Scanning Around with Gene: Memories in the Daily Missal

When I was 14, my 18-year-old sister Marguerite died from leukemia. My mother grieved by deleting all traces of Marguerite’s existence, including photos of her. So on a recent visit to my childhood home to celebrate my mother’s 90th birthday, I was glad to find the Catholic Daily Missal that was a gift to my sister in 1963 when she was 11. It brought back a mixture of emotions.

I don’t know if young Catholics still have missals, but in my day it was an important possession and a focal point of Catholic life. The number of holy cards, notations, and other material added to your missal was a pretty good indication of your piety and the seriousness with which you took your young faith. All of the images here are from my sister’s 1963 edition. Click on any image for a larger view.

A missal, from the Latin missa (mass), contains the liturgy the priest says at daily mass, as well as specific information for special holy days and feasts throughout the year. It is a treasure trove of Catholic doctrine, lives of the saints, and stories and parables.

Sadly, I never got the chance to talk to my sister about religion or God or even life and death. I know Marguerite had pretty much rejected the church by the time she went away to college. But those were in the “bad old days” of the church, complete with ruler beatings, severe imagery, and even more severe teachings. Things have changed quite a bit since then.

In my sister’s and my day, boys and girls had identical missals, except for the covers: the boys’ were black and the girls’ were white. The better editions had gold-leafed page edges and were often presented as birthday or Christmas gifts, or to commemorate a particular religious holiday. Before I had my own missal, I remember carefully leafing through my sister’s, noting the images and wondering what the stories were behind them.

My favorite parts of the daily missal were the multi-colored ribbons attached to the spine for marking your place. They gave restless children something to play with while stuck at Mass, and you could mark your favorite images of saints slaying dragons or young people being graced with an appearance from Mary.

Looking through my sister’s re-discovered daily missal has certainly brought back a flood of memories. Since I was the youngest and she the oldest we had a certain bond I didn’t share with my middle sister. She was beautiful and independent and I loved hanging out on the periphery when her girlfriends would come over and talk would turn to a favorite Beatle or the war in Vietnam.

Eighteen isn’t very old and when Marguerite got sick, she was still a confusing mish-mash of adult views and child-like needs. It was not a good summer that year and I entered high school in mourning instead of wonder. I didn’t turn to God during that time — perhaps the images shown here had made me fear death. I certainly didn’t understand it.

Though I continued to go to Catholic schools, after my sister’s death I lost whatever faith I had and figured everyone was on their own. But by the early 1970s the church was changing. Old priests who had once represented discipline and fear were replaced by young priests preaching compassion and marching for peace.

I often think of my sister’s last days and the confusing emotions we both felt about death, life and eternal salvation (or damnation, which seemed just as likely).

I do know we were both very scared. We were taught that God did everything for a reason, and yet there didn’t seem to be any good explanation for what was happening to us. While she tried to show courage, I could see the fear. I’m sure if we had looked hard enough, there was great consolation in the Daily Missal, but somehow we missed that part.

Posted on: August 21, 2009

Gene Gable

Gene Gable has spent a lifetime in publishing, editing and the graphic arts and is currently a technology consultant and writer. He has spoken at events around the world and has written extensively on graphic design, intellectual-property rights, and publishing production in books and for magazines such as Print, U&lc, ID, Macworld, Graphic Exchange, AGI, and The Seybold Report. Gene's interest in graphic design history and letterpress printing resulted in his popular columns "Heavy Metal Madness" and "Scanning Around with Gene" here on

18 Comments on Scanning Around with Gene: Memories in the Daily Missal

  1. Your article was touching as it stirred up some very strong and emotional memories for me as well. I am sorry for the loss of your sister. As you I have been separate from my religion for a long time and also wonder about and fear death. Sometimes I envy those who can find so much comfort in their beliefs. Of course, your article brought back some good memories as well.

  2. Gene, this is so touching it’s hard to know what to say. Thanks for all your articles, and especially for this one.

  3. You have more courage and faith then you realize!! Too often today people feel that it is wrong to talk about God and faith. I admire your courage during your sister’s illness (I too lost a sibling to cancer) and your courage to put the pictures of this wonderful missal out before the public. Keep talking to God and He will lead you home. You are in my prayers.

  4. Gene, this is an absolutely awesome article! What a breath of fresh air to see something wonderful like this among so much of the noise out there. As a former Catholic turned Born Again Christian, I can relate to your personal story of the journey of faith.

    My Dad had such a prayerbook and left it behind when he passed away in 1996. I designed a funeral program for him that featured some of etchings from this book. The finished product turned out quite nice as it personalized the program and gave it lots of class, which my father deserved. Thank you for your poignantly touching story. – Michael Tamburello

  5. It is Friday evening the technicians just fixed an internet access problem, so I was catching up on mail messages in. I always read your fascinating articles first. I live and work in Europe and love the old media images from America. This article stopped me in my tracks. I am an ordinary old catholic, sure, not a great one, it is difficult in this crazy world – but I keep returning. I too can understand a great deal of what you say about your life and the tender love you still have for your dear little sister that has gone to God. She surely has and yes you are right the church now is not about a vengeful God but a much more loving one. Why your dear sister’s sacrifice had to fulfill some divine reason that we can’t understand, is not only a mystery to many catholics but every version of faith and those of none, in this world. She will be forever young, I will offer up a little prayer for her and all your family. Keep up the good work Gene, you are a great guy and professional too. B

  6. Thank you Gene for your lovely comments. I really enjoyed the historical pictures from your sister’s daily missal. You have shown much love in your comments and tribute, reflecting God’s love for us. Thank you.

  7. I never had a missal in my days at St. Josephs, but the imagery is familiar. I am also thankful I didn’t have one – some of the graphics would have ruined me for life -a Nordic cast that had never seen the sun although missing the heart encircled with thorns replete with drops of blood, which was my youthful favorite.

  8. What a great article you presented today. I have my 1960’s missal in the other room, wrapped in a blue plastic cover. I know it holds many holy cards, which is the only reason I open it, for death dates. I too have been disillusioned by the Catholic Church. In the 90’s I really resented the requirement to donate X amount of money per year if you wish to be a Catholic in good standing which would also allow your children to attend Catholic schools as a parishioner. Spiritual guidance I guess. Your time volunteering for the church and school did not count towards your spiritual well being. Only the $$.

  9. Gene, your article brought back many memories for me too. Through your articles, we as readers get a glimpse of who you are and what has shaped your life. I have that old red Missal packed away. Your article makes me want to get it out again and see what holy cards and other things are hiding there. Thanks for the great stories! Pat W. in Missouri

  10. I appreciate this Scannng Around With Gene column very much and always look forward to what he winds up highlighting. I do think though that this one is a little too personal. I also grew up Catholic and I am so amazed by how gruesome and scary many of the images were – kinda brought back a lot of bad memories for me!

  11. I really love Gene’s regular feature, Scanning Around with Gene. This week’s is rather poignant. Thank you Gene, PETER WETHERBEE.

  12. I was saddened by your story. I attended a Catholic High School for girls and it saved me from falling into the hedonist lifestyle my brother had in his public high school. The nuns NEVER punished us physically and I still thank God for sending me to that school. As an adult I lost my little girl at the age of 18 and was lost for awhile. After 23 years I returned to the Church and when I lost my oldest son to suicide, I turned immediately to the comfort of the Church. It amazes me that Catholics turn away from the Real Presence of the Lord Jesus at the Mass to join some church founded by a mere human being. I pray you come to terms with the death of your sister as I have had to with my children. God Bless you.l

  13. After almost ten years as a member here, I still turn to Gene’s articles first. While I love the imagery of Americana Gene shares, what keeps me coming back is the human touch; the personal connection to his material that gives me a sense of time and place. Gene makes it easy for me to find a commonality between his life and mine, though we are vastly different except in age.

    Keep up the wonderful work, Gene.

    Sanity is a relative concept. If you don’t believe me, let me introduce my relatives.

  14. It was a gritty dark wednesday night. I was half way through my patrol shift when I stumbled upon a dame that should of been booked on principal. Big round natural tits. I frisked her. Then I fucked her.

  15. Dear Gene, I enjoyed your images of the Sr. Joseph Daily Missal because I am only slightly younger than your sister and it was an important part of my life too. I am sad for you though, that in looking at the pictures, you did not understand the message that Christ rising from the dead does free us to live eternally with Him in heaven. I have lost a daughter, a brother and my mother to death at an early age. Of course I am sad beyond words at their passing, but what I know most deeply is that they still live and I will see them again when I pass from this life. I pray that you will come to know this too.

  16. You have more courage and faith then you realize!! Too often today people feel that it is wrong to talk about God and faith. I admire your courage during your sister’s illness (I too lost a sibling to cancer) and your courage to put the pictures of this wonderful missal out before the public. Keep talking to God and He will lead you home. You are in my prayers. sesli sohbet sesli chat

  17. Good Scans…those pages must have been universal in their day. Born in 1950 in the Bronx and attending St. Bennedicts I can say that I recognize every one of those plates. Except for the color and the drama they never realy meant much to me. They do remind me of an idealic time that we will never see again. It also occors to me that the Catholic church spent a lot of money and efort on advertising, and got the customers to pay for it. Kind of like cable TV. May I offer my condolences on behalf of your sister.
    Frank Aloise, Aerial/Marine Photography

  18. I have my father’s missal from 1961 just before he died. I began perusing last year when I was sick and I don’t know how but it helped. Maybe the imagery or the latin translations or the prayers. Maybe it brought me back to the time of the more formal mass with the “smells and bells” and the security of knowing that there was a place were a family could be together again. ( Dad died before I was a year old. Mom in her late 40’s) As a kid I never thought the faux woodcut illustrations were that good, the illustrations in my dictionary were much better rendered, but I did like the red and black printing. Maybe my design eye was working way back when.

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