The Archivist’s Nook: Pre-Vatican II Pamphlet Spotlight – Getting into the Christmas Spirit!

As we approach the Fourth Sunday of Advent, many of us are preparing for Christmas in a variety of ways. Everything from putting up decorations and baking cookies to attending Mass more frequently and receiving the Sacrament of Confession on a more regular basis. This is a season of penance and abstinence, joy and hope! To celebrate this most holy season, the Catholic University Special Collections would like to share a number of beautiful items from our Pre-Vatican II Pamphlet Collection! These small yet stunning pieces give us a glimpse into Christmas past, a peek into the traditions and observances of Catholics before the Second Vatican Council. Although I will only be focusing on five of our pamphlets, this post is in no way exhaustive of our collection. I invite you to take a look through our online database, which you can browse through our over 12,000 pamphlets: https://libraries.catholic.edu/special-collections/rare-books/pre-vatican-ii-pamphlets.html

Christmas – the Gift of God!

Christmas – the Gift of God!, 1951. ACHA Records, Special Collections, Catholic University.

The first pamphlet that I would like to feature is from the Paulist Press. Written in 1951 by Rev. James M. Gillis, C.S.P., this brief booklet packs quite the punch! Fr. Gillis outlines the historical and theological background of Christmas, with each section addressing a particular question or controversy. He answers hard-hitting questions such as “Is Christmas Pagan?”, “Christ or Bacchus?”, and “Is God a Sphinx?”[1]. Each section is not terribly long, but Fr. Gillis is able to address common misconceptions regarding the holy-day with deft and depth. Theologically hefty, this little pamphlet explains Christmas within the Catholic context, drawing on the Church Fathers, writings of the Saints, and the teachings of the Magisterium. The pamphlet concludes with the lyrics to a number of popular Christmas songs hymns, the majority of which are still enjoyed today, including “O Come, All Ye Faithful”, “O Holy Night” and “The First Noel”.

The Gifts of Christmas

The Gifts of Christmas, 1943. ACHA Records, Special Collections, Catholic University.
The Gifts of Christmas, 1943. ACHA Records, Special Collections, Catholic University.

The second pamphlet that I would like to draw to your attention is from our sub-collection of pamphlets for children. This one was written by Rev. Daniel A. Lord S.J., who features heavily in our pamphlet collection, in 1943. This pamphlet is downright gorgeous, filled with full-color illustrations and pop-outs that are surely engaging for children (and this technician!). The pamphlet recalls the Nativity story in an easy to understand way, while also pointing to Christ’s presence in the Mass and the story of St. Nicholas. The illustrations make use of paper windows and a three-dimensional Christmas tree, making it seem almost like a picture book!

The Christmas Lamb

The Christmas Lamb, 1942. ACHA Records, Special Collections, Catholic University.

This pamphlet is another work of Fr. Lord’s, being published in 1942 by The Queen’s Work. Although this one is not as colorful as the last pamphlet, the cover is richly decorated with gold ink, and depictions of the Blessed Mother and Baby Jesus surrounded by lambs and angels. Fr. Lord retells the Nativity story, but in a very poetic way, almost lyrical. It seems that this pamphlet was meant to be given as a gift to someone, as there is space to write one’s name in the front cover after “That the Lamb of God may be The Joy of Your Christmas is the sincere hope of:” [2]. What a wonderful alternative to a traditional Christmas card!

Devotions for the Christmas and the Epiphany Season

Devotions for Christmas and the Epiphany Season, 1954. ACHA Records, Special Collections, Catholic University.

This fourth pamphlet was written by Rev. Philip T. Weller in 1954 and published through Saint Pius X Press in Berwyn, Maryland. A slightly less ornate pamphlet than the previous three, but nonetheless, still beautiful with a green cover featuring a delightful rendering of the Nativity. Inside, the text is more technical than our other examples, this being a prayer service outline with the words spoken by the priest celebrating and the responses of the congregation. It also includes instructions for the congregation as when to stand, kneel, and sit, along with instructions for the priest. The pamphlet directs the Celebrant to “place[s] the image of the Infant in its place, kneels and incenses the Crib, and says the following prayer:”[3]. The pamphlet ends with the Magnificat, O Salutaris, Tantum Ergo, the Divine Praises, and finally the Star of the Sea prayer.

The King’s Jongleur: A Medieval Christmas Play in Three Acts

The King’s Jongleur, 1936. ACHA Records, Special Collections, Catholic University.
The King’s Jongleur, 1936. ACHA Records, Special Collections, Catholic University.

The last pamphlet that I will be featuring is different from the rest, but that is why I think it is worth mentioning! Written by Sister Mary Donatus in 1936 for The Catholic Dramatic Movement, this pamphlet is a script of a short play. The play focuses on an Abbey preparing for its Midnight Mass, but they are visited by a jester, who although at first seems to be causing trouble, is later revealed to have the purest heart and receives a blessing from the Infant Jesus. A short yet sweet play about charity and belief during Christmas, this is just one of the many plays in our pamphlet collection. 

This is just a small taste of thousands of pamphlets that we house in our collection, we have an assortment of material ranging from prayer and the Sacraments, to Catholic dating and perspectives on social issues. If you would like to know more, or would like to schedule an appointment to come visit our collection, please contact us at (202) 319- 5065 or lib-archives@cua.edu

 

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and Happy Holidays from our families to yours!

 

 

[1] ACHA Records, Special Collections, Catholic University, American Catholic Pamphlets and Parish Histories, Paulist, 501.

[2] ACHA Records, Special Collections, Catholic University, American Catholic Pamphlets and Parish Histories, Lordy, 70.

[3] ACHA Records, Special Collections, Catholic University, American Catholic Pamphlets and Parish Histories, 1902, 88.

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