The SermonThe very ancient practice of the Bishop or Priest turning to explain to the people the Epistle and Gospel just read has fixed this stage of the Liturgy as the most appropriate for the Sermon or Instruction. From the very earliest times, it was recognised as an essential duty of the Clergy to instruct the Faithful in the truths of religion, and as to the fulfilment of their duties. Though this is in no sense part of the Liturgy, yet it usually takes place in connection with it, and is of such paramount importance, that the reader will perhaps be indulgent enough to allow a short digression, as this opportunity offers, on the subject of hearing instruction.
It is a thousand pities that so many nowadays are reluctant to hear sermons, and can ill brook attendance at any form of instruction ; too often they go designedly to an early Mass, when such can seldom be given, and never appear again in Church till the following Sunday comes round. Similarly, it is becoming more and more the custom to overlook and neglect Evening Service and Instruction, as though they were beneath notice ; whereas, our minds could here again be enlightened with the truth, and our hearts sanctified by the blessing of our Sacramental Lord raised over our heads. This is why men grow up in lamentable ignorance of even the elementary truths, and of the common laws and practices of the Church ; the result is they take no interest in the spiritual welfare of their souls, and so run imminent risk of eternal damnation.
To guard, so far as may be, against so great an evil, the Council of Trent strictly enjoined on the Clergy the duty of instructing their flocks, especially on Sundays ; this consequently implies the correlative duty of the Faithful to be present at such instruction. In these days of ours, it is perhaps more than ever necessary, for the spirit of irreligion and indifference is abroad, the Gospel morality is being attacked on all sides, the law of obedience and respect is vanishing. It thus becomes absolutely necessary to be well grounded in the knowledge of our Religion, and of our Christian duties, so that we may be able to withstand the onslaughts of those who write or speak against God and all things good and holy.
Therefore, let all Catholics, as they value their immortal souls, do their best to assist at the Sunday instructions, and to hear them with the soil of their hearts well prepared by prayer and humility, goodwill and attention, and then, like the seed in the Gospel parable, the Word of God will bring forth abundant fruit, which will show itself in their daily lives, and will be their strength both in life and in death.
Be it also the anxious care of parents, for similar reasons, to see that their children attend the instructions meant for them, in the form of Catechism, on Sunday afternoon or evening. Train them to this simple and efficacious practice while they are young, and we may reasonably hope that in after years they will adhere to their religion, in spite of all difficulties, to the common joy of their parents and pastors, no less than to their own best interests.
For nearly five hundred years after the institution of the Church, when the Gospel had been # read and the instruction upon it had been given, the "Mass of the Catechumens" ended, that is, those who were being prepared for Baptism were dismissed from the assembly of the Faithful, in virtue of the Discipline of the Secret, already referred to, whereby such persons were not yet considered fit to see or learn more of the Sacred Mysteries.—This, then, completes the first division of the Mass.