© 1997 Kevin Orlin Johnson
Continuing in my newfound curiosity about the oldest extant Christian organization, I accidentally read the book that inspired the man who created 'Catholics What We Believe and Why' -- the PalTalk chatroom that made me interested in gaining a little Latin rite literacy in the first place. His motivation is understandable: this is an excellent, thorough book. Johnson goes into great detail explaining the theological significant of elements like the Eucharist, but also reveals these element's historic origins, like the Mass's pomp and ritual being drawn from Roman courts.
Johnson's work is in four sections -- Faith, Worship, Culture, and Custom. Between them they cover a great deal -- Catholic symbols, the calendar, the difference between Latin and other rites, the thinking behind church architecture, the role of incense and prayers, church law, the Cycle of Redemption, and more. In addition to the Church itself, Johnson also gives a short history of the Vatican City (complimentary, of course -- no corrupt political popes here!) and writes about books which are not included in the Catholic canon as such, but which still may add to a person's understanding and appreciation of the Christian faith. One of these books is the story of St. Christopher, a giant who decided he wanted to serve the strongest king alive, and whose path to Christ took him into the desert where he found Satan marching around with his army and joined up.
My only caveat is Johnson's light protectiveness of the Church. I say light because as far as I am concerned, the man is impressive in admitting that the Church has taken inspiration from human culture as well as 'divinity': Easter's pagan roots are acknowledged by him freely. Still , as a child of the Church he leads the reader around some of the unpleasantness in Catholic history, like the utter corruptness of the papacy through much of medieval history. Even so, I'd recommend this to anyone curious or interested in Catholicism. As far as I'm concerned, it's first-rate.
If you're wondering what the imprimateur mentioned on the cover is, well -- that's answered in the book, too. (It means the bishop in question has read the book and found it worthy of examination.)