I wrote this for my diocese’s clergy and catechists. I’m not a homilist, so I can’t really comprehend the kind of pressures placed on those who need to prepare a homily for every Sunday and weekday. But I hope this might give them some encouragement and ideas on how to incorporate some liturgical catechesis on the Roman Missal ritual texts into their homilies and catechetical sessions this October and November. I’d welcome any other suggestions on how to better catechize through the Mass.
I know lots of great parishes have been catechizing the assembly about the upcoming changes to the English translation of the Mass. But sometimes, their efforts go a bit awry in that often, they tend to merely “insert” catechesis into the Mass without connecting it to anything else in the Mass. Some examples of this I have seen are:
- Four-minute catechesis: I know it’s popular, but it becomes a bit like class in the middle of Mass. Often, the topic chosen is disconnected from the themes presented in the Scriptures of the day, from the liturgical feast or season, or from even reference to any of the prayers or actions in that Mass itself.
- Instructional video: I saw this recently. The video was really well-done. But it happened right after the Gospel with barely any introduction. And once it was finished, the homilist continued on with his prepared homily, never once referring to anything that the video discussed or even trying to connect the video to the Scriptures, the action in the Mass (the video was on the Preparation of Gifts), or his homily.
- Extended announcement after Communion: This often has the same problem as the four-minute catechesis.
Although the Mass is not meant to be a time for catechesis, the Mass is catechetical in that what we do and say teaches and shapes us. That’s simply what ritual does—even when it’s done poorly.
So here are some more effective ways to use the Mass to help catechize about the upcoming changes to the English words of the Roman Missal.
First, the best way to teach about the Mass is to do the Mass really well…and to do that consistently week after week. People, especially children, learn more from what they do and see others doing than from what they hear or read.
Second, make more use of the homily—as a homily, not as instruction. The homily is a ritual action (CSL, #52) that breaks open the liturgy. Specifically:
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. (General Instruction on the Roman Missal, #65)
See how the homilist is called to “expose” some aspect of the readings—most homilists try to do this; in general, gone are the days of “sermons” that have nothing to do with the readings. But also, note that homilists can also “expose” another text from the Mass of the day. This includes primarily the words we use from the Roman Missal; but it could also include texts from the antiphons, hymns, and songs. In addition, they could use the ritual languages of posture, gesture, silence, and space (e,g., the church building itself, the artwork within it, the items we use in the Mass) as connecting points for their homily.
Why is this important to remember when teaching about the Roman Missal?
Because, as every good catechist knows, catechesis that is disconnected from the experience of the hearer will have a harder time finding root in the hearer’s life. That is why the United States’ bishops document on preaching says:
Since the purpose of the homily is to enable the gathered congregation to celebrate the liturgy with faith, the preacher does not so much attempt to explain the Scriptures as to interpret the human situation through the Scriptures. In other words, the goal of the liturgical preacher is not to interpret a text of the Bible as much as to draw on the texts of the Bible as they are presented in the lectionary to interpret people’s lives. (Fulfilled in Your Hearing, #52)
If you will include catechesis in the Mass about the Roman Missal, then try to use the texts of the Mass to help you break open the meaning of these new words. Don’t just insert catechesis into the Mass and not connect it to something within that Mass. Most importantly, try to connect it to the lives of the people who will hear what you have to say. Why will these words matter to them, other than they will need to know what to say when the time comes. Remember that “it is [the pastor’s] duty also to ensure that the faithful take part fully aware of what they are doing, actively engaged in the rite, and enriched by its effects” (CSL, #11).
Some help for homilists and catechists
Below is a suggested schedule and outline of homiletic and catechetical points to help you prepare your assemblies for the new English translation of the Roman Missal. I tried to take some of the major changes that are happening and connect them to the Scriptures that are assigned for the two months prior to the start date for the new translation. These are just some ideas; you will surely have more and probably better ways to connect the Scriptures and ritual texts to what is happening in terms of the translation. This is certainly not a mandated schedule. I offer it simply as some help for you to look at your homilies and catechetical gatherings in a different light as we prepare for the new translation of the Mass.