Q: Hi Father. Hope you are having a pleasant Summer. I have opened my homilies often with a joke. Many good priests that I know have done that through the years and people were expecting their ‘Sunday Homily Joke’ on a regular basis. That help them appreciate the Sunday homily more. But I myself stopped doing it a few months ago after putting more thought on the essence of the homily as an integral part of the liturgy. Yet for pastoral reasons -to help the faithful find a bit of a humorous oasis from the turmoil of problems of the world during the week- wonder if jokes are still proper in the midst of the sacred territory that the homily is overall within the rites.
A: I treat the homily like an essay. I prefer to launch the theme in the first sentence, sometimes in the first words. I believe that the opening should introduce what follows, and what follows should integrate with the opening.
I advise against beginning every homily with a joke because that sets up expectations about the tone of the preaching each week. Homilies are often covering sad, disturbing and challenging material. A joke can throw off the purpose.
Nonetheless, on a given Sunday, yes, I could see it working—if it sets up what is to follow.
However, the homily is not an after dinner speech. I point out in my book Ars Celebrandi that some preachers start as if this is the first chance they’ve had to say something on their own, freed from the shackles of liturgical texts. The homily integrates into the entire Mass, especially the liturgy of the word. Its length, content, and tone should serve its overall liturgical purpose.