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for Sundays and Holydays



What is the difference between a Sunday homilyand a sermon?

In general, a homily is a scripturally-based reflection provides food for thought about the challenges of living as a Catholic in todays busy and hectic world.  Through the Sunday homily, the members of the community of faith gathered at the Eucharist learn how they might accept Sacred Scripture and Church teaching as central to their daily lives and, then, live a distinctively Christian and Catholic way of life.  The Second Vatican Council suggested that it is Christ, not the minister, speaking to his disciples through the Sunday homily.

Ideally, the material conveyed by a Sunday homily addresses the real daily lives of ordinary peoplenot the worlds movers or shakersby treating not of global issues involving overwhelming responsibilities but of the thoughts and aspirations, the feelings and emotions, and the need for others that regular, ordinary people who belong to a community of faith share in common.  The homily, then, should relate to the worshipping communitys experience of life in the real world.

The Sunday homily also should provide an avenue for deepening ones sense of, appreciation for, and challenges to living as a Catholic.  The intent is to motivate the members of the community of faith gathered at the Sunday Eucharist to think through what Sacred Scripture and Church teaching imply for their daily lives and how they might enact moral behavior consonant with Sacred Scripture and Church teaching.  In this sense, the homily indicates how Sacred Scripture and Church teaching point the way to holiness of life and what this means in the actual practice of daily life.  Thus, the homily points to the future, beyond doors of the worshipping community, and to how its members can lead their lives as Gods leaven at work in society, whether that be in their homes or neighborhoods or at their places of work or during their recreational activities.

That is my goal when I set about writing a Sunday homily.  I try to engage the members of the worshipping community in a thoughtful reflection that considers Scripture and Church teaching, all in order that each of us will leave the Sunday Eucharist better prepared and equipped to be holy and to effect the transformation of society in light of Sacred Scripture and Church teaching.

In contrast, a sermon takes the form of a lecture or discourse given for the purpose of providing religious instruction or inculcating moral behavior.  Using a text (or texts) from Sacred Scripture and Church teaching as a point of departure, a sermon directly addresses human conduct from a Judaeo-Christian and Roman Catholic perspective with the explicit intent to either exhort or to rebuke the people seated in the congregation.  The goal of a sermon is to get the people in the congregation to change their moral behavior as a sermon indicates.  In this sense, then, a sermon is more about doing than thinking about.



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Richard M. Jacobs, O.S.A., Ph.D..
Copyright 2001 [Villanova University]. All rights reserved.
Revised: October 07, 2012.