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Significant innovations boost ‘Seven Last Words’

/ 12:08 AM May 03, 2014

Last month, we received a request from a well-known priest to catch the Good Friday “Seven Last Words” on different TV networks, to vet them on point of style, content and effectivity, with the view in mind of effecting improvements in next year’s sermons.

Since we have conducted public speaking workshops for priests and seminarians in the past, and believe that TV is today’s new pulpit, we acceded to the request, hunkered down for a long view last Good Friday, and came up with these hopefully helpful notes:

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Good news

The good news is that, at long last, the “fire and brimstone,” “scare the living daylights” holy screamfests of old have more or less become a  thing of the past, with only two of some 15 speakers resorting to them this year.

Instead, the “Seven Last Words” orators tried to base their talks, not on terror tactics to cow listeners into whimperingly pious obedience, but on reality-based, experiential insights that viewers would hopefully apply to their own lives.

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Effort

Another instructive innovation was a perceptible effort to expand on the old limitation of having only priests delivering the sermons. This time around, there were lay people, well-known political or societal figures, and even representatives of what we may describe as the disenfranchised—individuals struggling with disabilities or other limitations, even including a midget couple.

Now, we know where the people who thought up these and other innovations are coming from: They wanted to make the talks more truly representative of the millions of “ordinary” believers and searchers out there.

But, when the speaker stammered and could hardly find his voice due to nervousness and inexperience, the innovation’s good intentions were rendered moot and academic. Effective communication was key, and when that didn’t happen, the noble experiment failed.

This is not to say that it should not be attempted again next year—but, with much more judicious choice of speakers, so the experience becomes memorable, not unbearable.

Usual platitudes

As for the priests among those who spoke last Good Friday, about half of them resorted to the usual platitudes, so more original insights should definitely be encouraged.

They should really work on their sermons and come up with something truly special and insightful, because their TV sermons reach, not just hundreds of listeners, but tens of thousands.

Other areas for improvement include the choice of so-called lay leaders to deliver long or short “inspirationals” on Good Friday: This season, quite a number of them turned out to be uninspired and uninspiring choices, because they were too full of themselves and resorted to merely platitudinous protestations and avowals.

Finally, there was much too much reliance on words, and the speakers forgot that the TV medium has great gifts of visualization, expression and communication that can be used to make sermons truly persuasive and moving. In this age powerfully dominated by television, let’s—televise!

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TAGS: “Seven Last Words”, Good Friday, Holy Week, Television
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