We have a Gospel to proclaim

 For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!  I Corinthians 9:16   RSV

What is this ‘patrimony’ which Anglicans are being encouraged to bring with them into the Catholic Church?  High on my list would be good preaching. Anglicans have inherited this from the Reformation, when the preaching and teaching of scripture as the word of God were restored as belonging to the heart of  the minstry of the clergy. There is no conflict with Catholicism here, for the Council of Trent declared preaching to be praecipuum episcoporum munus   ‘the principal office of bishops’.  We should be glad that we have in Pope Benedict XVI a teaching Chief Bishop. The collections of his homilies and addresses on the Mass and on our Lady, are shot through with biblical teaching. He quotes scripture with insight and with clear love of God’s word. His expositions of the psalms in  A School of Prayer  bring freshness expecially for those who recite the psalms daily in the Divine Office, and are perhaps temped to rush through them.

Preaching then, flows from the reading of scripture; it aims to ‘break’ the word of God so that the people may be fed by the Lord Jesus himself, and that we may say with the dsiciples on the road to Emmaus:  ‘Did not our hearts burn within us  as he talked to us on the road and explained the scriptures to us?’  (Luke 24:32)  One of the worst sermons I have heard illustrates only too well what happens when the priest does not begin and end with the Bible. It was preached at a priestly anniversary, and consisted mainly of embarrassing reminiscences of the celebrating priest’s life, to which were attached some sentimental observations about priesthood. What a missed opportunity!

The homily or sermon is an integral part of the celebration of the Sunday Mass. The priest has an obligation to prepare his sermon with care, basing it firmly on the scriptures for the day, trying as best he may to make clear their meaning and to suggest ways in which we may put the teaching of the Lord into practice in the week ahead. Careful preparation is part of the respect due by the priest to his people for the trust that they put in him and the attention that they pay to his words. We should come with expectation and it will be a great encouragement to the priest to see us alert and listening. It may not be the custom everywhere in England for Catholics to shout ‘Yes, Jesus’ when the preacher makes an inspiring point – but it is a delight to see a congregation smile perhaps, or nod in agreement.

But if the preacher has a right to our attention and concentration, then he owes it to us his people to preach with care, with devotion and with inspiration. Very few clergy can preach these days without a text in front of them or at least very full notes. The magnificent speeches of Winston Churchill took hours of the great man’s time, and were crafted and then learnt by heart. We should be ready for a Sunday homily of about 12 – 15 minutes (we do not listen to long sermons as the Victorians did) and the priest must use every minute, speaking with clarity, with his quotes and authorities prepared. The delivery must be strong and authoritative, yet gentle and fatherly. Sometimes the priest will need to admonish, and his words will not always be popular. A wise and trusted priest will say these things without moaning or bullying, and everyone will recognise that the first person he is speaking to is himself!

The lectionary is a precious gift to God’s people. Over the three years of its Sunday cycle we hear all of the Gospels, most of the remainder of the New Testament, and a representative selection of the Old Testament. The preacher at Sunday Mass begins from the Scriptures for that day: he does not start with a theme or idea of his own, and then put in Bible references to make his point. The preacher is under the authority of the word of God and is humble before it.  Certainly the homily is the place in the Mass where the personality of the Celebrant will be most seen (and hopefully, most appreciated) but let the preacher beware of hobby horses: he must neither avoid difficult subjects not force them into every sermon he preaches.

It is the custom of some clergy to preach at the daily Mass, and this is both an inspiration for the people and a good discipline for the priest. The time is limited for people may be on their way to work or school in the morning, or tired after a day’s work. The priest therefore sets himself to preach on the Gospel in five sentences, no more. It is not easy, and you may make perhaps only one simple point. In the forty days between leaving the Church of England and being received into the Catholic Church, I went every day to Mass. I was, of course,  unable to go to Communion, but how much I appreciated  the daily homily, which fed me at the table of the word when I was unable to go to the table of the Eucharist.

I would like to ask you to benefit from the journey we shall be making in the forthcoming catecheses (0n prayer) by becoming more familiar with the Bible, which I hope you have in your homes. During the week, pause to read and meditate upon it in prayer, in order to know the marvelous history of the relationship between God and man, between God who communicates with us and man who responds.      

Pope Benedict XVI   Abraham’s Prayer  18th May 2011



About Scott Anderson

Formerly an Anglican priest (ordained 1975) received into the Catholic Church in February 2012, and ordained to the Diaconate on 27th July 2013. I took early retirement, and divide my time between London and northern France. I am deeply committed to the Ordinariate as a gift of the Holy Spirit in the search for unity. Like many Ordinariate members I feel a personal gratitude to Pope Emeritus Benedict, together with loyalty to our Holy Father, Pope Francis. My blog tries to make a small contribution to the growth of the Ordinariate by asking questions (and proposing some answers) about the 'Anglican Patrimony'. I have always been fascinated by the whole issue of growth and decline, and therefore concerned for appropriate means of evangelisation in western Europe. I believe that the Holy Spirit is constantly renewing the People of God and that we must be open to him. My love of music and motorcycles will occasionally surface in my posts. On Saturday 19th October 2013, I was ordained to the Priesthood at Most Precious Blood, Borough, by the Most Revd Peter Smith, Archbishop of Southwark, for the service of the Ordinariate of our Lady of Walsingham. I continued to serve the Ordinariate group and Parish at Most Precious Blood until the end of 2014. Subsequently, I helped in the care of the Ordinariate Groups at Hemel Hempstead and Croydon, and in the Archdiocese of Southwark, until the beginning of September 2015. With the agreement of my Ordinary, Mgr Keith Newton, the Bishop of Amiens appointed me Administrator of the Parish of Notre Dame des Etangs (Pont Remy) in Picardie, France. This appointment is to last for a year, to give the Bishop the opportunity to assess the future of the parish.
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4 Responses to We have a Gospel to proclaim

  1. Rhiannon says:

    The fact that you have joined the blogging world might inspire me to go back to mine,, which never really got going –

  2. Dr Harry Donnelly says:

    I agree that good preaching should be high on the list but I’m not convinced that it is a particularly Anglican attribute in the sense that I’ve found about the same balance between memorable (for the right reasons) and completely immemorable sermons/homilies on the the Roman side of the Tiber. But you are right, good preaching is vital.
    Two things would be high on my list, one is good music, yes Anglicans do for the most part do it better. I watch a group called the Chant Cafe which is based in N America which seeks to introduce better liturgical music at the parish level and I did smile when I saw a post about the setting of Mass Propers to Anglican chant. Second on my wish list is good ceremonial and yet again I think we did it better. If I can have a third wish it would be the simple politeness of arriving on time for Mass. I do appreciate that, in many families, several young ones have to be got ready and maybe they have further to travel than most Anglicans, but to arrive towards the end of the sermon, or even at the offertory?

  3. Rhiannon says:

    The punctuality problem was quite usual in the Anglican parish where I worked – sometimes a family would be lining up in the car park taking photographs before coming into church –
    Preaching is my worst temptation to despair – but I’ve encountered more Anglican than Catholic priests who preach as if in Primary school Assembly

    • Dr Harry Donnelly - Aitch says:

      In the CofE I do remember punctuality problems with Sunday afternoon baptisms, just one more ciggy, one more photo, one last joke with uncle Fred and of course then there are weddings and I don’t suppose it’s any different with Catholic congregations. The church I attend now has very large congregations and I suppose that if the proportion of latecomers per capita is the same, then in absolute terms there will be more with the larger attendance. It’s not a major issue, just thought I’d mention it and I don’t want it to become a red herring. You are quite right that bad preaching is a problem and like you, it does at times drive me to distraction, in the worst cases, there are problems with presentaion and content and sadly lack of any attempt to match the sermon to the listeners. Ordinariate Pilgrim’s remarks are very relevant, let’s hope they have wider readership.

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