Texts of Intimate Devotion: Pocket Missals from the Collection of Laura Wasowicz
I have a small but organically growing collection of pocket prayer books and missals (mainly Catholic). I gravitated to this corner of collecting partly to bridge the gulf of the pre-Vatican Two Latin mass experienced by my parents and my own encounter with the “modernized” English language mass, frequently celebrated to a guitar infused music liturgy seemingly cut out of whole cloth.
My professional work in curating the Children’s Literature Collection at the American Antiquarian Society led me to collect for my institution many nineteenth-century American religious books for children, much of which are Protestant tracts.
To make sense of my personal experience with smallish religious books for children, I turned to examining children’s missals: guides to the mass and assorted prayers frequently given to Catholic children upon receiving their first Holy Communion at between seven and twelve years of age, as well as to people who might not have ready access to a church mass, like soldiers.
This search for these pocket-sized texts inspires me to think about them as daily touchstones, making tangible the mystical and beautiful just a pocket’s reach away.
The Little Catholic Child’s Prayerbook.
New York: Catholic Publications Press, 1926. 4 ¾ inches tall.
This is a fine example of celluloid binding that was popular between the 1890s and the 1950s. Made from the combination of nitrocellulose and camphor, celluloid was an affordable alternative to ivory. The cover image of Jesus giving communion wafers to child angels identifies it as a Catholic children’s book. The text includes a pictorial explanation of the mass.
Paroissien des Petits Enfants.
Paris: Fimin Didot Freres, ca 1870. 2 inches tall.
This miniature book is in a mauchline binding (varnished wooden boards with a velvet spine). It has a cover transfer image of the Normandy coastal town Luc sur Mer; perhaps it was sold as a souvenir. The text is a collection of prayers in French to accompany the mass. It has a sweet frontispiece engraving of the Madonna of Humility (Mary holding Jesus in an outdoor setting).
My Military Missal.
Brooklyn, N.Y.: Confraternity of the Precious Blood, copyright 1942. 4 1/8 inches tall
A paper bound missal 128 p. long that could fit easily into a uniform pocket. This copy belonged to my father, who flew for the Air Force in the Pacific Theater. It has mass prayers and catechism review, and the back cover has an embossed diagram of the rosary. The “beads” have pin pricks from my father praying it.