In 2008 the Roman Catholic Church had a Synod of Bishops on the Bible. Earlier this year a book, “The Word of God” was published as one of the results of this synod. It includes advice on homilies (sermons) by Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, secretary-general of the Synod of Bishops.

“Homilies should be no longer than eight minutes, a listener’s average attention span”, Nikola Eterovic said.

“Priests and deacons should also avoid reading straight from a text and instead work from notes so that they can have eye contact with the people in the pews.”

In his book, Nikola Eterovic wrote that it’s not unusual for preachers to recognise that they have less-than-perfect communications skills or that they struggle with preparing homilies. “Everyone should spend an appropriate amount of time to craft a well-prepared and relevant sermon for Mass”.

While he explained that Pope Benedict XVI starts working on his Sunday homilies on the preceding Monday so that there is plenty of time to reflect on the Scripture readings from which the homily will draw, I wondered how his advice about reading from a text related here. Does the pope avoid reading straight from a text and instead work from notes so that he can have eye contact with the people? Also, I am not convinced that a week is actually sufficient time. I think planning needs to be over a far longer period of time so that the scriptures and sermons from one week to the next are not disconnected or repetitive.

The lectionary encourages an ongoing series of sermons. If connections are to be made with the prayers being prepared by someone else, with music, with choir, hymns, and even the look of the worship environment, far more than the pope’s practice of six days, IMO, will be required. There needs also to be an overview of what is being covered in sermons. Over the longer term, what messages, applicable in ordinary daily life, are being given to a regular worshipper in your community? Over an extensive period, what messages are not being talked about? Thought about?

Two hints: in my sermons I normally try to include something to think about, something that touches the heart, something to do.

If you use a full text, I once read the helpful suggestion that in rehearsing it you read the last paragraph, then the last two paragraphs, then the last three, until you reach the start of your sermon – that way as you get further into actually preaching it you reach increasingly well-rehearsed material.

What ideas and practices can you suggest for others in the comments here?

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