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Homiletics, Teaching of


After the Second Vatican Council II there were significant changes in the teaching of homiletics in Catholic seminaries. These changes were the result of a number of factors. Probably the most important one was the renewed emphasis on preaching within the Catholic Church. The Council's Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests states that the proclamation of the Word of God through preaching is the most important duty of the priest (Presbyterorum ordinis 4). Contemporary theology of preaching views preaching not as a message about faith, but as the occasion for an actual salvific meeting between God and man. "In still another way yet more truly (God) is present in the Church as she preaches, since the Gospel proclaimed is the Word of God, which is preached only in the name and by the authority of Christ and with his presence " (Paul VI MystFid; Acta Apostolicae Sedis 57 [1965] 763).

A second factor was the general decline in the public's unquestioning acceptance of institutional authority. In the Church one of the results has been a more vocal laity who feel freer to criticize the quality of preaching and the qualifications of preachers. This has been accentuated by the ecumenical movement which has familiarized Catholic clergy and laity with the centrality of preaching in the Protestant tradition in contrast to its lack of emphasis in the Catholic tradition.

A third factor was a change in the field of speech education. Public speaking, which provided the traditional framework for instruction in homiletics, came to be situated within the broader context of communication so that public speaking is seen as but one form of public communication. Introductory speech courses address include approaches to intrapersonal, interpersonal, and mass communication.

Curricular Elements. Although there is no standard homiletics curriculum, there is a consensus that an effective program of instruction in homiletics must include the following elements.

The Person as Preacher. From both a theological and a communications viewpoint the preacher is central to the preaching task. The homily in essence must be a witness to a saving encounter between God and the preacher. Thus his spiritual life is an essential part of preaching. The preacher must learn to be honest about his own concerns, failures, and successes. This portion of the course must provide the seminarian with tools for self-analysis and a setting for rededication in faith.

Theology and Preaching. The preacher must understand the importance of preaching in God's salvific plan. Preaching is the normative link between God and man. He must be aware of the kerygmatic nature of preaching in which Christ actually meets men through the preaching event (Ebeling). In another vein, instruction in practical exegesis must be given in which a biblical passage is analyzed not only for its theological but also its "homiletic" content.

Preaching as Communication. An overview of research in communication is crucial for effective preaching. A course would cover such topics as speaker credibility, persuasion, attitudes, dissonance theories. A preacher must know his congregation. Thus he must be provided with proper tools for audience analysis. These include strategies for overcoming audience barriers to the message. According to communication theory this is one of the most neglected and most important areas of preaching.

Homily Preparation and Evaluation. The elements of the traditional speech course are still essential for the preacher. Its format can be based upon the classical rhetorical canons (invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery) or on other contemporary arrangements. The element of added importance today is a full treatment of homily evaluation through individual critiques, video and audio taping, and critique teams.

New Forms of Preaching. While instruction in special forms of preaching (retreats, cursillos, etc.) has been a peripheral part of the curriculum in homiletics, being introduced are such types of preaching as dialogue homilies (chancel and congregational), multi-media homilies, and the use of radio and television. While these forms will not replace the traditional preaching format, they remain important to the preacher.

See Also: preaching iii (theology of).

Bibliography: g. ebeling, Theology and Proclamation: Dialogue with Bultmann (Philadelphia 1966). r. howe, The Miracle of Dialogue (New York 1963); Partners in Preaching: Clergy and Laity in Dialogue (New York 1967). j. jungmann, The Good News Yesterday and Today (New York 1962). w. malcomson, The Preaching Event (Philadelphia 1968). k. rahner, ed., The Renewal of Preaching: Theory and Practice (New York 1968). d. randolph, The Renewal of Preaching: A New Homiletic Based on the New Hermeneutic (Philadelphia 1969). w. thompson and g. bennet, Dialogue Preaching: The Shared Sermon (Valley Forge 1969). g. roxburgh, ed., Clergy in Communication, 4 v. (Ottawa 1970). r. p. waznak, Sunday after Sunday: Preaching the Homily as Story (New York 1983). g. s. sloyan, Worshipful Preaching (Philadelphia 1984). w. j. burghardt, Preaching: The Art and the Craft (New York 1987).

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