Last month, a Northern Irish priest wrote in a local newspaper column that he had made a “deal” with his parishioners: all sermons from now on would be no more than five minutes.
Fr Paddy O’Kane said he was inspired by a trip to various parishes in Texas, and a comment from a caller to a radio show who asked him why he should bring his child to Mass when “all they do is yawn throughout a long sermon in a language they don’t understand”.
When Fr O’Kane announced he was cutting homilies to five minutes, “one wag shouted up: ‘Father, could you not make that four?’”
The ideal length of a sermon has, of course, been a subject for debate throughout the history of the Church. But it has taken on a new prominence in recent years.
In 2010, Archbishop Nikola Eterović, then general secretary of the synod of bishops, said in the book The Word of God that sermons should be no longer than eight minutes as this is “the average amount of time for a listener to concentrate”. Acknowledging that some priests do not have the best communication skills, he suggested that they spend a week perfecting their Sunday homilies.
Around the same time, another Irish priest, Fr Michael Kenny, claimed to have dramatically increased the size of his congregation at weekday Mass by skipping the homily and getting the whole Mass over and done with in just 15 minutes.
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