India: Mumbai clergy told to keep sermons short

Bishop Bosco Penha

Bishop Bosco Penha

Bombay archdiocese has told its priests to keep their homilies short and to the point.

"Some priests are still preaching for 20 minutes or more, which is strongly discouraged," said Auxiliary Bishop Bosco Penha, president of the Commission for Word and Worship in Bombay archdiocese.

In an official circular titled "Liturgical Renewal: Faithfulness of Christ - Faithfulness of Priest," the prelate says the homily is an important part of themliturgy and must be given by an ordained minister.

The circular, published on 5 December,  in the archdiocese paper:  "The Examiner," directs that a sermon should develop some points of the readings or another text from the Mass of the day. "It should be well prepared and to the point."

Bishop Penha also discouraged priests from resorting to modern techniques to deliver their homilies. "The PowerPoint presentation and question-answer sessions should be used sparingly, as they take away the reverence due to the Eucharist," he explained.

The prelate also ruled out staging skits during Mass.

His circular evoked mixed reactions among Catholics in India's largest diocese.

"Firstly, the homily is extremely important for people in the pews as it is the only ongoing catechesis for laity," said Astrid Lobo Gajiwala, assistant coordinator of Ecclesia of Women in Asia, a forum of Asian Catholic women theologians.

She said there should not be "a hard and fast" rule on a sermon's duration. If a sermon is boring, "even three minutes is too long," remarked the mother of three and parishioner of Holy Name Cathedral.

Gajiwala supports the use of modern tools during sermons. In her view, PowerPoint presentation and skits make the preaching interesting and do not necessarily diminish reverence for the Eucharist.

Arun D'Souza, a parishioner of St Victoria Church, agrees with the bishop that homilies should be short and relevant, noting that many tend to meander.

But the 38-year-old said skits are a good thing because they not only help people's participation but also deepen their faith. "Skits make the Masses rich spiritually and help the laity remember a message long after the Mass is over," he said.

Charlotte Rodrigues, a Catholic media professional, wants homilies to relate to real issues as well as be short and relevant.

A big clock is kept inside the entrance of her St Dominic Savio Church to help the celebrant keep time, she noted. A priest with good oratorical skills should not be deprived of modern tools to convey his message, she added.

Father Anthony Charanghat, archdiocesan spokesperson and editor of 'The Examiner,' pointed out that the homily "is meant to be a one-on-one between the priest ... and his parishioners."

He believes media tools can help to convey the homily's message and do not necessarily distract from it.

"The Pope has strongly encouraged us to use technology to reach out to the masses, but it cannot be the end of all our interaction with the faithful," he noted.

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