Go to any Catholic venue in the United States – parish church, retreat center, convent, rectory, high school, college chaplaincy, retirement community – and you’ll find it. You can also see it being used on planes and trains, buses and subways. On at least one occasion I saw it in the front seat of a cab. What is “it?” It’s Magnificat, the monthly missal/prayer book that’s an astonishing success story – and, just perhaps, a sign of real progress in the reform of the reform of the liturgy.
Magnificat was the inspiration of a French layman and father of twelve, Pierre-Marie Dumont. M. Dumont believed, with the Church, that the Eucharist is the source and summit of our lives: it gives us food for the journey of faith even as it gives us a foretaste of where that journey is destined to end. Believing that, he thought Catholics would welcome a resource that reflected that truth and helped them integrate the Church’s eucharistic life more completely into their daily lives – even if they were unable to attend daily Mass.
Let’s avoid that awful neologism, “worship aid,” and call M. Dumont’s dream a special kind of prayer book. What kind of book would do what M. Dumont wanted this book to do – help make daily life eucharistically centered? First, it had to be beautiful, and thus irresistible. Second, it had to be thoroughly practical and easy to use – meaning it had to be small and portable. Finally, it had to contain everything necessary for a rich and complete daily life of prayer and worship.
Sounds like a tall order. Yet that is precisely what M. Dumont created when he designed Magnificat. Because Magnificat is published monthly (with special editions for Advent and Lent), a lot of material can be packed into a relatively small space. Because it’s so portable – it fits easily into purse or suit jacket pocket – it can be (and seems to be) used anywhere and everywhere, as well as in church. Because it is beautifully designed, with splendid covers, elegant typography and art, and what we used to call “bible paper,” it’s something people want to have, and don’t mind paying to subscribe to. Moreover, the beauty of Magnificat as a publication does justice to the majesty of its material – unlike so many other “worship aids” (that phrase again!), which are, to be gentle, ugly as sin.
What does Magnificat offer its subscribers? Each monthly edition includes all the liturgical and scriptural texts for daily mass for every day of the month, as well as shortened forms of daily Morning, Evening, and Night Prayer, texts for eucharistic adoration, engaging lives-of-the-saints, hymns, and meditations on the day’s scripture texts and saints. Without being in any way vulgar, it’s one-stop-shopping for busy moderns who nonetheless want to live a full and rich life of daily prayer and praise. (Many admirers find its tales of obscure saints one of Magnificat’s most endearing features; where else would you find out about such spiritual heroes as Blessed Raphael Chylinski, Saint Attala, Saint Anno, Blessed Niels Stensen, Saint Asella, and the Scalopian martyrs of the Spanish civil war – all in one week in December?)
M. Dumont has realized his dream in the conception and layout of Magnificat – and in its extraordinary success. The original French edition now has some 150,000 subscribers. The German edition has 30,000. The U.S. edition, launched four years ago in December 1998, had 85,000 subscribers by 2000 and 150,000 by 2002. In addition, another 25,000 copies of the English Magnificat are distributed free-of-charge every month for promotional purposes through individual mailings, parish mailings, conference centers, and so forth. And, in the best sense of the term, Magnificat is addictive – its American editor, Dominican Father Peter John Cameron, tells me that readers get anxious, and let him know about it, if an issue doesn’t arrive on time. It’s as is a friend had gotten lost.
Magnificat is a reminder that beauty and regularity are intrinsic to worship and can attract people to a life of more intense prayer. The vulgarization of liturgical life is waning. Magnificat’s magnificent success shows us the next stage of reform.
[To subscribe to Magnificat, go to www.magnificat.net or call 1-800-317-6689.]
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. and holds EPPC’s William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.