Catholic terms may be unfamiliar

Wednesday, October 23, 2019 - Updated: 3:03 pm

QUESTION: Father, regarding the recent question about corporal acts of mercy, you provided a nice history lesson, but you never answered the actual question: Why don’t we hear about the corporal acts of mercy anymore?


ANSWER: I usually don’t get such quick responses to my columns. But the above question did prompt me to reread what I wrote. In my defense, I only have 500 words to make a point. And I was focused on exactly what the corporal works of mercy were and where they came from. In tracing their origin, I wrote about their scriptural origin, but really did not address the point of why we do not hear more about them in the Sunday homilies or other times when priests or deacons preach.

It is important to remember that the directives of the Catholic Church indicate that the “topic” of preaching at Sunday Mass should evolve from the Scripture readings or some other aspect of the liturgy. Thus, the choice of the topic is not really up to the preacher. Of course, the one preaching may apply the Biblical teaching or expand on the readings to address any number of issues in our daily lives.

In the column I wrote, I cited several Biblical passages that underlie what has come to be called the corporal works of mercy. I suspect that why we don’t hear more about them is centered on the difference between the name and the content.

The readings we hear at Sunday Mass are governed by a Lectionary that states exactly what Scriptures are to be read each Sunday. Those readings are on a three-year cycle. Incidentally, there is also a two-year daily cycle of Scripture readings. Giving the vast amount of Scripture that is contained in both the Sunday and daily cycles, the themes of what is contained in the corporal works of mercy are covered fully and repeatedly.

Therefore, as priests and deacons preach on those readings, we often hear about our obligation to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the sick and visit the imprisoned. Such preaching is based on the Scripture that is the foundation of these works of mercy.

One of the challenges of Sunday preaching is the great diversity of the congregation. Language is an important factor. Some members of the congregation are very familiar with the rich devotional tradition of the church. Others are new to the faith or have not had a strong grounding in it. Citing the term corporal works of mercy might have meaning for some, but for others it is just a set of words.

Most preachers are very aware of this diversity and sense the need to root teaching in Biblical foundations and avoid terms that may be unfamiliar and need more time to explain than is given for a Sunday homily.

This is not only true about the homilies, but about teaching in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, for example. Terms may have meaning to some of us, but not all. For example, consider these: catechesis, catechism, providence, repentance, reconciliation, firm purpose of amendment, grace, etc. Preaching and teaching must consider that the lives and capacity of those listening is diverse.


Father Bober is administrator of the grouping that includes St. Kilian in Adams/Cranberry townships and Holy Sepulcher in Glade Mills.

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