Edward FOLEY, editor. A Handbook for Catholic Preaching. Collegeville MN: Liturgical Press, 1965. pp. 318. ISBN 9780814663165. Reviewed by Pierre HEGY, Adelphi University NY 11530.


This handbook consists of short chapters of about four thousand words each, that is, longer than an entree in an encyclopedia and shorter than an article in a reader. This format is attractive but tends to foster generalities, being neither technical nor exhaustive.

The book begins with three introductory essays which are followed by chapters divided into four parts: historical perspectives, genres of preaching, contemporary perspectives on preaching, and contemporary issues in preaching.

The three introductory chapters implicitly define the framework for the whole book. The third chapter presents a short survey of the official Catholic documents about preaching, from Sacrosanctum Councilium to Evangelii Gaudium. Most authors of the handbook will refer to some of these documents, which means that preaching is generally envisioned according to norms coming from above, seldom as a practice to be evaluated empirically. The first essay is entitled “Preaching as a Spiritual Exercise;” stating that preaching requires prayer, study, creativity, and language skills. The second essay deals with the teaching of preaching. Long term preparation for preaching must lead the “appropriate attitudes” of humility, compassion, patience, respect, love, and joy while short term preparation needs silence, listening, study, imagining, writing, incubation, and practicing aloud. Is such preparation sufficient for homilies defined by Vatican II as explanations of the liturgical readings?

Six chapters present historical perspectives on preaching. The most interesting one describes preaching in the early church, presented as the golden age of homiletics. There seems to be an agreement that after Gregory the Great preaching generally declined. Contradicting many of our prejudices, Guerric DeBona shows that Sunday sermons were alive and lively in the years preceding Vatican II.

The section on the “genres of preaching” presents the homily is one of the six genres, namely: evangelization preaching, biblical preaching, doctrinal preaching, mystagogical preaching, and sacramental preaching; the homily is likely to include all of these. Much of these chapters is general. Thus we learn that sacramental preaching consists of preaching at baptism, confirmation, penance, anointing the sick, holy orders, religious profession, weddings, and funerals.

The next section reflects on contemporary perspectives on preaching, namely the possibilities of narrative preaching, prophetic preaching, rhetoric, the imagination in preaching, public theology, and the “new Hermeneutics.” Since Jesus was the first “public theologian” of Christianity, public theology has a long tradition which can easily be described. So does rhetoric through the ages, with the conclusion that rhetoric is “a way of life.” Prophetic preaching is briefly described in Latin America, the African American church, and feminist preaching. The New Hermeneutics which can be traced back to Schleiermacher was vibrant in the 1960s but “seems largely to have burned itself out” (224). This chapter also includes a few pages on the hermeneutics of Paul Ricoeur.

From “contemporary perspectives” we move to”contemporary issues” (six articles), the last section of the book. One important article considers the relationship between charism and order. In the early church preaching was charismatic, hence open to women, rather than a function. Yet preaching soon became an official function of the sacrament of order. Today baptism is usually seen as “the grounding of all ministry for both the laity and the ordained” (266). In Evangelii Gaudium Pope Francis tends to describe the homily more in terns of charisms than jurisdiction. The article describes various ways preaching could be entrusted to the laity to a greater degree. The last article of the book bemoans the absence of Catholic social doctrine in preaching. Indeed, good preaching should “support and enable the baptized to live their faith as parents and siblings, consumers and investors, citizens and voters” (283). This prophetic dimension seems to absent in most parish preaching.

This handbook covers basic issues related to preaching. It could profitably be used in introductory courses about preaching in universities and seminaries.