Peter Lovrick provides a step-by-step guide on crafting a good homily in his new book Proclaiming in a New Season. Photo by Michael Swan

Book Review: The art of a good homily

By  Philippa Sheppard, Catholic Register Special
  • June 4, 2016

Dissatisfaction with homilies is the most common complaint Catholics have about their priests, even leading many to skip Mass, according to Canadian and American surveys. Clerics themselves pinpoint uninspiring sermons as a general flaw among their colleagues. The main weaknesses they cite are poor delivery, superficial content and a disconnect from the lives of people in the pews. 

That brings us to Proclaiming in a New Season, a remarkably wise and succinct book. Not only does it provide a valuable guide for priests, deacons and bishops on how best to construct a homily, but it gives advice that can be applied to any teaching or public speaking enterprise. 

Peter Lovrick is a deacon and professor of homiletics at St. Augustine’s Seminary in Toronto, so the reader is in expert hands. His book opens with a chapter titled, “Is there a problem?” in which he cogently encapsulates the well-documented need for a renewal of preaching. The Vatican has long been aware of this deficiency, calling for a new emphasis on homiletics at least as far back as the Second Vatican Council. 

Lovrick usefully summarizes three recent popes on the topic. Pope Paul VI called preaching “the primary apostolate” and advocated that priests compose homilies “full of hope, fostering belief and productive of peace and unity.” Pope John Paul II observed that the homily must be “preached with conviction” and “never watered down to make it more palatable.” Pope Benedict XVI reminded us that preaching is “meant to foster a deeper understanding of the Word of God so that it can bear fruit in the lives of the faithful.” 

Despite the papal insistence that homilies are central to the Mass and to the role of the priest, the situation has not improved. In response to this ongoing challenge, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments last year issued The Homiletic Directory which provides interpretive keys on the content of each Sunday’s liturgy, and links them with parallel references in The Catechism of the Catholic Church. Pope Francis urges homilists to give priority to God’s saving love for us and to “recognize the heart of their community.” Francis wants preachers to appeal to their particular parishes, and even to specific assemblies (children’s versus adult’s Mass, etc.). 

Lovrick crystallizes all this advice in one manifesto: preaching should change lives. 

Obviously, this is a tall order for a busy priest who administers a parish, visits the sick, tends to the troubled and offers daily Masses. Lovrick’s book will be a time-saving aid. He expresses himself at all times lucidly and economically, dividing his short book into easily digestible chunks. He provides clear charts and lists to assist in every aspect of homily creation — from the first step of studying the readings to the final step of an engaging delivery. He also provides a potted version of several other manuals on writing sermons so that his pocket guide abounds with ideas and suggestions, covering many distinct ways to tackle the job.  

Lovrick’s passion for homiletics shines in this little pearl. The adage “good gifts come in small packages” rings true for Proclaiming in a New Season. The deacon packs a rich array of historical precedents, inspiring thoughts and practical gems in his treasure-trove of a book.

(Sheppard teaches with the Department of English at the University of Toronto.)

Proclaiming in a New Season: A Practical Guide to Catholic Preaching for the New Evangelization by Peter Lovrick (Novalis, 96 pages, soft cover, $5.95).

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