You might go to a parish where the priest gives very concise homilies and tries to make his point in just a few minutes. Or, you might have a pastor who gives in-depth teaching that takes much longer. Is there any rule of thumb when it comes to the length of homilies? Does anything go?
There isn’t a set time, said Msgr. Stuart Swetland. He explained that expectations vary in different cultures, giving the example of some priests he worked with from Africa. “They would tell me that where they were from in Tanzania, because people traveled so far to get to Mass and because that was so central as the most important thing of the week for all the people who attended (like it should be for all of us), that they were expected to preach for a very long time—often for an hour with substantial teaching. And if they did anything less than that, the people would be upset like they were shortchanged because many of them had walked for hours to get to the Mass. … Now if I did that here in the United States, in most settings they’d run me out on a rail.”
Of course, things are different in the United States. Our parish masses are usually scheduled closely together and don’t allow for a homily to go on for an hour.
“In the United States, people usually say that Sunday Mass homilies should be basically the time between commercial breaks in a television series, so that’s twelve minutes at the most. Now I’ll be honest—I preach longer than that, usually. … I like to make three major points in my homilies so my homilies on Sunday usually go about fifteen to twenty. But I always try to get Mass done within an hour.” Msgr. Swetland says that for daily Mass, he tries to respect the sacrifice of time people are making to be there and keep his homily at 3-5 minutes.
Even the Holy Father has spoken to priests about the length of their homilies. “Pope Francis has recommended to priests that we cut the length of the homily down. He actually recommends that we shoot more like for seven minutes. And he’s very good at that, if you’ve noticed, his preaching style is such that he can do a lot in a little bit of time,” said Msgr. Swetland.
If you’re struggling at your parish with homilies that go far beyond the accepted norm in our country, Msgr. suggests giving some kind feedback. “We do have parish councils and we do have liturgy committees in most places, for a reason. And that’s where these kind of things, to some extent, can be negotiated if it doesn’t seem to be working for the community.”
“Canon Law says laity not only have the right to give feedback to their pastors, sometimes they have the duty to do so,” says Msgr. Swetland. “And if it’s not working for the community, in a loving way and in a pastoral way, father needs to hear that.”
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