Monday, March 18, 2019

New Resource: Online Commentaries on the Mass Propers and Readings of the Usus Antiquior

Back in January 2014, I published an article at NLM entitled “Where Have All the Good Preachers Gone?” In it I noted the general dissatisfaction with shallow and rambling homilies and sermons, and pointed out that the Catholic Tradition is rich with models of excellent preaching. The article recommended three things: first, preaching about Scripture from Scripture, or at least leavening any subject preached on with copious citations of the Word of God; second, leaning heavily on the great exponents of Scripture and the theological masters: the Fathers and Doctors of the Church (not modern exegetes; at least not principally); third, integrating the doctrine, if not the words, of classic magisterial documents such as reliable papal encyclicals.

A subsequent article from January 2018, “Preaching from the Propers of the Mass — An Example from Ireland” noted that many great preachers in the old days, and many of the best resources from the healthy phase of the Liturgical Movement, took inspiration from the propers of the Mass: the antiphons, the orations, the lections, the prefaces, and so forth. A few still do (such as Dom Mark Kirby, many of whose homilies can be heard here), but the vast majority, as far as I can tell, simply ignore the texts of the liturgy, which are in fact among the richest texts, doctrinally and spiritually, to preach on.

Surely part of the reason for this neglect is that it is not always easy to find the time or acquire the library necessary to prepare such homilies. That is why I am extremely excited to announce a new web resource that places many classic commentaries on the usus antiquior Sunday and Holy Day Masses at preachers' (and laity's) fingertips: Sermonry.

For now, the website features commentaries from the Catena Aurea by St. Thomas, a work that itself draws upon over 80 Church Fathers (the majority of them Greek); the Haydock Bible; and Denzinger. Designer and programmer Patrick Hawkins intends to add more commentaries as time goes on, including Guéranger. Here is a description that Mr. Hawkins kindly sent to me:
Sermonry takes the propers of the Mass and puts traditional commentaries right next to them, in a way that’s easy to navigate and a pleasure to read. I think the site will be useful for two groups of Catholics: clergy and laity.
          My hope is that clergy will find this a useful resource when preparing homilies for Traditional Latin Masses for years to come. A priest to whom I showed an early version of the site worried that if every priest was using this resource, they’d all come up with the same homilies. But that’s unlikely. One priest might preach on the Introit; another, on the Gradual. A priest might preach on three different passages from a single Gospel over three consecutive years. These commentaries will support and enhance what a priest is already trying to do in the pulpit.
          For the laity, these commentaries can supplement and reinforce what they are receiving every Sunday from the liturgy. For myself I’ve noticed, especially with the Haydock, explanations of particular phrases and customs of the day make it easier to visualize what’s going on in a particular passage, aiding meditation. And having it all right there in one place, I’m not switching back and forth between 2 or 3 books, which helps with focus.
          Sermonry has a beta label on because it’s not yet complete. Adding commentaries is a time-consuming process. But what’s there is already useful, today. A priest relying on this for homily prep should find commentaries for Sundays and major feasts added a month in advance.
Anyone wanting progress updates can sign up on the email list here.

Questions? Address them to
On Facebook:
On Twitter:

This strikes me as a brilliant use of technology in service of tradition. I hope many clergy and laity will take advantage of it. Thank you, Mr. Hawkins, for launching this project. We wish you great success with its development.

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: