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 Story of the day:

HOLY CARDS Apr-19-2004 (910 words) With photos. xxxn
Holy cards see resurgence in popularity

By Joe Bollig
Catholic News Service

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (CNS) -- Ursuline Sister Marcella Schrant is a card-carrying Catholic, and proud of it, too. She got her first holy card in 1935; she got her latest March 19.

That old St. Anthony card she received as a child will share a binder with the new one of Kansas City Coadjutor Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, distributed during his recent welcoming Mass.

These two cards are part of a collection of more than 400 owned by Sister Marcella, who works at the St. Lawrence Campus Center at the University of Kansas in Lawrence.

If you've grown up Catholic, it's almost a given that at one time or another you've received a holy card. You might have started your collection with one you received for your first Communion, and built it up with cards earned with correct answers in religious education class.

Like scapulars, miraculous medals and little bottles of holy water, holy cards were standard equipment for the pre-Second Vatican Council Catholic.

Sister Marcella figures she must have given away a ton of holy cards during her teaching career, from 1947 to 1990. There was a time, particularly in the 1960s, when their popularity waned. But holy cards are making a comeback.

"The kids here (at St. Lawrence) enjoy them," Sister Marcella told The Leaven, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Kansas City. "I bring them over and put them on my desk for All Saints' Day in November, and they look through them to find their saints."

Not all of the appeal of holy cards is Catholic grade school nostalgia, however, said Michael Podrebarac, archdiocesan consultant for liturgy.

"In their original sense, they were an affordable way for common people to have images of their patron saints when they couldn't afford a statue or a great piece of artwork," he said.

"Holy cards fall into that category of devotional materials we call sacramentals -- items that assist us in our prayer life and spiritual life," he added.

The commemorative aspect is also a factor. Podrebarac has picked up several cards from special events at which he sang, including weddings, funerals and ordinations.

There's less emphasis on holy cards today, but they remain popular.

"I think they're still relevant," he said. "Part of the story of (the period) after Vatican II is that sacramentals, which had been in the forefront of lay spiritual lives, did kind of get replaced by the Bible, liturgy and witness in the world. But it's not because they didn't have value. People just saw the need to do more -- not to just wear a medal, but also to live virtue."

Some collectors have set up their own Web sites, and buy, sell and trade the cards through their sites. Retailers offer to sell electronic holy cards online, or software to print out holy cards. And collectible holy cards are often sold on eBay, the online auction service.

Father Eugene Carrella, pastor of St. Adalbert Parish on Staten Island, N.Y., has approximately 40,000 cards. He specializes in holy cards that depict saints, some of them quite obscure.

Brent Devitt, principal of Ascension Catholic School in Kettering, Ohio, has been collecting holy cards since 1989. He even has his own Web site devoted to collecting at: www.donet.com/~devitt. Today, he has more than 20,000 cards in his collection. The oldest date to the 1680s.

According to Devitt, holy cards parallel the history of printing. Some cards were made by hand; others were wood-block prints, and still others featured finely cut paper pieces and decorative borders with a picture of a saint.

Holy cards only became widespread when paper became cheaper and methods of production grew more efficient. They grew more colorful after lithography was invented at the end of the 18th century.

During the 19th century, different styles arose in Europe, said Father Carrella. French cards had soft, pastel colors and pious, sentimentalized figures. Belgian cards had lots of gold decoration and elaborate backgrounds that mimicked drapery. German cards tended to be ornate and colorful, almost like the illustrations in books of fairy tales.

Memorial cards, created to honor those who had died and to be distributed at their wakes or funerals, became popular during the mid-20th century in the United States. They were often printed with black or silver borders and featured a picture of the sorrowful Christ or sorrowful Blessed Virgin Mary.

The next big development in the production of holy cards occurred during the 1960s, said Devitt. These cards featured abstract and minimalist art.

"The cards of the 1970s were very much image without sentiment," said Father Carrella. "They might have just a plain, gold chalice instead of a Gothic-style chalice inset with jewels."

According to Devitt's Web site, it was about that time that holy cards began losing some of their popularity. Confusion surrounding the reorganization of saints in the liturgical calendar might also have contributed to their declining appeal.

But it appears that holy cards have come back into fashion. Not only are they growing in popularity, there's a much greater variety available.

Although the most common holy cards still depict saints and are about the size of a playing card, some are smaller or larger. Some feature prayers on the back, and some even honor living people, such as Pope John Paul II. And still others are made from plastic and feature a 3-D image that shows movement or change when the card is tilted.


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