A colleague asked me what Church documents every Catholic should read.
I decided to put together this list and I hope it isn't too long. This list contains writings, primarily Magisterial documents (official Church teaching), but it also has a few that are not. It should be helpful for those who don't know where to start or what to read next.
NOTE - Every different kind of Church document bears a different authority. You can read more about the differences here. With that being said, just because one document bears more authority than others, it doesn't mean I believe it is more relevant today. For instance, the documents of the Council of Trent bear more authority than an encyclical, but I would recommend many encyclicals before the documents of Trent, because the teaching in Trent is summed up in other documents, including the Catechism.
NOTE #2 - Many of these would be better with a good commentary, because many can be hard to understand. Some commentaries are better than others, so make sure you are getting your money's worth if you buy one.
Without further jibber-jabber, here is my list of what EVERY Catholic should read:
- The Holy Bible. No replacement for Divine Inspiration. Several good commentaries available.
- The Catechism of the Catholic Church. The basics of the faith in an accessible format. The first general catechism in nearly 400 years. I recommend the Pauline edition. The YouCat is a decent stand-in, with a more readable format.
- The 4 Dogmatic Constitutions of Vatican II. While I recommend that everyone eventually read all 16 documents of Vatican II, start with these 4.
The following Documents are those MANY Catholics should read:
- Humanae Vitae - Pope Paul VI. The encyclical that rocked the Church
- Theology of the Body - John Paul II. (Many people will not be able to get through it, so a popular version should suffice for most Catholics).
- Love and Responsibility by Karol Wojtyla. Even more applicable, in many ways, than Theology of the Body.
- Writings of the Church Fathers. There is a ton of stuff out there. So, I recommend both this one-volume book or, even better, this three-volume set of books on the Church Fathers.
- Spiritual Writings of the Saints. This is a huge category. I would start with the more popular writings (e.g. Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales, etc.) and the Doctors of the Church.
- History of the Catholic Church. I recommend the Warren Carroll four-volume version. If you want a much shorter and less scholarly one-volume history, try Triumph by Crocker.
- JPII's most important encyclicals - Christifidelis Laici, Veritatis Splendor, Redemptor Hominis, Evangelium Vitae, and Fides et Ratio. All of these can be found on the Vatican's website.
- Pope Benedict's encyclicals.
The following Documents are those SOME Catholics should read:
- Code of Canon Law. I don't necessarily recommend a cover-to-cover reading, but at least a good introduction to it. This is a decent intro.
- Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.
- General Directory for Catechesis.
- Evangelii Nuntiandi - Pope Paul VI. On evangelization.
- The other Vatican II Docs.
- St. Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica
- Divino Afflante Spiritu - Pope Pius XII
- General Instruction of the Roman Missal.
- JPII's other encyclicals.
I also have a list of recommended Catholic Books for those who wish to learn more.