Catholic Publishers Show That No Issue in the Church Is In‘tract’able

In time of canceled events, small printed materials are especially handy.

Clockwise from top left: ‘The Wonders of the Holy Name,’ ‘Uniformity With God’s Will’ and ‘Pillar of Fire, Pillar of Truth’ are just some of the best-selling ‘tracts’ that have bolstered the faithful and offered evangelization opportunities over the years.
Clockwise from top left: ‘The Wonders of the Holy Name,’ ‘Uniformity With God’s Will’ and ‘Pillar of Fire, Pillar of Truth’ are just some of the best-selling ‘tracts’ that have bolstered the faithful and offered evangelization opportunities over the years. (photo: Book covers)

St. Anthony Mary Claret, whose feast day is Oct. 24, knew the power of the printed word. He wrote in his autobiography, “One of the most powerful means for good is the press, just as it is a most decided power for evil when it is abused.” Claret, an archbishop of Santiago, Cuba, and founder of the Claretians, saw publications as missionary memos that could get to places the preacher could not. He noted: “Not all wish, or not all are able, to hear the preaching of the word of God, and it is here that a book helps, for it can go to any house whatsoever.”

Claret saw in his lifetime (1807 to 1870) “a delirium for reading” in which people would peruse printed material, regardless of its moral quality. He said that “if people do not have good books, they will read bad ones.” While regular-sized and large books had their places, Claret placed special emphasis on small ones. He cited the frenetic pace of society, writing that “the modern trend calls for speed, and people who are running here and there and in a thousand different directions will not take time to read voluminous books.”

If that was true more than 150 years ago, it is all the more so today. People who are not familiar with, or have never even heard of, a given faith topic will not likely crack open a 700-page tome on it. A booklet, however, is a handy introduction that can be digested more quickly and subsequently passed along to someone else — and someone else, and someone else. Because a single booklet can be read by hundreds of people, it has quantitative value that person-to-person verbal communication does not have. 

Qualitative values of booklets include accuracy, efficiency and effectiveness. Booklets are usually more refined than off-the-cuff (and sometimes even planned) speaking. They never tire, displaying exactly the same information each time they are read day or night — and these reading times can be in private, without pressure on the reader of having to come up with a quick response to an interlocutor. This method was used successfully by St. Francis de Sales, who placed booklets on the doorsteps of houses in Geneva. These have been compiled into a full-length book called The Catholic Controversy, available from TAN Books.


Staples of Evangelization and Catechesis

Booklets (also called tracts, pamphlets, mini-books or brochures) are stapled materials that are generally smaller than standard-sized books in dimension (usually around 4 by 6 inches) and in number of pages (usually 20 to 80). Their convenient size, combined with their bulk discount pricing, make them easily shareable with others. The higher the quantity purchased, the lower the cost per unit, and discounts can even reach 90%.

Older readers will remember booklets by priest-authors such as Daniel Lord, Fulton Sheen, Paul O’Sullivan and Lawrence Lovasik that were common in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s. As missionary zeal waned in the 1960s, however, so did the distribution of publications meant to spread and explain the faith.

One publisher that remained steadfast in its evangelistic and catechetical dedication was TAN Books. Founded in 1967, TAN assertively advertised discounts on reprinted booklets that included O’Sullivan classics such as The Wonders of the Mass and The Holy Ghost: Our Greatest Friend, which have sold hundreds of thousands of copies each. Numbers for The Wonders of the Holy Name even run into the millions. In fact, that O’Sullivan exposition on the name of the Lord is TAN’s most popular booklet, with more than 6 million copies in print.



(Book) Let Go and (Book) Let God

Accepting the results of divine Providence is the topic of a life-changing booklet called Uniformity With God’s Will by St. Alphonsus Liguori. This booklet, like another from TAN called How to Converse With God (which previously had the adverbs “continually” and “familiarly” in its title, is actually a section from Way of Salvation and Perfection, a full-sized book from Mother of Our Savior and Refuge of Sinners Publishing.

Former Indianapolis Colts’ General Manager Ryan Grigson is among those who have found great value in Uniformity With God’s Will. He said earlier this year that the booklet has helped him to let go of his own will and let God’s will come through in his life. In fact, he was so impressed with Uniformity that he got copies of it for others, including a current GM in the NFL. 

Now a senior adviser for the Cleveland Browns, Grigson said, “St. Alphonsus has done a masterful job, in such a small space, of showing that prayerfully accepting God’s will is not only pleasing to God, but most helpful to us.” The Purdue alum and father of six continued, “Even if we have a big trial to endure, it is much better to accept it in faith and calmly yet resolutely proceed forward, rather than get angry that our original ideals were not met.”

Uniformity is a petite yet powerful printed promoter of Providence that can alleviate anxiety, anger and sadness, such as that found most recently over the shutdowns of public Masses earlier this year. While many of the faithful, faced with the specter of Sundays away from church, have turned to online options, some have turned to old-fashioned ones. Getting the Sunday readings from the Bible, or even following an entire Mass from a missal are obvious devotional activities in this category, but another form of “little literary liturgy” has emerged.

Mother of Our Savior and Refuge of Sinners Publishing (which reprints booklets from all the priest-authors above) saw a sharp increase in sales of the booklet Holy Mass for the Absent. In fact, twice as many copies of it sold by September as had sold all of last year. This booklet, larger in dimension than the average but not in number of pages, exudes extreme gratitude for the incomparable benefits of the Mass.  

Rose Michna, general manager of Mother of Our Savior, has been pleasantly surprised her company could be of such help in such odd times. She said, “We have seen Holy Mass for the Absent take off earlier this year. Previously, the homebound and hospitalized needed [it], but now many more people have seen its value.” 

More people are also seeing the unique value of belonging to the Catholic Church, thanks in part to booklets produced by Mother of Our Savior. One Church Is Not as Good as Another! and Hundreds of Churches but Only One Is Christ’s are among the materials that Michna makes available. The two booklets have a similar theme — that the Catholic Church is the only church Jesus founded — but distinct differences in delivery. The former, written by Paulist Father Wilfred Hurley, is basically a printed version of an emphatic sermon, while the latter, written by Jesuit Father Martin Scott, has a more subdued, conversational tone.


Record-Breaking ‘Tract’ Star 

Another booklet from another group that has sold nicely is Pillar of Fire, Pillar of Truth. Written by Catholic Answers’ founder Karl Keating more than 20 years ago as an invitation to become an active member of the Church, this little work has sold more than 1 million copies — and millions more have been distributed at events such as World Youth Day. This has made Keating a record-setting “tract star” for Catholic Answers Press, as his full-sized apologetic classic, Catholicism and Fundamentalism, from Ignatius Press, has also been extraordinarily popular.

“Popular” can certainly describe the books of Father Michael Gaitley, a priest of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception. Several million copies of his full-sized books, including Consoling the Heart of Jesus, The One Thing Is Three, and 33 Days to Morning Glory, have been sold since 2011. These books are not the only items available from the Marians of the Immaculate Conception’s publishing arm, however.

Marian Press offers souls help, in several ways, to get on the right “tract.” Their booklets include Divine Mercy Explained, The Divine Mercy Image Explained, and How to Make the Five First Saturdays. The last booklet has a humorous yet poignant story about how it is up to Catholics to ensure there is peace in the world. The means have been given to the Church by God through the Immaculate Heart of Mary; the only thing left is for more Catholics to utilize them.


Gaining Traction

The Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (whose Latin initials are FSSP) sells booklets directly through Fraternity Publications and has also made them available to the faithful via FSSP parish literature racks. The top three Fraternity Publications booklets are Catechism of Making a Good Confession, The Real Presence, and Purgatory, all written by Father James Buckley of the FSSP. 

A new booklet from the FSSP that was just released is called Guilt Is Good by Jerome Schmeidler. It does not celebrate guilt as an end, but as a means to the end of forgiveness. The author communicates the message that, because guilt is a sign that something needs repair, it should be welcomed and used, rather than ignored, fought or explained away.

Another man communicating important ideas through the FSSP is Claudio Salvucci, who was named the group’s communications director earlier this year. That job would be enough for most people, but in his spare time, Salvucci heads Ancilla Press, a small publisher whose name is Latin for “handmaid.” 

Ancilla Press specializes in supplementary (or ancillary) publications, such as those with prayers specific to days and seasons of the year. For example, Prayers for the United States of America (most fitting on days leading up the fourth of July and Election Day), The Little Office of Advent, and All Hallows Eve Prayers and Devotions.

Salvucci wants to return All Hallows’ Eve, or Halloween, to where it had been in the minds of the faithful before the liturgical changes of 1955: the Vigil of All Saints (Hallows) Day. All Hallows Eve Prayers and Devotions “really took off last year,” Salvucci said, and he reported “selling them like crazy this year as well.”


Much Cheaper Than a Speaker

In this time of canceled or downsized events, professional public speaking has become far less common. Fees generally run around $2,500; and when travel accommodations and other expenses are taken into account (or, more accurately, taken out of the account), an event with two fairly well-known speakers can easily cost $10,000 to put on. (Some top speakers even cost that much by themselves.) Booklets, by contrast, can reach the same amount of people (or even more, due to being passed along) at a much smaller cost. 

For example, 500 copies of Hundreds of Churches but Only One Is Christ’s are $750 (a 60% discount off the price of one copy). Add 500 copies of Uniformity With God’s Will at $875 (a 65% discount), and there is a huge savings compared to content at an in-person conference. This opens up the possibility of getting multiple other booklets as well, making the author lineup more thorough and diverse than the speaker lineup would have been.

Five hundred would-be listeners can pick up booklets at their own convenience from the parish office, church, school or auditorium and receive a clear message, then pass along exactly the same message to family and friends. This makes booklets not only cheaper, but further-reaching, than public speaking. 

Among events that still occur, but with fewer people, are confirmation classes, Bible studies and RCIA meetings. All of these are ideal for distributing booklets on the Holy Spirit, Scripture study, works of mercy, and so forth.

Booklets have also been placed, in the indirect, “no-pressure” tradition of St. Francis de Sales, outside of the confines of a parish; in waiting rooms; airports; libraries; hotel lobbies; or even shopping carts. This practice makes evangelization easier for those who get tongue-tied when attempting to explain the faith.

Because nearly every aspect of the faith has been written about, it can truly be said that, despite all the problems today, no issue is really “intractable” in the Church. The message and means are at hand; the only thing left is the motivation. 

The more these little publications are shared with others, the more certain it will be that the Church and the world are indeed on the right “tract.”

Register correspondent Trent Beattie writes from Seattle.

His book Fit for Heaven (Dynamic Catholic, 2015)
contains numerous Catholic sports interviews,
most of which have appeared in the Register.

His latest book is Apostolic Athletes.