Books Every Catholic Should Own (and Read!)

Sometimes it happens that I get asked by someone interested in becoming Catholic, or in living their Catholic faith more fully, whether there are certain books they should look to get.  While sometimes there are certain books I feel compelled to recommend to an individual because of that person’s background or interests, or particular spiritual needs, there are a number of books that I feel every Catholic in general should own and use — or rather, certain types of books.  Here’s a list that I have compiled, and I’d welcome any additions.

Ok, so this one should go without saying, but I’m saying it anyway.  It’s the Word of God.  The Bible contains our divinely inspired scriptures.  You should own a copy.  But which one?  There are so many translations and editions out there these days, it’s admittedly confusing.  Rather than offer a comprehensive list, I’ll just give some general guidelines and mention a specific few.

  • Make sure it is a Catholic Bible.  That means it will contain the deuterocanon, consisting of the books of Sirach, Tobit, Wisdom, Judtih, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Baruch, and longer versions of Daniel and Esther.  Most Protestant Bibles will leave these books out, or if they are included at all, will include them in their own section between the Old and New Testaments, labelled “Apocrypha.”  These books are not apocryphal; they are sacred scripture and belong in the Catholic Bible along with every other book.  Make sure your Bible has them.  (You can read more about the deuterocanon here.)
  • There are a couple of English language Bibles that the Church routinely uses, so if you are looking for advice on which translation to get, you may find this helpful.
    • New American Bible – this is the one the Church uses in the Lectionary, which is read from during the liturgy.  It’s a fairly readable version, and if you want something that will correspond with the Mass readings, this is the one to choose.
    • New Revised Standard Version: Catholic Edition – this is the translation of the scriptures that is quoted from in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, so if you are looking for a Bible to help you as you study the Catechism, or one with somewhat more formal language, this might be a good choice.
    • Douay-Rheims – The Douay-Rheims Bible is an English translation that was authorized by the Catholic Church around the same time as the popular King James translation of the Bible.  So if you like the more formal and poetic early modern English used in the King James, the Douay-Rheims is for you.
    • The USCCB has a listing of other Church approved English translations on their web site.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church is a wonderful gift from the Church to the faithful to help us all learn about our faith and draw closer to God.  It is a comprehensive compilation of the Church’s teachings about theology, morality, liturgy and prayer.  Take advantage of this gift!  The Catechism is an invaluable reference whenever you have a question about the faith.  Hint: learn to use the index and glossary.
The official Catechism of the Catholic Church is an invaluable resource, but it’s not enough on its own.  It is also beneficial to have a guide or guides to help you to process the information contained in the Catechism and there are many resources that accomplish this.  Just a few are:
As an adult Catholic, you really ought to know what is going on at Mass.  A missal will help.  And I’m not talking about a little paperback throw-away missalette, though if that’s all you have available to you, please use it.  I mean a real Missal that you can make your own, keep and pray with.  I’m not necessarily saying you should follow along in your Missal at Mass – you may find that helps you stay focused or you may find it distracting.  But outside of Mass, having a Missal will allow you to know the readings for the day, to pray with the Church, to be aware of special saint’s days and feasts.  Plus Missals tend to have a lot of wonderful extra prayers and helpful information in them about the Church outside of the Order of the Mass and the daily readings.
As I mentioned above, a good Missal will most likely have all kinds of extra prayers in it, which is helpful.  But it’s nice to have another Catholic prayer book, as well – something you can turn to when you need extra inspiration in your prayers, are having trouble finding the right words in your own prayers, or just want to try a new kind of prayer.  There are many of these to choose from, including:
Whether you are “into” apologetics or not, every Catholic at some point will be asked, “Why do Catholics do _____?” or, “Do Catholics really believe _____?”  When you find yourself in a position to defend or explain Catholic beliefs and practices (and you will), it helps to be prepared.  There are many helpful resources to help you in this arena.  Some basic ones are: