If you’re a Lutheran looking for liturgical, sacramental, historical Christian art, gifts, or devotional items, you’ve probably thought about checking out your local Catholic book and gift store. Goodness knows you’re not going to find much in the way of these things at your typical Protestant bookstore. In fact, there’s a chance that your church has used a Catholic supplier for some of its altar linens, vestments and other clergy attire, banners, communion ware, etc. The Catholic shop is going to be good for certain things, but it does require at least as much discernment as the other spot, so prepare to do some careful combing before you buy. Here are some pointers for lay shoppers…
- Don’t bother with the books. This is true for Christian bookstores everywhere. Get books that you have vetted in advance; they often require special ordering. Not that there aren’t any books worth looking at– in fact, you can often find Arch books or other CPH supplies at various Christian stores– but for the most part, you just don’t know what you’re going to get, and odds are that there will be theological concerns.
- Themes and things that Catholic gift stores have that are hard to go wrong with: Advent wreaths and candles, Good Shepherd themed pictures and statues, ordinary crucifixes for the wall or to wear, reproductions of biblical scenes and themes from the old masters, nativity scene supplies. These things are probably a big part of the reason you want to check out the Catholic spot in the first place. Like all Christian book and gift stores, you’ll find your fair share of kitsch, but you’re much more likely to find things that reflect the liturgical beauty of historical Christendom at the Catholic bookstore.
- Now, for the things to be careful about. We’ll start with the Christmas cards. Christmas cards are generally much more beautiful, even more biblically representative, that what you’ll find at an evangelical bookstore. But look closely at the cards before you buy. Don’t buy a card that announces a “Mass intention”; that is, if the card says something like “As a Christmas gift to you, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass will be offered for you and your intentions during this Holy Season.” At that point, we’ve moved out the realm of Lutheranism and into the world of buying and selling masses to confer special benefits and graces. Not very Lutheran. Mass intention cards are also used for sympathy cards, Easter, and other special occasions.
- Of the sacramental-themed cards, the Baptism cards are most likely to be acceptable for Lutherans. Look for the ones, especially, that use the biblical language of baptismal regeneration and promise. The Catholic church has a very different concept of confirmation than Lutherans, regarding it as a sacrament with special grace imparted by the blessing of the bishop. Confirmation cards that feature the bishop’s mitre and crosier do not really resonate with North American Lutheranism at all. Again, if you’re not sure, stick with biblical themes in the card’s message. First Communion also tends to look different, culturally as well as theologically, between our two confessions. In the RCC, First Communion cards are geared towards 7-year-olds, and the theology of the Lord’s Supper is quite different. Also, remember that if you’re getting a card for a wedding, the RCC regards marriage as a sacrament, and a card may say something to that effect that a Lutheran would find questionable. Stuff to keep in mind.
- Catholic stores have lots of inexpensive medals and charms featuring a wide range of personages and topics. Most will be saints. Some may have images relating to Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, the cross, etc. that you may find interesting. Look at the BACK of the medal before you buy it. If it’s a guardian angel pendant, does it say “Pray for us” on the back? Lutherans don’t ask departed saints or angels for their prayers. Only something relating to the Trinity can appropriately be paired with “Pray for us.” Also, look out for charms that have the promises of indulgences specifically attached to them. The whole Reformation began because of the problem of indulgences.
- If you’re interested in a statue of Jesus or one of the saints, you’ve got your work cut out for you. Most statues of Jesus and the saints are related to specific, mystical devotions based on visions that various saints are said to have had over the years. The Sacred Heart of Jesus, for example, is probably the most ubiquitous Jesus image available in statuary (and widespread in pictures), and even some Lutherans have used it. However, it is born out of the mystical visions of a 17th-century nun, in which Jesus gave certain promises about revering this image of his heart, including a promise relating to attending Friday mass for a certain number of months to receive special graces. Lutherans would be uncomfortable with the origins of this devotion. The image of Jesus giving a benediction with rays of white and red light coming from his chest is called the Divine Mercy, and it also is based on revelations of a nun. Young Jesus wearing pink with outstretched arms or holding a flaming heart is called Divino Niño, is also based on clerical mysticism, and miraculous powers are attributed to the image in popular Catholicism. And so on. Personally, I favor statues such as the Good Shepherd, the resurrected Christ, or a regular crucifix. These do not usually have popular, mystical devotions associated with them. Images of Mary are even more difficult to find. Most that you will find from a Catholic supplier are images like Our Lady of Grace (arms outstretched and downward, standing on a globe), OL of Lourdes (white robe, blue sash, praying hands with rosary), the Immaculate Heart (portrait of Mary pointing to a flaming heart crowned with flowers), and the like, all of which are attached to mystical apparitions or visions that include promises of favor and intercession when certain works or devotions are performed. If you want a picture or statue free from these associations, you’ll have to do your research on Marian iconography. Certain images of the Holy Family may be preferable, and they can be used for Christmas, too.
- If you find anything with the Lord’s Prayer, it’s probably not going to include the “for thine is the kingdom” ending. That’s certainly not the end of the world, but just keep it in mind if someone is going to be using it for their prayers and wants to be consistent with what they’re saying in church.
Okay, there’s probably tons and tons more that could be said, but I think that’ll do for now. If you have any other observations or helpful suggestions for the readers out there, please add your comments with your experiences!