Director of continuing formation of clergy for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and a homiletics instructor at the archdiocesan seminary, Stephen Vincent DeLeers clearly understands the challenges facing Catholic preaching some forty years after the Second Vatican Council. His Written Text Becomes Living Word is a theoretically informed but primarily practical manual aimed at assisting preachers craft homilies for delivery in the context of Eucharist on the Lord's Day. Although the author expresses his hope that the work might be helpful for Western Christian readers not in full communion with the Catholic Church (p. vii), this work is primarily directed to Roman Catholic preachers.
Written Text Becomes Living Word falls into three major sections. In Part One (chapters 1-3) the author surveys Western Catholic practice and official teaching on Sunday preaching from both diachronic (Council of Trent to the present) and synchronic perspectives. His central insight appears in the claim that "the Sunday homily is PLICA: personal, liturgical, inculturated, clarifying, and actualizing" (p. 50). Part Two (chapters 4-8) expands on each of these five characteristics; for each trait DeLeers offers not only an extended commentary, but one of his own homilies as a way to concretize his reflections on the characteristic in question. The final section offers direct recommendations to the preacher, sketching three encounters with the Word—experience, understanding, actualization—in chapter 9, three elements of the homily—content, structure, and delivery—in chapter 10, and ten suggestions for the preacher in chapter 11.
Although Parts Two and Three will probably be the most appealing to readers looking for practical guidance, I believe DeLeers' most important contribution occurs in Part One where he carefully guides the reader through a maze of official Roman Catholic documentation on the homily. (The author also appends a helpful list of official Roman Catholic documents concerning preaching from 1963-1994.) DeLeers delineates a tension in this documentation between an understanding of the homily as primarily evangelical (grounded in the teaching of Sacrosanctum Concilium 35 and given magisterial impetus by Paul VI, especially in Evangelii Nuntiandi) or as primarily catechetical (grounded in the teaching of Sacrosanctum Concilium 24 and 52 and given magisterial impetus by John Paul II, especially in Catechesi Tradendae). While this tension might seem rather abstract and academic, it actually has powerful implications for preachers' self-understanding and practice: is the homily primarily a biblically inspired proclamation of encountering the living Christ issuing in faith, hope, love, peace, and unity among the hearers (evangelical) or is it primarily an opportunity to inculcate a deeper understanding of the mysteries of the faith and the norms of Christian living in the Christian faithful (catechetical)? Taking his cue from the treatment of the homily in the 1993 document of the Pontifical Biblical Commission entitled "The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church", DeLeers tries to mediate between these two emphases, ultimately defining the homily as "a verbal act by which, after the proclamation of God's Word, a minister speaks in his or her own words to the assembly. Having had an experience of faith in a personal encounter with the text, the preacher now produces an address whose intention is evoking an analogous experience in the listener. . . . What is sought is an encounter with Christ, which happens most often when the message of the ritual text is experienced as 'good news' by those gathered. A principal by-product of the homiletic experience is increased clarity about the text of the day, a clarity which renders that experience portable. . . . As such, the homily shares with much of the Scriptures the character of direct address to and from people of faith; it is less a commentary than a message in its own right." (p. 51)
Surprisingly for one who is explicitly concerned with liturgical preaching on the Lord's Day from a Catholic perspective, DeLeers' primary conversational partners on the topic are Protestants (e.g., David Buttrick, Leonora Tubbs Tisdale, Fred Craddock), although he does acknowledge Mary Catherine Hilkert's important contribution Naming Grace: Preaching and the Sacramental Imagination (New York: Continuum, 1997). As Fritz West has shown, in his Scripture and Memory: The Ecumenical Hermeneutic of the Three-Year Lectionaries (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1997), the ethos of Catholic and Protestant preaching is quite different, even in those Protestant communities employing a lectionary system for their Lord's Day and festival preaching. DeLeers seems unaware of other works very similar to his in aim and scope, e.g., Edward Foley's Preaching Basics: A Model and a Method (Chicago, IL: Liturgy Training Publications, 1998) and Robert P. Wasnak's An Introduction to the Homily (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1998). I would recommend James Wallace's Preaching to the Hungers of the Heart: The Homily on the Feasts and Within the Rites (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2002) as a companion volume to Written Text Becomes Living Word. By reading and reflecting on both works, seminarians, Catholic clergy, and those charged with liturgical preaching in Catholic communities of faith will find helpful guidance in preparing homilies preached in the context festivals and "occasional services" as well as at the Lord's Day Eucharist.