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The Frequency of Diaconal Preaching

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KramerMy diaconal formation began in 1989. After ordination in 1994, the faculties granted by the bishop allowed me to preach at any celebration that I presided at (wedding, baptism, wake service, etc.). However, in order to preach the Sunday homily at Mass, I had to return for an additional semester geared specifically toward preaching at the Sunday celebration of the Eucharist. Homiletics courses in those days were minimally integrated into diaconate formation, unlike many programs today where, from the start, preaching is woven into all aspects of formation.

Over the years, I’ve traveled around the country giving workshops and convocations to clergy. It is important to understand that all deacon formation programs are not the same. Some dioceses cover huge geographical areas and classes meet only once a month for an entire weekend. Others meet weekly or biweekly. Depending on the size of the diaconate formation classes, budgets and availability of personnel, some programs are fortunate to have qualified deacon/priest instructors that are able to spend several semesters forming solid preachers. Other dioceses send their men to a program at a local seminary/religious community for a weeklong intensive homiletic immersion and then work online to continue their education in preaching.

The General Instruction of The Roman Missal specifically notes: “The homily should ordinarily be given by the priest celebrant himself. He may entrust it to a concelebrating priest, or occasionally, according to circumstances, to the deacon, but never to a lay person” (No. 66). In the mid-1970s, after the ordination of the first classes of deacons in the United States, permanent deacons were fairly limited in their preaching opportunities. Some of the early deacon “pioneers” (depending on their diocese) were ordained without faculties to preach. Who determines the appropriateness or frequency of diaconal preaching, especially during the celebration of the Sunday Eucharist?

In rural dioceses, deacons may preach frequently, especially if there are several worship sites, missions or seasonal parishes. Often it is the deacon who may lead a Sunday Celebration in the Absence of a Priest Communion service at a nursing home, senior center or small mission church because there is no priest available to offer Mass. However, all deacons, whether in rural, urban or suburban settings, need to have ample, regular, scheduled times to preach the Gospel. The old adage of “practice makes perfect” is really true. If I golf two or three times a year, I would not be a very good golfer, no matter what my natural athletic ability may be. If a deacon is only given the opportunity to preach on rare occasions, he will never be able to hone his homiletic skills.

I share with my seminarian students that there is a tremendous difference between their future preaching frequency and that of the permanent deacon candidates. If the average deacon preaches once a month at a couple of Masses, maybe at one or two weddings, and at baptisms once every other month, that would be approximately 40 homilies a year. For a priest in his first year of ministry, in addition to preaching several Masses on Sunday, daily Mass five days a week, baptisms, weddings, wake services and funerals, he will conservatively preach over 425 homilies that first year alone. That’s a huge difference!

Do not be afraid to ask your pastor for additional opportunities to preach. Ask for his involvement, comments and guidance. Every parish needs to utilize the gifts of their clergy. Ultimately, your ability to become a better, more seasoned preacher will give another effective voice to the Church.

DEACON STEVE KRAMER, D.Min., is director of homiletics and an associate professor of pastoral studies at Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology in Hales Corners, Wisconsin.

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