Priests who crack jokes during the Divine Liturgy are on my little list, and none of them will be missed. I know that priests have long been given the bad advice to begin the sermon with a joke to crack the ice with the congregation – but a sermon is not public speaking at a banquet, and the jokes usually fall flat. Even worse are those who make jokes throughout the liturgy.
A friend attended Palm Sunday serves; the celebrant began mass by saying ho much he enjoyed Holy Week and Paschaltide because he got to smack people in the face with water. My friend shared my reaction: Just the way to begin the week when we remember the death through torture of the Son of God and his conquest of Satan for the salvation of the Human race – a lame joke.
Some bishops share my reaction. The Sydney Morning Herald reports:
LAUGHTER may be the best medicine, but God is no joke, according to an Anglican bishop who has chided Christian church leaders who think of themselves as stand-up comedians and resort to making jokes during sermons.
The Bishop of South Sydney, Robert Forsyth, says there is nothing funny in “lame-fisted attempts” to crack jokes and be funny during services and church meetings. Humour has its place, but God and church, he says, is no laughing matter.
“I am frankly sick of ‘leaders’ ruining the atmosphere of the meeting/service and disrupting the focus on God with half-baked comic lines,” he wrote for a Sydney Anglican online ministry resource guide. “Or they detract from my reflection upon some important point made in the sermon with smart cracks or attempts to make funny comments about the preacher or the sermon.”
Another bishop feels the same way:
Sydney’s Catholic Auxiliary Bishop, Bishop Julian Porteous, agreed with the sentiment, saying that Mass was not the venue for the priest to indulge his own personality.
“A religious ceremony, for Catholics a Mass, is a sacred event, and therefore the whole context of celebration should be one that engenders respect, appreciation of the divine and a whole sense of reverence for holy things - that is always got to be the ground in which a priest approaches his duties.
“There has been a tendency for people to feel a joke at the end of the Mass is something to leave people with a smile, but I personally don’t think it is appropriate.”
Preserving the dignity of the occasion should be uppermost in the mind of a priest. “There can be place for a comment which may be a truth or insight into the foibles of humanity, but jokes, if they are corny and self-serving, are inappropriate.”
Now if they could only get priests to stop acting like Vegas MCs.