Friday, November 28, 2008

The Gear: The Prayer Book

There are three standard gifts for a child receiving his First Communion: a rosary, a prayer book, and a scapular (or scapular medal). And just in time for this post, you have only 13 more hours (at time of posting) to put in your bid for FRANK SINATRA'S PRAYER FIRST COMMUNION PRAYER BOOK!!! Yes, my friends, for only $100,000 (free shipping!), Frankie's little prayer book can be yours. Ring-a-ding-ding!

Just in case the auction ends before you read this--and you will surely bemoan your fate at missing such a significant piece of Italian-American heritage--a picture of it is provided at the top of this post.
I can tell you what it looks like on the inside, too. The cover is somewhat thick and padded--in the first half of the century it was common for the cover to be celluloid, that stuff they used before plastic was invented--and while the cover may just have a plain cross, often there is a scene, usually featuring Jesus and/or Mary, appropriate to the sacramental occasion. The covers are often fastened together with a tiny metal clasp. Inside the front cover is probably set a crucifix. The prayer on the opposite page will be the "Prayer Before a Crucifix," a standard and well-loved, if somewhat saccharine, post-communion prayer that would have given little Frankie something to do after having received other than fidgeting in his uncomfortable suit.

The rest of the book will mostly have the Order of the Mass, with ink drawings so you can tell what part of the Mass from what the priest and server are doing, with a description and some appropriate prayers to be praying at the time, other frequently used Catholic prayers, and an examination of conscience to help with confessing those seven-year-old sins (Did I disobey my parents? other lawful authority? Did I look at bad pictures on purpose? etc.).

The most surprising thing about these old First Communion prayer books--and you'll note that the eBay seller has carefully avoided mentioning this, or showing any objects next to the book--is that they are extremely small, about four by three inches, or even smaller. If you glance down at the previous post, you'll find that several of the little girls are clutching a tiny rectangular object: that's their prayer book.
Despite their tiny cuteness, the often good condition these are found in (one might even suspect some of the children didn't use them much), and the reasonable price at which they can be had, these old books aren't rescued for First Communions today, since the Mass that they're meant to guide children through is so different from the modern post-1064 Mass as to make the books irrelevant. Prayer books and missals in general, while still around, are far less central to the Catholic prayer life since the Mass began to be said in the vernacular, memorization of standard prayers was deemphasized, and confession fell into the desuetude from which it's only beginning to recover.

But since the Opinionated Household likes to go to the old Latin Mass anyway, I snagged one of the less battered prayer books from the 1920's for Offspring #2. No, not Sinatra's.


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