There are any number of good books that one can read and that will have a favorable influence upon you. As Catholics we have a duty to be reading only good books that, at the very least, are not occasions of sin for us and ideally that lifts our minds and hearts to God and helps us to grow closer to Him. When making a list of books, either good or bad, there will always be exclusions for lack of time, space, memory, or otherwise. The following books are not meant to be an exhaustive list, but rather a very select set of books that should not overburden even the most ambitious readers “to read” list. I would suggest that these books in fact be moved straight to the top of whatever list you have, or at the very least be read concurrently with whatever other reading you may be doing for pleasure or of obligation.
The books in this list, if read with an open mind and heart to the truth and in a prayerful spirit, will change your life. Even better would be to make these books the subject of your daily meditation. Saint Teresa of Avila the “Doctor of Prayer” always had a good spiritual book in her hand when making her daily mental prayer.
The Holy Bible
Before all else, every Catholic should be working to make themselves familiar with the Word of God, and incorporating the divine teachings into their lives. As one holy priest once said: “These are God’s love letters to us!” How we can ignore this incredibly rich fountain of truth and our faith? It is made very clear by the Church and the Holy Spirit who guides Her that Catholics are to make the Sacred Scriptures an integral part of their lives. If one looks just briefly at the sacred Liturgy of the Church each day in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and in the Divine Office one finds themselves completely steeped in the Word of God. Another holy priest has said often that if we attentively read and prayed the sacred Liturgy each day that we would receive all the Sacred Scripture we needed.
Still Holy Mother Church in her wisdom gives us yet further guidance and an incentive to take time each day with the Sacred Scriptures by attaching to the daily reading of them for but a half of an hour the great grace of a Plenary Indulgence (assuming the usual requirements), which effects the remission of all temporal punishment due to sin. A great incentive indeed! Now concerning the translation of Holy Scripture…For those reading the Sacred Scriptures in English remember that the official and true Bible that has been declared to be infallible and without error is only the Clementine Latin Vulgate. This was declared so by the Ecumenical Council of Trent as follows:
“But if any one receive not, as sacred and canonical, the said books entire with all their parts, as they have been used to be read in the Catholic Church, and as they are contained in the old Latin vulgate edition; and knowingly and deliberately contemn the traditions aforesaid; let him be anathema.” (4th Session, Decree Concerning the Canonical Scriptures, 8 April 1546)
Now what has always been considered and still remains the best translation of the Latin Vulgate in English is the Douay-Rheims Bible. Modern English translations are very poorly done and made from Greek and Hebrew Scriptural documents that are not as reliable as what Saint Jerome had when he translated the Vulgate at the request of Pope Saint Damasus. For a history of the Bible in the English language read more here.
“He will find there in much greater abundance things that are to be found nowhere else, but can be learnt only in the wonderful sublimity and wonderful simplicity of the Scriptures.” -Saint Augustine, Father and Doctor of the Church, De Doctr. Christ. 2, 42, 63
**More to Read**
It is important as Catholics that we do not fall into the error of the Protestants who though very faithful about reading, knowing, and taking to heart the Sacred Scriptures yet are led astray because they try to interpret them without the aid of the 2000 years of Tradition behind them, and also with the infallible magisterium of the Church guided by the Holy Spirit. Scriptural commentaries are everywhere and it is difficult to know which are good and which are not. I will mention here then the best of the best.
What is considered the greatest commentary on the entirety of Sacred Scripture ever compiled was that by Father Cornelius a Lapide. He was a Flemish Jesuit of the late 16th and early 17th Centuries. His commentary is rich with the very best thoughts and commentaries of the great Fathers and Doctors of the Church as well as some of the greatest theologians. The commentary covered every single book with the exception of the Psalms, which was done after his death by his fellow Jesuit the great Saint Robert Bellarmine, and the book of Job which was completed by another Jesuit. You can find a large portion of the New Testament Commentary here. More can also be found on Archive.org if you do a little bit of searching. You can buy the four volume set of the Gospels here and digital version here. The commentary on the Psalms can be purchased here and an electronic version here.
The very best commentary just on the Gospels was compiled from the Fathers and Doctors of the Church by the Angelic Doctor himself, Saint Thomas Aquinas, and which was translated into English by none other than Blessed John Cardinal Henry Newman in 1841. I most highly recommend getting this four volume set and reading from it every day. The brand new edition released by Baronius Press in 2010 is exceptionally beautifully done and the first re-typesetting of the work in 170 years. You can purchase this wonderful set here. Baronius also offers a side-by-side edition of the Douay Rhiems and the Clemetine Vulgate which you can buy here.
The last two are comprehensive, but very brief. First is that of Richard Challoner, Bishop of Debra and Vicar Apostolic of the London District in England, which is found in most editions of the Douay Rheims one can buy today. The second is the Father Haydock commentary which is similar, but has a bit more commentary than Challoner’s. There is what is known as the “Haydock Bible” which contains the entire commentary along with the text of the Scriptures. You can buy an edition of this Bible here.
True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary
by Saint Louis Marie de Montfort
There can be no understating the importance of this little book. Even Saint Louis realized the importance of it as he wrote it and prophesied that the devil would try to prevent its being known to the world, and this came to pass for it was lost for 126 years after his death.
“I clearly foresee that raging beasts will come in fury to tear to pieces with their diabolical teeth this little book and the one the Holy Spirit made use of to write it, or they will cause it at least to lie hidden in the darkness and silence of a chest and so prevent it from seeing the light of day. They will even attack and persecute those who read it and put into practice what it contains. But no matter! So much the better! It even gives me encouragement to hope for great success at the prospect of a mighty legion of brave and valiant soldiers of Jesus and Mary, both men and women, who will fight the devil, the world, and corrupt nature in the perilous times that are sure to come.” (True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin, #114)
When it was found, however, it quickly came to the attention of the Holy Father and he commanded it to be published far and wide. Every Pope since the work’s discovery has practiced the devotion contained within its pages. This is not merely one of a number of devotions, but it is rather a way of life and a firm and secure path to heaven. Pope Leo XIII actually renewed his consecration to Mary according to the method found in this book on his death bed. This book will change your life if you read it and re-read it and take it to heart and truly live out what it prescribes. Let us listen to the testimonies from Saint Peter himself:
“This is the best and most acceptable form of devotion to our Blessed Lady.” -Blessed Pope Pius IX
“I heartily recommend True Devotion to Mary, and to all who read it I grant the apostolic Benediction.” -Pope Saint Pius X
“Small in size but of what great authority and what great sweetness. May it be spread every more and still more, and rekindle the Christian spirit in souls in ever growing numbers.” -Pope Benedict XV
“I have practiced this devotion ever since my youth.” -Pope Pius XI
“The force and unction of the words of Mary’s servants have not only touched but captivated and converted many souls.” -Venerable Pope Pius XII
“Reading this book was a deceive turning point in my life. This perfect devotion is indispensable to anyone who means to give himself without reserve to Christ and to the work of redemption.” -Blessed Pope John Paul II
**More to Read**
After reading True Devotion a work which should follow it up as a sort of “one-two” punch is the fantastic book written just around 50 years earlier by the great Saint Alphonsus Maria de Liguori: The Glories of Mary. Read here and buy here. Also Montfort has several other small books that can be read in conjunction with True Devotion and the most important of these is: The Secret of the Rosary. Read here and buy here.
Humility of Heart, by Father Cajetan Mary de Bergamo
Our Lord’s simple yet daunting command to us was:
“Take up my yoke upon you, and learn of me, because I am meek, and humble of heart: and you shall find rest to your souls.” (Matt. 11:29)
This book, without a doubt, will cut you to the quick. It will lay bare your sinfulness to you and your pride most of all. This book if read with the correct spirit and in conjunction with much prayer will most certainly change your life, because it can bestow upon you one of the greatest graces we can obtain: knowledge of self. It is so very important that we come to knowledge of ourselves and it is something we should pray for each day. When we know ourselves we know our predominant faults and we can see why we do the things we do, but most importantly we can then begin the long process of overcoming these faults by the sweet merciful grace of God.
This book is short and to the point and it will give you a clear vision into your own heart and soul, and it is difficult to have to see what is there but we must know so that we can begin to fight against our predominant fault. This book cannot be highly enough recommend, and one must encourage everyone to read this again and again.
The English translation of this book was made by Cardinal Herbert Vaughn, Archbishop of Westminister England, in 1903. In the last months of his life he wrote an introduction to the work which concludes with this final paragraph:
“I have the strongest possible conviction that our Lord desires to be served, especially in a country like England, where we are ‘the little flock,’ by a great development of religious activity among the laity, acting in co-operation with and under the guidance of the clergy. But I am equally convinced that unless these new workers are formed on the humility of heart which our Lord told all of us to learn of Him they and their overtures will be rejected by God and man. It is for this reason that I have dedicated this volume, written by a most holy and learned missionary, many times commended by zealous popes and bishops, to the Ladies of Charity as well as to the Priests for whose Ordination I have been responsible.”
**More to Read**
A wonderful extension of this book that I highly recommend is: The Imitation of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, by Father Peter J. Arnoudt S.J.. Read here and buy here. And another great book that is a bit of a difficult read, but which is very much worth your time is: Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, by Father Jean-Pierre de Caussade S.J.. Read here and buy here.