This is the second post in a series on evangelistic preaching in Catholic contexts.
We left off in Part 1 having explored Church documents that reveal that preaching isn’t limited to Eucharistic homilies. This historical excursus (not part of the talk on which this series is based) points to just some of the settings where Catholic ministers have preached outside of the Mass.
Medieval Period (from the Harvard College Library)
In monasteries and religious houses, informal sermons and/or “Chapter talks” were often given daily and followed the biblical exegesis of patristic and monastic authors.
Preaching accompanied “religious rituals such as processions or serving to recruit crusaders, as in the sermons of the Cistercian abbot Bernard of Clairvaux (1090–1153), who preached the Second Crusade at Vézelay in 1147.” Additionally, “hermit monks such as John Buoni and Peter of the Morrone (1215–1296), better known as Pope Celestine V (1294), attracted crowds who came in search of healing and miracles, as well as to hear the preaching of a living saint.”
Franciscan and Dominican friars practiced open-air preaching, delivering sermons in city squares or village common spaces, for example: “Anthony of Padua (1195–1231) and Berthold of Regensburg (1220–1272) preached outside university settings, and contemporaneously, female lay penitents such as Rose of Viterbo and Margaret of Cortona were preaching and enacting the Passion in public places.”
Patristic Period (from Robert Taft’s “The Liturgy of the Hours in East and West” (1986))
Cathedral Vigils consisting of “cathedral psalmody (responsories and antiphons), lessons, prostrations for prayer followed by collects, and, often, preaching” existed in many locations and was notably present in 4th century Cappadocia, Milan, and North Africa (p. 2, 168, 175, 176).
Socrates of Constantinople (ca. 439-450) writes, “in Caesarea in Cappadocia and in Cyprus on Saturdays and Sundays, always in the evening at the lighting of the lambs (meta tes lychnapsias) the presbyters and bishops explain the Scriptures” (p. 39), pointing to preaching at weekend vespers services.
Caesarius of Arles (the Metropolitan of Arles from 503-542) in Gaul had homilies in vigils and at matins (p. 151-54). And, he didn’t just preach in perfunctory sense. 🙂 He tells us that he would begin Psalm 50 earlier “so that the office might not drag on beyond the usual time of dismissal lest the people be late for work” — talk about a practical guy! His outlook was that a service should start earlier so that there was enough time for preaching, rather than limiting the length of a sermon to fit an expected service schedule or expected duration.
Where can we find vigil preaching today? Taft explains, “the only sort of vigil that seems to have died out is the one that was most popular in Latin Church in Late Antiquity: the occasional vigil of psalmody, lessons, preaching, and prayers” with special importance paid to the “proclamation of the Word in the lections and homily.” “But the “Office of Readings” in the new Roman Liturgy of the Hours, when celebrated as a vigil, can be considered an attempt to restore something of this ancient, popular Latin night service.” (p. 190)
Formal Preaching Outside of Mass — Yes or No?
Yes! Based on current Church teaching and examples of faithful Catholics of previous eras we see that there are many forms and settings for preaching other than the Eucharist.