Does it matter if a priest makes up his own sermon?

Would it bother you if your priest delivered ready-made sermons, written by someone else? A lot of Catholics say they wouldn’t mind in the slightest — especially if the alternative is sermons that are bland and uninspired, or rambling and incoherent, or heretical, or just plain weird.

I always felt sorry for parish priests who must, in addition to their insanely busy schedule, set aside time to come up with a sermon that is coherent, likely to speak to the congregation as he knows them, and is also tied into the readings we just heard or the day on the liturgical calendar. And some priests have great ideas to impart, but they’re just not good writers or speakers; and some aren’t fluent in the language their congregation speaks.

There are services and publications designed to solve this very problem, either offering full-blown homilies or helpful prompts; and there are public priests whose sermons are available online, making it easy for less-famous priests to borrow liberally or simply repeat the whole thing. It seems like a no-brainer: If you’re a priest who’s already pulled in a thousand directions and running dry creatively, it just makes sense to take this one thing off your plate.

That’s why I was a little surprised to learn how many priests have a visceral aversion to delivering a sermon written by someone else (even with attribution). When I asked on Twitter whether priests ever do this, only a few said they did… Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

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8 thoughts on “Does it matter if a priest makes up his own sermon?”

  1. Well what the? My husband is an LCMS pastor and because he took up with me as a hobby, and now has 7 more hobbies. There is no excuse for bad sermons.

  2. Well, yes, I think you’re right. Of course, I get your position as “in itself a read-out sermon seems all fine, and I really don’t mind, but still”; and that’s precisely mine as well. Personality, and all that.

    As for being a spiritual leader, though: that’s what bishops are. The essence of being a priest is consecrating; and yes, then he also gets some responsibilities to do, in the name of the bishop, of leading. So, I’m quite fine with a priest not being a spiritual leader; which means I’m quite fine with a parish priest reading out some sermon. But I really wouldn’t be if my diocesan bishop did that; him I do expect to be a spiritual leader. I also wouldn’t be if a Dominican did that; they’re called Friars Preachers. As for a parish priest, I’d be fine; but still (as I said).

    (I even happen to prefer the more personal sermons by our one priest to the more standard ones by our other priest.)

    However, I’d like to focus a bit on that “vanity” part, or what I suppose some people might either mean or hear when hearing the “but of course not out of vanity” part. Vanity, of course, is a sin, though a very minor one; but, alas, in this complicated world of ours the name is sometimes used for desires perfectly decent and legitimate, the only fault of which is not being the very maximum of self-denial.

    Priests do a lot; they’ve got a lot of work to do; they’ve got a lot of sacrifices to make; amongst other things, they’ve got no wife, they’ve got to fit into a discipline run by their bishop; and there are relaxing hobbies perfectly decent and even compatible with celibacy which they had better not do, for clerical appearance. They deserve their reward. And yes, being human beings like we all are, they need to get some of the reward *now*, to keep spirits up.

    The chief reward is of course the ability to say Mass, and particularly the private Mass and the Mass non versus populum. A well-known pastoral theologian from around here (and an orthodox one; Prof. Wollbold) calls it the one hour in the day which is utterly right and makes priesthood worth while, or something like that. But, holy as it is, it’s still heavily under rubrics (and should be) and so not the ideal place where to put out your creativity.

    But preaching is that. I do not deny that preaching, and coming up with a sermon, is heavy work; but I still suppose it must be fun to do, at least to have done the preparation and preaching the sermon now. Also, may I say it, it won’t be quite unhelpful if we laymen have to listen; though it is somewhat courteous not to exact too much from us by going on forever, unless of course it doesn’t feel that way because the sermon is so good.

    And our priests do deserve that bit of fun. They’re laboring hard enough.

    Should they do better sermons, where there are deficiencies? Yes. The Catholic and Christian thing is to do your fun stuff and become better at it; even at it. It is emphatically not to confuse avoiding fun with avoiding sin.

    (It’s also the case that the priests aren’t trained actors before entering seminary. A trained actor can make Hamlet’s soliloquy or even Weaponmanufacturer Smurf from Dürrenmatt’s “Frank V., tragedy of a private bank” entirely his own work of art, and there’s no reason he couldn’t do the same thing with St. John Chrysostom’s Easter Sermon. But most priests have not had that training. It’s takes *more* skill to *not* resort to making changes in the text, as probably all can attest who attended a drama course at school.)

  3. Some priests are skilled and gifted homilists and some aren’t. It wouldn’t bother me a bit if a priest borrowed really heavily from someone else, though I would prefer not to be read a homily verbatim, since I can do that on my own time.

  4. I don’t see how the homily can be referred to as ancillary or « in addition to » the priest’s duties! Preaching is an important part of caring for and guiding a parish. And also, I relate getting writer’s block and needing inspiration, but a priest who doesn’t have anything of their own to preach is hardly a credible spiritual leader.

    We’re blessed by Fathers at my parish who are credible, both in how they care for the community and in how they break open the word during Mass- their homilies challenge and comfort, and often sustain me going forward into the week. I sometimes forget this isn’t the norm.

    1. AMEN

      There was a priest at my old parish that said point blank that he was taught to keep it to 10 minutes because that is what people’s attention span was. He said he didnt care – he had too much to say so he made his homilies 20 -30 minutes long.

  5. A priest I knew who was an excellent homilies had a three year Sunday lectionary cycle of sermons he had written. If needed, he could pull one and update it, or add a new version to his library.

    I have also loved the occasional room for silent reflection at a daily mass in lieu of a homily.

    I also don’t care if a priest or deacon reads a canned version, if they agree with it.

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