The Banal Homily Epidemic


“In the Gospel reading, Christ teaches us to love each other. Do you love your neighbor? Love one another. Help those in need. Open your heart. Be the best father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister, you can be. That is the true meaning of being a Christian.”

Heard that before? I have. A million times. I once attended a fairly conservative Protestant service and a typical Catholic Mass on the same day. Leaving the rest aside, the difference in the sermons were stark. First, the Protestant sermon was entirely about Christ. The Catholic sermon used the reading to jump off into social justice. I’m not saying social justice isn’t vitally important but would a little talk about the divine hurt? Second, the Protestant sermon didn’t stoop to the lowest common denominator. It challenged listeners. Granted, it was a very famous Protestant preacher who probably spent weeks preparing the sermon. I’ve heard banal Protestant sermons before. But the Catholic Church is so rich in theological insights spanning millennia that sermons should never be a recycled litany of platitudes. Maybe it’s because priests have to do it every day. Or maybe because not every priest can be a great preacher. But I suspect it may be because some priests mistakenly believe people don’t want, don’t need, or can’t handle more.

Many years ago, we got a new priest. His first homily was on the Eucharist. No platitudes. No social justice. A homily that would either deeply offend a Protestant or convert him. Not because it was judgmental or intended to convert but because it was so deep in meaning and conveyed his own love for Christ in the Eucharist… When he concluded, everyone looked around at each other. We were blown away. Some may say that the homily shouldn’t be the focus of the Mass. But what he had to say resonated throughout the Mass and beyond. It’s as if we were really at Mass for the first time. Dare I say, that sermon saved souls that day.


Not everyone is Abraham Lincoln or St. Bernard of Clairvaux. St. John Vianney used to loose his place in the sermon and quit right in the middle of it while the congregation heckled him.

Most people listen to the homily as if it were a monologue. Most don’t take St. Benedict’s advice, and listen with the ears of their heart to what Christ is trying to teach through his priests and deacons. Words don’t have to be powerful and the homily doesn’t have to blow us away to contain a powerful message. It is a Protestant mistake to think that the Holy Spirit is present only when there is strong emotion and sometimes God speaks to us through the simple, even banal homily.

God acts through plain water at our Baptism. Jesus comes to us as simple bread and wine. He returns us to friendship with God through a sinful, annoying, ordinary, banal man. Why should he homily be any different.

If we are in a truly prayerful mindset and listen with the ears of our heart, we can find a message from Christ in even the simplest homily. We have to put aside expectations and be lovers of silence to be able to do this. Most people are not lovers of silence. Silence frightens most people.

The greatest homily I have every heard was at a simply weekday Mass where there wasn’t even a homily. The priest distributed communion, sat back down in his chair and prayed. After a moment he started to cry. He finally looked up and said, “I’m sorry. Sometimes I think of Jesus in the Eucharist and get a little emotional. Let us pray…”




Agreed. A lot of Catholic sermons tend to go “off the rails” and deal with “burning issues of the day”, even in India. It’s a pity, considering the riches of the Catholic faith and tradition.

Which is why I applaud Pope Francis’ detailed discussion of homilies in “Evangelii Gaudium”! :thumbsup:

Plenty of food for thought in there. The sad thing is that the Pope actually needs to tell us this. :wink:


A few responses.

First, and , thankfully, I dont hear the types of homilies you are referring to as frequently as you would suggest, and I do attend a handful of parishes throughout the year. I am fortunate to belong to a great parish but hopefully most parishioners dont hear the banal very frequently either.

Secondly, the Protestant service BETTER have a sermon completely focused on Christ since they dont receive the Eucharist. In other words, EVERY Mass is ENTIRELY about Christ, so if the sermon is a little banal, I really dont care that much. However, given that about 40% of Catholics dont realize that Christ is ACTUALLY present in the REAL PRESENCE of the Eucharist, bad homilies not focused on Christ could be a problem. But, that is not an issue of the homily, its an issue of catechesis.

Lastly, I am glad the homily is only a minor part of the Mass. The Eucharist is not about the doctrine, or exegesis and especially not pop psychology. It is about the person of Jesus Christ fully present and available to us. If a priests homily and the reading of the Word can bring His Holy Spirit thats great, and should happen, but too many Catholics come to Mass forgetting they are Catholic, thinking theyre Protestant by either not trusting in the Real Presence or not believing , and expecting the homily to “fill them”. But again , it is NOT the lack of a powerful homily that is the problem, it is catechesis.

So, I have less of a concern with the banal homily than I do with the poor catechesis UNLESS, the homily is NOT providing the catechesis that is appropriate to the particular mass. However for the most part I do hear fairly decent doctrinal exhortation for most of the Liturgical Calendar. Deep into the Ordinary Season , there could be some weak homilies in particular but I would take that any day over NOT having the Eucharist.

“The greatest homily I have every heard was at a simply weekday Mass where there wasn’t even a homily. The priest distributed communion, sat back down in his chair and prayed. After a moment he started to cry. He finally looked up and said, “I’m sorry. Sometimes I think of Jesus in the Eucharist and get a little emotional. Let us pray…”” This says it all! That priests witness could be the only homily we ever need to “hear”.


I personally call that the “Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone were nice?” homily. Part of the problem of the “Love one another” homilies is that far too many people confuse love with affection, and you can’t feel affection for people just because you want to, so it’s really hard to act on those homilies.

AFAICT, it is not a Catholic vs. Protestant thing. When I was away from the Church, I once went to a Presbyterian church on Christmas and the entire homily didn’t mention Christ once. I was looking for it. :slight_smile: It was all about giving and how we have to be giving things to each other, including time and attention and so forth. It wasn’t bad advice, it just wasn’t a sermon. So I went back to the independent Bible churches again for a while. :wink:

Our old (since I came back to the Church) pastor was a GREAT homilist, but our current one is pretty good. All the homilies are about God, can you imagine? :smiley: (And sometimes they are about how God wants us to be concerned about social justice–it’s good to be well rounded.) I think it depends a lot on the parish.



Just one point. A sermon is not a homily. A sermon is a reflection on the Gospel. A homily goes further and teaches us how to apply the Gospel in our daily lives. A homily addresses the practical application of the gospel.



We are having quite contrasting experiences.

In the Protestant Church, I twice attended, the whole services talked about the Catholic Church. Go figure :shrug:


It’s the opposite.


Who, exactly, defined that? I’ve always understood the words to be interchangeable, and I also understand that the sermons/homilies given by a priest on Sunday should be doing both of the above that you mentioned.

My priests’ sermons pretty much always use the readings and Gospel to teach us how to apply virtues, and they also teach us about Catholic morality and teaching.


Preaching, like a good voice, is a gift from God, and not every priest has both, or for that matter, either.

As others have suggested, the Catholic Mass has not only the Word but also the Body (sacramentally). For that reason alone, the Church can “get away with” relatively introductory-level preaching. Protestants cannot: like Judaism after the Temple was destroyed, they have only the Word, so they have to get it right every time.

Protestants also have an easier job in that they often preach only once a week rather than every day.

All the more reason to find a priest who has both voice and preaching ability. And give him all the moral support you can.



Homily or Sermon?
Homily vs. Sermon:

*“By means of the homily the mysteries of the faith and the guiding principles of the Christian life are expounded from the sacred text, during the course of the liturgical year; the homily, therefore, is to be highly esteemed as part of the liturgy itself; in fact, at those Masses which are celebrated with the assistance of the people on Sundays and feasts of obligation, it should not be omitted except for a serious reason.” (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy #52) *

65. The Homily is part of the Liturgy and is strongly recommended, for it is necessary for the nurturing of the Christian life. It should be an exposition of some aspect of the readings from Sacred Scripture or of another text from the Ordinary or from the Proper of the Mass of the day and should take into account both the mystery being celebrated and the particular needs of the listeners. (GIRM #65)

Neither a sermon nor a homily are catechetical instruction.



Beautifully said.

I used to attend weekday Mass at St Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal, at 7 am, when I worked in the city. The rector would sometimes preside at Mass. He would give a short one or two sentence homily. It was always very simple, but so incisive, and would make such an impression, that it would stay with you all day. Often it invited one to see Christ in the other.

Where I have I heard that before? Must be in that pesky Rule book I have lying around the house somewhere… :wink:



Over the summer I was able to attend daily Mass a good amount. The difference between the daily homilies and the ones on the weekend were like night and day. Then again, the crowds at the daily Mass were different. They were the people you see every Sunday and Holy Day, and all throughout Holy Week. They’re the ones who are usually doing the readings and handing out Communion at the other Masses, and most of them are heavily involved in the parish. They’re the ones you can go up to and start talking about the Rosary, EWTN or any other aspect of your faith life and not have any worries at all that it might be an awkward conversation. In short, the people at the daily Masses are some of the most committed, devout, knowledgeable and/or faithful members of the parish. Our priest knows that he can say pretty much anything to that crowd without worrying about them being offended by his actually preaching about what the Church really teaches on all the hot-button issues. He can go on for ten minutes about the deeper meaning of the Scripture and know that he’ll have a rapt audience. He doesn’t need to throw in jokes or speculation about the day’s football games to keep them interested. Sure, he’ll mention the important stuff from time to time on Sundays, but it’s always coated in an easy to swallow pill that keeps the masses coming back. I don’t know that it’s the ideal solution, but I have a feeling it’s not uncommon, either.


No… neither a sermon nor a homily is primarily catechetical: “[the homily] may well include evangelization, catechesis, and exhortation, but its primary purpose is to be found in the fact that it is, in the words of the Second Vatican Council, ‘a part of the liturgy itself’ (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, #52)” (from the USCCB’s Fulfilled in Your Hearing, p. 17).


Since he doesn’t have a gift of public speaking, what other gifts does the priest in question have?

Is he a good administrator/business manager? A good counselor? Does he visit the shut-ins and elderly? Is he good at evangelizing fallen-away Catholics and persuading them to return to the Church? Is he facile with apologetics, often using his knowledge in community debates with religious leaders of other faiths in the community? Does he train young priests and seminarians? Is he a good “fund-raiser,” always inspiring parishioners to keep the church budget on target? Is he a skilled “police chaplain” who ministers to people in the community at times of great tragedy? Is he a good shepherd, caring for his flock of sheep in hard times and keeping them all safe and together?

I know that Speechwriting and Public Speaking can be taught, but that doesn’t mean that all the students will be good at it once they complete the curriculum. A lot of people take “Classroom Piano” in college and receive a passing grade, but that doesn’t mean they’re capable of playing in public.

Speaking of police chaplains, the Catholic priest in our city who founded the local organization of police chaplains decades ago was beloved by everyone in the city. He had ministered to families in some of the darkest hours of the city’s history, and people of all faiths and no faith at all lauded him for his compassion and kindness. He has received so many awards and honors that he probably had to build an extra room to hold them all. A movie about him would win Oscars, that is, if the actor who played him could make it through the scenes without sobbing.

But he’s not much of a public speaker. In fact, he’s rather boring.


Homilies are optional in daily Mass except holy days of obligation. It’s recommended on other days, like weekdays in Lent. But it’s still optional. (see GIRM #66)



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