ENJOY going to estate sales. You can find some amazing things at estate sales, everything from lamps to lawnmowers and furniture to fine art. But what I’m most interested in are books. Specifically, I’m on the lookout for Classic literature and books on the Catholic faith.
A book I found recently has become one of my favorites. Perhaps some of you know it. It’s called Blessed Be God: A Complete Catholic Prayer Book, published in 1925. This book has been reprinted and is available on line. I was thrilled that I found an original edition, complete with the leather cover still pretty much intact.
I’ll admit, I’d never heard of this book, and many of the prayers, novenas, and devotions were unknown to me. As I’ve read through this book, it has struck me how many of these prayers talk about death. By that I mean, they bring into focus that we’re all going to die, it’s probably not going to be fun, and there’s no guarantee we’ve got an express ticket to heaven. Things like mercy, release from Purgatory, relief from death’s agony, and the assistance of the angels and saints are ideas scattered all throughout this prayer book. Even the rubrics remind us of mortality. Here is an excerpt from the introduction to Evening Prayers:
Each night may be our last one here below.
We should think of this when saying our evening prayers.
Well that gets right to the point, doesn’t it? To be fair, the book isn’t only about death. It’s actually a primer on how to live as a Catholic Christian, with beautiful prayers and devotions for every aspect of life, from morning to night, and all throughout the year.
I started to realize how precious little time we spend thinking about these things any longer, and I began to wonder if this isn’t one of the reasons we have decades of declining Mass attendance, fewer priestly vocations, and plenty of nominal or cultural Catholics. It makes sense to me, at least, that if you quit thinking you need the Church and her rich prayer life to get to heaven, then why bother going to Mass?
When I was a kid in the 60’s and 70’s (which is probably why I never learned these prayers), we were told that people were leaving the Church because it focused too much on sin and death. So the Church became happy and clappy. Prayer books like these went into closets and bookshelves to gather dust and be forgotten. Maybe if we focused on what the Church really teaches about how to obtain eternal life, people would feel compelled to return to the Holy Mass. And I wonder how we can re-introduce our sisters and brothers to these rich and timeless verses. But I’m sure this book has a prayer for that.