With the new translation of the Mass about to go into effect, daily Mass goers and others who let the Mass readings and prayers guide their daily meditation might be wondering if they should subscribe to a monthly missalette or invest in what used to be called a "hand missal" (as distinguished from the massive and ornate "altar missal"). Which way should you go?
Naturally, it depends on you. As someone who got my first "hand missal" as a gift when I entered the convent, I have found that using a hand missal has a distinct advantage over the subscriber model when it comes to actually learning how the liturgy works. When you are the one placing the ribbons in the particular "Week in Ordinary Time" and finding the special prayers for a Virgin Martyr (or, as we see today, for the Dedication of a Church), you get a detailed, hands-on awareness of the way the Church's prayer is put together, and how the feasts and seasons weave through the year. A hand missal is like a self-guided course in Liturgy, and one that you will continue to refresh year after year. It is a one-time investment that costs less than a one-year subscription missal.
But it's not very portable. As someone who travels frequently enough for it to matter, I keep my hand missal on my bedside stand, so I can prepare for Mass the evening before. But I also use a missalette. AND I have missal apps (the free ones) on the electronic devices I use.
There are excellent subscriber-style missalettes. Not simply the basic newsprint kind we have gotten so used to seeing in our pews, but magazine-format missalettes printed on missal paper, with the same red and black lettering you find in an altar missal. Until this summer, if you wanted something this elegant, you had only one choice, Magnificat. Originally published in France, it offers morning and evening prayer for each day, modeled on the Liturgy of the Hours, a daily meditation with some connection to the day's readings or feast, daily story of a saint, and (best of all among the "extras") a full-color reproduction of Christian art, with a detailed analysis. In all the years I have been using the Magnificat missalette for travel, my only beef has been with the lives of the saints: too many of the stories are extravagant tales built around an undated legend of dubious historical value. (But the art section more than made up for that.)
As of June, a new subscription missalette came on the scene. Give Us This Day is published by The Liturgical Press, so it has a Benedictine pedigree. It is also printed on missal paper (though not as fine as Magnificat's ultra-thin paper), and features the "liturgical" red and black type. Like Magnificat (and no doubt inspired by it--and ultimately by Vatican II's call that the faithful return to the Morning and Evening Prayer of the Church), it offers Liturgy of the Hours' style morning and evening prayers. You will likewise find a daily meditation inspired by the readings and a daily inspirational biography. This is where this new kid on the block distinguishes itself from its predecessor: the biographical sketches are not only of saints and blesseds, but of outstanding 20th century and other more contemporary Christian witnesses. Overall, Give Us This Day is more up to date in its reflections (by authors like James Martin, SJ). Instead of offering an analysis of an art reproduction, Give Us This Day provides a weekly two-page commentary on a theme or person the liturgy presents. It also includes a calendar-style spread showing the distribution of feasts for the month.
And then there are the digital missals. Both Magnificat and Give Us This Day offer a digital-only subscription option with the cost of $14.99 for six months (Magnificat) or $14.95 for one year (Give Us This Day). Both appear to be offering web-access for a subscription fee. (It's not very clear on their websites.) Magnificat has an iPhone app which can be accessed by registered subscribers, or purchased month by month for $1.99.
Other virtual missals include iMissal Catholic (an app for iPod, iPad and Android devices), which offers the possibility of listening to the day's readings in audio, not just reading them on a screen. (The basic app includes standard Catholic prayers and daily meditations. You can also buy the add-in "Saint a Day" app.) The basic iMissal app is $4.99. The iBreviary app (free) is not only an electronic Breviary, but a complete liturgical prayerbook (er, app) which includes the Mass readings. And then the priest who brought you the iBreviary promised an iPad Altar Missal (which would include the prayers and antiphons, but not the readings for Mass).
Not all priests and professional liturgists are happy about missals. They fear that some people will keep their noses in the missal pages and not really listen fully as the readings are proclaimed and the Mass prayers are actually offered. (Faith, after all, "comes from hearing.") Unless you are hearing-impaired, you don't need to follow along in a book to participate in the liturgy. But having a missal (or missalette) of your own can be a great way to learn the liturgy and to grow in a genuinely liturgical spirituality.