“Sacramental Preaching” within Catholicism

A few weeks ago the InternetMonk offered up the term “sacramental preaching.”

Now this, is not a term I recall ever hearing in three years of a M.Div. degree at a Catholic university. However, it certainly resonates with Catholic theology! Chaplain Mike of the InternetMonk writes:

In sacramental traditions, the concept of preaching, and even the corporate reading of Scripture, is different than in revivalist traditions. It is about God literally acting through the spoken word.

He goes on to describe, “pastors who don’t think, for example, that the lectionary readings should even be printed in the bulletin”–a parallel to a conversation I’ve had in many a Catholic theology/ministry course over the question should missals, missalette, Bibles, or screen projection of verses be offered at Mass, or should the communication of Scripture be only oral? 

I think these questions rightly challenge us to be faithful to the liturgy of the Holy Mass, and at the same time have a concern for evangelization and catechesis.

For example, for many who are unfamiliar with hearing Scripture (or any spoken word) proclaimed (not a rarity in our culture today), having a copy of the text to read along with is essential for comprehension. (Also for those with hearing impairments or difficulty hearing in some of our less-acoustically-well-designed sanctuary spaces). Being able to see the text can help it sink in, especially for those who are less familiar or unlikely to go look it up in their Bible at home after Mass. Our concern for the evangelization of souls can take short-term priority over the long-term aim of cooperating with the Holy Spirit in helping these same souls grow as disciples, ready to hear the Word only orally, and allow the communal proclamation and reception to take hold in their hearts.

Chaplain Mike concludes:
“understanding the preaching moment as being of the same piece as the rest of the liturgy, in my opinion, has advantages over other views which see preaching in its essence as rhetoric, apologetics, persuasion, or teaching. Such conceptions highlight the skills of the person in the pulpit and the techniques employed, whereas a more sacramental view highlights God’s action through human speech (no matter how weak or flawed the human speaker)”

This also offers much for us in the Catholic setting. First, I can’t emphasize enough how important teaching “the preaching moment as being of the same piece as the rest of the liturgy” is for all Catholics (especially those not attending Mass regularly). Many Americans who self-identify as Catholic (whether they are believers or not) see something patently unfair about the practice of prioritizing the preaching of a homily by a priest or deacon celebrating the Mass. Yet in the context of the Constitution on Sacred Liturgy’s assertion…

The two parts which, in a certain sense, go to make up the Mass, namely, the liturgy of the word and the eucharistic liturgy, are so closely connected with each other that they form but one single act of worship (No. 56).

We see that preaching a homily at Mass should not be extracted from the Mass as a whole, as it diminishes both.

But, the practical evangelization and catechetical questions creep back in…what about when the priest, though used by God, is objectively a poor preacher (and not seeming/willing to improve)? Don’t people need to hear preachers skilled in “rhetoric, apologetics, persuasion, or teaching” for the sake of evangelization?

The answer to this is clearly yes. The way to accomplish this is through more preaching. Practically, we must offer not only the Mass (and preaching within that liturgical, sacramental context), but also pre-evangelistic, evangelistic, and catechetical preaching outside of Mass (by ordained and lay preachers of all backgrounds) for the sake of the salvation of souls!

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