Friday, June 19, 2015

A Pauline history of Papal Documents

My postulancy in the Daughters of St Paul was not just an introduction to religious life; it was like a master class in All Things Catholic, like the liturgy and papal documents. 

We did a special series of
reprints for Vatican II
documents, pushing the
tiara over to make room
for an image. But the yellow
continued on for years.
In the convent I learned how to use a missal and prayed my first Vespers; I read my first encyclicals, too—yellow pamphlets (some so old the staples had rusted) with the papal tiara embossed over the  Latin title and maybe the price (10¢; some as high as 20¢), published by (you guessed it) Daughters of St Paul or (depending on how long ago it had been printed) St Paul Editions. There was a long history to those single-serve documents. Our Founder's entire vocational journey hinged on Leo XIII's Tametsi Futura Prospicientibus, so he was gung-ho on getting people to read documents that previously had had an audience of "The Venerable Patriarchs, Cardinals, Archbishops and Bishops".

The sisters would do an initial print run of 10-25,000 copies of papal documents (in some cases, a 20 or 30-year supply; they didn't know about inventory management yet). There were a few of those booklets that underwent successive reprints (Humanae Vitae being one of them), but our stockroom had pretty much a lifetime supply of every major papal document ever issued, from Leo XIII through Blessed Pope Paul VI, then gloriously reigning, and judging from the rusty staples, most of them seemed to have been printed during the writer's reign and were thus older than I was. Since I worked in the shipping department, I quickly acquired a working knowledge of the major documents and their Latin and English titles, just from having to fill orders!
With Pope Benedict, we went
to a "New Pope, New Color"
cover policy.
The year I made first vows, the year of three Popes, things didn't really change. The Polish Pope issued his first encyclical and out came the yellow booklet, a bit chubbier than most of the earlier documents had been. (Redemptor Hominis was about the size of Gaudium et Spes or Communio et Progressio, our biggest document booklets up to then.) Pope John Paul continued cranking out the documents (mostly encyclicals and apostolic exhortations) and we started giving them unique covers, until the sisters in the publishing house decided to bring back the standard approach and popped most of the reprints into blue booklets or simple blue paperbacks (JP2's texts usually popped the staples on the booklets).

Late in John Paul's reign, he began publishing actual books. Suddenly the major publishers were interested: not just in his full-length books, but in the
Sneak peak at the new "Anniversary
edition" of a super important
document on the family.
documents as well, issuing them with amazing dust jackets and hard covers. Through it all, the Daughters kept publishing those “chapel sized” paperbacks, changing the color as the Popes succeeded one another: red for Benedict XVI, and now green for Francis. Recently we've introduced "anniversary editions" of major documents: On time for the World Meeting of Families and Pope Francis' visit to Philadelphia, we'll release the anniversary edition of powerful document from the last Synod on the Family: "The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World" with commentary by John and Claire Grabowski (members of the Pontifical Council for the Family). (Be on the lookout for it!)

Interest in papal writings sparked some abuses, too: a fake papal website; altered documents proffered as the real thing. The Vatican publishing office (which had long given the Pauline sisters open permission to print papal teachings) overhauled its rights and permissions. This means that although for now you can read “Laudato Si” online or download the pdf file from the Vatican website, you will have to wait for a print edition in English. The first copies will be coming from the US Bishops' Conference publishing arm, which administers Vatican copyrighted material. Other publishers (like Ignatius Press, OSV and Pauline) are preparing their editions, but cannot release them for another month. The Pauline edition will be the usual “chapel size,” and the most economical option. Naturally, I hope you will sign up now to reserve a copy as a way of supporting the community that made the paperback encyclical a standard item for the Catholic bookshelf!

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