Homilist During the Easter Triduum
Date: March 18, 2023
Author: Fr. Edward McNamara, LC
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and sacramental theology and director of the Sacerdos Institute at the Pontifical Regina Apostolorum university.
Question: For Good Friday and Holy Thursday, the Roman Missal states the priest gives the homily. Does the priest have the option to delegate the homily to a deacon on these days? I've seen some information that one reason it says this explicitly is that since Good Friday isn't a Mass, this directive avoids the potential of the homily being delegated to a layperson. -- G.P., Ann Arbor, Michigan
Answer: The rubric in questions are:
“After the proclamation of the Gospel, the Priest gives a homily in which light is shed on the principal mysteries that are commemorated in this Mass, namely, the institution of the Holy Eucharist and of the priestly Order, and the commandment of the Lord concerning fraternal charity.”
“After the reading of the Lord’s Passion, the Priest gives a brief homily and, at its end, the faithful may be invited to spend a short time in prayer.”
Regarding those who can give the homily, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) states:
“66. The Homily should ordinarily be given by the Priest Celebrant himself or be entrusted by him to a concelebrating Priest, or from time to time and, if appropriate, to the Deacon, but never to a lay person. In particular cases and for a just cause, the Homily may even be given by a Bishop or a Priest who is present at the celebration but cannot concelebrate. On Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation, there is to be a Homily at every Mass celebrated with the people attending, and it may not be omitted without a grave reason. On other days it is recommended, especially on the weekdays of Advent, Lent, and Easter Time, as well as on other festive days and occasions when people come to church in greater numbers. It is appropriate for a brief period of silence to be observed after the Homily.”
It should also be remembered that while Good Friday is not a Mass, it is intimately tied to the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper and always requires the presence of a priest. It may never be delegated to a deacon or anybody else.
In general, the above rubrics are descriptive of the rites and do not negate other possible rules. Although the rubric mentions only the priest, it is probably just indicating what the usual practice would be, especially on solemn days such as these.
This kind of descriptive rubric would not be the place to repeat the general norms already indicated in GIRM 66, which is presumed. If the legislator wished that these days be an exception to the overall rule, it would probably have to say something like “only the priest” or “the priest, but not the deacon, … preaches the homily.”
Therefore, I would say that the above rubric does not exclude the possibility of the celebrating priest from designating a deacon to preach the homily.
However, the general norms say that the deacon may be designated to preach “from time to time and, if appropriate.” The nature and solemnity of Holy Thursday as the anniversary of the initiation of the priesthood, and Good Friday as the day of Christ’s supreme sacrifice would probably render delegating the homily to the deacon less appropriate than on other days barring some particularly special reason.
In conclusion, we can recall the words of the instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum regarding the content of the homily:
“67. Particular care is to be taken so that the homily is firmly based upon the mysteries of salvation, expounding the mysteries of the Faith and the norms of Christian life from the biblical readings and liturgical texts throughout the course of the liturgical year and providing commentary on the texts of the Ordinary or the Proper of the Mass, or of some other rite of the Church. It is clear that all interpretations of Sacred Scripture are to be referred back to Christ himself as the one upon whom the entire economy of salvation hinges, though this should be done in light of the specific context of the liturgical celebration. In the homily to be given, care is to be taken so that the light of Christ may shine upon life’s events. Even so, this is to be done so as not to obscure the true and unadulterated word of God: for instance, treating only of politics or profane subjects, or drawing upon notions derived from contemporary pseudo-religious currents as a source.”
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