The Catholic Home: Celebrations and Traditions for Holidays, Feast Days, and Every Day
by Meredith Gould Reviewed by Faustina Konkal
I was eager to read "The Catholic Home" by Meredith Gould when I was handed a bound galley copy (a final draft before publishing). The title alone held the promise of an interesting and useful book. Unfortunately my enthusiasm was dampened when I opened this attractive pocket-sized work.
I'll begin with what I liked and found valuable.
Seven chapters discuss The Value of Tradition, Daily Devotions, Honoring the Sacraments and the liturgical year (from Advent to Ordinary Time). Included are four appendices covering the development of the liturgical year, the rosary, common prayers and additional resources.
Gould writes convincingly about the value of tradition and ritual with an extensive survey of Catholic customs, feasts, traditons and practices and their history. She offers insightful meditations on feasts and sacraments and humorous challenges to our lukewarmness and other human failings.
Her suggestions, for example on what to give a person newly ordained to a religious life, are both useful and humorous. The appendix of common prayers is much appreciated.
Gould has obviously written this book with much love and passion for the subject. As a convert to Catholicism from Judaism, she has some wonderful insights on the similarity of histories and of the essential role that ritual plays in establishing and maintaining a faith.
There are several reasons, though, why I think this book has limited usefulness. First, and perhaps least importantly, there is no index. This makes using the book as a reference throughout the year most ineffectual.
While Gould writes about a lot of Catholic traditions, she doesn't go into any depth with any of them. I found myself wishing for more meat.
Another difficulty is that the author frequently refers to events or activities that in the chronology of the book have yet to happen. I realize that each year follows the last and that the seasons repeat themselves, but as a reader I found it very distracting to be reading about an Advent Wreath and be thinking "What family shrine at All Souls Day???".
More disturbing than a simple dislike of the book's organization are factual errors. For example in her opening paragraph on the observance of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Gould states the following:
Back on September 8, we celebrated the birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Now we celebrate the Immaculate Conception that would make her truly Mary,
Theotokos, full of grace. This holy day celebrated the fact that Mary's own
mother, Anne, is free from Original Sin.
The mind boggles. Logic simply won't work. We're best off relegating
- or elevating - this Church dogma to the realm of mystery.
This is incorrect. Anne, while a very holy woman and much blessed by God, was not free from original sin. Only Mary, in the whole history of humanity can claim that honor. God chose for Mary to be conceived without sin, in preparation for her to be the vessel and mother of His Most Holy Son, Jesus. Theotokos, one of the Greek words that the Eastern Church is so fond of using, means literally 'God bearer', not full of grace.
Now, these errors may have been corrected before the book was published. (I hope they were.) But, taken together, the existence of errors, awkward organization, lack of index and lack of substance are too important to overlook.
While a cradle Catholic looking for fresh ideas might find the book interesting and someone who already practices Catholic traditions at home may find something new, I would caution that this book not be given to someone newly baptized, married or returning to Catholicism. It's just not enough.
About the Author:
Meredith Gould is a writer and applied sociologist whose work focuses on the practical spiritulaity of everyday life. She is the Author of "Deliberate Acts of Kindness", "Working at Home", "Staying Sober" and humor essays in a variety of national magazines. She and her cats live in Princeton, New Jersey.
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