Sunday, July 09, 2023

A Template for Great Homilies

[July 9, 2023] I was vacationing this week and attended the diocesan Traditional Latin Mass at St. Anne's in Hamilton, Ontario. The celebrant was Fr. Ian Duffy. I have been to the TLM in Hamilton before, but this was my first experience with Fr. Ian. I am happy to say that Fr. Ian not only delivered a splendid homily, but that it was so solid that it could serve as a template for good homiletical practice in general. I wanted to highlight the four qualities I found so refreshing about Fr. Ian's homily:

1. Brevity. Fr. Ian's homily was delightfully short, clocking in at just around ten minutes. This is something I have constantly noticed about good homilists—they tend to say more in less time. That's not to say a longer homily is bad; I'm happy to listen to longer homilies if they are engaging. But I do think that ten minutes is a sweet spot. It's long enough to deliver a message, but not so long that the audience begins to drift or the homily disrupts the flow of the liturgy.

2. Clarity. Fr. Ian restrained himself to speaking about one topic and one topic only. It is unfortunately common for homilies to meander; the priest feels like he must say something about each of the readings and ends up preaching on multiple topics, which can leave the congregants disoriented and unsure what the homily is about. Father Ian, by contrast, focused on one message (the superabundance of God's provision); every part of the homily reinforced this message. It was clear, concise, and memorable.

3. Preparation. Fr. Ian was clearly well-prepared for this homily down to the particulars. He spoke extemporaneously, without any notes (as far as I could tell). Every thought seemed well-considered; nothing sounded like a "ramble," and there were no tangents. Fr. Ian knew exacty what he wanted to say and said it with precision. There was a logical flow to the homily that evidenced forethought; he did not "wing it."

4. Rhetorical Excellence. Speaking in public is an acquired skill, which many priests unfortunately struggle with. Fr. Ian had no problems in this regard. I don't know if he formally studied rhetoric or is just naturally gifted with it, but he clearly understood the art of delivering a talk. His volume was bold and commanding and his tempo restrained and measured, but not slow. He maintained almost constant eye contact with the audience. He elevated his pitch and used hand gestures at the right moments to appeal to pathos. He touched on doctrine, but kept it well-grounded without straying into territory too dense for the congregation. He used simple examples to reinforce his point. He was a talented public speaker and knew how to connect with his listeners.

Homiletics is an area where I have found most priests could stand to improve, even traditional priests (while the content of traditional priests' homilies is better, they still often struggle with delivery just as much as their Novus Ordo counterparts). I don't know how many thousands of homilies I have listened to in my life, but it is such a treat to listen to a good homilist. So, special thanks to Fr. Ian Duffy of the Diocese of Hamilton for his stellar homily. I hope this post reaches him through internet magic.

I also want to give a shout out to another great homilist, Fr. Clint McDowell of the Archdiocese of Detroit. Whenever he celebrates the Traditional Latin Mass in my area, I noticed the same four traits in his homilies as well. 

What qualities do you think are integral to a good homily?

Related Posts:

• St. Augustine's Rules for Good Homilies
• Malcolm Ranjith: How Long is a Homily Supposed to Be?


Anonymous said...

Few sermons I can hear clearly, I used to think it was the acoustics yet I can hear clearly a few so it’s not the place.

Paul said...

I couldn't agree more with these four points (especially with brevity).

One I would add is to deliver the hard truths of the faith and the things that need to be said, with a healthy dose of charity, and with a smile even. Sometimes people need to be woken up from the slumber with a slap of a bucketful of cold water, but it goes even further when it is tempered by a genuine care for the soul. I feel like some priests who try to be fire starters often deliver the hard truths, but play up on the harshness to make themselves seem like hardliners when they don't have to. The truth stands on its own.

Funny thing is I never felt the calling to the priesthood, but I always wanted to be a homilist (if such a thing existed).

I will go to my grave saying it: Tradition and charity will be the face of renewal (imho).

Anonymous said...

Excellent points. Our parish priest, Father Joseph, is an accomplished homilist thanks be to God. Some of his homilies are so edifying that I want to clap out loud at the end! But I don’t ­čśä