At our house, we do a good job systematically covering the basic catechism with the kids; but after confirmation, things get a little spotty. We tend to focus more on current events-based catechisis: whatever we hear on the news, that's what we talk about. What does the Church teach about gay marriage? Why do we think IVF is a bad idea? What's the big deal about the death penalty? And so on. This is not a bad way to approach the Faith. It helps the kids understand their practical responsibilities as Catholics in the public school system, and it also leads to good discussions of basic principles of the Faith, like why are we here, anyway, and why is human life worthy of respect?

But still, there are gaps, because we're not approaching the Faith systematically. We've tried many times to work through higher-level theology books, and we keep fizzling out. So we plowed our way through Peter Kreeft's excellent Your Questions, God's Answers, which is aimed at teenagers. It's solid but chatty, without being condescending. Even though it's a bit goofy in spots, I recommend this book as a conversation starter. It wasn't hard to read a page or so a night at least a few times a week, and many fruitful discussions sprang from this routine.

Now, we've started Michael Dubruiel's The How-To Book of the Mass: Everything You Need to Know, But No One Ever Taught You (OSV, revised 2007), and I couldn't be more pleased. My older kids are certainly quiet and respectful at Mass, but I would love for them to be more engaged, and I think this book will be transformative -- not only for them, but for me and my husband, too. Let's face it, we have some gaps in our educations, too.

We're just reading a page a day, and I've learned something every day so far. The very first chapter tells us what the word "Mass" means. How did I somehow not know this? It comes from the Latin dismissal phrase, "Ite missa est," which, says Dubrueil, "means 'Go, it is sent' -- the 'it' being the Church."

Dubruiel says:

The fact that we call this greatest of Christian prayers the "dismissal" points to the essence of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. Our Lord calls us to Himself, and through His saving act invites us to a unity with God the Father through the power of His Holy Spirit. Jesus makes communion with God possible. But following Jesus does not stop with this communion, for once He has united us to Himself, He sends us forth with a mission (a dismissal).

"Go" is one of His final words to His disciples as He ascends into heaven in the Gospel of Matthew's account (Matthew 28:19). Hence, the way every Mass ends with "go" is at the heart of what we came to the Mass for -- to be empowered by God and sent forth again.

That's something to think about! You can see that Dubruiel packs a lot of theology into a few short sentences, and he has a great gift of clarity. It's an immensely practical, forthright, and thorough manual. The format is very user-friendly, and works well for busy people.

If you're a new Catholic, or an old Catholic looking for a resource to deepen your understanding of the Mass or of your faith in general, or if you realize your participation in the Mass has become perfunctory and you're hoping to become more engaged, this book is ideal. It would make a wonderful confirmation gift, too. You can read more excerpts from the book here