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A new lector received a Bible from Pope Francis during a Mass marking Sunday of the Word of God in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican Jan. 23.
A new lector received a Bible from Pope Francis during a Mass marking Sunday of the Word of God in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican Jan. 23.
Photo Credit: Remo Casilli | Reuters

Preaching must awaken souls, not put them to sleep, pope says

At Mass on Sunday of the Word of God, pope installed several laypeople in ministry of lector or catechist

VATICAN CITY — Preaching long, spiritually empty homilies can reduce the Word of God to a mere set of abstract concepts that fail to awaken one’s soul, Pope Francis said.

“Even many homilies — I say it with respect but with pain — are abstract, and instead of awakening the soul, they put it to sleep. When the faithful start looking at their watches (and say), ‘When is this going to end?’ they put the soul to sleep,” the pope said Jan. 24 during his Sunday Angelus address.

“Preaching runs this risk,” he said. “Without the anointing of the Spirit, it impoverishes the Word of God and descends to moralism and abstract concepts; it presents the Gospel with detachment, as if it were outside time, far from reality. And this is not the way.”

After celebrating Mass for Sunday of the Word of God, the pope addressed a crowd gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the midday Angelus prayer and reflected on the Sunday Gospel reading from St. Luke in which Jesus preaches for the first time.

Jesus’ proclamation that “today this Scripture has been fulfilled” still resonates and “indicates a ‘today’ that runs through all ages and always remains valid,” he explained.

“The Word of God is always ‘today.’ It begins with a ‘today;’ when you read the Word of God, a ‘today’ begins in your soul, if you understand it well,” he said. “It is not like ancient history, no. Today, it speaks to your heart.”

“Sometimes it happens that our sermons and our teachings remain generic, abstract; they do not touch the soul and the life of the people,” the pope said. “Yes, at times one hears impeccable conferences, well-constructed speeches, but they do not move the heart and so everything remains as before.”

If those who preach want to give lectures or conferences, he added, “let them do so but elsewhere; not at the time of the homily, where they must give the Word in a way that rouses hearts.”

Pope confers ministries of lector, catechist

Highlighting the importance of the Bible in the life of faith and the role of lay women and men in sharing the Gospel, Pope Francis formally installed eight men and women in the ministry of lector and eight others in the ministry of catechist.

During Mass Jan. 23, the Church’s celebration of Sunday of the Word of God, the pope used a revised rite for formally installing lectors, a ministry he opened to women a year earlier, and the new rite for the ministry of catechist, which he established in May.

In most countries, women and men have long served as lectors and catechists and even have been commissioned for those roles. But those formally installed in the ministries are recognized as having a specific vocation to leadership in their communities and will serve in what the Church defines as a “stable” manner.

Pope Francis installed six women — from South Korea, Pakistan, Ghana and Italy — and two Italian men in the ministry of lector, telling them they were placing themselves “in the service of the faith, which is rooted in the Word of God.”

As they knelt on the marble floor before the main altar, Pope Francis prayed over them and told them, “You will proclaim that word in the liturgical assembly, instruct children and adults in the faith and prepare them to receive the sacraments worthily. You will bring the message of salvation to those who have not yet received it.”

Three women from Spain, Brazil and Ghana and five men from Italy, Peru, Brazil and Poland were installed as catechists, and Pope Francis told them they were called “to live more intensely the apostolic spirit, following the example of those men and women who helped Paul and the other apostles to spread the Gospel.”

They, too, knelt before the altar as the pope said, “May your ministry always be rooted in a profound life of prayer, built on sound doctrine and animated by true apostolic enthusiasm.”

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