Thank God for the Catholic Truth Society, semper fidelis: more a cornucopia than a publishing company

The Catholic Truth Society website lists its latest publications

Every so often, the Catholic Truth Society sends me a bundle of its latest publications, and I am able, sometimes, to say something about some of them. This time, I shall say something at least about nearly all of them. But there is something to be said first about the CTS itself, a body which we tend to take for granted. There are pamphlets at the back of Church; of course there are; that’s in the nature of things, isn’t it? And someone has to publish them: what difference does it make who does it? The opening paragraph of Wikipedia’s entry says everything that needs to be said, surely:

“The Catholic Truth Society (CTS) is a body that prints and publishes Catholic literature, including apologetics but also prayerbooks, spiritual reading, lives of saints and so forth. It is based in London in the United Kingdom.”

Well, it’s not all that needs to be said; nor is it in the nature of things that there should be pamphlets available on practically any topic we need, as individual Catholics, to know about: there could be nothing at all. And it makes a huge difference who does it: if there were some other outfit filling the vacuum left by the non-existence of the CTS, the whole operation might be in the hands of the Spirit of Vatican II boys, busily inventing the brand new Church the Council is supposed by them to have inaugurated.

The point is that even when things over the last half-century were looking at their bleakest for the English Church, the CTS remained staunch in its vocation as “publishers to the Holy See”. There was no liberal sell-out at the back of Church, if CTS pamphlets were there at all: and very often, the convenience of having them there has been so huge in terms of the time it saves the clergy that even when the sermons have been a bit dodgy, the pamphlets were still made available.

There might easily have been no CTS. The society was founded in 1868 by Cardinal Herbert Vaughan, but was wound up when he was made a bishop, since he no longer had time for it: it was revived in 1884, under the presidency of Cardinal Vaughan himself: this was largely as a lay initiative, a fact which has through the years been one of the society’s greatest strengths.

Today, the CTS publishes an extraordinarily wide selection of booklets and leaflets in many different areas: Catholic apologetics, morality, doctrine, sacraments, the saints, Church history, spirituality, and prayer, as well as booklet editions of the four Gospels and other Biblical texts. It also produces study courses, Bibles, the New English Missal, and the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

The fact that it has been a largely lay-led initiative has meant that it naturally reflected the relationship between the English laity and the Pope of the day, a relationship which has, sadly, often been stronger than that between the Vatican and the English Bishops. This has resulted in a consistent faithfulness, which latterly led to the CTS being given one of the Imprimaturs still worth having, that of Father Joseph Fessio, inventor and still editor in chief of the Ignatius Press, which a year or two ago decided to distribute CTS material in North America. This is what he said at the time:

“Over the years I have been impressed by the quality, variety, and magisterial faithfulness of these booklets…. They are truly outstanding. They are concise, clear, readable, and rooted in Catholic teaching and tradition. They will be a source of spiritual growth and understanding of the faith for all who read them. Plus, many of the booklets are superb for giving to non-Catholics and former Catholics.”

And so to their latest batch of titles, though I begin with one I came across on the Ignatius website, and which I would love to read: Galileo: Science and Faith, by Dr William Carroll. The blurb for this which appears in the online advertising material graphically illustrates why lay people at the back of church, once they have picked a CTS booklet up, so often take it away, intrigued: “The Galileo controversy supposedly shows that the Church is against reason and science. This booklet explains the facts of the Galileo case and traces the subsequent development of the myth that the Catholic Church is the enemy of science. This history proves that even in the Galileo case, the Church remained true to its belief that faith and reason belong together.” Wouldn’t you like to read that?

The present batch contains the following titles. Only one of them looks a bit heavy to me: The Word of the Lord: Discovering Verbum Domini, a large booklet produced by a committee appointed by the Department for Evangelisation and Catechesis of the Bishops Conference of England and Wales (prop. Bishop Kieran Conry). My first thought, perhaps unjust, was that the poor old CTS could hardly get out of being lumbered with it once they had been asked to do it.

Please don’t misunderstand me: I’m not saying this title won’t repay the effort of using it. It is designed for “group sessions” (not, I have to admit, my cup of tea). It all looks kosher enough: it warns against trying to understand the Bible unaided, for instance: “If we interpret the Bible on our own we may fail to understand its message…. We should understand the Bible within the developing Tradition of the Church….”

But I am more attracted by two other scriptural titles: Firstly,Understanding the Story of the Bible , by Eileen Clare Grant, a Benedictine oblate of Pluscarden Abbey. This surveys carefully chosen strategic landmarks of the Old Testament, arriving at the New Covenant only in the last chapter: it is all designed to prepare us for the story of Our Lord’s Birth, “in the fullness of time”, It is, in fact, a brilliant preliminary introduction to the New Testament itself.

Secondly, a most original and gutsy piece of writing: Desire and Delight: intimacy with God through the Scriptures by Fr Robert Taylerson (a tutor at Oscott). Its final paragraph explains the title: “Desire and delight should be experienced as part of the normal journey towards God…. They prepare us for the fullness of the Beatific Vision, which is the ultimate vocation, the final shared delight in eternity, to which God is calling each of us”. The whole text is a powerful and inspiring read.

Two further scriptural titles are both compiled from the teachings of Pope Benedict at the “school of prayer” he conducted in his weekly audiences in St Peter’s square: these hardly need any recommendation from the likes of me. The titles are Prayer in The Acts of the Apostles , and Praying the Psalms . Also from Pope Benedict is an essential title I have already written about so I will say no more here,The Encyclicals of Benedict XVI. Finally, an extremely significant collection of the pope’s various utterances on the right interpretation (“hermeneutic”) of the Second Vatican Council: Pope Benedict on Vatican II. The contents of this booklet can only be described by using that overused but here entirely appropriate word, “indispensable”.

I said I would say something about most of the titles, but I am coming to the end of my space and it cannot be much. World Youth Day: Inspiring Generations will deservedly sell well as the day approaches; it is freshly and informatively written, and it makes me makes me wish I were young enough to go myself. Very different,Saints of the Roman Canon by Julien Chilcott-Monk, is a soundly written basic hagiography for those not sure who Linus and Cletus were when their names pop up in the First Eucharistic Prayer.

Faith in the Family: a Handbook for Parents, by Anne Burke Gaffney and Fr Marcus Holden (a co-founder of the Evangelium project) is a superbly written guide to just what to tell your children about the faith: about God and the creation, about angels, saints, the seasons of the Church, about prayer, about everything; I wish I had had it when I was bringing up my own children. But I learned and rediscovered a lot myself: like many books written for children, this one has its fascination for adults, too.

Finally, two indispensable booklets designed to familiarise us with the life and thought of our new pope:Pope Francis by Fr Dushan Croos, a fellow Jesuit; and First addresses of Pope Francis , his public utterances since his election. This one doesn’t contain the text of any of his sometimes inspired little off the cuff addresses at his daily Mass in the chapel of the Casa Santa Marta: might a selection of those be an idea for a future CTS booklet?

For, still they come; the CTS is endlessly productive, endlessly creative; as much a cornucopia as a publishing company. And it doesn’t happen ex nihilo. The one name you will never find, even in small type, in the society’s publications is that of its CEO, Fergal Martin, who in the words of the Maryvale Institute’s website “directs the Society with dynamic vision”; they know all about that from the CTS’s collaboration with Maryvale in publishing Echoes, the parish-based resource for handing on the faith, now used in several English-speaking countries—and from their collaboration with the CTS in much else besides. English Catholics owe Fergal Martin a debt of gratitude. I myself came across his “dynamic vision” when, with the Catholic Herald, he was publishing a book, John Paul the Great, I edited some years ago. His faithful and inspired labours go largely unsung; I therefore end by singing them here.