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A word on homilies PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 26 August 2008 05:37

Written by Joe Waters

ROME, AUG. 25, 2008 ( A good homily cannot be prepared as if it were any type of communication; it requires the foundation of the priest's personal Christian witness and a clear and concrete message, affirmed a specialist in communications.

Father Dario Viganò, director of "Cinema" and president of Ente dello Spettacolo, an Italian foundation dedicated to the cinema, as well as president of the Redemptor Hominis Pontifical Institute at the Pontifical Lateran University, spoke with L'Osservatore Romano about the recipe for a good homily.

Homilies are a complex communication genre, the author maintains, affirming that a good homily is not a copy or adaptation of discourses found in the media.

And to look at communication effectiveness in a homily, he said, it is not a question of classifying them into categories: divisions ranging from "'spot' homilies, to 'blog'-newspaper type homilies, to 'hypertext' homilies that make daring connections between distant arguments, to 'chakra' homilies -- New Age narrations with strong suggestions and vague meanings."

Instead, Father Viganò affirmed, homilies have the "profile of a communication that is sacramental," and that should enable the listener "to hear God, who speaks."

"To talk about homilies, therefore, means to be aware that they are made up of complexity and beauty," the communications scholar added. "Even if they have been marginalized, poorly treated, at times complicated and clericalized […] homilies are in any case a truly essential and indispensable center of the liturgy."

"There is no lack of studies aimed at developing a systematic, even a virtual methodology of the homily," he continued. "From of old, dictionaries of homiletics exist, texts that suggest methods of preparation using different models of homilies, including already prepared outlines."
Yet, despite this, there is no "model" homily, the priest contended. "A homily must be conceived as the common and shared hearing of Revelation that comes through the Word and history."


Despite its complexity, Father Viganò pointed out two important aspects to ensure that a homily achieves its communicative objective: the consistency of the preacher's life and the brevity and concreteness of the message.

Quoting a phrase of St. Bernardine of Siena, patron of advertisers, the priest emphasized that the key lies in the clarity of the homily. "The preacher must speak very, very clearly, so that the listener will leave satisfied and illumined, and not dazzled."

In regard to consistency, the author recalled a phrase from philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, who said that "the difference between a pastor and an actor is precisely the existential moment: The pastor must be poor when he preaches about poverty; he must be slandered when he exhorts to endurance in slander. While the actor has the task of deceiving by eliminating the existential moment, the preacher in fact has the duty, in the most profound sense, to preach with his own life."

In regard to brevity, the priest explained that it is a question of avoiding both "non-existent homilies" as well as "endless homilies."

"St. Francis," Father Viganò recalled "exhorted his friars to use pondered and chaste words in their preaching, for the usefulness and edification of the people, proclaiming to the faithful the vices and virtues, the punishment and glory, with a brief speech, because on earth the Lord spoke brief words."


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