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POPE’S FULL GENERAL AUDIENCE: On the Gospel & Homily

February 7, 2018. ‘How often we see that during the homily some fall asleep, others chat or go outside to smoke a cigarette . . . Therefore, please, make the homily brief, but it must be well prepared’

This morning’s General Audience was held at 9:35 in Paul VI Hall, where the Holy Father Francis met with groups of pilgrims and faithful from Italy and from all over the world.

Continuing with the catecheses on the Holy Mass, in his address in Italian the Pope focused his meditation on the Liturgy of the Word: II. Gospel and Homily.

After summarizing his catechesis in several languages, the Holy Father expressed special greetings to groups of faithful present. Then he made an appeal for the World Day of Prayer and Reflection against Trafficking, which will be observed tomorrow on the liturgical Memorial of Saint Josephine Bakhita and for the 23rd edition of the Winter Olympics that will open at PyeongChang, in South Korea, on Friday, February 9.

The General Audience ended with the singing of the Pater Noster and the Apostolic Blessing.

* *

The Holy Father’s Catechesis

Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!

We continue with the catecheses on the Holy Mass. We had arrived at the Readings. The dialogue between God and His People, developed in the Liturgy of the Word of the Mass, reaches its culmination in the proclamation of the Gospel. It is preceded by the singing of the Alleluia – or, in Lent, by another acclamation – with which “the assembly of the faithful receives and greets the Lord, who is about to speak in the Gospel.”[1] As Christ’s mysteries illumine the whole of biblical revelation, so, in the Liturgy of the Word, the Gospel constitutes the light to understand the meaning of the biblical texts that precede it, be it of the Old or of the New Testament. In fact, Christ is the center and fullness of the whole of Scripture, as well as of the whole liturgical celebration.”[2] Jesus Christ is always at the center, always.

Therefore, the liturgy itself distinguishes the Gospel from the other Readings and surrounds it with particular honour and veneration.[3] In fact, its reading is reserved to the ordained minister, who ends by kissing the Book; we stand to listen to it and trace the sign of the cross on the forehead, on the mouth and on the breast; the candles and incense honour Christ that, through the evangelical reading, makes His effective word resound. The assembly acknowledges with these signs the presence of Christ who gives it the “Good News,” which converts and transforms. It’s a direct discourse that takes place, as if attesting the acclamations with which one responds to the proclamation: “Glory to you, O Lord” and “Praise be to You, O Christ.” We stand to listen to the Gospel, but it’s Christ who is speaking to us there. And so we are attentive, because it’s a direct conversation. It’s the Lord that is speaking to us.

Therefore, we don’t read the Gospel in the Mass to know how things happened, but we listen to the Gospel to become aware of what Jesus did and said once; and that Word is living, the Word of Jesus, which is in the Gospel, is living and reaches one’s heart. This is why it’s so important to listen to the Gospel with an open heart, because it’s a living Word. Saint Augustine wrote: “the Gospel is the mouth of Christ. He reigns in Heaven, but doesn’t cease to speak on earth.”[4] If it’s true that in the liturgy “Christ proclaims the Gospel again,”[5] it follows that, taking part in the Mass, we must give Him a response. We listen to the Gospel and we must give a response in our life.

To bring His message, Christ also makes use of the word of the priest that, after the Gospel, gives the homily.[6] Earnestly recommended by Vatican Council II as part of the liturgy itself,[7] the homily isn’t a circumstantial discourse or a catechesis, such as the one I’m giving now –, or a conference or not even a lesson; the homily is something else. What is the homily? It’s “a taking up again of the dialogue already open between the Lord and His people, so that it finds fulfilment in life. The Gospel’s authentic exegesis is our holy life! The Lord’s word ends its course becoming flesh in us, translated into works, as happened with Mary and the Saints.  Remember what I said the last time, the Word of the Lord enters by the ears, reaches the heart and goes to the hands, to good works. And the homily also follows the Lord’s Word and follows this course as well to help us, so that the Lord’s Word, passing through the heart, reaches the hands.

I have already addressed the argument of the homily in the Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, where I recalled that the liturgical context “calls for the preaching to orient the assembly, and also the preacher, to a communion with Christ in the Eucharist, which transforms life.”

One who gives the homily must fulfil well his ministry – he who preaches, the priest, or the deacon or the Bishop –, offers a real service to all those taking part in the Mass, but those who hear him must also do their part. First of all, by paying due attention, namely, by assuming the right interior dispositions, without subjective demands, knowing that every preacher has merits and limitations. If sometimes there is reason to be bored by a long, or unfocused, or incomprehensible homily, at others times, in stead, it’s prejudice that is the obstacle. And one who gives a homily must be conscious that he’s not doing something of his own; he is preaching, giving voice to Jesus, he is preaching the Word of Jesus. And the homily must be well prepared; it must be brief, brief! A priest said to me that once he went to another city where his parents lived and his father said to him: “You know, I’m happy, because along with my friends we found a church where there is Mass without a homily!” And how often we see that during the homily some fall asleep, others chat or go outside to smoke a cigarette . . . Therefore, please, make the homily brief, but it must be well prepared. And how is a homily prepared, dear priests, deacons and Bishops? How is it prepared? With prayer, with the study of the Word of God and by doing a clear and brief synthesis; it must not go beyond ten minutes, please.

By way of conclusion we can say that, through the Gospel and the Homily, in the Liturgy of the Word God dialogues with His people, who listen to Him with attention and veneration and, at the same time, recognize Him present and operating. If, then, we listen to the “Good News,” we will be converted and transformed by it, therefore we will be capable of changing ourselves and the world. Why? Because the Good News, the Word of God enters the ears, goes to the heart and reaches the hands to do good works.

[Original text: Italian]  [ZENIT’s translation by Virginia M. Forrester]

In Italian

I’m happy to receive the Delegation from the Lithuanian Episcopate, headed by Monsignor Gintaras Grusas, Archbishop of Vilnius; the participants in the Week of Studies for Formators of Seminarians, organized by the Pontifical University of the Sacred Heart; the Women Religious of the Sacred Heart of Jesus; the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians and the lay Institute of Volunteers of Don Bosco. I hope that for all of you the visit to the Eternal City will stimulate and deepen the Word of God to be able to proclaim that Jesus is the Saviour.

I greet the Group of the “Open Doors” Project of Guardiagrele, accompanied by Monsignor Bruno Forte, Archbishop of Chieti-Vasto; the parish groups and the Directors and Artists of the “Medrano” Circus and of the “Rony Rollert Circus.” I also want to thank you for your work, a work of beauty; with your art, you express beauty and do it so that by art all of us arrive up higher, close to God. Your work of beauty does good to all, thank you so much!

I greet the representatives of the Pharmaceutical Bank Foundation that, next Saturday, will collect drugs in Italian pharmacies for indigent people.

A special thought goes to young people, the sick and newlyweds. Observed next Sunday will be the Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Lourdes, day in which the World Day of the Sick will also be observed. Dear young people, dispose yourselves to be providence for those that are suffering; dear sick, always feel yourselves supported by the prayer of the Church; and you, dear newlyweds, love life, which is always sacred, even when it is marked by frailty and sickness.

[Original text: Italian]  [ZENIT’s translation by Virginia M. Forrester]

The Holy Father’s Appeals

Appeal for the World Day of Prayer and Reflection against Trafficking

Observed tomorrow, February 8, liturgical Memorial of Saint Josephine Bakhita, is the World Day of Prayer and reflection against Trafficking. This year’s theme is “Migration without Trafficking. Yes to Freedom! No to Trafficking!” Having few possibilities of regular channels, many migrants decide to venture by other ways, where often abuses of all sorts await them, exploitation and being reduced to slavery. Criminal organizations, dedicated to the trafficking of persons, use these migratory routes to conceal their victims among migrants and refugees. Therefore I invite all, citizens and institutions, to join forces to prevent trafficking and guarantee protection and assistance to the victims. Let us all pray so that the Lord will convert the heart of traffickers – this is an awful word, traffickers of persons – and give the hope of reacquiring freedom to those that suffer due to this shameful scourge.

* * *

Appeal for the PyeongChang Winter Olympics

Day after tomorrow, Friday, February 9, the 23rd Winter Olympic Games open in the city of PyeongChang in South Korea, with 92 countries taking part.

This year the traditional Olympic respite acquires special importance: delegations of the two Koreas will parade together under one flag and will compete as one team. This fact gives hope that conflicts in the world can be resolved with dialogue and in mutual respect, as sport also teaches one to do.

My greeting goes to the International Olympic Committee, to the men and women athletes taking part in the PyeongChang Games, to the Authorities and to the people of the Korean Peninsula. I accompany all with prayer while I renew the Holy See’s commitment to support every useful initiative in favour of peace and the encounter of peoples. May these Olympics be a great celebration of Friendship and sport! May God bless and protect you!

[Original text: Italian]  [ZENIT’s translation by Virginia M. Forrester]

[1] Ordinamento Generale del Messale Romano, 62

[2] Introduction to the Lectionary, 5.

[3] Cf. Ordinamento Generale del Messale Romano, 60 and 134.

[4] Sermon 85, 1:PL 38, 520; Cf. also Treatise  on the Gosep of John, XXX, I: PL 35, 1632; CCL 36, 289.

[5] Second Ecumenical Vatican Council, Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, 33.

[6] Cf. Ordinamento Generale del Messale Romano, 65-66; Introduction to the Lectionary, 24-27.

[7] Cf. Second Ecumenical Vatican Council, Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, 52.