LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (OSV News) — “Imagine getting ready for a party for 30 years and then wondering if anybody is going to show up,” Dan Gonzalez said with a nervous laugh.
Gonzalez, an author from Miami, is preparing to independently publish a book he has been writing and designing since he was in college. It was an encounter in college that he said spurred a deep dive into his faith and prompted the idea for “Mass Explained.”
The book contains facts about the origins of words and phrases used throughout the Mass as well as insight into each part of the Mass. At the end of each of its 43 chapters, readers can find a chapter overview, 15 review questions, and three questions for reflection and group discussion.
It is for cradle Catholics, converts, parochial school students and teachers, homeschoolers, small parish groups and parents.
“Simply put, ‘Mass Explained’ is written for anyone who wants a deeper understanding of the Mass,” said Gonzalez, who decided to self-publish his book and is raising funds through a Kickstarter campaign on his website, https://www.massexplained.com. He set a goal of $8,000 for the one-month-long campaign, which ends Feb. 28. Copies of the book can be preordered for $48 each.
Gonzalez’s book has ties to the Diocese of Little Rock.
“When I was going through the book, I said, ‘OK, I need a picture of a celebrant with his hands stretched over the gifts.’ I would do a Google image search and see these beautiful pictures from the Diocese of Little Rock,” he said.
Gonzalez collaborated with Arkansas Catholic to use photos from the diocesan publication’s archives.
He also worked with Arkansas Catholic freelance photographer Travis McAfee, based in Springdale, to take photos of different parts of the Mass.
“As Catholics, we know the reason we’ve built these big cathedrals and have this beautiful stained glass and art … is to communicate the truth of God, so if we can bring in some beautiful photography to a book about the Mass, it seems like that combination of truth and beauty,” McAfee told Arkansas Catholic. “We were able to get angles that accentuate a more artsy feel. … Dan is a person of prayer, and his backstory on why he was creating the book … really intrigued me … and got me excited about the project.”
The son of Cuban immigrants who fled from Fidel Castro’s Communist reign, Gonzalez grew up going to Mass with his mother and brother. When he went to design school in Rhode Island, Gonzalez kept a promise to his mother to continue attending Mass, but he would attend the nondenominational Bible study afterward.
“It was great. I became friends with the leader, and he was a year ahead of me in the same major,” Gonzalez told Arkansas Catholic. “He was telling me about teachers, how to do assignments, how to oil paint and make woodcuts, and then he was teaching me about the Bible at the same time. He was like my mentor and my brother.”
Gonzalez began to grapple with his Catholic faith as he joined his new friend at his nondenominational church. After six months, “I came to find out that I was missing the Eucharist,” he said. “They don’t have the Eucharist (at a nondenominational church). The pastor gives a sermon and that’s it, everybody goes home.”
When he went back to Mass, Gonzalez said, “it felt like being home again — like being reunited with old friends.”
In 1993, he decided to begin researching the history of the Mass.
“I realized I needed to learn as much as I could about the Mass and write a book about it, because I don’t want other people to experience what I’ve experienced — this rupture, this spiritual crisis, this waywardness. … I think that if Catholics knew about the Mass and what they have, they wouldn’t go anywhere else.”
Back in Miami, Gonzalez enrolled at St. Thomas University to learn more about ecclesial history, sacraments, sacramental theology and liturgy. He took two years of instruction in the lay ministry program in the Archdiocese of Miami. He read more than 150 books about the Mass.
“I decided (while writing) to start at the beginning of the Mass and then work my way all the way to the end, explaining each part of the Mass,” Gonzalez said. “But since I graduated with a graphic design degree, I was designing the book at the same time that I was writing it. I wanted it to be very visual and visually attractive. I think that people are more likely to read a book that has lots of pictures than a 400-page book with a lot of gray text on a page.”
“Mass Explained” received a “nihil obstat” from Msgr. Dariusz J. Zielonka, chancellor for canonical affairs for the Archdiocese of Miami, which means the book is in line with Catholic doctrine. An imprimatur was granted by Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami, giving the book official approval to be published.
“This book comes at a propitious time as the Church in the United States is engaged in promoting a Eucharistic Revival among our Catholic faithful,” said Archbishop Wenski in his endorsement of the book. “‘Mass Explained’ will assist the reader into full, conscious and active participation in the sacred mysteries. I look forward to adding this attractive catechetical tool to the arsenal of resources available to those seeking to grow into an adult faith.”
“(This book) can open up a person’s understanding about the liturgy and the Mass and the Eucharist,” Gonzalez said. “For me now, the Mass is the center of my life. When I go to Mass is when I feel most like the best father, the best husband — it feels like I’m doing my vocation and leading my family.”
Katie Zakrzewski is associate editor of the Arkansas Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Little Rock.