Recommended reading for RCIA?

October 19, 2006 | 22 comments

The other night in RCIA class I was in a small group and we were talking about why we were converting to Catholicism. I mentioned that it was a largely intellectual decision for me, and that the books I’d read over the past year were critical influences on my decision. Almost all the people in my group were very eager to know which books I found most helpful to my faith and my decision to become Catholic. Unfortunately I ran out of time to give them details and only managed to throw out a couple.

As a reading fanatic I was excited to see others so interested in this topic. After class I approached the Adult Education Director and asked him if he had a recommended reading list for people in RCIA. He said that he unfortunately does not, he’s simply been too busy to tackle that. I offered to take a first stab at such a list based on the books that had the most profound impact on me, and he was very enthusiastic. I was surprised at how grateful and excited he seemed. And my first thought was, “OK, gotta get my blog readers in on this.” Since he might end up actually using this list I put together I want to make sure it’s good.

Most of the people in the class are converting from other Christian denominations. A few are cradle Catholics who just need First Communion, and there are actually a couple of people like me who previously had no faith whatsoever. The vibe I get from most people is that they’re pretty committed to converting, but still a bit skeptical about certain aspects of Catholicism.

Below are the books that I’ve found most helpful:


* = I have not yet read this myself but hear it’s excellent

On the Catholic Church

  • The Good News About Sex and Marriage by Christopher West
  • Catholicism for Dummies by Rev. John Trigilio and Rev. Kenneth Brighenti
  • By What Authority?: An Evangelical Discovers Catholic Tradition by Mark Shea
  • Making Sense Out of Scripture: Reading the Bible as the First Christians Did by Mark Shea
  • How the Reformation Happened by Hillaire Belloc
  • Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton
  • * The Lamb’s Supper by Scott Hahn
  • * Rome Sweet Home by Scott Hahn

On Prayer and Faith

  • * Fire Within by Thomas Dubay
  • * The Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux

On God and Jesus

  • Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
  • The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel
  • The Everlasting Man by G.K. Chesterton


Thoughts? What am I missing? Anything I should add to/remove from the list? I’m sure there are some other good books out there about prayer and strengthening your faith.

Keep in mind that most of the audience is pretty unfamiliar with the Church, so something like Thomas Howard’s On Being Catholic is going to be too “heavy” for this list.


  1. paula


    “To Know Christ Jesus” by Frank Sheed, is an incredible book. The insights contained in the book are phenomenal- and this from a cradle Catholic reading this book as I approached 40!! It is almost as if you were given an up close and personal portrait of who Jesus Christ is- I continually go back to it for inspiration. I can’t recommend it enough.

  2. Kiwi Nomad 2006

    I am using “Believing in Jesus; a popular oerview of the Catholic faith” (5th revised edition) by Leonard Foley OFM. I am a ‘cradle catholic’ who wants to learn a few basics. I find the ‘tone’ of this book brilliant as it doesn’t ‘condemn’ – it informs knowing we might have questions.

  3. Anonymous

    Um…the Bible? 🙂

  4. Julie

    My husband was a cradle Catholic who had left the Church as an adolescent — when we were dating he started to consider coming back to the Church, and one of the books he loved and credits with helping in his decision was The Mass by Lucien Deiss. It’s only around a hundred pages but does a great job of thoroughly explainng the Mass and its origins. (I’ve not read the whole thing, but the parts I have are excellent.)

  5. Julie

    Doh! I should add that Alan Schreck’s Catholic and Christian has been an invaluable resource for me.

  6. Chad Toney

    Oh, there is so much good stuff…a lot of my recommendations would be based on the person and the specific background he/she has. (for me, Tom Howard was simply the best apologist for the Church)

    I would definitely add the Compendium of the Catechism. I hope that becomes the future RCIA standard text.

    For a bible version: the RSV Catholic Edition, 1st or 2nd edition.

    You also need some cultural stuff, and I’m not well read in this area in book form. I read Catholic Etiquette from OSV press, and that was good. Maybe “..For Dummies” covers this stuff well.

  7. Bekah

    Oh, I heartily disagree that “On Being Catholic…” is too heavy. But, anyways.

    I would put Surprised by Truth (there are a few volumes, but the one I’ve read was the first); the Catechism; and Born Fundamentalist, Born Again Catholic.

    If you were to make an “Advanced” section, I would also recommend Sheed’s Theology and Sanity.

    In my conversion, Jimmy Akin’s articles I found on the web were very helpful to nail down certain specific topics.

  8. SteveG

    I heartily agree with everything you have there. The only ones I’ve not read or am not familiar with is the ‘Case for Christ’ and ‘Catholicism for Dummies’, but I’ve heard that they are very good.

    In addition, using your categories and adding a few new ones, below is a starting point for what I’d recommend (I have quite a few others I could recommend, but some of them are not really appropriate for most RCIA candidates, or are very ‘specialized’).

    I obviously highly recommend everythign below, but those items with an asterisk are ones that are just really special.

    So, for starters….

    On the Catholic Church
    *Cardinal Ratzinger (BXVI) – Salt of the Earth
    Patrick Madrid – Surprised by the Truth
    Karl Keating – Catholicism & Fundamentalism
    *Mike Aquilina – Mass of the Early Christians
    *Frank SheedTheologogy and Sanity
    George Weigel (on the abuse scandal) – The Courage to be Catholic
    Cardinal Ratzinger (BXVI) – Truth and Tolerance

    On Prayer and Faith
    Pope John Paul II – Crossing the Threshold of Hope
    St. Francis DeSales – Introduction to the Devout Life
    Fr. Benedict Groeschel – Listening at Prayer
    Peter Kreeft – Prayer for Beginners

    On God and Jesus
    Luke Timothy Johnson – The Real Jesus
    note: A book on the search for the historical Jesus. I saw this recommended by Fr. Groeschel on EWTN once. Not ‘catholic’ as such, but a phenomenal effort to answer the work of th Jesus Seminar and the ‘Christ Myth’ apologists.
    *Mike Aquilina & Christopher Bailey – The Grail Code

    On End Thing (i.e. Heaven, Hell, etc) (new)
    *C.S. Lewis – The Great Divorce

    On Private Revelations (i.e. Lourdes, Fatima,etc.)(new)
    *Fr. Benedict Groeschel – A Still Small Voice
    I think this is a really important book for anyone wondering how to approach apparitions and the like.

    The Liturgy(new)
    Cardinal Ratzinger (BXVI) – The Spirit of the Liturgy

    Finally…Below is a list of books my spiritual director has given me that I’ve not yet read but think I can safely recommend.
    To Know Christ Jesus by Frank Sheed
    The Way by St. Josemaria Escriva
    The Spiritual Combat by Lorenzo Scupoli
    Thomas More: A Portrait of Courage by Gerard Wegemer
    The Mystical Rose by Ven. John Henry Newman
    The Friendship of Christ by Robert Hugh Benson
    Prayer Primer by Thomas Dubay
    Difficulties in Mental Prayer by Eugene Boylan
    In Silence with God by Benedict Baur
    The Hidden Power of Kindness by Lawrence Lovasik
    He Leadeth Me by Walter Ciszek
    All You Who Labor by Stefan Wyszynski
    The Glories of Divine Grace by Matthias Scheeben
    The Last Things by Regis Martin
    Pathways in Scripture by Damasus Winzen
    The Long Loneliness by Dorothy Day
    The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence
    The Little Flowers of St. Francis of Assisi

  9. SteveG

    I’ve read Sheed’ Theology and Sanity and found it simply incredible.

    I think based on your recommendation, ‘To Know Christ Jesus’ needs to be next on my list.

  10. Jim McCullough

    Jen–strong second to Prayer Primer by Thomas Dubay–that is THE one to start with for beginners. Also well worth it: Introduction to the Devout Life by Francis de Sales. Less known but very strong (and attractively in print) is The Practice of the Love of Jesus Christ by Alphonsus Liguori. The first sentence of this magnificent call reads: “The sanctity and perfection of a soul consists entirely in loving Jesus Christ, our God, our sovereign good, and our Redeemer.” !!!

  11. Martin

    Some of these have already been mentioned…..

    “Catholic and Christian” by Dr. Alan Schreck

    “Born Fundamentalist, Born Again Catholic” by David Currie (this one is a conversion story and gives some excellent explanation of Catholicism)

    My favorite Catholic book is “The Spirit of Catholicism” by Karl Adam. (this one, more than anyone I have read really gets to the heart of what the Catholic Church is)

    “Rome Sweet Home” by Dr. Scott Hahn

    “Surprised by Truth : 11 Converts Give the Biblical and Historical Reasons for Becoming Catholic”

    “To Know Christ Jesus” by Frank Sheed really is excellent.

    Oh … and “Padre Pio: A Man of Hope” by Renzo Allegri. It’s a great biography on an amazing man of God.

  12. Anonymous

    Let me “third” the “Introduction to the Devout Life” by St. Francis De Sales. Also Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence. You can find both (at least a version of them) at the if you want to get a sense of them before you buy.

    I find them both invaluable.

  13. Jeff Miller

    The list you have is excellent. Some of my favorites are:

    “Theology and Sanity” or “Theology for Beginners.” by Frank Sheed. He is such a wonderful writer and the books contains the best explanation of the Trinity I have ever seen.

    “Handbook of Christian Apologetics” by Fr. Ronald K Tacelli and Peter Kreeft. This book is just jammed pack with information on believing both in God an in Christ. It is written like the Summa Theologica in that three objections are shown to Christian doctrines and then Sed Contra they are answered. Another great book by Peter Kreeft is “Fundamentals of the Faith” which is perfect for RCIA. In fact everything written by Peter Kreeft is excellent.

  14. Lynne

    I agree that anything by Peter Kreeft is excellent. I’m currently reading “To Know Jesus Christ” by Frank Sheed and it is a very good book.

    Now for my little secret…

    On the Knights of Columbus site, there is a series of booklets, written by Peter Kreeft, available for download for free. You can also order them, I think they’re only 50 cents each! They are unbelieveably wonderful…

    Here’s the link.


  15. Adoro Te Devote


    “Why Do Catholics Do That”, a guide to the teachings and practices of the Catholic Church, by Kevin Orlin Johnson. Gives a great overview and simple explanations.

    Catholic Sourcebook and the Essential Catholic Handbook. They both have awesome information, in summary, kind of like a Catholic Dictionary

    Theology for Beginners – Sheed

    Pope Fiction – Patrick Madrid

    And I also second “Surprised by Truth” series.

    And another, “Four Witnesses, the Early Church Fathers in their own words.”. Here’s a story on that and why I endorse it: If some of you dont’ know the story of Jeff Cavins (used to host EWTN’s Life on the Rock”, his wife had a hard time converting. Anyway, I happen to know the owners of a local Catholic store, and they are friends of the Cavins’. She told them that if she had read “Four Witnesses” first, she would have not had such trouble with the Church and would have converted long before. I higly recommend the book. I’m still reading it and it’s amazing how much I realize the Church really HAS NOT CHANGED for 2000 years.

  16. Peter Halabu

    I would definitely recommend “Imitation of Christ” by Thomas Kempis. There are several translations out, but probably all of them are wonderful.

  17. Laura H.

    Fire Within by Fr. Dubay is EXCELLENT!

    Just a couple I have really enjoyed and that may be helpful or that have been recommended by friends:
    Theology for Beginners by Frank J. Sheed (It really breaks things down really well about some of the biggest points of our faith.)
    Swear to God: The Promise and Power of the Sacraments by Scott Hahn
    Way of Perfection by Teresa of Avila

    Some heavier but great ones are Interior Castle and Dark Night of the Soul (St Teresa of Avila and St John of the Cross, respectively)

    One my mom enjoyed was The Biblical Basis of the Catholic Church

    I’ll post more later. I actually have a list around here somewhere of recommended reads…

  18. melanie b

    I’d also recommend The Words We Pray by Amy Welborn. I gave a copy to a friend who came into the Church last Easter.

  19. Darwin

    I’d second many of the theology/apologetics/spirituality books already mentioned. So just to be different, a few titles to give a glimpse at Catholicism as art/culture:

    Letters to a Young Catholic, George Weigal

    Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh

    Man Who Was Thursday, Chesterton

  20. mike

    haven’t seen this mentioned yet:

    “Introduction to the New Testament” by Raymond Brown.


    “Mary in the New Testament” edited by Ray Brown

    Both are worth reading, but the “Introduction” is written to a non-scholarly audience. It provides an excellent overview of New Testament studies/ interpretations from the Catholic perspective. It’s the book that convinced me to begin researching Catholicism.

  21. Amy Caroline

    I know someone already mentioned Rome Sweet Home by Scott Hahn, but I am going to second it. This book is afaulous and easy to read. I read throughy it quickly and leartned sooooo much! Suddenly a lot of things made sense from seeing his point of view on converting to the faith.

  22. Potamiaena

    Thank you everyone for replying! I am chair of the “Catholic Families Committee” of the PTA at our Catholic school. We distribute Catholic materials, activities, etc. to our school.

    I am going to combine all your reading suggestions and give the list out to our school and the church’s “Women of Grace” study group.

    Thanks again for replying to this great blog.


  1. Recommended reading for RCIA? | Conversion Diary - Recommended reading for RCIA? | Conversion Diary... [...]Catholic Sourcebook and the Essential Catholic Handbook. They both have awesome information, in…

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