Homilies Rediscovered in Synod

Interview With Spanish Bishop Julián López Martín

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VATICAN CITY, NOV. 4, 2005 (Zenit.org).- How can priests make Sunday homilies less boring?

This was one question asked during the recent Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist.

Bishop Julián López Martín of Leon, president of the Spanish episcopal conference’s liturgical commission, spoke to ZENIT about homilies and active participation of the laity in the Mass.

Q: In response to the problem of boring and scattered homilies, the synod suggested that homilies be «mystagogic,» namely, that they become a genuine initiation in the mysteries that baptized persons are living and celebrating at that moment. But, what does this mean in practice?

Bishop López: This description isn’t necessary when it comes to liturgical preaching, which has its model in the holy fathers.

The homily, reclaimed by the Second Vatican Council in the constitution on the sacred liturgy as part of the celebration itself, is an explanation of some aspect of the readings of the word of God, or of another text of the liturgy of the day, keeping in mind the mystery being commemorated and inviting to live it also in the faithful’s particular circumstances.

Q: Could you be a bit more specific?

Bishop López: The homily might be inspired by the readings and applied to the mystery being celebrated, or inspired by the mystery or sacrament being celebrated — for example, when baptism or confirmation is administered — illuminating it with the help of the readings to introduce the faithful more profoundly in what they are living.

It is a specific kind of preaching, which must not be confused with a sermon, even if the latter is done in the Mass. The Second Vatican Council and the Missal propose the former.

Q: Why are many homilies boring?

Bishop López: Most of the time, because they are not well prepared, something that requires not only dedication but also knowledge of what a homily should be.

Briefly, it is necessary to study the readings in their mutual relationship — the Gospel is the guideline — and in the context of the celebration and of the liturgical time; to meditate on the message, praying and asking oneself what the Lord is trying to tell us in this or that circumstance, and how to manifest it in a clear and comprehensible way.

It is not necessary to be a great orator or to use great resources — homily means conversation — but it is a question of assimilating and making one’s own what one is going to say, to transmit it through witness.

Q: What do believers need to discover that the liturgy is not something «of priests,» but that it also concerns them?

Bishop López: To have savored or tasted it sometime in its spiritual richness. The liturgy is like good wine. Someone who has tasted a wine of genuine quality knows how to distinguish that wine from others of less quality.

In other words, what is needed is initiation from childhood to be able to be faithful to the call to go to Church on Sundays, and that the celebration be done with more care.

This is why it is no longer just the concern of the faithful, but above all of priests. The liturgy is something divine, with human means: communication, symbols, music, etc. One must approach mystery on tiptoes and barefoot.

Q: What has the synod suggested for the more active participation of the people in the liturgy?

Bishop López: The synod recognized once again the importance of the faithful’s participation in the liturgy, precisely as proposed by Vatican II, that is, not only active and external but also conscious and internal participation.

This is always an unfinished task, because it requires adequate biblical and liturgical formation in pastors and a certain determination to progress on the part of the faithful. In 1988 John Paul II wrote that the liturgy must be celebrated above all as a spiritual event.

Q: On your return to your diocese, the faithful have asked you what the synod has accomplished. What do you tell them?

Bishop López: The synod, as so many other realities of the life of the Church, does not come into the category of the useful whose efficacy is measured by results that can be quantified.

For three weeks we have tried, the Pope as well, to hear first of all what the Holy Spirit was saying through the pastors summoned to this singular assembly. Each one spoke from his own lived experience as pastor, and from very particular circumstances.

Listening to one another, we perceived a background noise, coincidental at times, complementary at others, marked in many cases by suffering, and in some by persecution and martyrdom, which was the voice of Christ.

At the beginning it sounded like a torrent of water, then it became a sound that went clarifying itself, and at the end, in many aspects, a profound conviction, a call, a suggestion.

What has happened with other synods — this year is the 40th anniversary of the creation of this institution by Pope Paul VI — will also happen with this one, giving new impetus to a certain pastoral action, or fostering a renewal in this or that sector of the Christian people.

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