A series by Liam Nolan – No. 15, Saint Bernardino of Siena
For years church authorities have been theorising about the ideal length of a homily. They have factored in the knowledge that in these days of sound-bites and low attention spans, congregations have grown intolerant of preachers who talk for too long and “lose” their audiences.
Father Andrew Headon, the Vice-Rector of the Venerable English College in Rome, said recently, “There is a saying among clergy: ‘If you haven’t struck oil in seven minutes, stop boring.’” He gives sermon-writing classes.
He’s on record as saying that the hardest sermons to write are the shortest. “A sermon should not be a lecture,” he said, “nor is it academic. You need to give spiritual food for thought that will stay with someone for a week.”
And Archbishop Nikola Eterovich, Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops, said, “The homily in general should not go over eight minutes.”
Even the pope has been prompted to address the matter. “How many times have we seen people sleeping during a homily?” said he. “It’s true, you all know…it’s true! Please be brief. No more than 10 minutes, please.”
When was the last time you nodded off in church while a priest droned on and on? When was the last time you felt a twinge of guilt about feeling bored, or wondered when is he going to stop rabbiting on? It prompts one to wonder: where does all this leave Saint Bernardino of Siena?