ROME – It’s no secret that Pope Francis likes short homilies. His daily sermons at Domus Sanctae Marthae, where he lives, tend to be under ten minutes, and many times he has reminded priests and bishops that a good homily should be, first of all, succinct.
Today, thanks to a new app created by the Vatican, priests will be able to have access to a ‘Francis style’ homily.
“Let your words be simple so that everyone can understand. Don’t give long homilies,” the pope said in November 2015. “Allow me to ask you to remember your dad and how very happy he was to have found another parish in a town nearby where the Mass was celebrated without a homily!”
Francis added that sermons should be “simple, so that everyone can understand them and everyone will want to become a better person.” On other occasions he called priests and seminarians to strive to write homilies that “are not boring” and reach for the hearts of the faithful who are listening.
The same sentiment is present in the pope’s 2013 apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), which was written in the same easily understandable style that it wished to promote.
In line with the Vatican’s clear ‘social media’ pivot, the free Clerus-App helps priests put together a homily with the aid of reflections, comments and meditations on the Gospel. The application is sponsored by the Vatican’s Congregation for the clergy and communication department and is available for the time being only in Italian, while plans to offer an English version are still on the way.
With already more than one thousand downloads from Google’s Play store, the app seems to have debuted with a modest success, with most reviews being positive. In a recent edition of L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s official newspaper, the new tool was presented as offering every Thursday “homily suggestions to those who wish to deepen and meditate on the Word of God during Sunday liturgy.”
The app also makes many other options available, such as downloading and saving homilies while off-line, adding notes, making the text bigger or smaller, choosing between two different background colors and regulating the luminosity of the screen.
Priests will also be able to share their homilies on their social networks.
“It’s an additional tool to be close to priests,” said the Undersecretary of the Congregation for the Clergy, Italian Father Andrea Ripa, in an interview with local news outlet La Stampa. “It’s actually building on a service that the Congregation has been offering for years through its site and a newsletter. The app is simply a more immediate communication method for users compared to an email.”
Ripa told Italian reporters that the app is not designed to teach priests how to write homilies, but rather “more humbly we want to offer homily ideas by referring to priests who are experts in preaching.”
Jesuit Father Marko Ivan Rupnik, a known theologian and head of the spiritual arts department at the Centro Aletti in Rome, will write the suggested homily ideas.
Rupnik is also a respected artist with a knack for mosaics, such as those in the Fatima Basilica and the Church of San Giovanni Rotondo in Rome. He is the artist behind the logo of the Jubilee of Mercy, representing Jesus carrying a lost soul over his shoulders, which drew both praise and criticism last year.
“Covering the distance between us (religious) and the contemporary man, wounded like us, suffering like us, tried like us” is the mission of the Church, said Rupnik during a speech inaugurating the Jubilee of the Roman Curia in early 2016. “The more we will be tried like all men, the more we will be merciful, because this is the priesthood of Christ. He was tried in every way to be a merciful priest. This way we will engage people in a desire of a new life.”
Rupnik has recently published a book According to the Spirit: The spiritual theology in line with the Church of Pope Francis, which attempts to illustrate the work made by the current pontificate to renew the Church in light of the Second Vatican Council with a special focus on liturgy.
“Reading what Father Rupnik writes – I say this as a priest – is surely edifying and represents a good model,” said Ripa. “Then everyone can take what they need: some are more inclined toward preaching, others struggle more. Having a tool like this can surely be useful.”
Ripa also underlined that “one cannot ignore the pope’s remarks regarding homilies” and for this reason Clerus-App was designed “in such a way to create something new that is closer to the people.”
Alessandro Haag, the Dicastery’s computer technician, designed the application in such a way to be handy and easy to use on the go. “Many have thanked us for this novelty, not just priests,” Ripa said.
In Italy the very word ‘homily’ is used to describe a very long discourse or text. When entering an Italian Church for Mass, sermons often prove to be the longest and most dreaded moment, to the extent that even high-ranking members of the clergy have been caught falling asleep, succumbing to the length and overly complex orations.
It is hoped that the Clerus-App, with its aim of making homilies shorter and more easily understandable, will provide a handy guide for priests wishing to simplify their sermons, and undoubtedly it will provide clerics, especially those who perform Masses many times a week, with a useful and powerful tool.