The Impressive Clergyman

by Bernard Brandt

I’m sure that most of my seven or eight readers will remember that most impressive scene within that classic motion picture, The Princess Bride, when Prince Humperdinck is about to enact his, er, ‘arranged’ marriage with Princess Buttercup. The court chapel is richly arrayed with tapestries and flowers. The Bride, groom, wedding party, and wedding guests are richly dressed. The altar is gorgeously arrayed. The Impressive Clergyman, who is even more gorgeously vested, turns from the altar to the people, while the organ plays the final cadence of its beautiful music. The Impressive Clergyman silently gestures for the congregation to rise.

And then the Impressive Clergyman opens his mouth.

That image came rather forcibly to my mind this morning, when I read an essay from the weblog, onepeterfive. The essayist put forth the idea that people were really placing more attention on the priest’s homily than on the Holy Mass itself. This, the essayist opined, was a Protestant Idea, and one which should not be indulged in by Catholic faithful.

I was initially going to place here a one word response to the above proposition. But, as this is a more or less P.G. (if not P.C.) weblog, I will therefore content myself with repeating one of the sayings of the good Fr. Zed:

‘B as in B. S as in S.’

If that YouTube clip above does not serve as a refutation to the above essayist’s fatally flawed notion, then allow me to inflict the following desecration.

Look, guys and gals, any thinking Catholic who has been around the block a few times has observed the range of liturgical offerings: from Fr. Roger DeBris, with his campy Novus Ordo productions, to Fr. Peter Pompous, with his tatted up Solemn High Mess. We’ve found that the abortions of the former are usually committed by the ‘liturgical committee’, while the excesses of the latter are choreographed by the ‘master of ceremonies’ and the Vestry. Seldom is the priest involved, or responsible, for what happens at the Mass.

It is only when we hear the words of the priest who gives the homily, that we are able to find whether he is a scholar of the Faith, and a Pastor of souls, or just another semi-educated altar monkey.

And as for the laughable idea that it is somehow Protestant to pay equal attention to both the action of the Mass and the words of the homilist who serves that Mass, may I commend to your attention the words of the Apostles (Acts 6:2-4):

 Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word. (emphasis added)

So, to the question made by the essayist in the title of his essay, “Which is more important, the Preaching, or the Mass?” it would appear that the Apostolic answer is: ‘Both’.

And, as one who adheres to the Catholic and Orthodox principle of ‘Scriptura prima, sed non sola‘, anyone who has been around the writings of the Fathers, whether, Latin, Greek, Coptic, or Aramaic, knows that much of the Apostolic Tradition comes to us through the homilies of the Fathers. Indeed, the Paschal Canon of the Eastern Church was taken almost word for word from the Paschal homilies of St. Gregory Nazienzen. And the Paschal Homily of St. John Chrysostom has been instituted as a part of the Paschal Divine Liturgy.

And so, as regards the basic idea of the essayist in question, and to paraphrase the words of Dorothy Parker, ‘This is not an idea to be lightly tossed aside, but hurled with great force.’