Preaching the Word is central to Church mission

The preacher’s role is communication

“Go therefore, make disciples of all the nations; baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” This mandate, given by Christ to the apostles, enjoins on them to preach the Gospel to all people. This proclamation is ordered not only toward faith but also toward the sacraments of faith. Specifically mentioned in this instance is the Sacrament of Baptism whereby we become members of the Church, the Body of Christ – the congregation of all those who believe, hope, and love, which has its origins the inner communion of knowing and loving of the Holy Trinity.

“Do this in memory or me.” These words, pronounced by Christ at the Last Supper, constitute a second mandate given to the apostles. At the Last Supper, the apostles are commissioned to celebrate the Eucharist, thereby making really and truly present the Body and Blood of Our Saviour. The union that is effected by faith and by insertion into the Body of Christ by baptism receives its ultimate realisation and expression in the celebration of the Eucharist. The intimate relationship between the Church and Eucharist is famously expressed by Henri de Lubac: “The Church makes the Eucharist and the Eucharist makes the Church.” This intimate relationship is also intimated by the fact that the expression, “Body of Christ,” refers both to the Church and to the Eucharist.

More recent historical-critical research has uncovered and highlighted the Church’s liturgy as the context in which the canon of Scripture was forged. A primary criterion for the inclusion of a particular book in the canon was liturgical: proclamation in the liturgy was a requirement for canonicity.

This fact underscores the intimate relationship between Scripture and Eucharist. The dual mandate (“Go therefore, make disciples of all the nations; baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” and “Do this in memory or me”) ground the dynamics of the apostolic succession as the way in which the integrity of the Word and of the Eucharist is safeguarded.


In other words, the handing on (traditio) of the Word and of the Eucharist intact is ensured by the teaching authority that attends the apostolic succession by virtue of Christ’s mandate. This teaching authority we refer to as Magisterium.

The Church, apostolic succession, Scripture, Tradition, Magisterium, and the Eucharist all interweave with each other to form the tapestry in which the Holy Trinity communicates to all men and women of all ages the revelation that culminated in and was completed with the Incarnation of the Word. It is in in this tapestry that preaching must necessarily find its life source if it is indeed to communicate the Word that is life.

The preacher must therefore immerse himself in a spirit of humility and obedience into the life of the Church – or, rather, allow himself so to be immersed by the grace of God. As Benedict XVI has emphasised, the Church provides the context in which alone Scripture can be properly interpreted.

This emphasis on immersion in the life of the Church is explained by the fact that, in preaching, the priest is called to hand on (tradere) the Word to his congregation.

Personal opinions

In this regard, personal opinions contrary to Church teaching can rupture communion. They can also wound the Word and deprive the faithful of the life that the Word imparts. They thus bring division and inflict spiritual harm. In this way, the sign value of the Church as the sacrament of salvation is obscured.

Union of mind and heart with the Church furnishes a necessary but not sufficient condition for effective preaching. Also required is the ability on the part of the priest to enter into and to understand the needs and concerns of his congregation so that his preaching of the Word engages with their lived experience.

The role of the academic study of philosophy and theology in this task should not be underestimated.

They furnish indispensable aids in understanding the culture in which we live, a culture which in some respects provides fertile ground for the seed of the Gospel but which in other respects proves to be very hostile to it. The preacher needs good philosophy and theology to help him to distinguish between cultural currents that should be supported and those that should be negatively critiqued – albeit with the charity that is at the heart of the Gospel message. Literature and psychology are also useful aids to the preacher in his attempts to speak to the culture of those to whom he is called to minister.


Familiarity with current affairs and with what is happening in the lives of the members of his congregation are also crucial since, in the final analysis, the faithful are seeking the guidance of the Word in negotiating their way through the complexities of their lives as they endeavour to journey towards eternal life.

In brief, the role of the preacher is to communicate the Word to the faithful. In doing so he must both respect the integrity of the Word and proportion his preaching of the Word to the needs of his congregation.

Bro. Kevin E. O’Reilly is a member of the Irish Dominican Province.