Invitation to a Cherished Life

Review by Caleb Congrove

The Catholic Catalogue
A Field Guide to the Daily Acts That Make Up a Catholic Life

By Melissa Musick and Anna Keating. Image. 432 pages. $25

The Catholic Catalogue invites readers to a thicker and richer life of faith than most have experienced. The central insight of the book is that “before all else Catholicism is a life” (p. xi) It includes discussions on doctrines and teachings, but only as they come up in the course of describing a way of life, a life that is described by identifying its practices. A “field guide,” the volume is also illustrated, which left me wondering again why more serious books for grownups do not have pictures. Perhaps most important, The Catholic Catalogue is not nervous, shrill, or anxious. Rather than a call or argument for Christian particularity, this book invites the reader to share in a cherished life.

Musick and Keating are mother and daughter, and they report from a life they share with a new generation. Families especially may find this book helpful, but so will most single Christians who seek a thicker habitation in the lived practice of their Christianity. How do you bless your house? How do you pray for your dead relatives? How do you prepare yourself to make a good confession? How do you observe the Church’s many holy days?

Arranged around the Western Christian calendar, The Catholic Catalogue details observances and practices from around the world. Every reader will find something entirely new to try on, from traditional customs associated with the principal feasts of the Church to others that honor saints few Americans remember today. The Catalogue’s presentation does not talk down to anybody, or over anyone’s head. Even the most basic practices, like the sign of the cross, are explained. At the same time, the individual chapters are rich and engaging. I’ve returned to the chapter on the sign of the cross at least twice. Besides traditional practices, the book also includes much of the authors’ creativity. What recipes might be fitting for a Pentecost dinner? What customs might suit a family celebration of All Saints?

This book invites browsing. Chapters read well as essays and reflections. More akin to a practical reference work, this is not the sort of book you’ll be done with once you’ve read through the last page. Like a book on gardening or a much-frequented cookbook, The Catholic Catalogue merits a place on the cupboard shelf, marked and enlarged by your own inserts and additions, refinements and improvisations.

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