According to Sandro Magister, a stir was made recently by Bishop Mariano Crociata’s criticism of the shoddy quality of many Sunday homilies. Crociata is the secretary general of the Italian bishops’ conference. Speaking at a conference on the liturgy at the end of the year, he called many of the homilies given from the pulpit every Sunday insipid “mush,” almost an “inedible dish,” and in any case “hardly nourishing.”
His criticisms were picked up by “L’Osservatore Romano” and by Vatican Radio. There were some who retrieved a quip Joseph Ratzinger made when he was a cardinal: “The miracle of the Church is that it survives millions of terrible homilies every Sunday.”
As Pope, Ratzinger has made it abundantly clear that he thinks one of the primary duties of the Church is to elevate the quality of the homilies. The homilies that he gives himself at public celebrations have become a characteristic feature of his pontificate. He prepares them personally, with extreme care. In fact, he proposes them as a model. He even constructs the messages that he reads at the midday Angelus each Sunday, from his window over St. Peter’s Square, as little homilies on the Gospel of that day’s Mass.
But there is one particular way to follow up on this intention of Benedict XVI. And it is the way of sacred art. Fortified by the art that adorns countless churches all over the world, homilies could be a better introduction to the sacred mysteries than words alone (and even usher people into them, as in the “Virgin Annunciate” by Antonello da Messina reproduced above, where the viewer looks at the Virgin from the same position, outside of the painting, as the angel Gabriel).
The proof is in the three splendid volumes with which Timothy Verdon – an art historian, priest, professor at Stanford University, and director of the diocesan office for catechesis through art in Florence- comments on the lectionary for Sunday and feast day Masses using masterpieces of Christian art chosen in conjunction with the Gospel of the day.
The three volumes were released year by year in Italy – in anticipation of translations into other languages – in correspondence with the three-year cycle of the lectionary of the Roman rite. The third was released a few weeks ago, at the beginning of Advent.
The text that follows is an extract from the presentation of this latest volume, given in Florence by Fr. Massimo Naro, professor of systematic theology at the Pontifical Theological Faculty of Sicily, in Palermo.