At her Open Book, Amy Wellborn has been posting on the Synod on the Eucharist underway right now in Rome. She posted this comment from Archbishop Gregory:
"Archbishop Gregory makes an excellent point. Seems as if he's listening to the arguments back home.
Increasingly, the faithful expect better homilies from celebrants at the Sunday Eucharist. Bishops must lead by our own good example as well as our admonitions to improve the quality of Catholic preaching at the Sunday Eucharist. Ritual precision alone will not bring back those who do not attend Sunday Mass."
I want to comment on Archbishop Gregory's point, about the importance of preaching, in relation to precision of the celebration of the liturgy...
I may be wrong, but I am concerned by certain hints I pick up from many active Catholics whose comments suggest that the homily is the main thing for them, at Mass.
Is anyone else hearing such things?
The priest I know very well (wink) does try to offer good homilies, and can't help being gratified when people express appreciation. He tries to elicit specific comments, so as to know what's working, what's resonating, etc.
But the main event of the Mass is not the homily.
If we think of the two parts of the Mass, the Liturgy of the Word, and the Liturgy of the Eucharist, each one has a climax:
the climax of the Liturgy of the Word is the proclamation of the Gospel...
The Gospel itself is the climax, hence we stand, we greet it with Alleluias (the sequences are extended alleluias), we have a procession, perhaps with incense, and there is an option to chant it; and only an ordained minister may proclaim the Gospel. And the Gospel is kissed--by the bishop, if he's present.
The homily, the Creed, and the prayers, are a response to the Gospel; and then we begin building to a new climax, this time to the Seed of Christ, the Word in our midst, doing something new and wonderful among us.
Some have compared the Gospel procession and proclamation to the event of the Incarnation, in contrast to the Liturgy of the Eucharist bringing us to the Passion, Death, Resurrection (and glorious return) of Christ.
Thus, the Eucharistic Prayer would be the second climax--different folks could disagree on the exact moment, but I'd say you have a series of climaxes, each rising higher: the entering into the Holy of Holies, with the Sanctus; the Epiclesis, calling down the Spirit, Christ's own words of insitution; the offering of this Sacrifice (following the "mystery of faith" acclamation), to which we join all our prayers, all summarized in the concluding prayer: "Through Him, with Him, in Him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, Almighty Father, forever and ever. Amen!" If memory serves me right, St. Ambrose described this amen as "thunderous" -- as it should be.
The subsequent parts of the Mass are, again, our response: we "pray with confidence" the Our Father, we acknowledge Jesus our Peace present on the altar ("Lord Jesus Christ, you said..."), and--if we have been made worthy, we receive the Eucharist--and then Mass concludes very quickly, as we are sent.
We might see the Agnus Dei and the Fraction as the climax; but look at the Roman Canon: at one point, the priest bows, and prays, "Almighty God, may your angel take this Sacrifice to your altar in Heaven...then as we receive from the altar..." -- i.e., the Fraction and sharing the Eucharist are a "coming down" from heaven, and the power derives from the summit of the Offering of Jesus eternally for us.
As I say, others could see it differently; but all this is to say: a good homily, devoutly to be wished for, is subordinate to the real power of the Mass, which is the Sacrifice.
(I posted this comment first at Open Book, but thought you might like to read and comment on it here as well.)