Holy Cards are colorful reminders of Saints, Blesseds, and Sacred Objects and in turn remind us of the love of Jesus, His Mother Mary, good works of Saints and other Holy people, and prayers so dear to the prayer traditions of the Church. How do we obtain these Holy Cards, well usually when someone passes away, they are given out at funeral homes as a momento of the dearly departed. And, often, Solemn Professions of monks, friars and Ordinations of priests and deacons were marked with a holy card. These said to the receiver, "thank you very much" and "please continue to pray for me."
So Holy Cards are memory triggers particularly in this upside down world where we are overloaded with data, mostly useless information that is important to someone, but rarely to us! Television advertising, in a word, is attrocious! Many a time I get so distracted I just turn the TV off altogether. Holy Cards never offend, they bring us closer to God rather than remove our attention from him as does advertising. The image at the right is probably from a Holy Card although I'm not sure. It is of St. Joseph of Leonissa. For many years, holy cards and church windows were the source of prayer material because many of the faithful could not afford prayer books, when book printing was still in its infancy. I believe the first black and white photograph came into existence around 1826, in France. In 1838 in Paris, the first photograph of a boulevard was taken with a person standing by a pump - you guessed it, the first person ever photographed. What does this have to do with Holy Cards - a lot, because there probably weren't any mass-produced Holy cards prior to the first photograph. There were hand-drawn cards as early as the 15th Century. The oldest surviving Catholic prayer card is St. Christopher and dates back to 1423.
"Modern holy cards developed when a German, Aloys Senefelder (1771-1834), developed lithography, an inexpensive way of multiplying graphics. In the 1840s, French companies in Paris in the area of the Church of St. Sulpice began mass-producing holy cards with designs characterized by soft and feminine-looking images, a style that became known as "St. Sulpice Art" ("l'art St. Sulpice"). While many of these cards were sold in America, other companies, such as Carl Benziger and Sons (later the Benziger Brothers), a Swiss company in operation since 1792, opened branches in America. Nowadays, the best and most commonly-seen holy cards are produced by Fratelli Bonella of Italy (Milan)." In the USA these are retailed by many fine Catholic publishers.
Although Holy Cards or prayer cards do not always state that they are protected by copyright, some do, even by just a lone © symbol in a corner, which is one of the reasons I do not re-publish them - though few seem to be paying attention to that these days, but that doesn't make it right to copy them.
Prayer cards when often encountered in prayer books and any books for that matter (I use them as page markers in spiritual books) are going to go by the wayside, the more we are heading into digital publishing. Electronic Publishing needs page markers too, but these are electronic page or word markers that are part of the software used.
It is my hope, that people will remember these and other Catholic or Christian traditions that have passed us by because of cultural and technological advances how we read books and amass papers.
Praise the Lord, now and Forever!!
Peace and Good!
Fred Schaeffer, OFS
January 23, 2013