Five minute warning: Santa Fe warns of preaching suspensions for homilies over time limit

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Aug 18, 2020 / 11:51 am (CNA).- Priests in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe have been warned that they could lose the faculty to preach if they give homilies longer than five minutes. The archdiocese told CNA the restriction is part of the archdiocesan response to the coronavirus pandemic.

In the memo, sent July 31, archdiocesan vicar general Fr. Glennon Jones said that the archdiocesan chancery had “received reports of some homilies going on for well over the 5-minute limit set by the Archbishop.”

“This not only increases exposure time [of the coronavirus] to others, but increases the discomfiture of many congregants, to the point of some not attending Mass because of it.”

“If such homilies continue, [Archbishop John Wester] will consider severer [sic] actions for subject clergy,” Jones wrote, “up to and including possible suspension of the faculty to preach.”

The warning was part of a series of “periodic communications” from the chancery regarding pastoral and sacramental practice in the Santa Fe archdiocese during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Since May 16-17, churches in the archdiocese have been allowed to reopen for the public celebration of Mass in line with phase one of the governor’s reopening guidelines, allowing for attendance set at 10% of building capacity.

Under the guidelines posted on the archdiocesan website, various restrictions on the celebration of the liturgy remain in place, including a prohibition on congregants singing. 

The time limit on homilies of five minutes referenced in the July 31 memo appears to have been preceded by a relaxation of the posted guidelines, which state that homilies be “very brief,” and “three minutes max.”

The various restrictions and directives issued by Wester aim to ensure that the Mass is concluded within “30-40 minutes.”

The July 31 memo also tells priests that in light of the coronavirus pandemic, communicants can receive the Eucharist “inside the Church if they leave directly thereafter.”

CNA asked the archdiocese to confirm if the directive regarding the length of homilies had been issued in a manner consistent with canon law, and for clarification on how the policy would be enforced. A spokesperson for the archdiocese told CNA that the purpose of the email, and the policy, was to ensure that priests were taking all necessary precautions against the coronavirus.

“The intent of Father Glenn Jones’ memo was to underscore the seriousness of the pandemic, Archbishop’s great concern for human life and the health and safety of our parishioners,” the spokesperson said. 

“Our parishioners have also been informed of the archdiocesan protocols and have expressed their concerns. Thus, our priests have been reminded to abide by the protocol of preaching only short 3-5 minute homilies during these perilous times.”

The other dioceses in the state of New Mexico, Gallup or Las Cruces, have not issued limits on the length of homilies since resuming the public celebration of Mass.

The General Instruction for the Roman Missal does not prescribe a particular length of time for the homily. It does note that the homily “is necessary for the nurturing of the Christian life. It should be an exposition of some aspect of the readings from Sacred Scripture or of another text from the Ordinary or from the Proper of the Mass of the day and should take into account both the mystery being celebrated and the particular needs of the listeners.” 

“There is to be a homily on Sundays and holy days of obligation at all Masses that are celebrated with the participation of a congregation; it may not be omitted without a serious reason. It is recommended on other days, especially on the weekdays of Advent, Lent, and the Easter Season, as well as on other festive days and occasions when the people come to church in greater numbers,” the instruction explains.  

In a 2018 audience, Pope Francis exhorted priests to ensure their homilies are well-prepared and considerate of the congregation, mentioning off-the-cuff that homilies should often be no more than 10 minutes. At Sunday celebrations of the Mass, however, the pope has preached longer than the recommended amount, and he has made no formal norms regarding the length of time for homilies. 

In his 2013 apostolic exhortation Evangelii gaudium, Pope Francis emphasized the importance of homilies.

“The homily has special importance due to its eucharistic context: it surpasses all forms of catechesis as the supreme moment in the dialogue between God and his people which lead up to sacramental communion. The homily takes up once more the dialogue which the Lord has already established with his people.”

The pope emphasized that a priest must discern in prayer, and from his knowledge of his people, how best to preach to them. “The preacher must know the heart of his community, in order to realize where its desire for God is alive and ardent, as well as where that dialogue, once loving, has been thwarted and is now barren.”

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  1. One thing I have learned from this pandemic—in a church which emphasizes the sacraments, when the sacraments are not available, there is NOTHING. People need the WORD as well as Sacrament, and a five minute homily does not do it (especially the bland ones that I am hearing that really don’t say much). Which is one reason after 26 years as a Catholic, I am considering a return to Protestantism.

    • Kay,
      I certainly hear you about 5 minute homilies but this is a temporary thing. Truthfully at the best of times Catholic homilies can be a bit hit or miss. I don’t attend Mass for the homily but for Our Lord fully present in the Blessed Sacrament. You don’t want to turn your back on Him now.
      God bless you.

    • Kay, have you taken a look at some of the resoures you can find online? Youtube has some talks by, for example, Steve Ray and Scott Hahn, and then there’s, and all kinds of talks from Lighthouse Catholic Media. My parish has a subscription to Formed; maybe yours does too?

      “People need the WORD as well as Sacrament”

      Then why would you leave the Church for Protestantism, which never has the Sacrament?

  2. When will be spared from TMS-2020?
    Require all bishops to wear masking tape & no mitre tighter than fits over the ears..
    (TMS you ask? Tight Mitre Syndrome)… Known to cut the blood supply to the brain causing bishops to issue ri-dic-u-lous things like this!)

  3. Its hard to stomach the generally weak-kneed and cowardly response by the Bishops to State demands to control worship. Since when do the Bishops allow homily length, building capacity for Mass, singing and other elements be dictated by the State?? Why has this govt takeover not been fought strongly??? How sad to see the church betrayed by those who are charged with protecting it.Civil disobedience NOW!!!!

  4. Recommended reading – British author P.G. Wodehouse ‘The Great Sermon Handicap’
    starring Jeeves the Butler and his employer Bertie Wooster

    Humor in the face of madness

  5. Short homily? The last words spoken before the distribution of Holy Communion:

    “Lord I am not worthy that You should come under my roof but only say the word and my soul will be healed.”


    “Domine non sum dignus ut intres sub tectum meum, sed tantum dic verbo et sanabitur animum meum.”

    Either one works

  6. With the Eucharist suffering public desecration at the hands of politicians who publicly advocate for the killing of children, and with the Church’s ancient — and common-sensical — teachings on the nature of men and women under attack from within and without, and with governments forcing medical professionals to violate their most deeply held beliefs under threat of losing their jobs, it’s good to see a bishop finally taking a stand on as compelling matter as 5.5-minute homilies.


    Does anybody else get the feeling that we’re being pranked by our bishops?

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