On January 21st, the Valley Catholic ran an article here in the Diocese of San Jose on the laity staying awake during homilies. I can understand the need for this, and have seen people doze off during the sermon, too. There were some good points, but it didn’t go far enough, as it didn’t touch on what the priest ought to do to hold the congregation’s attention. This is, of course, a two-way street.
What preachers can do to help the community with staying away during homilies
- There can be too much of a good thing, so please keep your homilies short. Even the most ardent listener is contending with multiple distractions in Mass – people fidgeting, kids making noises, whatever it might be. Wisely, Pope Francis came out two years ago and said to limit preaching to 10 minutes. ( https://www.
catholicnewsagency.com/news/ pope-tells-priests-to-keep- homilies-brief-no-more-than- 10-minutes-10753 )
- Please make sure that you can be heard and understood and that your speaking style is not a problem. Some of this is tech support with microphones. Some of it is intonation (don’t monotone!) and projection. Sometimes, though, there’s a problem with accents. This latter issue is absolutely a pastoral one and it can be addressed with some time and effort, but is worth it so that your thoughtful message can be grasped. When the People of God cannot understand you, or cannot hear you, their minds will drift.
- The congregants appreciate absorbing more than what they just heard in the readings, so please don’t re-read the gospel, etc., unless it is just a tiny snippet of your homily. What is helpful is hearing what we don’t know about the context of the reading, and some way to apply it to our daily lives.
Beyond that, it’s a matter of common sense: don’t overdo the jokes, don’t use puppets or props, and please no gimmicks (e.g., do not sing your homily, repeat the same phrase multiple times in a short period, flap your arms wildly). While theatrics may keep people from falling asleep, it won’t nourish them the way a well prepared, well delivered, and concise homily will do.
And finally, thank you too all of the homilists who prepare and preach thoughtfully and prayerfully week in and week out. Once in awhile, a person or two may fall asleep no matter how good your homily is. Chalk it up to infirmity, lack of sleep, or other issues having nothing to do with you or your preaching. You do your best to preach well and concisely, and the vast majority of the people in the pews will be listening to every word.