St James Cathedral - Seattle, WA

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Read the Bulletin, Just Not During the Homily.

I love to hear a good homily.  Not just because I need to have the Scriptures unpacked and unfolded in a way that applies to what's going on in today's society, but also because I have two small children and am dying to hear something (or anything) that isn't Sesame Street, The Wiggles, and whatever else the kids are in to.  Unfortunately after the Gospel, I'm usually in the vestibule or walking in the rear aisle trying to keep one of my kids from making too much noise.  I get to hear a lot of the homily, but I can tell that I miss things, especially when something is said that makes everyone chuckle (except me).

When pacing in the back of the church, that's when I see people reading the bulletin.  I'm not talking about quick glances to check last week's offertory collection, or to see if the bake sale is this week or the next.  I'm referring to a full reading, cover to cover (if I can use that phrase for a 4-page bulletin).  It's only a handful of people doing this, but enough to where it's noticeable. 

I once spoke with a priest-friend about this and surprisingly, he said, "If people are reading the bulletin during the homily, then the problem must be my homily."  This came from a priest who is quite popular and usually first pick for weddings and funerals because his preaching style.  I didn't agree with him, but there is some truth to what he said.  We all know of priests whose preaching is not their strength.  To be very blunt, if these men weren't priests, they would probably never speak in public, and probably shouldn't.  I'm sure most of these guys know who they are, and it's probably more difficult for them to preach than it is for us to listen to them.

Timothy Cardinal Dolan, an excellent homilist.
Since I'm being so honest, then I also need to state that just because the homily is less than palatable, doesn't mean that there isn't something in it that we need to hear.  The Holy Spirit can do anything, including use a hard-to-listen-to homily to move and transform us.  Part of the problem is that we approach the Sunday homilist the same way we approach TV personalities, entertainers, and comedians.   If we aren't entertained by what they have to say, then we change the channel; and that's just not how it works with God.  If it were, He would have changed the channel on us a long time ago.

Now back to reading the bulletin during the homily- at the very least, it's a little rude.  But I should give people every benefit of the doubt, since God probably would.  Maybe they were at an earlier Mass and heard the exact same homily.  Maybe with the busyness of today's society, people are really good at multitasking.  Maybe a copy of the homily can be found in the bulletin and I just didn't know about it!

One thing is for sure, the ultimate onus is on the one reading the bulletin, not the homilist, the quality of homily, or when the bulletins are distributed.  You wouldn't read the church bulletin while sitting in an NFL stadium during the game, or during your child's piano recital.  Simply put, you wouldn't do it during something that really mattered to you.

I'm sure the church bulletin is good reading.  Good enough to replace the homily?  Probably not.   But if the bulletin is starting to compete with the homily during Mass, then maybe Father better put a copy of his homily in there!

On a side note, congratulations to Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York!  It was announced on January 6 that he will become a member of the College of Cardinals next month.  A link to his blog can be found in the right column- it's good reading.


  1. Our pastor mentioned this very issue, and that's why the bulletins don't go out on the back table until Mass is ended. While it might bother me to notice others not paying attention, I know my own thoughts wander far too often, so I try to not judge or get offended. (BTW: were you thinking of "onus" instead of ownness?)

  2. Confiteor, thanks for reading and commenting. I agree with you about 'onus' vs 'ownness' so I'll correct it.

    I also would like to respond to your comment about noticing others. This blog is about disparities between what we say and what we actually do. With that in mind:

    The liturgy requires that we use all our senses- sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, etc. It also demands our full participation, hence we respond, sing, sit, stand, kneel, etc. It would be very disturbing to the faithful if the celebrant of the Mass wasn't paying attention. Well, it may be also disturbing to the Lord when one of the faithful isn't fully participating (such as by reading the bulletin).

    I'm not looking around the church trying to find things wrong, but when it's right in front of you, then it's worth talking about, especially if it contributes to disruption of the sacred liturgy, or it encourages others to not fully participate.

    If one person reads this and then realizes that by reading the bulletin during Mass that they aren't fully participating in the liturgy, then this blog has served its purpose.


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