VATICAN CITY (CNS) — As long as it is inspired by prayer, refers to the Mass readings and is in harmony with church teaching, a homily’s appropriate length and style are judged largely by the particular congregation at Mass, said the new head of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments.
Guinean Cardinal Robert Sarah, whom Pope Francis named congregation prefect in November, spoke at a Vatican news conference Feb. 10 to present the congregation’s new Homiletic Directory, which provides guidance to bishops, priests and deacons on preparing and writing their homilies.
The directory recommends that a homily be “neither too long nor too short.” Determining exactly how many minutes such a homily would be, Cardinal Sarah said, depends on the people at the Mass, their culture and the occasion.
“Clearly in the West, going over 20 minutes seems like too much,” he said, “but in Africa, 20 minutes isn’t enough because people travel a great distance to hear the word of God. If the priest speaks only for 10 or 15 minutes, it’s just not enough. How to nourish the people of God depends on the culture.”
The cardinal also was asked how he ensures his homilies are not boring.
“In my culture,” he said, “it is important to use images and legends” or familiar stories.
“For example, to underline the importance of prayer,” the cardinal said, “I use a Muslim legend” about a man who asked God who his neighbor would be in heaven. “To have a bad neighbor on earth is bad, but we’d have him as a neighbor only for 50 years, but to have him as a neighbor for eternity would be very difficult.
“So,” the cardinal continued, “Allah said, ‘Your neighbor is named Maimuna.’ And he asked, ‘Who’s Maimuna.’ And he is told Maimuna is a crazy person who keeps goats near the cemetery.”
The man goes to the cemetery “and finds Maimuna praying. While she was praying, wolves mix in with Maimuna’s goats. The wolves were not eating the goats and the goats were not afraid of the wolves,” Cardinal Sarah said.
“After the prayer was over,” he said, the man asked Maimuna how the wolves and goats could be together without danger. “And she tells him, ‘I improved my relationship with God and God improved the relationship between the wolves and my goats.'”
The cardinal told reporters that using legends and stories “can help capture the minds of the people, making the homily more attractive.”