John’s Gospel on Sundays/ Propriety of funeral homily

By Father Kenneth Doyle
Catholic News Service

Q. I must confess first to a bias, because John the Evangelist is my baptismal patron saint, but I have always wondered why — in the A, B and C cycles of scriptural readings for Sunday Mass — the rotation includes only the Gospels written by Matthew, Mark and Luke. (Milwaukee)

A. Prior to the Second Vatican Council, the same readings were used every year for the Sunday Masses. The first reading was usually from one of the epistles, and the Gospel readings were most often taken from Matthew or John, less frequently from Luke and only rarely from Mark.
The bishops present at Vatican II declared that “the treasures of the Bible are to be opened up more lavishly, so that richer fare may be provided for the faithful at the table of God’s word,” (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, No. 51).
The result is the Lectionary as we have it today, with a three-year cycle of Sunday readings. Year A uses for the most part the Gospel of Matthew; in year B, the Gospel of Mark (the shortest of the Gospels) is used, along with Chapter 6 of the Gospel of John. Year C uses Luke’s Gospel. In all three years, the Gospel of John is read during the Easter season.
John’s Gospel stands out among the four in that it is more deeply theological and sometimes pastorally difficult, which would help to explain why it is not used in the Sunday Lectionary as often as the other three. (Several passages, for example, seem particularly polemical with regard to the Jews.)
Some Scripture scholars do feel, though, that the readings from John are underrepresented in the present version of the Lectionary used at Sunday Masses — e.g., John’s accounts of the call of Philip and Nathanael and of Christ’s post-resurrection appearance to Mary Magdalene are not used at all.

Q. Recently a close friend of mine died at the age of 77. He was very active in the church, involved in several parish ministries and outwardly seemed always happy, enjoying a near-perfect life. I did know that he had some family, health and business problems, but most people didn’t have even a hint of that. He was universally respected and revered.
To my great dismay, his persona was dismantled by our pastor, who said in his funeral homily: “(Name omitted) recently came into my office and opened his heart, telling me that he had physical, emotional, psychological and family problems. Who could think that this man who was always smiling — friendly and ready to help everyone — had so many serious issues?”
I was shocked that a priest would reveal private conversation and saddened that my friend’s shining armor was tarnished for no reason. No one wanted to hear anything but the best about this beloved friend and brother. Did our pastor overstep his bounds and the vow of confessional privacy when he stepped on my friend? (City of origin withheld.)

A. First (and foremost), your last sentence mentions “confessional privacy.” I am quite certain that nothing your pastor said in his homily had been revealed to him in the context of your friend’s confessing his sins. Every priest I have ever known recognizes the sacredness of that seal and guards it carefully.
When the homilist mentioned the man’s “problems,” he probably meant to praise him for carrying himself with apparent joy even while dealing internally with such difficulties. Your question does serve, though, as a valuable caution for priests. Before delivering a homily, a priest ought always to imagine how his words might be received by people in the pews.
Funeral homilies demand a particular delicacy. If the issues the deceased dealt with are common knowledge, a reference might be proper; if, however, the congregation is largely unaware of such matters, they are best left unmentioned.

Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at askfatherdoyle@gmail.com and 40 Hopewell St., Albany, N.Y. 12208.

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