As The Catholic Herald enters a landmark partnership with Magnificat, Anna Arco interviews two of the key figures who have helped to
THE PUBLISHER OF MAGNIFICAT
/t has been described as a "worship aid", a breviary and a missalette but call it what you will: the slim monthly booklet is used by hundreds of thousands of Catholics. Magnificat, which contains the daily Mass readings and propers, prayers for morning and evening taken from the Liturgy of the Hours as well as meditations and lives of saints, was born out of necessity.
Pierre-Marie Dumont had been working in publishing for some time. He went into the industry straight after finishing his studies. A devout and convinced Catholic he is the father of 12 children he eventually took over several important French Catholic publishing houses which were in financial difficulties while still working in secular publishing.
After the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, missals ceased to be as popular as they had been in the past and Catholic publishers were struggling. Mr Dumont was looking for a new concept.
The idea for the Magnificat books began to form in M Dumont's head while he was trying to pray the Liturgy of the Hours with his wife.
"Praying the Liturgy of the Hours proved to be quite complicated for lay people active in professional or family lives," he explains. "After all, it isn't made for that. It's made for religious not for the laity. We found that it was very specific to religious life. Even the readings and the meditations were chosen with a religious vocation in mind.
"While we derived great fruits from our use of the Liturgy of the Hours, the enormous practical difficulties and its distance from our own vocation started us thinking. How could we have access to both the prayers of the Church and have them tailored to our vocations?"
M Dumont mentioned the need for a sort of prayer book for the laity in Rome during a meeting at the Congregation for Divine Worship. He was then told that the Council documents had called for the Liturgy of the Hours to be adapted for those in professional lives but that it had never been done because there had been no time and had there been no demand.
"I said: 'Well, I'm asking for it now.' And they said: 'Listen, we have the whole of the liturgical reform to deal with and we simply do not have the time to do it and if we did it would probably come out in 30 years.— The Vatican officials said that if M Dumont wanted to go ahead and come up with something and come back to them, they would be more than happy to guide him and provide the sources for the books.
The booklets had to be practical and beautiful: small enough to carry around inside a jacket pocket or a handbag but big enough to contain daily prayers, daily Mass readings, the lives of saints, the Order of Mass and other things. The thin paper used in pocket Bibles proved thin enough to be practical and tough enough to sustain daily wear. German printers were found to turn the book into a reality. The distinct covers. which show a different work of religious art every month, are extremely popular.
"I knew that the structure of the Magnificat had to be centred around the liturgy,M Dumont explains, "around the Eucharist of each day which is the source and pinnacle of our Christian life. Around the daily Mass there needed to be a prayer for the morning and the evening adapted from the Liturgy of the Hours and a daily meditation as food for a bit of reflection. So I did it within the liturgical structure of the Church. When I showed it in Rome, they were delighted and the project was off." In 1992 the booklets were launched in France. After minor teething problems and input from the readers and the people using them daily, the books were improved and their popularity spread through the French-speaking world. Today. Magnificat has more than 150,000 subscriptions in France alone.
Next up was breaking into the American market. M Dumont, who speaks no English, consulted two well-known US marketing firms, who told him that the product needed to be adapted to American standards.
"They said it was too difficult, too challenging, too beautiful for American readers, but thankfully I didn't give way." he recalls.
A month and a half touting the United States, visiting all the major cities and speaking to as many groups as he could convinced M Dumont that the books needed to have the same high standards he had set for the French edition. "I'd go around and show people the French Magnificat and they would say: 'That's exactly what we want',he says.
M Dumont put together an American editorial board, appointed Fr Peter John Cameron OP as editor-in-chief and chose Sister Genevieve Glenn OSB to pick the Daily Office and launched the booklets in the States. Almost immediately after the launch in 1998 Magnificat had 60,000 subscriptions. Now some 250,000 American Catholic subscribe and the booklets have become a point of reference, mentioned by presenters on EW1'N. recommended by parish priests and dioceses.
M Dumont describes the people who use his brainchild as a spiritual family. He attributes its success to the sense of unity that the prayers offer and to the absence of an agenda. "Magnificat offers the prayers of the Church for every day which everyone can pray. There are even some Protestants who subscribe in the United States. We are accessible to everyone because we are not in the business of theology or politics nor do we subscribe to an ideology. We don't have a Magnificat line'.
"Whatever the persuasions or opinions of people, it is a prayer book and they have a right to pray the prayers of the Church without us offering them a position on other subjects. That said, We are extremely demanding when it comes to the liturgy. We exclusively use the prayers of the Church and are exacting when it comes to the quality of the books.
"It gives Christians the world over the opportunity to pray every day, to become the Body of Christ, to pray with one heart and one soul, without U M Dumont (pictured above) believes that Magncat is especially useful for families seeking ways to pray today. He says: "With its morning prayers, evening prayers and suggestions for night prayers, Magmficat proposes a model for families that wish to build themselves up. For families who wish to model their lives around prayer. It is an extraordinary tool."
• He also believes it can unite families whose members live in different countries. "With Magnificat I think that both physical and geographical distances are overcome and families can be united in prayer even if they are faraway," he says.
• George Weigel, the biographer of John Paul II, has championed Magnificat. In a 2003 article in the Denver Catholic Register, he said: "Magnificat is a reminder that beauty and regularity are intrinsic to worship and can attract people to a life of more intense prayer. The vulgarisation of liturgical life is waning. Magmficat's magnificent success shows us the next stage of reform."
knowing each other, despite the distance, they are linked through the prayer of the Church." says M Dumont.
At the request of Pope John Paul II, the Magnificat books were produced in Spanish but this proved a troublesome venture as many Latin Americans for whom the books were made could not afford them. Socio-economic pressures on the readers made it an unviable project.
What is the future of Magnificar? Mr Dumont says that young people are drawn to the booklets and that many young Catholics are subscribers.
"It gives them a sense of the Church," he says, "as it becomes less visible in life or in the parish, as priests and all those structures start disappearing a little or there are fewer living communities, Magnificat creates a sort of virtual community, but one which really exists."