Friday, January 27, 2012

Four Missals Reviewed (Part 3 of 3)

In our first and second part of our review, we have looked at the external binding and some of the internal aspects of the following four missals:

1. The Magnificat "Altar Edition", priced at $199.00 USD.
2. The World Library Publications (WLP) "Deluxe Edition", priced at $395.00 USD.
3. The Midwest Theological Forum (MTF) "Regal Edition", priced at $500.00 USD.
4. The Catholic Truth Society (CTS) "Altar Edition", priced at £230.00 GBP

For our third and final portion of this review, our attention turns to the interior artwork of these missals. Let's get right to it.

Missal Art - Overview

Before we get into specific considerations of each missal, let's give a general overview comparison of the four missals placed side by side.

Four random samples from each Missal
Top Left: WLP, Top Right: CTS
Bottom Left: Magnificat, Bottom Right: MTF

The art used for Eucharistic Prayer I (The Roman Canon)
Top Left: WLP, Top Right: CTS
Bottom Left: Magnificat, Bottom Right: MTF

Speaking of each of these missals, one point which I think was lost out upon in each instance was that each Eucharistic Prayer does not include some sort of crucifixion art plate. While this would be difficult where a singular source of the Missal art has been chosen (as for example in the CTS edition), I believe it would have been good for each missal to somehow include such plates for each Eucharistic Prayer.

The Magnificat edition does include a plate for both EP I and EP II, however in the latter case, this is an image of Christ resurrected rather than crucified. The other editions include a crucifixion art plate only for EP I.

Missal Art - WLP Edition

With regard to the art and design of their binding, I haven't rated the WLP edition as highly by comparison with the other three editions under review. However, I have to say that when it comes to the interior artwork, this is another matter entirely.

I very much like what they have done here. The plates are well integrated into the text, both in the way they are reproduced on the paper, and also in the way they relate to the liturgical texts themselves. There is plenty of art within the Missal, but one is not inundated with it either.

WLP went with art from the illuminated manuscript tradition, and thus the artwork very much presents a consistent and unified sense through the book. The images are well proportioned to the page and include white space around them, which suitably frames each plate and integrates it well with the rest of the text.

Here are some examples of the artwork in their edition:

A job well done.

Missal Art - Magnificat Edition

While I was quite pleased by the front and back cover design of the Magnificat missal, its marbled endpapers and its large ornamental capitals, I'll have to say that I was personally disappointed with the way the interior art was handled within this edition of the Missal -- even though I like much of the art used within the missal itself taken on its own. (In fact, in at least one of those instances I quite liked the fact that they stretched our horizons a bit by including such works as Vincent Van Gogh's "The Good Samaritan." That inclusion, for myself, shows some of the positive potentialities that can exist for more modern styles of art within this context. Kudos to them for helping to explore that front.)

Where I was disappointed was not in the pieces selected, but rather in the way the art was generally approached in this missal, taken as a whole and in view of layout considerations. So then, what do I mean by this?

In the first instance, this particular missal includes a rather curious feature throughout it, whereby there are two consecutive pages of colour plates, thereby making for two individual plates and one two page plate:

While it is laudable to not take a minimalist approach to the art within a missal, I personally do not believe this is the way to approach an abundant use of art plates.

The art of a missal should clearly relate to and embellish the liturgical texts, serving as a sort of visual meditation on the particular feast or part of the Mass being entered into. (Hence the crucifixion art at the beginning of the Roman Canon for instance, or an image depicting a saint or one of the mysteries of our Lord to accompany a related feast within the liturgical year). While the art used in the Magnificat Missal does indeed make these linkages to the time of the liturgical year, I can see little purpose or benefit from these double page spreads. Such spreads may be suitable for an art book or text book (though even in that context they are unsatisfying since the centre of the image is always obscured), but not for an altar missal in my estimation for they offer little or no real co-relation to the liturgical text, being pages that would never be turned to in the liturgical use of the missal.

Further to this matter of the layout of the art, I would also comment that, with the exception of the crucifixion plate opposite EP I, the art work lacks any sort of bordering, with the images being published right to the edges of the page. Here I would reference back to the tradition of manuscript illumination and book printing in general where plates and illustrations nearly always included white space and potentially other bordering as well. Within a book context, having art without any sort white space is, to me, comparable to hanging a picture on the wall without a matte and frame; the result tends to look unfinished and informal.

The other issue I would raise with the artwork selected for the Magnificat missal is the fact that it widely varies in style and type. Various periods are covered from the ancient right up to the very modern; art is used that ranges from full colour plates to uncoloured woodcuts and engravings of different styles and levels of detail. The result is a lack of stylistic unity which therefore doesn't integrate as well into the missal as a whole I think.

Here are just a few examples of some of the art found within the Magnificat edition of the Missal:

I will say that, taken on its own, the EP I page is wonderful. One will note the white space and bordering and how much of a difference this makes in giving a more finished and sophisticated look. I would point out as well the drop capital and how well this all integrates together here.

I want to reiterate that much of the art found within the Magnificat Missal is quite beautiful in and of itself. There are some beautiful engravings and some glorious works in stunning, vibrant colour. My primary issue with regard to the art selected is that I believe it would have been better had the publishers had either chosen one style or period of art, or at possibly two (perhaps one for the colour plates and one for the non-coloured plates) and then given the art a more "bookish" and finished appearance by way of the bordering already discussed.

While I appreciate that there was likely an intent to include art of differing styles and differing periods in Magnificat's case, to accomodate a variety of tastes, and while I can appreciate the desire to not take a minimalist approach, to me this is an example of where less would have been more.

Missal Art - CTS Edition

Like WLP, CTS chose to use art from the manuscript tradition. CTS made the decision to obviously use a singular source for their art and I think the result is very good indeed. Their approach, in this regard, most puts me to mind of the missal printing tradition of old.

Here are a few samples.

The only shame inherited by the otherwise admirable pursuit of a singular art source is that the crucifixion image seen here, opposite EP I, happens to be less pronounced by comparison with the other editions

One will note the use of the white space as a natural 'frame' around the images, and the art depicted is entirely linked to the liturgical texts at hand. CTS opted to use glossier paper for their art plates and while that makes them a little less integrated by way of the different feel of the paper (by comparison with the rest of the pages) it also gives the art a brightness it could otherwise not have. Frankly doing this or not is a trade off either way and I can see merit in either approach. However, what is also pleasing to me is that even though a glossier paper was used, that doesn't mean the art plates were treated merely as extraneous, separate inserts into the missal; rather, missal texts are often found to be printed on the opposing side of these same pages. This was well done I think. (Incidentally, why I believe this integration is important would again relate back to the tradition of the book arts whereby the art was an integral and unified aspect of book itself. The art was designed specifically for the book in question. It is within this unity and integration that I believe we find its particular value and beauty. Anything that approximates it or approaches it likewise is therefore desirable in my own estimation and tends to work.)

Very well done indeed overall and certainly very visually appealing. It is certainly one of my favourites of all the missals I have seen, including those others not covered by this review.

Missal Art - MTF Edition

Finally we come to the MTF edition. While MTF's edition does not use art from a singular source as the CTS edition does, it does however present art of a very similar stylistic quality, and this helps to avoid any sense of disunity in the art. MTF opted, like WLP, to not go with a glossy paper format for their artwork, and as I note this is really a trade off. What they lose in vibrancy of colour, they gain in the very consistent integration of the art with the rest of the printed text.

As with the CTS and WLP editions, MTF uses white space to frame their images, and beyond that, they have also added a gold border around each image in edition. I think this works very well and to good effect.

Here are a few samples:

While I like all of the other "Roman Canon" pages of the four missals shown, I must confess it is very pleasing to see the Velázquez Crucifixion used in the MTF edition, which certain gives a nod back to the Benziger Brothers missals used within the context of the usus antiquior.

They have done a very fine job with their art.

Missal Art - Summary

I will have to say that I appreciate the artwork of the CTS, MTF and WLP editions equally. Each have merits to be seen in their own particular approaches, and each, more importantly, bring dignity and beauty to the respective missal, integrating well with the liturgical texts.

As noted early on, a missed opportunity for the art work in all of the editions is the lack of crucifixion plates for each of the Eucharistic Prayers. I would hope this might be considered in future editions.

My one final comment here about the matter of missal art is that I would generally like to see a revival in our liturgical arts pursued such that we not only rely on the artwork of previous generations, or rely on adapting art from another context to these particular purposes. While we know this can work, as is evidenced above, it seems to me that we should also look to commission original artists to specifically design and execute art for our liturgical books again.

While that is admittedly not a small project, neither is it an impossible one. I believe this would be very enriching, if well pursued and well thought out, and would offer a range of potentialities, from the classicist painter to someone operating more within an illuminative tradition.

This concludes the review of these four editions of the new English edition of the Roman Missal

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