They’re so Short!
Something that was always strange to me as a Protestant attending Mass was how short Catholic sermons are. Well, technically we call what happens when the Priest speaks after the gospel reading a homily, but homily isn’t a word seen too often outside the Catholic realm.
The priests seemed to have varying degrees of preparation in their message, and it varied from a minute to about ten minutes at most. It varied greatly in level of depth. Sometimes it was more an encouraging word than a message at all.
I thought, what’s the deal with this?
At every single non-Lutheran Protestant Church I attended, there was a sermon. And the sermon was comparatively long. 20 minutes was normal. Some could go over 30. If the sermon was good, I left church feeling challenged and uplifted. If it was just okay, I might have been disappointed.
Expositional Preaching vs. The Homily Objective
There is a big movement right now in the non-liturgical Protestant realm towards expositional preaching. Where a pastor delves deep into a passage of scripture, often going through entire books of the Bible in an extensive sermon series. The pastor delves into the historical, cultural context, along with the original language and preaches on what he or she concludes after that extensive study.
This makes sense in the Protestant world because in Protestant churches, the sermon is the pinnacle of the service. Everything, the music, the offering, the reading (if there is one before the sermon itself), builds up to the sermon. The sermon is, structurally, the main event.
The homily, on the other hand, is meant to be an application of the readings for the day.
More in-depth study of the Bible is available to Catholics, (and should be used!), in a variety of different formats. There are Bible Studies, books, and video and online resources for in-depth delving into scripture. The readings for each day are thematically connected, and resources are readily available each day from a variety of different sources that delve into the readings. It’s been amazing to learn how connected the Old Testament is to the New via utilization of these resources. Here’s a link to one.
But the Mass isn’t ever going to be a place for lengthy, expositional study of Scripture.
Simply put, in a Protestant service, everything builds up to the sermon.
But in Catholic Mass, everything builds up to something else.
Christian Mass, and living the Christian faith, from the time of the earliest Christians, focused heavily on Holy Communion. Another word we use for that as Catholics is The Eucharist. The earliest Christians called it that too.
In many Protestant Churches, communion is served once a month, or twice a month in some instances, but this wasn’t always the case in the history of our faith.
As a Catholic, though we need to be in attendance on Sundays, there is actually Mass held every single day. And at every single Mass, the Eucharist is there.
The preparations for the Eucharist begin in concrete form after the prayers of the faithful.
Then, the liturgy of the Eucharist begins and takes us to the completion of the Mass.
Why is that important?
It’s important because Catholics, like the early Christians, believe Christ is truly present in Holy Communion. We believe we actually receive Jesus: body, blood, soul and divinity when we receive the Eucharist.
We believe this is one of the most intimate ways we can interact with our Creator while we walk on this earth. We believe there is grace there. We believe receiving the Eucharist on a regular basis helps strengthen our walk of faith, helps unite us to other Christians, and that, among other things, it helps us turn our hearts to God. We believe that just as Jesus took the form of a man, that he is with us still, in the form of bread and wine. That he instituted the Eucharist at the Last Supper. That he meant what he said in John 6.
When we kneel before the Eucharist, we kneel before our Savior.
As someone who grew up in a Protestant world, the things I just wrote would have been weird and offensive.
Communion was merely a symbol in my Protestant realm. It was more casually passed out, and more casually received. I ultimately concluded that this Catholic practice was so weird to me because it was unfamiliar. But just because I had never heard of something before, didn’t mean it wasn’t true. Imagine someone living a Pagan existence in a remote location of the world. The Gospel would sound pretty strange to them at first. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.
When deciding where my faith would land, I researched a lot of things extensively. Especially this. And I found only solid evidence that the earliest Christians, those closest to Jesus held that exact same belief as the Catholic Church about Holy Communion. That belief as Communion as a symbol was considered heresy. This may not be the case everywhere, but the churches we attended didn’t delve regularly into Church history. Especially not Church history on the Christian beliefs surrounding Communion.
I’ll probably dive more into this in another post, but if it was good enough for Jesus’ disciples, and their disciples after, and on and on through apostolic succession, then it was good enough for me.
So that’s why Catholic sermons, or homilies, are so short. Some are longer than others, and some Priests spend more time crafting them than others do. But Priests are really busy guys. They spend time visiting the sick, and being instruments of grace through the sacraments.
Besides, the sermon isn’t the main event. Jesus is. And, long homily or not, he meets us there, every single Mass, loving us and offering to us himself in the bread and the wine.
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