Doctrinal Homily Outlines, a lectionary-based aid for homilists, began as this layman’s response to the Year of Faith Pope Benedict XVI declared for 2012-2013.
In Porta Fidei, Benedict’s apostolic letter announcing the Year of Faith, the Holy Father asked each of us to “rediscover the content of the faith that is professed, celebrated, lived and prayed, and to reflect on the act of faith” (§ 9).
Our Catholic faith has an intellectual content to be known so it can be embraced, pondered, lived, and taught.
The Homily and Faith
The homily is the best opportunity pastors have to help the laity deepen their faith and live it. Sunday Mass is the time each week when all the faithful who practice their faith are present.
The homily might not seem the natural place for a doctrinal catechesis. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal tells us the homily should be
an exposition of some aspect of the readings from Sacred Scripture or of another text from the Ordinary or from the Proper of the Mass of the day” to nurture the Christian life, taking “into account both the mystery being celebrated and the particular needs of the listeners” (§ 65).
While the post-Vatican-II Lectionary for Mass is a rich presentation of the Sacred Scriptures following a systematic plan, the Scriptures are not, of course, a systematic presentation of the faith. Nevertheless, the doctrines of the faith are contained in Sacred Scripture, so the lectionary readings can be the basis for preaching about doctrine. Certainly, one of the critical “particular needs of the listeners” is a sound doctrinal catechesis. Hence, we had the Year of Faith.
For every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation of the year I offer an outline which homilists can use to prepare doctrinally-focused sermons which grow out of the lectionary readings. To aid homilists, the outlines follow a three-part template: central idea, doctrine, and practical application.
- First, a central idea, which the group of readings contains, is articulated. In this way, the homilist can illuminate the overall salvific meaning of the Lectionary readings.
- Second, one doctrine from the Deposit of Faith or Catholic morals which the readings contain is identified. The outline helps the homilist define, explain, and illustrate this doctrine.
- Third, practical ways that the laity can apply this doctrine to their lives are offered. This third step helps accomplish the Church’s desire that the homilist “nurture the Christian life” of the lay faithful.
One requirement of any good homily is that it nourish the faithful by explaining the Word of God to them. A second great need is to teach doctrine. A final urgent particular need of the laity is how practically to apply the faith in our ordinary lives.
No homily can fully expound all the riches contained in any set of Lectionary readings, but every homily can explain some of them.
Homilists can get into the habit of drawing out the doctrinal riches which the Sacred Scriptures contain. In addition, pastors can connect these doctrines to the ordinary lives of the laity. Each week, the homilist can offer the faithful a new facet of the intellectual content of our faith so the faithful can embrace it, ponder it, live it, and even teach it to others as part of the New Evangelization.
The Homiletic Directory
In 2015, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments published its Homiletic Directory. In it, this Vatican congregation presented Catechism points and doctrinal themes for each Sunday and Holy Day in order to satisfy “the need for more doctrine in preaching” (§157).
As just one example, the Homiletic Directory suggests the following Catechism points and themes for the upcoming Solemnity of the Epiphany:
- CCC 528, 724: the Epiphany;
- CCC 280, 529, 748, 1165, 2466, 2715: Christ the light of the nations;
- CCC 60, 442, 674, 755, 767, 774-776, 781, 831: the Church, sacrament of human unity.