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Essential Catholic Library

March 16, 2013

My very best friend is a Lutheran. Specifically he is a member of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS). For those not familiar, this is a fairly conservative denomination of Lutherans. They have a traditional worship service that would be recognizable to most Catholics; the denomination also has a male only ordination, clearly defined liturgical seasons, and closed communion. Of course there is a lot that Catholicism has that is lacked in the LCMS. This, however, is not what my post today is focusing on.

Instead I’d like to focus on a set of books that several of my Lutheran friends own. Its called “The Essential Lutheran Library”. The set is published by Concordia Publishing House, a LCMS publisher. The set of books is quite attractive. All of the books have the same leather binding and matching spines so they sit together on a shelf beautifully. For someone like me who has some OCD tendencies; I long for a similar Catholic version of the set.

The standard set contains nine books that are considered the foundational texts for any traditional Lutheran household. When looking at advertising materials for the set; it is billed as a collection of books that will give “the shape and definition of the Lutheran faith”. The set includes nine books: A study bible, service book, hymnal, Luther’s confessions and catechism, two additional scriptural studies, a prayer book, and a book of prayer similar to a breviary.


This background brings me to my question. If a Catholic publisher were to publish an Essential Catholic Library containing nine books: What books would the set include. Like I said earlier I have OCD tendencies and there is nothing that I’d like better than a matching set of all of the masterpieces of the Catholic Faith.

I’ve come up with a list of books, but first I want to go through my process of choosing what books I’d include. The set would have to include a range of books that are considered essential to the formation and understanding of the Catholic faith for laypeople. With this being said I did not include several books that are considered masterpieces of faith, but are really aimed more toward seminarians and priests; this would include books like The Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers, Summa Theologica, and Catena Aurea.

When compiling the list I decided to start by finding equivalent of the books in the Essential Lutheran Library set. It was then that I realized something: The Catholic faith has so much more to offer in writing that any Protestant denomination. There is no possible way to diffuse the Catholic faith into just nine books. I realized my list had to grow, but coming up with a reasonable number of books that could be made into a manageable set is still possible.


Eventually I was able to come up with a list of 18 books that one could, with regular sacraments, could help any lay Catholic form a strong foundation of faith.

I’ve broken my list into categories: The first of which is of course scripture, then liturgy, prayer, devotion/meditation, and spiritual classics. The list is for Latin Rite (Roman) Catholics. Tell me what you think.

  1. Study Bible (An orthodox bible is mandatory for spiritual growth. Haydock’s Bible Commentary from 1859 using the Douay Rhimes Bible is a standard. I’d also consider the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible edited by Scott Hahn once it is completed.)
  2. The Roman Missal (A hand missal of The Roman Missal 3rd Ed. Good for study, meditation, and prayer. This is the missal used in the Ordinary Form of the Latin Rite mass. I’m a fan of the one by Midwest Theological Forum.)
  3. Missale Romanum (Catholics of the Latin Rite should be familiar with both forms of the Latin Rite mass. Baronus Press makes the only re typeset version with an imprimatur, although the SSPX’s Angelus Press also makes an attractive edition.)
  4. Liturgy of the Hours (The official prayer of the Catholic Church. Prayerful reading of the Psalms is an ancient practice. For lay people I’d suggest one volume Christian Prayer as most lay people only pray the major hours while clergy pray all hours in the four volume edition.)
  5. Catechism of the Catholic Church (Need I say more?)
  6. Manual of Indulgences (A list of current indulgences with explanation and conditions published by the USCCB.)
  7. Prayer Book (As an owner of over 50 prayer books, favorite is Midwest Theological Forum’s Handbook of Prayers. If you frequent the Extraordinary Form of mass I’d suggest Blessed Be God as it contains older forms of prayers and an EF missal.)
  8. Imitation of Christ (By Thomas À Kempis, As we enter the devotional section of this list we should acknowledge what is possibly the greatest devotional of all. This book is second only to the Bible in terms of editions printed. I’d suggest an older translation opposed to a modernized one. Baronius Press makes a wonderful leather cover edition.)
  9. True Devotion to the B.V.M. (By Saint Louis-Marie De Montfort, The greatest work on Marian devotion. Can also be used to consecrate yourself to Jesus through Mary. Again Baronius Press makes a beautiful leather edition.)
  10. Divine Intimacy (By Father Gabriel of St Mary Magdalen, O.C.D., Hands down the best “daily devotional” published. The book follows the precollicular liturgical calendar. It is like having a spiritual director on your bookshelf. Fine editions are available from TAN and Baronius Press.)
  11. Lives of the Saints (By Alban Butler, A book that contains a short biography and meditation on saints of the liturgical calendar. Various editions are available on both the OF and EF calendars.)
  12. The Holy Mass (By Dom Prosper Guéranger, A very short volume that is possibly the greatest short treatment on the Latin Rite mass. Read it and you will find new appreciation in the construction and flow of the mass. You are probably seeing a pattern, but Baronius Press publishes a leather bound edition.)
  13. The Rule of St. Benedict (The basis of western monasticism. Not the first monastic rule, but the most influential. A lay person can not implement every law into thier lives, but you will be able to find loads of spiritual benefit in this volume. This volume is available by a number of publishers, but as you can tell I prefer leather bound editions.)
  14. Introduction to the Devout Life (By St. Francis de Sales, A wonderful volume written by the saint for laypeople. A list of ways that great saint suggests to improve your spiritual life. Sadly, no leather bound edition is currently available. Not even a hardback. Never the less TAN makes a nice paperback edition.)
  15. Spiritual Exercises (By St. Ignatius of Loyola, This book, written by the Jesuit founder, is the basis for the famed Jesuit 30 day Ignatian retreats and Jesuit spirituality. A paperback by TAN is my personal favorite.)
  16. Dark Night of the Soul (By St. John of the Cross, A volume that is hard to sum up in a sentence. John shows us how to derive a closeness to God though the pains of life. I’m defaulting to Baronius Press’ lether bound edition as my favorite edition.)
  17. The Way of Perfection (By St. Teresa of Avila, A 16th Century volume written by a superior to her sisters on how to develop a deep prayer life. Baronius Press’ edition uses both traditional language and comes leather bound.)
  18. The Story of a Soul (By Therese of Lisieux, From 1899 this volume is the autobiography of a Carmelite nun and Doctor of the Church who gave her life to the service of others through charity and spirituality. Available leather bound by Baronius Press)

So… This is my list. My Essential Catholic Library. Of course with more than 2,000 years of theological and spiritual classics it is hard to make a one size fits all list for Catholics. If I were a Catholic publisher (or if any are out there listening) this is my dream list.

Just imagine how different the Church would be if every Catholic layman were to read and study the books above.

Now that I have given you my list, and likewise now that I am tired of writing; I must ask a question. What books are on your list? What would you add or delete?


*Please note that I am not affiliated with any publisher. I do have favorites and my suggestions on particular editions listed above only represent my personal tastes.




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  1. The Life of Christ Bishop Fulton Sheen

  2. Number 16 should be edited to read: Dark Night of the Soul, rather than Darn Night of the Soul 🙂

  3. chad1939 permalink

    Thanks Jo Ann! Pretty big typo. Darn spell check. (Get what I did there?) 🙂

  4. Rich Mrozinski permalink

    Do you recommend any particular Lives of the Saints editions, assuming one doesn’t want to spend $200+ on the multi-volume set?

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