A Catholic Misfit’s Handy Dandy Guide to Priestly Homily Styles

We’ve all been there: you attend Mass at a new church, or a visiting priest is presiding, and when it comes time for the homily, you start to wonder. What kind of homily does this priest give?  Or maybe the deacon will deliver the sermon. What’s he going to do? How’s he going to preach?

Well, worry no longer. A Catholic Misfit has produced the Handy Dandy Guide to Priestly Homily Styles to help you navigate through such an experience. We’ve highlighted six major styles, complete with signs to look out for, and tips on how to respond and react.

There are no right or wrong styles, mind you. Personal preference on the part of the preacher is not an indication of the homily’s quality (or lack thereof). Our own inclinations say more about us than any particular style, too. This is simply a reference guide to assist you, and provide peace of mind when confronted with an unfamiliar situation. And have a little fun, too.

Ready?

  • The Wanderer

Indicator: Immediately upon kissing the Lectionary, the priest descends from the pulpit or ambo and delivers the homily outside the sanctuary. He may stroll up and down the main aisle, or move from one side of the Church to the other.
Response: Try to maintain visual contact without undue exertion; do NOT crane your neck around if he walks past you! If you can’t see the priest while he wanders, just gaze longingly at the ambo, or the cute baby in the pew in front of you. If there are no cute babies in the pew in front of you, you’re on your own.

  • The Quizzer

Indicator: This style includes asking the congregation questions, with the expectation that someone will either raise their hand or shout out the answer. Sometimes The Quizzer will ask someone directly – typically a young child – with the hope he will respond with humorous effect. This is often combined with The Wanderer, so be prepared!
Response: Never EVER make eye contact with The Quizzer! You don’t want to be called upon. Keep your gaze down, looking at your hands in your lap. Forcibly restrain your children from raising their hands if you must. Offer up prayers for souls in Purgatory.

  • The Rambler

Indicator: In this style, the preaching branches off with multiple tangents without ever really making a point, or rarely coming to a tangible conclusion. Repeating the same point multiple times is another sign. Just when you think the homily is about to end, the priest stumbles upon another thread, and goes on for several more moments.
Response: Once the rambling and repetition starts, you have little recourse other than to suffer through it. Fondly recall the times your five year old child told you how their school day went, and how you learned absolutely nothing. Similarly, accept the fact you won’t learn anything from the homily.

  • The Comedian

Indicator: Begins the homily with a joke or anecdote, followed up by a couple more cute quips, and once the laughter dies down, attempts to tie in the readings and Gospel. And throws in a few more one-liners for good measure.
Response: Laugh if you want, but more than likely, you’ll remember the homily more for the mirth than for the message. There’s nothing inherently wrong with using humor, but you may be tempted to heckle. Don’t though. That’s all sorts of wrong.

  • The Yeller

Indicator: You’ll know as soon as the priest proclaims the Gospel. So self-evident, it barely needs explaining. There are varying degrees of The Yeller: there’s The Spitter (that ain’t Holy Water, for those of you in the front row. Grab a towel!); The Pounder (what did the ambo do to deserve such treatment?); The EM-Pha-SIZ-er (hittin’ those syllables with clockwork precision). And if the microphone is still on? Ouch.
Response: Yeah, there’s no escaping this one, even if you shepherd your children into the cry room, teenagers or not. Or the gathering space. There really isn’t a discreet way to slip in a pair of ear plugs, and earbuds are just poor taste. You just have to endure. And not sit in the front row next time.

  • The Reciter

Indicator: When the folded papers come out of the back of his missal, or from beneath the Lectionary. This style isn’t so bad – unless it’s a sheaf of pages containing single-spaced typed text. Then you’re in for a looooong one. This style has two versions: The Originalist (his own homily); The Historian (a homily from a 19th century priest or saint).
Response: These are easy to pay attention to, because there’s minimal distraction. The Reciter tends to be a reformed Rambler, so that’s good. Delivery is the key thing; if it’s too rote and dry, you may soon be nodding off, and risk doing that funny head-bob thing. Or drool. Or snore. Any of those would be bad. The only way it’d be worse is if the priest is also The Quizzer.

There you go! Your Handy Dandy Guide to Priestly Homily Styles. It’s possible we’ve overlooked other common styles – heck, it’s not like we did this scientifically or anything. If you know of other styles, leave ’em in the combox.

Photo credit: Spencer Means on Visualhunt / CC BY-SA

About Larry Denninger

After writing at "Acts of the Apostasy" for more than 10 years under a pseudonym, Larry decided it was time to go public, and launch a brand new blog. It will probably backfire horribly. Which means you will want to follow and witness the impending trainwreck. He resides in Michigan.
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