Evaluating the Homily


The first of the nine priorities that came out of the Archdiocesan Synod held last year was “That parish liturgy becomes more vibrant, meaningful and inclusive”.
One of the essential actions suggested as being necessary to achieve this outcome was for Parish Pastoral Councils to initiate a process of regular constructive feedback on parish clergy preaching.
I was surprised at the reaction of some Synod participants to this concept. A few priests became very defensive and claimed that this was yet another clergy bashing exercise. I know of very few people, no matter how highly qualified, whose work is not subject to regular review and evaluation.
Most surprising were the comments from a handful of lay people along the lines of: “What right do we have to question the priest? He is the expert. Our job is to listen, not to criticise!”
A homily is not solely the creation or property of the preacher. It is also belongs to the community of faith. A homily is preached in and for a community in a particular time and place. Therefore the homilist needs to hear back from the community in order to know if he is speaking the word they need to hear and if the word is being communicated effectively.
One means of getting feedback on the homily is for a parish to establish a group which meets soon after Sunday Masses for the weekend are over - people need to have the homily fresh in their minds. The group should be relatively small – perhaps four to six people – and chosen from parishioners of various ages and experiences. The preacher may be present, or be given a tape of the meeting or a written summary of comments.
For the process to be effective, it is essential for the group to have a set of criteria on which their evaluation is based. These criteria would cover both the content of the homily as well as the style of delivery. Style refers to the way the preacher communicates the message and includes things like facial expression, voice quality, body language and eye contact. Nonverbal communication is as important as content.
A useful start for evaluating the content of a homily would be to ask people what they saw as the focus or main idea. This exercise will immediately alert the preacher to how well the central message is being conveyed.
Other questions that might be used to evaluate the content would be: How did the homily relate to the scripture readings? How relevant was the content to the situation and needs of this particular parish?
A very simple approach would be to ask the evaluation group members to give answers to these two questions: “How did the homily touch your life?” and “How will the homily make a difference to your life in the coming week?”
Setting up a process for reviewing homilies and using the outcomes to improve the standard of parish preaching will take time and effort. But what is more important than encountering God’s living word in the community of faith?


Elizabeth Harrington