Last year, Pope Francis said that Catholic priests risk losing the attention of parishioners if their homilies, or sermons, last more than 10 minutes during Mass. Longer reflections in general, are “a disaster,” he said, speaking to liturgical directors in January 2023.

Now, he’s encouraging priests to talk even less.

Speaking Wednesday in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, Pope Francis said that priests should keep their messages to eight minutes “because after that time attention is lost and people fall asleep, and they are right,” the Guardian reported.

The pope added, “Priests sometimes talk a lot and you don’t understand what they are talking about.”

That’s hardly the most controversial thing that Francis has said during his papacy — or, for that matter, this week. And it’s a message he’s been trying to get across for more than a decade.

Courtney Mares, writing for EWTN Vatican, noted that the pope doesn’t always follow his own advice. At a Mass on Holy Thursday, he spoke for 20 minutes, Mares wrote.

There is some precedence for eight-minute sermons. Billy Graham’s first sermon is said to have lasted eight minutes, although the evangelist would go on to speak much longer than that at his weeks-long crusades.

And per EWTN Vatican, “The pope’s words echo the recommendations made by Archbishop Nikola Eterovic in his 2010 book on the 2008 Synod on the Word of God, which advised prelates to keep their homilies to eight minutes or shorter and to avoid ‘improvisations’ from the pulpit.”

The pontiff’s advice is also in line with the shrinking American attention span, which is causing leaders in other professions to also issue advisories on how long things should go on. Per CBS News, The Associated Press has advised writers to keep most articles under 500 words, and “the average shot in a movie is now under 5 seconds.”

Gloria Mark, who researches attention spans, told CBS News said that in 2003, people tended to look at a screen for 2 1/2 minutes before they’d look at something else, but that’s shrunk to 47 seconds in recent years. With this trend, it’s hard to imagine people sitting and listening to sermons and speeches for hours as they did in colonial days.

Still, there is evidence that people will stick with something for much longer if it’s interesting enough. Former Fox News personality Tucker Carlson recently noted, for example, that long-form podcasts are thriving in the age of TikTok, and he was initially shocked by that. “The idea that people would sit and listen to something for hours was the opposite of what was happening in my world. Who would listen to that?” Carlson told podcaster Shawn Ryan. “Of all the trends in the past 30 years, that is the last one I would have predicted, and the most hopeful.”

That said, not everyone is listening to a three-hour podcast all in one sitting.

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One of the most memorable sermons in history, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” preached by Jonathan Edwards in 1741, was reportedly cut short because there was so much wailing and weeping in the congregation. But the length and tenor of sermons is much different today.

In 2019, Pew Research Center analyzed the transcribed text of nearly 50,000 sermons shared online by 6,431 churches. The median length was 37 minutes, but there were notable differences between denominations.

Historically Black Protestant churches had the longest sermons: a median of 54 minutes. Evangelical Protestant churches clocked in at 39 minutes and mainline Protestant churches at 25 minutes.

Catholic homilies were the shortest — a median of 14 minutes — which would not make Pope Francis happy.

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