I often get asked questions like the following from a recent e-mail:
"We love Mother Mary Loyola's books. If I wanted my children to read them with me, is there a particular order that would be best, like from easiest to hardest?"
This is a great question, so I'd like to post my answer to her here so that anyone with a similar question, or who just wants to get a sense of what all these books are about, can come here to explore.
It is hard to put Mother Loyola’s books in a particular order, but I’ll at least try to put together a guide to the topics and age recommendations as best I can.
I personally think one of the most fun introductions to Mother Mary Loyola is of course, The King of the Golden City. Maybe that’s because most people in recent years started there, but it’s also because it’s relatively short and unbelievably sweet and it’s a great introduction to a lot of concepts she’s going to delve into later, like self.
The Child of God is intended for the youngest children as a way of helping them understand that they have a soul, and they have to take good care of it. It’s an introduction to the Baltimore Catechism in story form as only Mother Loyola could write it. Only problem with it is that it can be hard to put down…but that’s a problem with a lot of her books.
From there, First Confession is also geared for younger ones and is a wonderful introduction to the need for penance and absolution. It really makes the child WANT to go to Confession—which is so much different from the way I learned! My kids used this book to prepare and would actually beg to be allowed to go to confession! They have retained this habit as they have grown (well, not the begging part, but I certainly don’t have to beg them, and for this I am very thankful). Thanks to Mother Loyola, I have to say I have learned to love Confession from my children.
The natural follow up to this would be First Communion, and of course, here you may get some moans and groans as the children see how big this book is, and then complain that they’ve already received their First Communion and don’t need to read that book. But they’re wrong. First Communion, first of all, is broken up into 40 chapters, each of which (with only one or two exceptions) can easily be read in one sitting. Second of all, everything she tells you, she’s going to illustrate by means of a story or anecdote, so that nothing at all is going to be dry or boring. That’s why the book is so big. It’s chock full of stories. But lastly, there are very few things in this book that pertain only to the First Communicant. This book is all about living the Christian life, and the things it suggests by way of preparation for receiving Christ for the first time are equally applicable if you are receiving Him for the hundredth, or the thousandth, or the millionth time. Read it—you won’t regret it!
Questions on First Communion is intended as a study guide and companion for First Communion, but it is not absolutely necessary. One thing it does have, aside from discussion questions, are short stories that are meant to help reinforce some of the concepts learned. Likewise, The Children’s Charter is mostly a guide for the adults who are tasked with preparing children for the Sacraments.
Jesus of Nazareth is another book that is geared especially for children. You could also read it after Child of God, before First Confession if you wish. This is Mother Loyola’s retelling of the Gospels, but as with everything else she writes, it is very vividly told, so that you feel as though you were there watching all these events, rather than merely hearing them told once more. Moreover, this book doesn’t start with the Annunciation or the Nativity; it starts with Adam and Eve and explains why we needed to be saved, and all the prophecies and types that foreshadowed His coming. Sort of a mini-history of salvation. I read this to my daughter when she was 5 and I did find that I needed to modify the wording in places so that she could understand it. But she loved it so much that she still reminds me whenever she sees it sitting on the shelf: “Mommy, remember when you read this to me?”
Forgive us our Trespasses was published at the same time as First Confession, and contains similar material, though the latter was geared more for the very young, to introduce them to the sacrament and prepare them for it; Forgive us our Trespasses is more a guide to help you from your First Confession to your Last. You can choose to read it together as a refresher, or you can simply provide your children with copies to be brought with them to church when they’re waiting in line for confession. The Little Children’s Prayer Book is good for this purpose too, as it includes Mother Loyola’s wonderful Examination of Conscience for children along with other prayers for Mass and Benediction.
Next, Soldier of Christ is Mother Loyola’s book preparing young people for Confirmation. One thing to note here is that this book was written in 1901, back when Confirmation was conferred before First Communion, at about age 12 or 13. So it is not written in terribly difficult language, and where some concepts are difficult to grasp (or especially when she mentions people and battles that we are no longer familiar with) we have added footnotes to help.
Soldier of Christ is simply a delightful book, and it is hands down one of my two favorites by Mother Loyola. Her premise here is that Confirmation is analogous to Knighthood, and therefore he who would be a Soldier for Christ should know what it takes to be a good soldier, period. So she talks about the history of warfare, including the Crusades, the Napoleonic Wars, and various British Colonial Wars that her readers would have been familiar with at the time. She talks about what qualities make a good soldier, and how these qualities relate to the Spiritual Life. I personally think it would be hard to read this book and not want to become a better Christian. Let’s just say that Mother Mary Loyola knew how to reach both young and old, and she was very persuasive.
Which brings us to my other favorite: Home for Good. I had the unfortunate habit of reading this as my spiritual reading before bed, and that was a mistake! When I would read this book, I had a hard time putting it down, and an even harder time sleeping. It really made me think about how I needed to be watching at all times for ways to be serving Christ and my fellow man. Mother Loyola wrote this book for the girls who were graduating from the Bar Convent School—rich girls who were going off to a life of endless tennis parties and cotillions. She admonishes them: God did not create you to do nothing but entertain yourself! You were put on this earth to complete a task only you could complete. That means that if you do not complete it, no one will. You must discover this purpose and fulfill it. Only then will you find happiness and fulfillment in this life and in the next. This book is so motivating, and especially relevant to today’s entertainment culture.
After Home for Good, most of Mother Loyola’s books are geared for adults, and often for a specific purpose. Some of them, especially Trust, may be rather hard for children to grasp, as it covers concepts that are much more suited for those who have experienced more of life and need a reminder that we are not in charge…God is…and the more we fight against the tether, the harder we make it for ourselves. Only perfect trust in Him can bring us the peace He intends.
Heavenwards is much like Home For Good, though I often say it’s her version of that book for adults. She seeks to keep our eyes turned toward those things that tend toward our Salvation, rather than getting bogged down by the things of this world. With exactly 52 chapters, it makes a nice weekly meditation. Though I like what it has to say, I find its presentation not nearly as engaging for young’uns as Home for Good, and thus they may lose interest.
Hail! Full of Grace is a little like Jesus of Nazareth: Mother Loyola’s talent for narrative makes the mysteries of the Rosary come alive to the point where you may begin to feel as if your feet are getting dusty from following behind her on the road to Nazareth or Calvary. This may be suitable reading when you are doing your family Rosary, but may get a little long if you try to do all five mysteries in one sitting. She also provides many scriptural reflections and ejaculations for each mystery, so for those times when you want to really deepen your encounter with Christ through the Rosary, you might employ these.
Coram Sanctissimo is a set of meditations intended to help you greet our Lord in the Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. They are very personal reflections that are nearly guaranteed to find you where you are and help you to work through the issues you are experiencing in His Presence. Welcome! Holy Communion Before and After is full of similar meditations for before and after Holy Communion, as the title implies. They are grouped by theme: The Welcome of a Child, of a Sinner, of a Patient, of a Cross-Bearer, etc. Some of these reflections are deeply profound, such as her exploration of what it meant for Christ to have been the son of a Carpenter—that is, to have worked with His own Hands, at a trade that was not held in particularly high esteem…
Confession and Communion is very similar to Welcome, though it obviously incorporates both Confession AND Communion. I particularly like the Examination of Conscience that Mother Mary Loyola provides in this book. It is especially good for exposing our hidden failings. Not many of us who read books like this are likely to have robbed any banks or assaulted anyone, but we may have been unfair in our dealings as employers, leaders or parents. We may have allowed ourselves to think ill of others, when we should be keeping such thoughts in check. Those who wish to grow in the spiritual life will appreciate this book.
Blessed are They that Mourn, as the title implies, is intended to offer comfort to those who have lost loved ones. Written during the First World War, when many were coping with the loss of husbands, brothers and sons, Mother Loyola was careful to make this book just as relevant to all Christians, Catholic or not, for as she stresses, God’s Mercy is as infinite as His Justice.
Last, but not least, With the Church is of course a set of meditations related to the Church Year. They are not always spread out to relate to each and every Sunday of the year, and naturally, having been written in 1928, they will refer to the cycle of Feasts and Gospel readings from before Vatican II. She will often write more than one meditation for the more complex and moving events, like the Nativity, Holy Week, Easter and Pentecost. As always, her insights are edifying in unexpected ways.
Well, the answer to your question turned out to be something of a novella but I hope it was helpful to you. Please don’t hesitate to ask any further questions you may have, and I’ll try to keep my answers a little more concise next time.