I hate to admit it, but we are entering my least favorite part of the liturgical year: Ordinary Time. I know I shouldn’t feel this way, but every year it seems to go by slower and slower. We aren’t fasting, as in Advent and Lent. We aren’t preparing for the glorious seasons of Christmas and Easter. Instead, we are existing in this long stretch of the year that seems to go on forever.
This year, however, I will try to do better. I will try to use this green season as a period of continued spiritual growth and strive to grow closer to God. For readers who feel the same way about Ordinary Time as I do, I am going to recommend three books to help make your Ordinary Time more fruitful.
The first and most obvious text you will need is the Bible. When I originally converted from Protestant to Catholic, I felt the Bible was one area where Protestants had Catholics beat. The sheer amount of translations and editions Protestants had compared to Catholics was like comparing a mountain to an anthill. In the past several years, great strides have been made in that department, and we are getting better Bibles than in the past. Don’t get me wrong. Scripture is still Scripture. We are just getting some more authentic translations. We are getting Bibles with more maps and tools to helps us not only read the Word but understand it as well. One of the most recent Bibles in my collection is The Great Adventure Catholic Bible from Ascension Press.
This Bible is based on Ascension Press’ famous timeline that has been helping teach Catholics the Bible for the past several years. What I mean by this is that it uses the same color-coded division to show you how each book fits into the greater picture of salvation history. You will start with the Early World and end with Messianic fulfillment. Each section tells you about the general time the events occurred, important people in that section, and gives you a brief narrative that summarizes what occurs during this specific spot on the timeline. There are also beautiful images, vibrant maps, charts, a reading plan, and even Lectio Divina.
Another feature that is cool to me is the Gospels have Jesus’ text in red. You may not think this is a big deal, but this is virtually unheard of in Catholic Bibles. This has been a Protestant staple for decades, so it’s nice to see we took their good idea and applied it to our own Bible. The translation is the Revised Standard Version – Second Catholic Edition, which is my favorite translation, as it is more literal than the New American Bible Revised Edition. It is one that a lot of modern Catholic scholars reference, and honestly one I wish was read in Mass, but that’s not my call.
The Bible itself has a premium feel to it when you are holding it, and you can tell a lot of care went into the design and production of it. (Made in the USA!) The pages have a nice thickness to them, which is rare these days, because most Bible pages now are so thin, you can read the page you are on and the back of it at the same time. Ascension Press proves once again why they are the leader of Catholic Bible study with this first-class Bible. It is one that I wish I had when I converted and might honestly be the last Bible I ever need. If you are Catholic and only pick up one book this year, make it this Bible. Then, take it home and read it the way it was originally intended to be read.
After getting yourself a good Bible, you should find some commentaries or meditative books that take a specific book of the Bible and help you dive deeper into it. Lately, I have been reading Adrienne von Speyr’s book, The Word. von Speyr was a convert from Switzerland who became one of the greatest Catholic theologians. In this 160-page book, she focuses solely on the first eighteen verses of the Gospel of John. There are twelve chapters in total, with chapters focusing on descriptions of Jesus The Word, such as Beginning, God, Life, and Light. There are also chapters which focus on Jesus being present in the darkness and both His reception and rejection by mankind.
Reading through this book, I would describe it as simple complexity. von Speyr writes in a beautiful way that conveys her full message, without dumbing it down. For example, in her chapter on darkness, she says,
The darkness of God is only an aspect of his eternal light. His light is impenetrable and remains an eternal mystery. Its blinding light strikes us as darkness because we cannot endure it, and his greatest brilliance often seems to us to be darkness itself.
When we think of adjectives that describe God, dark is not one of them, but her explanation makes perfect sense. This quote is the book in a nutshell, passages of brilliance that make you pause, reflect, and read it again to make sure you understood it the first time. I love that Ignatius Press made this book available to purchase, and I am hoping that it does well so we might get more of her four-volume set on the Gospel of John published.
The last book I will look at today focuses on prayer, specifically the Liturgy of the Hours. When I was in the process of converting, I bought a lot of Catholic books to try and completely immerse myself in what it is to be Catholic. I purchased dictionaries, atlases, concordances, prayer books, and many other books both by saints and about the saints. However, one of my most prized purchases was the four-volume Liturgy of the Hours set. It has always been my goal to make it through an entire year praying the entire Liturgy of the Hours.
Unfortunately, at the time I purchased these books, there were very few resources that helped a novice like me attempt this, so frustration and fatigue quickly set in, and this was abandoned. In 2013, Daria Sockey released a book to help a layman like me, but in 2013 my first child was also born, so that goal of mine was quickly derailed. Now, in 2019 Fr. Timothy Gallagher, too, has released a book called A Layman’s Guide to the Liturgy of the Hours, and I am taking it as a sign to take up my quest again.
In a nutshell, this book is broken down into four parts. Part One focuses on why this prayer is for more than priests, but also for laity too. Part Two provides a chapter for each prayer (Morning, Daytime, Evening, Night, and the Office of Readings), giving a breakdown of what is involved with each prayer and when to pray it. Part Three puts the Liturgy of the Hours in its place in the life of a Catholic. Lastly, Part Four provides us with resources (print and digital) to get started praying this prayer. Overall, this is a solid book on par with Daria Sockey’s and I would recommend either one if you have an interest in beginning to pray the Divine Office.
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Copyright 2019 Stuart Dunn
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