has a Master of Arts degree in theology from Holy Apostles College in Connecticut. His personal blog is www.bravestthing.com.