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The Art of Preaching


Rev. George W. Rutler - published on 01/07/15

The preacher’s motto is “cupio dissolvi.” That is, the preacher should be convincing by his integrity, so that what he is does not drown out what he says, but he should also “dissolve” and let Christ alone be encountered. When the Gentiles went to Philip, they asked to see Jesus and not Philip. Just as the priest does not leave the altar during the Eucharistic Prayer, so should he remain in the pulpit, or ambo, while preaching  and not roam about in an affectation of intimacy which only draws attention to himself. Any revival of preaching will avoid the sort of self-conscious “celebrity” preacher who in times past would practice before mirrors and take bows.  

As for humor, there are rare moments in sacred rhetoric when some whimsy is natural in passing, but at the Mass one is at Calvary and the preacher should only tell the jokes that John told the Blessed Mother as her son bled above her.

Not every priest is a Chrysostom or Bernardino, so if he is pressed with many other legitimate pastoral duties and his imagination is lax, he would do well just by recounting the life of a saint. The Internet makes preaching preparation much easier than any time in the past, and the challenge is “discerning spirits” so as not to follow poor models or wrong information. As Christ came to us “in the fullness of time,” a knowledge of history is essential. For a guide and source of ideas, I would cite the man whom I consider the greatest Catholic preacher of the twentieth century:  Ronald Knox.   

The preacher should have one point to make, and not try to exhaust the whole Gospel. He should mark clear from the start what his point is and then lead the people to it, rather like an Alpine guide who points out the summit and then leads the climbers up from the base along well-worn paths, knowing that for them the paths are ”ever ancient, ever new."

TheRev. George W. Rutler is pastor of St. Michael’s Church in Manhattan and author of Principalities and Powers: Spiritual Combat 1942-1943.

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