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Bad homilies

NOTHING turns off the regular Mass-goer than a priest’s bad homily. The faithful know when the priest is woefully unprepared; the homily is neither here nor there and goes on and on. At times, the priest meanders into politics, alienating those of a different persuasion. God forbid if the priest wished ill of the object of his tirade.

That’s exactly what happened on Thursday at the hallway of the Senate offices. Sympathetic clergy celebrated Mass for beleaguered Sen. Antonio Trillanes 4th, who was holed up at the chamber for fear of getting arrested as President Rodrigo Duterte had just issued a proclamation revoking his amnesty.

The homilist, Fr. Noel Gatchalian, “joked” that when the bishops called for prayer after the President’s attacks on the Catholic Church, he dutifully complied and prayed, presumably to God, to let Duterte fall ill.

“When our religion was shamed and our God was disrespected, our Church told us to pray. I said, okay, I’ll pray. So I prayed that Digong [Duterte] would get sick,” Gatchalian was quoted as saying.

The priest’s supposed joke understandably triggered a new round of retaliatory attacks from Duterte. Bringing up the sex abuse scandal hounding the Vatican at a news conference on Saturday upon his return from Israel and Jordan, the President said he wished all priests engaged in worldly pleasures would contract venereal diseases.

The off-putting episode was entirely avoidable. The priest could just have stuck within the metes and bounds of homilies, instead of firing up the anti-Duterte crowd and provoking Duterte to launch a new volley of anti-priest tirades.

There are faithful Catholic believers on both sides of the current issues involving Duterte and Trillanes who are entitled to the sacrament. It’s fine for priests to say Mass before the tombs of Ninoy and Cory Aquino and that of the strongman Ferdinand Marcos, even if the deceased were politically at odds.

This is because the Mass, of which the homily is an important part, is about Christ’s sacrifice, not some embattled politician.

In Catholic liturgy, the preaching that comes after the Gospel reading is not called a “sermon,” but a “homily.” The difference is that sermons may dwell on any topic the priest fancied; homilies must explain the day’s readings, not just the Gospel.

Based on the mandate of the Second Vatican Council, which overhauled the liturgy, homilies are, strictly speaking, required only during Sundays and feasts. On weekday Masses, the priest may dispense with, or be brief about it. In last week’s Mass at the Senate hallway, the temptation to be politically relevant must have been too irresistible for Gatchalian.

The homily is to be highly esteemed as part of the liturgy itself, says the Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Vatican 2 document on liturgy. It goes without saying that there’s nothing liturgical about wishing ill of someone, even if uttered as a joke.

The homily “should be an exposition of some aspect of the readings from Sacred Scripture or of another text from the Ordinary or from the Proper of the Mass of the day and should take into account both the mystery being celebrated and the particular needs of the listeners,” according to the Roman Missal’s guidance on the celebration of the Mass.

Gatchalian, of course, knows about this. In seminary, there’s an entire course on Catholic preaching. Perhaps he and other politicized clergy could revisit their notes on homiletics. The faithful need better orators and preachers on the pulpit, delivering edifying homilies instead of sermonizing.

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