Tag Archives: Liguori Publications

Catholics, time to brush up on things about your faith that you used to know — or thought you did?

March 21, 2012

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We walk into church and the first thing we do is reach our fingers into the Holy Water fount.

Why?

Even better questions are, what benefit are we supposed to be getting, and, what are we supposed to be thinking about when we do it?

Johan van Parys, a Minneapolis liturgist, has the answers to those questions and more.

The director of liturgy and the sacred arts at the Basilica of St. Mary, he’s packaged them nicely in 150 reader-friendly pages in “Symbols That Surround Us: Faithful Reflections.” (Liguori Publications, $16.99)

Folks who haven’t had any exposure to things Catholic will find explanations for everything from church architecture to garb, from gestures to sacraments. But if it’s been some good while since Sister Mary Whats-her-name taught us that blessing ourselves with Holy Water upon entering church is a reminder of our baptismal vows, that we are members of Christ’s church, that we’re entering a holy place, a different atmosphere than the rest of the world, then you’ll get something out of reading this, too.

Van Parys reminds us that those ordinary elements of water, fire, bread and wine are symbols that “enable us to communicate on a deeper level . . . to express our faith in ways that would not be possible if we were to rely exclusively on words.”

He’s right on the money when he adds, “Although we may not always be aware of them, symbols surround us, connect us to sacred images found in our churches, remind us of our faith, and support us in our private and public prayer.”

Much to learn — or re-learn

Like a good teacher, van Parys sets the stage for comprehension by helping readers grasp the concept that nonverbal communication and symbols touch us everyday. Body language, for example, flowers on Mother’s Day, a hug to a grieving friend.

He quickly moves from the secular to the sacred, explaining, “When it comes to our faith, we use symbls even more readily to approach that which by definition cannot be explained or captured by words: the mysteries of creation and salvation. . . . The liturgy and the sacraments of the Catholic Church use symbols to share meaning and reveal deeper meaning.”

After that, the author is off and running, effectively quoting from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the General Instructions of the Roman Missal, the documents of Vatican II and other authoritative works.

There’s much to grab onto here, the what and why of vestments worn at Mass, the meaning behind the use of the various oils during sacramental rites, how sacred art can connect us to God and the saints, and of course, the superb symbolism of bread and wine.

Bread, he simply writes, that becomes the Body of Christ, is for Catholics “weekly nourishment on our journey of faith.” And he’s honest enough to note this about the use of wine at Mass:

“Wine has been ascribed medicinal qualities: It was used to settle an upset stomach and to clean out wounds. Still, the principal quality of wine is to add festivity to a gathering and emphasize unity among those who share the cup.”

Perfect for discussion by groups

He’s unafraid to explain how some Catholic ritual evolved from pre-Christian peoples.

And there’s a marvelous chapter on sacred architecture as symbol that tackles why our churches look the way they do and how they’ve changed through 2,000 years. The book is richer for the personal anecdotes van Parys relates: I loved the one about the choir members who tossed their coats casually on the altar only to have the pastor come by and sweep the coats off in one fell swoop!

Each of the 10 chapters ends with a brief reflection and three questions to ponder and/or discuss.

After reading “Symbols That Surround Us” I could easily see it serving as the text for a small group for a number of sessions and as the focus of an adult faith formation series. Those who facilitate gatherings for the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) might find it a nice supplementary resource.

But let me go back to my very first thought: I wasn’t halfway through “Symbols That Surround Us” when the lightbulb was turned on: I’d forgotten so many of these symbolic connections that enrich Catholic life. Reading van Parys’ little book will remind those of us in the over-50 crowd of some what we used to know — or at least had studied for the religion class test!

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Publishers must think church saints are back in

July 28, 2011

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Saints are cool again. At least book publishers must figure they are.

Here’s a quick look at recent releases that target niche markets — teens and moms — people who might be searching for role models among the heavenly blessed — and one that could be for just about everyone.

Liguori Publications is aiming both at teenage readers and on-the-go mothers who might be looking for a spiritual boost — or at the least empathy.

In “Ablaze: Stories of Daring Teen Saints,” Colleen Swaim (http://www.liguori.org/productdetails.cfm?sku=820298) tells the real-life biographies of eight young people who lived relatively recently, all in an effort to help today’s young people understand that holiness is real and attainable.

Catholics will recognize names like Maria Goretti and Dominic Savio — well-known teens saints, but names new to me like St. Alphonsa of the Immaculate Conception, an Indian nun, and St. Kizito, a  Ugandan martyred for his faith.

What makes the this 130-page paperback work is that Swaim knows her audience has short attention spans so she keeps the stories brief and interesting, but she also challenges teens to put themselves in the situations the saints found themselves, asking them to reflect upon questions like:

“Think back to the last time you were in physical pain. How did you react to it?”

And, “Do you remember making your first Holy Communion? How did you feel? How do you approach the Eucharist differently today?”

Even the brief text is broken up with definitions and info boxes scattered throughout along with prayers, quotes, and “Saintly Challenges” like, “With the zeal of a new convert, fearlessly tell one person about your faith.”

 

For Moms-on-the-go

In a similar vein but purse-size and just 79 pages is “Saints on Call: Everyday Devotions for Moms” (http://www.liguori.org/productdetails.cfm?PC=11903. Author Christine Gibson takes common, real-life situations — for example, “When you feel ‘sacrificed-out’ for your family…” — and offers a simple explanation how a saint dealt with a similar issue. Each brief story is followed by a quote from scripture to ponder and a prayer.

For the sacrificed-out mom, Gibson holds up St. Gianna Molla who chose to deliver her baby knowing it would cost her her own life. Gibson’s prayer hits home:

“St. Gianna, you made the ultimate sacrifice for your little one. I ask you to please pray for me that I may rejoice in the sacrifices I can make for my dear children.”

Among the more than four dozen other situations — each tied to a saint — are issues such as “When you feel like life is not going as you planned it…” (St. Rose Philippine Duchesne); “When you can’t stand another house guest…” (St. Lydia Pupuraria); “When you are worried about your wayward child…” (St. Monica).

Every single one is a winner.

 

For scholars, art lovers and, well, everyone

Finally, there’s this book that will appeal to a number of niche groups — and perhaps a general audience, too —  with stories about saints from Agatha to Zachariah.

“The Lives of the Saints through 100 Masterpieces” (http://www.dupress.duq.edu/pubDetails.asp?theISBN=9780820704364) is a Duquesne University Press paperback is going to be loved by those who cherish Christian art, but those interested in saints’ stories, myths, legends and history will find it compelling reading and viewing.

Written by Jacques Duquesne and Francois Lebrette and translated from the French by M. Cristina Borges, this 221-pager is a collection of saints’ biographies — and tales, to be honest — each accompanied by classic paintings that hang is places both well-known — The Louvre, The Prado — and obscure (to me at least), and almost all in Europe.

Even if you think you know the stories of saints you’ll find new information here. I especially appreciated the transparency of the authors who frankly acknowledge when something about one of the saintly heroes may have been passed down as mere legend.

Readers will appreciated learning why a saint is pictured in a certain way — St. Denis carrying his own head! – or typically painted with a certain object — a sword, a palm leaf, a stag, which would be St. Hubert, patron saint of hunters.

There are saints, too, that you may never have heard of — St. Fiacre, for example — that show the European bent of the authors. But those tales are interesting, too, and the paintings that help tell the story are indeed masterpieces. Warning: The retail cost is a bit steep at $29.95, but it isn’t cheap to print all those color paintings, and the print job is superb, even in the smaller format.– bz

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