A few weeks back, I was offered a review copy of the new Latin Mass Companion from Biretta Books – the publishing arm of the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius. I accepted gratefully – people are always asking me about resources for the Traditional Latin Mass, and it’s nice to know what to recommend – but as I told the publisher, I didn’t think I’d likely get around to writing a review myself.
That is, until I found myself reaching for it every Sunday since I got it. I quickly realized that this was a book I needed to share with all of you.
Over the years, I’ve seen any number of missals, books about the TLM, and countless copies of the “little red book” from the Coalition in Support of Ecclesia Dei (along with the equivalent version from Angelus Press), but nothing like this. I don’t mean to suggest that this book is a radical departure. Far from it. Like the other books I mentioned, this one is a lightweight alternative to a full-fledged, hefty, leatherbound missal like the one I’ve had for many years. Like the others, it offers the Latin of the Mass on the left, and an English translation of the right — it’s currently not available in any other languages.
But whereas the others in this weight class save space by omitting the propers of the Mass — for those unfamiliar, the parts of the Mass that change based on the day or feast, like the Collect, Introit, Epistle, Gospel, etc. — the Latin Mass Companion from Biretta has split the difference, including the propers only for Sundays and holy days of obligation while leaving out the rest.
The result is a book that is still thinner than the seasonal missallettes found commonly at Novus Ordo parishes, and thus, practical to carry around or distribute unobtrusively throughout the pews, but still practical enough that one book will suffice for the majority of people who are unable to attend Mass daily, but are present for Sundays and days of obligation.
The inclusion of the propers obviates the need for parishes to print up their own propers sheets each week, as many do, which will undoubtedly save them money, time, and effort in the long run if they choose instead to buy the Latin Mass Companion in bulk to provide to parishioners. At the cost of $15 per book for an individual copy, and only $7.50 per copy for a quantity of $100 or more, this book is an investment that would pay for itself in a very short time.
It’s a modest but significant improvement that puts this text in a category of its own, and makes it easily the most usable of the alternatives to a full missal.
It will also save quite a lot of paper, which is simply good Christian stewardship. (The added side benefit is that it should help to quiet the most ardent fans of Laudato Si, should they happen to show up at your parish, proselytizing like Jehovah’s Witnesses for you to turn off the AC.)
The only question I see is one of durability: how long will lightweight paperback books of this nature last? Since unlike missallettes, the Latin Mass Companion will be used season after season, year round in perpetuity, they will periodically need to be replaced.
As to the form and function of the text, it has an attractive cover and features tasteful decorative images throughout; an index makes the propers for each Sunday and Feast Day easy to find; it is nicely laid out with clear, readable fonts; there are illustrations of the priest at the altar in the margins (descriptions are inline in the text itself), helping the newcomer to identify visual cues indicating parts of the Mass; and the sections for the Mass of the Catechumens and the Mass of the Faithful have page edges helpfully marked in red ink, making them easy to find with a glance at the side of the book – there are no ribbons, so these red edges and your own bookmarks have to suffice.
The only criticism I would make of the book is the lack of devotional prayers. There’s a single page given to prayers before Mass, another single page for prayers of thanksgiving after Mass, and a two-page section on Benediction and Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. I’d have loved to have seen several devotions for both before and after Communion, since I have never memorized the longer prayers like those of St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Bonaventure (and probably never will), but find them very worthwhile when I have them at hand. To be honest, the only time I reach for the little red book at Mass is usually when I want these prayers. But this is a small nitpick, and one that could be easily remedied with the addition of a page or two in a future edition.
For Catholics looking for a compact but attractive alternative to a hand missal, or parishes eager to stop spending time and effort printing and folding propers sheets, the Latin Mass Companion from Biretta is really ideal. I think this book will also be of particular value to Catholics new to the TLM who are somewhat daunted by all the ribbons and sections in a traditional hand missal, or who just want something more simple and straightforward to work with, at least until they become more familiar with the structure of the Old Mass.
On the whole, I think this book is a fantastic effort by the Canons of St. John Cantius and their team at Biretta Books, and I believe it to be a welcome addition to the essential resources available to tradition-loving Catholics in the English-speaking world.
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher and Executive Director of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have eight children.