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source: Fr. Dan McLaughlin, OSA

Liturgy of the Word: The Homily

by Jeremy Hiers, OSA

This post is part of a series called The Mass: An Augustinian Perspective offered on

The word homily means “explanation” in Greek. The liturgical practice of explaining Scripture is rooted in ancient Jewish custom. In the early Church, the bishop typically was the one who celebrated Sunday Mass and gave the homily. From this practice came the homilies of Saint Augustine and so many other texts from the Church Fathers.[1]

Through the homily, the Bishop, Priest, or Deacon makes the timeless message of the readings relevant for us today. The USCCB describes it this way, “in the broadest sense, the homily is a discourse about the mysteries of faith and the standards of Christian life in a way suited to the particular needs of the listeners.”[2]. This is what makes the message of God contained with the readings relevant today. The homily relates the teachings of our faith with the contemporary circumstances of the listeners, the particular liturgical season in which the Mass is being celebrated, as well as the ongoing invitation for all present to celebrate the Eucharist actively.

RELATED: Liturgy of the Word: The Readings

In the homily we should find both a consolation in God’s promises and also a challenge towards growth in our faith and fidelity to the two-fold command to love God and neighbor. Saint Augustine gave three criteria for instruction in the Catholic faith: to not only teach, but also to delight and to sway.

“An eloquent man once said, you see, and what he said was true, that to be eloquent you should speak ‘so as to teach, to delight, to sway.’ Then he added, ‘Teaching your audience is a matter of necessity, delighting them a matter of being agreeable, swaying them a matter of victory.'”

De Doctrina Christiana, 12, 27.

This invites us to seek three things in the homily as we hear God speak through it.

What am I learning? Is there something such as a story or an illustration that that captured my attention or helped me understand more fully? How am I being moved to act? Am I ready to respond to the message when I leave Mass or am I resisting in some way? Where might I need God’s help to continue to grow in my faith?

[1] Edward Sri, A Biblical Walk Through the Mass (West Chester, PA: Ascension Press, 2011), Kindle Edition, Location 1003.

[2] Homiletic Directory, no, 11.

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