Traditional Books Abound Amid Latin Mass Revival
Old and new publishers bring Catholic classics back to life.
With the traditional Latin Mass now more popular than it has been in half a century, an increasing interest in traditional Catholic books is also taking place.
In September 2007 the Coalition in Support of Ecclesia Dei estimated 235 Latin Masses in the extraordinary from were being offered regularly on Sundays in the United States. By 2012 the number had sharply increased to 475 — and it has continued to increase, although at a less rapid pace, but especially during weekdays and on special occasions (such as feast days).
As the Mass according to the 1962 Missal has become more prevalent in parish life, there has been a corresponding increase in attention paid to traditional books. At least two publishers have found that even when their classics are not advertised, they are still sought out by those looking for the ancient faith, untarnished by modern accretions.
Whether Latin-English missals, liturgical commentaries, catechisms, writings of saints, modesty manuals or extensive and elaborate prayer books, more Catholics have been buying titles that unequivocally present the perennial teachings and practices of the Church. This has led to new publishers coming into existence — most of which are small, but one of which already sells more than 100,000 books annually.
Filling a Void With Tradition
For years TAN Books — founded in 1967 by Thomas A. Nelson to combat the liturgical and doctrinal upheaval of the time — was the best-known traditional Catholic publisher. As Masses offered publicly according to the 1962 Missal became nearly extinct in the 1970s, TAN filled a void in the hearts of faithful customers. The Rockford, Illinois, company’s initially small selection came to include classics such as The Story of a Soul by St. Thérèse of Lisieux, which has sold more than 120,000 copies, and True Devotion to Mary by St. Louis de Montfort, which has sold 193,000-plus copies.
TAN still carries these and other classics, but since its acquisition by St. Benedict Press in 2008, the TAN imprint has transitioned from promoting mostly reprints by deceased authors to promoting mostly new books by living authors. Now TAN, which moved to Charlotte, N.C., rarely adds a reprint to its lineup and says its “venerable backlist” continues to sell well whether they are advertised or not.
Although authors living today do write traditional books, many traditionally-minded Catholics feel most comfortable with works that have stood the test of time. In their minds, a traditional Catholic publisher, by definition, makes what has been passed down through the ages foundational to its selection. New books can be added, but only if they are needed — that is, if the topics they address have not already been addressed better by someone else — especially a saint.
Brian Kennelly, previously in marketing at TAN and currently an editor there, explained that many of his customers already know what they want when they shop TAN titles. “Traditional readers are so dedicated to their faith that they seek out the classic titles on their own,” he told the Register. “That being said, we do promote the classics [in online ads] and send out the occasional e-blast for a traditional title. We just try to strike that balance between promoting the old stuff with the new, because there are authors in the Catholic world today doing great work, and they deserve a voice right alongside the voices of the past.”
Kennelly, who himself has three books published by TAN, pointed to St. Benedict Press’ acquisition of Neumann Press in 2013 and the Confraternity of the Precious Blood in 2014 as forming the bulk of TAN’s newly added reprints. Abridged versions of classics from authors such as St. Francis de Sales and Venerable Louis of Granada continue to be reprinted, as well.
In 1975 Anthony Michna started a Catholic goods store in Louisville, Kentucky, called Mother of Our Savior. For many years he, along with his wife and nine children, sold traditional Catholic items such as rosaries, holy cards, scapulars, medals, crucifixes — and, of course, books.
From the beginning “outside titles” constituted the majority of books carried by the Michnas. Around seven years ago, however, Anthony was told by customers that some of the books he sold retained their original imprimaturs but had new information added. Perplexed, Michna said he checked the claim for himself.
“I didn’t believe the customers at first, but saw for myself that the old, approved texts were changed,” he said. “The imprimaturs were from many decades ago — long before anything new was added.”
It would have been one thing to make changes and then obtain a new imprimatur, but Michna did not want to give the impression that the new material was covered under the old imprimatur.
Mother of Our Savior added “Refuge of Sinners” to its name and regular publishing to its business in 2015. Like “Mother of Our Savior,” this traditional Marian title is used to invoke Mary’s intercession, for example, in the Litany of Loreto.
Marian books abound in the Refuge of Sinners Publishing collection, including titles on lesser-known apparitions such as those at La Salette, France, and Beauraing, Belgium. Also abundant are books on theology, apologetics, prayer, instructing youth and other practical aspects of living a Christian life — including dying a happy death.
One of the books Refuge of Sinners offers is The True Spouse of Jesus Christ. Although written most particularly for nuns, this work by St. Alphonsus Liguori includes instructions helpful for any state of life. Chapters address topics such as humility, charity, obedience, prayer and resignation to God’s will.
Other popular titles offered by Refuge of Sinners are The Great Encyclical Letters of Leo XIII, The Eucharist and Christian Perfection by St. Peter Julian Eymard, Communism and the Conscience of the West by Venerable Fulton Sheen, and Comfort for the Faint-Hearted by Ludovicus Blosius.
Today, the Michnas and their small staff sell only a few “outside titles” among hundreds of “in house” options — all reprints from decades ago. This past year alone, according to Michna, 47 new titles were added, with the Haydock Bible heading the list. This famed Douay-Rheims translation originally appeared in 1883 with commentary by Father George Leo Haydock and includes maps, a dictionary and a chronological index.
With all the Refuge of Sinners books taking up so much space in Michna’s store, he has begun transitioning from retail to online sales. The majority of the Michnas customers had been walk-ins, but now orders are taken only via internet, fax, phone and U.S. mail. This has made things run more smoothly as the company grows rapidly in its current Pekin, Indiana, location, according to Michna, and is already selling more than 100,000 copies per year.
Brotherly Book Business
Michna told the Register that among Refuge of Sinner’s best customers is Fraternity Publications, a division of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP). Based in South Abington Township, Pennsylvania, Fraternity Publications sells Refuge of Sinners titles ranging from The Catechism of the Council of Trent to My Little Missal in Pictures by Father Francis Turmezei.
Unlike Refuge of Sinners and TAN, Fraternity Publications regularly carries titles it does not print themselves. In fact, most of its literary inventory is from outside publishers. Whether from Angelico Press, St. Augustine Academy Press or various other places, the FSSP chooses to sell what it considers the best traditional books in print today.
Mary Jo Loboda, who manages Fraternity Publications, is enthusiastic about adding more Father Francis Xavier Lasance titles to the collection, since he is a beloved author. “When we get copies of The New Roman Missal he compiled, they fly off the shelves,” Loboda said, noting the popularity of this daily missal. “So I was delighted to learn that Refuge of Sinners has about 14 more books by him.”
Begun in 1993 as a place for seminarians to purchase textbooks, Fraternity Publications now sells hundreds of books and other devotional items to the general public. Altar cards, rosaries and head veils are available, as are Gregorian chant CDs, including the FSSP’s best-selling Requiem, which heads the list of recordings sales, followed by other CDs featuring sacred song for every Sunday or for special times such as Advent, Christmas, Epiphany and Holy Week.
Loboda has seen an increase in sales almost every week since she returned from a hiatus to work for Fraternity Publications in May 2018. Because the publishing company does no advertising, Loboda is not entirely sure how to explain the increased sales. However, she did offer two ideas.
“The FSSP had me revamp the website to make it match their main site, which was followed by a doubling of sales from the same time period in the previous year,” she said. “Then there’s also the overall growth of the FSSP — so that naturally brings in more customers who want to learn more about the traditional practices of the Church.”
The book most familiar to FSSP newcomers is the Latin-English Booklet Missal printed by the Coalition in Support of Ecclesia Dei. This thin volume with a red cardstock cover and stapled binding is commonly seen in FSSP churches and serves as an aid to those learning the basics of the extraordinary form of the Mass. Loboda says they sell about 10,000 copies of the missal per year, making it their most popular item.
Other popular titles include Liber Usualis (meaning “usual” or “common book” in Latin). This large volume from Preserving Christian Publications contains commonly used Gregorian chants for the Masses throughout the year, as well as for weddings, funerals, baptisms, ordinations and the Divine Office.
In a similar vein, Roman Catholic Books’ reprint of the 1962 Missale Romanum has been vital to the rejuvenation of the extraordinary form of the Latin Mass among the faithful. This very large missal contains the prayers and rubrics (instructions for the priest printed in red) for the Mass as last updated by Pope St. John XXIII.
For those interested in the philosophy of church design, Fraternity Publications offers A Guide for Altar and Sanctuary by Cardinal Herbert Vaughan. This edition is produced by Romanitas Press, which specializes in books on various aspects of liturgy, even including a stand-alone volume on the proper usage of candles in church.
Although diocesan priests staff the majority of traditional Latin Mass sites in the U.S., among religious orders and societies of apostolic life, the FSSP tops the list, with 48 sites operating in the U.S. If sales continue to increase, Fraternity Publications may also begin to top a few lists among Catholic readers.
“The numbers are great,” Loboda said, “not just for simple business purposes, but for the eternal good of souls. That’s what we’re all about — populating heaven by means that have worked for centuries.”
Register correspondent Trent Beattie writes from Seattle, Washington.