Most people don’t know that I haven’t been this religious all my life. I experienced a major conversion in my first year of college that brought me back to the Catholic faith of my middle school years and my first year of high school. At around that time, I combined my love of learning with my growing love for the Catholic Church and started reading everything about the Church I could get my hands on. (God bless the Internet!) When I turned to books, though, I knew I wanted only the best. From the advice of Amazon reviewers, I decided to procure Catholicism for Dummies, hearing that it would be better than The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Understanding Catholicism. I’m not so sure if I should be an idiot, but I’m very happy I decided to be a dummy.
Catholicism for Dummies is a thick volume: 414 wide-margined pages in the original and its brand-new second edition. The information it contains is incredible enough to get past the seeming intensity. There is a lot in this book. It teaches the difference between a bishop and an archbishop, what the four marks of the Church are, and how to pray the Divine Praises. (I memorized that last one from this very tome.) It outlines basic heresies, the sacraments, and what is up with Mary. It lists ten famous Catholics, ten popular saints, and ten Catholic places around the world. (The National Shrine in D.C. is a personal favorite. I look forward to seeing all the Christmas decorations when I go home.) The second edition even includes a list of popular Catholic prayers. (How that missed the first edition I’ll never know.) If you have a question about Catholicism and want an easy-to-understand answer, this is the book you need.
It is in the writing style that Catholicism for Dummies has its greatest success. The authors, Fr. John Trigilio and Fr. Kenneth Brighenti, are former EWTN hosts. I gave up secular TV for Lent a few years ago and watched only EWTN, so I can tell you that not all of their shows have engaging hosts. Although I don’t remember ever seeing these priests on TV, they are delightful on paper. The humor in this book, common to the Dummies series, helps make Catholicism seem less like the stern and vaguely out-of-touch popular media depiction and more like the happy reality. Here are some sample quotations:
On sacraments vs. sacramentals:
Sacraments are like food for the soul, and sacramentals are like supplemental vitamins.
The title of a list of the various forms of lies:
Low blows and cheap shots
On who’s a saint and who’s “not”:
From the Catholic viewpoint, you don’t have to be canonized a saint to be a saint. Billions and billions of people are saints in heaven, but they just aren’t publicly recognized as saints. Canonized saints are merely those who are known, proven, recognized, and publicly honored for their holiness. Your grandma or grandpa in heaven may not be canonized, but they’re saints…. They’re in heaven and at peace, so they aren’t bummed that St. Dominic and St. Francis of Assisi have church, schools, and religious orders named after them.
The down-to-earth nature of Catholicism for Dummies doesn’t make it suitable only for those new to Catholicism, though. I learned a lot in the index about Church history. I have yet to see a parish do the 40 hours devotion, but I know what it is and that it’s a decent solution when perpetual adoration isn’t feasible. Even though I read a lot about things I already knew, simply realizing that I already knew so much made me feel accomplished.
I highly recommend Catholicism for Dummies to all Catholics, from those who are already in the know to those who are new. If you’re not sold, you can borrow my copy. Don’t mind the grooves on the cover and the water stains on the last hundred pages. They’re signs of love.