By Father Patrick J. Brady
Fifth in a series that explains the priesthood during the Church’s Year of the Priest.
“Go make disciples from all nations” (Matt. 28:19). The final command of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel commissions the Church to proclaim His words to the world.
Bishops, as shepherds of the flock, have a special role in care and teaching of the Gospel – a role so important that Paul states “Woe to me if I do not preach [the Gospel]” (1 Cor. 9:16). Priests, as the closest coworkers of the bishop, share in a subordinate way in that priestly mission.
However, this special role does not abrogate the responsibility all the faithful have in making disciples of all nations through talks, spiritual reflections, writings, catechesis and, most importantly, living witness to the Gospel. Why then is the homily reserved to the ordained?
The answer derives from the very nature of the homily. Unlike reflections and lectures, the homily is part of the Eucharistic Liturgy. Therefore, it is part of the prayer of the Church.
The Church prays in and through Christ. He joins our prayers with His one sacrifice offering them to the Father. It is Christ the High Priest, who leads the Church in prayer, who reveals the Father in the proclamation of the Scriptures and who offers Himself at the altar.
The first words of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel were proclamation: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mk. 1:15). Without accepting and understanding His words, people misinterpret His actions (Mk. 2:16). The proclamation of the Gospel and its unfolding in the homily prepare us for, lead us to and draw enrichment from the reception of the Eucharist. Word and sacrament are one in Christ. The priest signifies this unity in the liturgy.
The Gospel proclaimed is “the power of God for salvation” (Rom. 1:16). Effective preaching requires effort, study and prayer on the part of the priest. However, the efficaciousness of the homily depends not upon verbal eloquence or rhetorical brilliance, but rather the power of the Spirit working in and through the priest.
The priest ministers a gift that is not his own, but Christ’s. The faithfulness of the priest manifests itself by becoming the voice of Christ in the homily, speaking on behalf of the Church.
A faithful proclamation of the Gospel means to challenge culture with the Gospel even on unpopular issues.
Paul charges Timothy to be persistent in proclaiming the Gospel “whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching” (2 Tim. 4:1-2).
The Church teaches that even the weakest homilies have the power to transform because of the power of the Spirit. In this Year of the Priest, let us pray for and encourage priests to truly allow the Spirit to speak through them, so that priests offer powerful homilies.
Father Brady is the Chair of the Department of Sacred Scripture at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.