HERE IS ALWAYS A CHALLENGE when printing an ecclesiastical book—whether it be a Missal, a Lectionary, a hymnal, or even a simple prayerbook. This challenge is the challenge of form vs. function. Any editor or publisher struggles with putting together a book that does what it sets out to do, but also does it in a beautiful way. A book that looks beautiful, but is hard to use or read, really is not the most useful book. On the other hand, a book that expertly does what it sets out to do, but does it to the lack of beauty and form, has lost a certain element of the art of creating a book. Liturgically speaking, one has to look only at the medieval missals and sacramentaries compared to the editions of the Sacramentary put out in the 1960s and 1970s to see this challenge first hand.
In a way never done before now, the Saint Isaac Jogues Illuminated Missal, Lectionary, & Gradual has found the balance and met the challenge of form vs. function. The quality of the book is amazing. When you hold this book in your hands, you know that it is put together well. The paper is thick and white, the printing is crisp and clean, and the binding is sturdy. Any pastor can tell you that pew missals and hymnals need to be some of the toughest books out there—and any priest could tell stories of seeing children play with or drop missals and hymnals during Mass. The Saint Isaac Jogues Missal will certainly withstand the test of time in terms of quality of production.
WHAT IS INSIDE THE BOOK is the most important part. The old adage is that you cannot judge a book by its cover. The simple, dignified cover of the Saint Isaac Jogues Missal is proper for a pew missal but certainly does not do justice to the contents of the book. The first thing one will notice when opening the book is the appropriate use of artwork throughout the book. In the Proper of Seasons and the Proper of Saints, beautiful black-and-white line art, painstakingly restored, adorns the pages. Nothing is stretched or forced to fit in the space. The typesetting is large, crisp, and easy-to-read on clean, white paper that is not too thin. Nothing shows through from the other side of the page. Typesetting seems to be a lost art in our modern world and the Saint Isaac Jogues Missal brings the beauty of simple text to life. In a pew book, there needs to be good typesetting so that the faithful can read the book in various postures and lighting conditions.
In the center of the book, the illuminated Ordinary of the Mass is printed on thicker, cream colored pages with full color illustrations and photographs. No other pew Missal that I know of has done such a beautiful job in setting the Ordinary of the Mass. The photos and illustrations have wonderful and accurate comments and explanations that give meaning to the Ordinary of the Mass—a part of the Mass that many people take for granted, since it stays the same at each Mass. This Ordinary of the Mass is itself almost a mini-treatise on the Mass. The thicker pages, the full color photos, and beautiful typesetting all make this Ordinary of the Mass section truly illuminated.
HE CONTENT OF THE BOOK ITSELF is superb. In fact, it’s hard to compare it with anything because until now, there has not been a pew book containing the entire Gradual within it. The Lectionary readings are, of course, printed along with dignified settings of the Responsorial Psalms. The entrance chant from the Gradual, the gradual chant itself, the Ancient Alleluia or Tract, and both the offertory and communion chants are printed, with Latin and English translations. Most of the faithful who see the Saint Isaac Jogues Missal might wonder why none of these elements were present in their old missals or missalettes. With the inclusion of all the Gradual texts, the sequences, and all the Lectionary readings, everything a parish might do in terms of singing is included in the Saint Isaac Jogues Missal.
What is wonderful about the Saint Isaac Jogues Missal is that, other than the psalm settings, the sequences, and a few other items, nothing is set to music. This opens up any parish to the wide array of choices for the celebration of the Mass. Whether the antiphons are done in Latin or in English, whether to Gregorian melodies or simpler ones, only the text is there to allow complete freedom in the parish to do what is best for that parish or specific Mass. Thus, the Saint Isaac Jogues Missal really is the pew missal of options. This means that it can be used anywhere or in any parish. One of the problems with pre-existing pew missals and missalettes is that the publisher has decided what antiphons, if any, are to be included and the parish is then limited as to what is able to be sung. Even a parish that is not yet ready to implement all the Gradual texts can pick-and-choose those texts that they will sing. The other texts will inevitably be read by the faithful in the pews which will, undoubtedly, have an impact on their participation in the liturgy. This is precisely why there is no hymn section to the Saint Isaac Jogues Missal: parishes are able to select a hymnal of their choosing (whether it be the Saint Isaac Jogues Hymnal or another) to complement the missal.
IN THE END, NOTHING IN THE JOGUES MISSAL IS KITSCH. Everything has been well-thought-out and included (or not included) for a reason. The folks at the Pope John Paul II Institute for Liturgical Renewal have produced a pew missal that will satisfy parishes across the country and greatly aid in the continued Reform of the Reform and the renewal of the sacred Liturgy.
However, along with the many good things that the Saint Isaac Jogues Missal has within its pages, there are several critiques that can be made, all of them rather small. There is only one ribbon in the book and the logical place to put this would be in the Proper of Seasons for the current Sunday or Solemnity. That means that there is no ribbon for the Ordinary of the Mass. While the Ordinary is printed in thicker, cream pages and is not difficult to find being in the middle of the book, another ribbon there might be useful. Another place a ribbon might be handy is in the back, in the Proper of Saints, so that one does not have to move the sole ribbon from the current Sunday. This is, as I said, a small thing.
As I stated earlier, the Gradual texts are printed in both Latin and English. The Latin is on the left side of the column and the English is on the right side. This is opposite of how many “hand missals” have it printed (although many print the Latin in the inside column regardless of the page). This is hardly a critique and is perhaps only my personal preference. Anyone using the Saint Isaac Jogues Missal week-after-week would certainly become accustomed to seeing the English in the right column after a week or two of use. While I’m on the topic of Latin, one person I showed the Saint Isaac Jogues Missal to before I wrote this review questioned why the readings were not also printed in Latin. It’s the first time I’ve heard that specific question brought up. Since most Ordinary Form Masses rarely have the readings in Latin, unless you’re at a Papal Mass, there really is not a need; but I was impressed with the question posed to me.
HE FINAL CRITIQUE is about the illuminated Ordinary of the Mass itself. As I mentioned earlier, it is the most beautiful part of the Saint Isaac Jogues Missal. However, there are parts of it that I find difficult to read. The rubrics are printed in a dark gray or burgundy in a small, italicized font. When standing as at Mass, these rubrics are hard-to-read without bringing the missal up higher. While the instructions for the congregation to stand, sit, or kneel are printed in a small box, they are small and sometimes easy to miss. I began this review by mentioning the challenge of form vs. function. While the ‘form’ of this illuminated Ordinary of the Mass is beautiful and striking, in my opinion it is so with some detriment to the ‘function.’ Perhaps having the rubrics in red the the prayers in black as in an altar missal would make it easier to read and follow. Then again, it simply may be my own artistic preference.
In concluding this review of the Saint Isaac Jogues Illuminated Missal, Lectionary, & Gradual, I wholeheartedly recommend any parish to seriously consider this pew missal when selecting a pew book. The Saint Isaac Jogues Missal has filled a gap that no other pew book has been able to fill, namely, the inclusion of the entire Gradual within its pages. The Saint Isaac Jogues Missal has met the challenge of form vs. function and has met it well.
We hope you enjoyed this guest post by Fr. Alan M. Guanella.