If I had enough money to buy every Catholic on earth three books, I know what they would be. Hopefully, at least two of them are on your bookshelf already. If not, I strongly recommend getting them — and reading them. While not every Catholic needs to have a doctorate in theology, every Catholic should at least have a good working knowledge of the Christian faith. These books are essential tools for the education — and spiritual formation — of every Catholic.
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A Catholic Study Bible
Gone are the days when the sacred scriptures had to be copied by hand on vellum by austere monks working away by candlelight slowly developing carpal tunnel syndrome. Back then a full Bible was one of the most expensive things anyone could own, so virtually no one owned one. (Kudos to the Catholic Church for reading the scriptures out loud to the faithful at Mass, providing homilies to help us understand them, and teaching scripture lessons in stained glass windows and other sacred art).
Today, Bibles are so inexpensive and readily available that there is no excuse for any Christian not owning one. The last thrift store I was in even had a big stack of Bibles in their book section with a sign that said “Free Bibles – Take One!”
But there are Bibles and there are Bibles… You will want to make sure the edition you get is one approved by the Catholic Church (such as the New American Bible used in the Lectionary, or the Revised Standard Version: Catholic Edition used in the Catechism). And I especially recommend getting a good Study Bible.
A Study Bible is not only going to have the sacred scriptures, but a lot of other helpful information and commentary to help you understand the scriptures. The Second Vatican Council, in its document on divine revelation, teaches us that “the task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on, has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church, whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ” (Dei Verbum 10). A good Catholic Study Bible will provide you with information drawn from history, archaeology, commentaries from Church Fathers and the saints, and magisterial teachings of the Catholic Church. It can be an invaluable tool in helping you get the most out of the scripture, as well as ensure that you are reading scripture in the full light of Catholic teaching.
There are many good Catholic Study Bibles available. My personal favorite is the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, published by Ignatius Press, edited by Dr. Scott Hahn and Mitch Curtis. It has very extensive and well organized footnotes, great introductions to each book, maps, and study questions. The only drawback is that only the New Testament is currently available as a complete book. They are working on the Old Testament. Many of the OT books are available as individual study guides, and soon the entire Old Testament will also become available to purchase.
A great option for those who want both the OT and NT together in one edition is the Didache Bible, published by Midwest Theological Forum. This is available in both the New American Bible: Revised Edition and the Revised Standard Version: Catholic Edition. It also has extensive footnotes throughout drawing from the Church Fathers, the Catechism, and other magisterial teaching of the Church to help you read the scriptures in light of Catholic tradition.
Every Catholic should have a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church on hand for easy reference. This is one of the greatest gifts the Church has given us in the modern age, and I feel it is one too many Catholics take for granted. Prior to 1997, there was no universal Catholic catechism. This takes many people by surprise. There were catechisms (books designed to help teach the faith) in use that were approved by local and national bishops’ conferences. In America the most well known was the Baltimore Catechism, so named for the Third Council of Baltimore that gave rise to it. It was in common use in this country from 1885 until the 1960s. The US Bishops today have issued a catechism called the US Catholic Catechism for Adults, which is a very helpful teaching text containing information of special interest to the Catholic faithful in the United States.
But in 1997 the Church issued the first universal catechism approved for use across the globe. It has been translated into dozens of different languages and is now used as a common point of reference for all other catechetical texts. It is built around four “pillars” — Theology, Liturgy & Sacraments, Morality and Prayer. Each is taught in a systematic way, drawing from scripture, writings of the saints, and official Church documents. It has a both a complete index as well as a useful glossary. If you ever wonder, what does the Catholic Church teach about _________? then this is your go-to book.
The entire text of the Catechism is available for free at the Vatican’s web site, the web site of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and St. Charles Borromeo Seminary. These can be handy references on the go, but really there is no substitute for owning your own print copy.
Daily Roman Missal & Prayer Book
OK, so this one is a little pricier than the other two on the list, but it is well worth the investment. It is the Daily Roman Missal, published by Midwest Theological Forum. It is what is considered a “pew missal” or “people’s missal,” meaning that it contains the order of the Mass as well as the lectionary readings for the day. This one contains the order of the Mass in both Latin and English, and readings for every day of the year for every cycle of the lectionary.
Praying along with the scripture readings from the Mass of the day is one of the best ways I know to not only boost your prayer life, but to help you live more in tune with the liturgical cycle of the Church. In addition to the readings, this text also has small introductory quotes from the Catechism for every Sunday and major feast day.
What I especially like about this missal is that it is so much more than a daily missal. It is also a prayer book. In fact, it is one of the most comprehensive Catholic prayer books I have come across. It includes a summary of basic Catholic teachings, advice on how to be a better Catholic, all of the basic prayers every Catholic should know, as well as some of the best prayers you’ve never heard of. It has scriptural meditations for the rosary, and one of the best Stations of the Cross meditations I have yet found (by St. Josemaria Escriva). Plus, it is simply a gorgeous book, beautifully printed and beautifully bound, as any prayer book should be. This is a book that can easily become your daily companion for life — so I will repeat, it is well worth the investment.
In addition to the Bible and the Catechism, if you are looking for one book to help you grow in your faith, I can’t think of a better recommendation than daily use of this Daily Roman Missal.