What is the ideal length of a sermon?


How long should a sermon last? Pope Francis recently criticized overly long homilies, which he compares to lectures. According to him, it is important to refocus on the way in which the message is prepared and communicated, the ideal duration of which would be less than 10 minutes.

It was during a liturgy course given on January 20 that Francis asked priests to shorten their homilies. After mentioning the importance of the silence of the faithful before the celebrations to prepare for the mysteries, a spiritual disposition dear to Cardinal Robert Sarah, Francis told clerics that the length of sermons should be shortened: “Please, the homilies: it's a disaster. Sometimes I hear people say: Yes, I went to mass in this parish… Yes, it was a good philosophy lesson lasting forty, fifty, fifty-five minutes… Eight, ten, no more! »

According to Francis, the homily is a sacrament [it is not one of the seven sacraments, NDR] and not a conference. The purpose of the message should not be to highlight the priest, and the latter must prepare his homily by offering “always a thought, a feeling and an image [so] that people bring something home. »

This message refers to his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), paradoxically one of the longest exhortations. In this letter from 2013, Francis states that "the homily is the touchstone for judging the closeness of a pastor and his ability to communicate with his people" and that the laity suffer from having to listen to them and the clerics from having to preach.

The length of sermons, a real problem?

A quarter of an hour was about the duration of the homilies of Father Michel-Marie Zanotti-Sorkine when he was a priest in Marseilles. Cardinal Bernard Panafieu had entrusted in 2004 the so-called Reformed church, deserted. In three months, the priest saw the number of faithful increase from 50 to 500 people, counting followers of his former church who had joined him. Despite the duration, the faithful crowded because of the style of the priest who considers that "it is by [liturgical] beauty that one leads to God", but also, they say, because of the quality sermons.

On Twitter, the sociologist and historian of Protestantism Sébastien Fath emphasizes that “while Pope Francis (re) asks priests to shorten their homilies, the fastest growing Evangelical Churches offer sermons that sometimes exceed 1 hour”.

In 2019, the Pew Research Center analyzed nearly 50 sermons posted online by 6 churches per year to determine the average length of sermons in the United States. It is 431 minutes, but with disparities depending on the denominations: 37 minutes for Catholics, 14 for traditional Protestants, 25 for Evangelical Protestants and… 39 for traditional black Protestant churches.

In a 2019 Washington Post article, Pastor Tim Keller of the Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York points out that "many pastors face pressure to continue to reduce the length of sermons to accommodate people's short attention spans". According to him, most evangelical pastors are not good enough for a 39-minute sermon. However, according to a survey by Gray Matter Research and Consulting and Infinity Concepts published on January 7, 85% of American evangelicals are satisfied the length of the sermons.

Jean Sarpedon

Image credit: Shutterstock/ Stefano Guidi

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