Daily bread for the soul

by Joe Bollig
joe@theleaven.org

ATCHISON — In a lot of ways, the new publication “Give Us This Day: Daily Prayer for Today’s Catholic” is like the manna that fed the children of Israel during the Exodus.

It’s heaven-sent, delicious and spiritually nutritious — but what is it? How, exactly, does one describe it?

“That’s a very good question,” said Brother Aelred Senna, OSB, associate publisher of Liturgical Press, an apostolate of St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minn. “We do struggle with exactly what to call it.”

It’s not a missalette, Mass guide, prayer book, collection of spiritual essays, magazine, aid for meditation or breviary. It’s kind of like a spiritual Swiss Army Knife: a portable bundle of tools in one handy package.

“In fact, the best thing we’ve come up with is calling it a ‘prayer resource,’ a resource that supports people in daily prayer,” said Brother Aelred.

The prayer resource “Give us This Day” is a monthly publication designed for daily spiritual reading. It includes morning and evening prayers for each day, as well as essays, features on saints and other holy persons, daily people’s Mass parts with readings and reflections, the order of Mass, the liturgical calendar, prayers and blessings, and “lectio divina” (meditative reading).

It’s compact — just a shade bigger than a paperback book — and easy to stuff into a purse or a pocket. It averages about 400 pages.

Sister Irene Nowell, OSB, of Mount St. Scholastica in Atchison, is one of six editorial advisers for “Give Us This Day.” She is also the Scripture editor for the morning and evening prayers and the author of some of the reflections.

Another Atchison Benedictine, Sister Susan Barber, writes the intercessions for morning and evening prayer.

“The idea [for ‘Give Us This Day’] had been floating around St. John’s [University] for five or six years, but we didn’t settle down and do serious planning until the middle of 2010,” said Sister Irene.

As sort of a trial balloon, the editors put together a four-day sample edition and handed out copies in March 2011 at the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress. People reacted to it so well that Liturgical Press decided to launch the first issue in August 2011.

Part of the marketing strategy was to distribute a generous amount of complimentary copies. People really seem to like the resource.

“One of the things that is delightful about this is that it has really taken off,” said Sister Irene. “We’re getting lots and lots of subscriptions, and they are coming in really rapidly.”

Liturgical Press was unable to provide current or projected sales numbers.

But “Give Us This Day” seems to fill a niche that was heretofore left wanting for a prayer resource.

“We are aware of the various resources out there,” said Brother Aelred. “There was a dearth or lack of something that would present a diverse spectrum of voices and profiles of faith that represent our Catholic and Christian tradition.”

“For example,” he continued, “in the reflections for daily Mass, we use previously published material that goes back to the earliest Christian times — saints, mystics, and the Mothers and Fathers of the Church.”

“At the same time, at least 50 to 60 percent of the daily reflections we feature each month are commissioned as brand-new pieces of writing. We’re able to represent our Catholic tradition from the earliest times up to now, today, in the tradition that we, as today’s Catholics, are creating — thinkers and writers of the present day comfortably sitting alongside the great spiritual writers and thinkers.”

Priests and religious find it a handy resource when they are pressed for time or traveling, but it’s designed primarily for lay use.

“First and foremost, it’s really for the laity, mostly for the people in the pews who go to church every Sunday and who want something that supports their daily prayer practice between Sundays,” said Brother Aelred.

But it’s hoped that it reaches another demographic as well.

“It’s our goal to reach out to people who aren’t in the pews on Sunday,” said Brother Aelred. “We know that’s already happening.”

A subscriber sent a letter about how she encountered another woman at O’Hare Airport in Chicago. The woman was reading “Give Us This Day.” When the subscriber commented on this, the other woman said that she was no longer a practicing Catholic, but picked up the publication when she attended Mass with her mother during a visit.

The tagline on the cover reads “Daily prayer for today’s Catholics,” but Lutherans and Episcopalians can use it, too.

Kathleen Norris, a poet, essayist, and author of “The Cloister Walk,” is one of the editorial advisers for “Give Us This Day.” Norris, an Episcopalian and Benedictine oblate, was asked to recommend poets and writers who could contribute original material.

The ecumenical aspect of the resource can be seen not only in the writers and poets who contribute, but also in the individuals featured in “Blessed Among Us.”

“They’re not all saints in the Catholic Church,” said Norris. “They’re people who have led extraordinary lives and have extraordinary stories. A lot of them are fairly hidden, and you may not have heard about them.”

“Every day there is a different person,” she continued. “Sometimes it is the saint [of the] day, but sometimes it’s a portrait of someone who gave witness in their life. They’re not canonized people, not official saints, but their lives are exemplary in some way. I’m happy they’re including a lot of women and a really diverse group of people. . . . I know there are at least two in the Anglican book of saints, so it’s a more ecumenical view. A sanctified life does not honor denominational bonds.”

“Give Us This Day” is also still a work in progress, however, and changes will likely be made to the publication’s format. Benedictine oblates, for example, have already recommended to Sister Irene the addition of night prayer.

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