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Photos by Arkansas photographers are featured in a new book, “Mass Explained,” that is being self-published by author and graphic designer Dan Gonzalez of Miami. The book’s first printing is being financed through a Kickstarter campaign in February. (Courtesy Dan Gonzalez)

Author turns to Kickstarter to publish Mass guide

‘Mass Explained’ features images from Arkansas Catholic, work of AC photographers

Published: February 1, 2024      
Courtesy Dan Gonzalez
Dan Gonzalez has been working for 30 years to publish a detailed guide to the Mass. The 552-page full-color book will be published through a Kickstarter campaign.

“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. 

Gonzalez said it was an encounter in college that spurred a deep dive into his faith, which he began to compile in a book called “Mass Explained.” 

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 a non-denominational 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 said. “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 found a friend and ally in the non-denominational Bible study and began to grapple with his cradle Catholic faith as he joined his new friend at his non-denominational church. 

“At that time, I didn’t know too much about my faith,” Gonzalez said. “I said, ‘Oh, I’ll just go to this church instead and stop going to my Catholic church. Same Jesus, same God, same everything, makes no difference.’”

Gonzalez continued going to the non-denominational church for six months and noticed that something was missing. 

“I came to find out that I was missing the Eucharist,” Gonzalez said. “They don’t have the Eucharist (at a non-denominational church). The pastor gives a sermon and that’s it, everybody goes home.”

Gonzalez decided to confide his new feelings in his friend. 

“I told my friend that I was going back to Mass, and at that point, he became very angry, very upset,” Gonzalez said. “He was telling me, ‘Look, if you go back to that church, you’re going to go to hell, because the Mass is just this made-up thing. It’s diabolical. You cannot recrucify Jesus. Jesus died only once for your sins and you’re crucifying him again and again, so you’re saying that Jesus’s sacrifice wasn’t enough, and that you need to continue sacrificing him.’ And I didn’t know anything about my faith. So I realized I needed to figure out more about the Mass, because it’s causing this rupture between me and my best friend, my brother.”

Gonzalez and his friend parted ways. His friend went to the Bible study, and Gonzalez went back to Mass.

“It felt like being home again — like being reunited with old friends,” Gonzalez said. “The incense and everything — it just felt like, yeah, this is where I should be.”


A 30-year journey begins

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. As Gonzalez furthered his education, 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 grey text on a page.”

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, but Gonzalez said the book’s purpose is to get readers familiar with the nuts and bolts of the Mass. 

Gonzalez’s book 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,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez’s book has ties to the Diocese of Little Rock.


Arkansas Catholic enters the picture

“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,” Gonzalez said. 

Gonzalez collaborated with Arkansas Catholic to use photos from the 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. Photos taken in January 2022 at St. Raphael Church in Springdale are featured prominently in the book and include familiar faces such as Father Jon Miskin, now of Batesville, and Deacon Chuck Marino.

“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 said. “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.”


Praise for "Mass Explained"

“Mass Explained” received a nihil obstat from Msgr. Dariusz J. Zielonka, JCD, 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.”


An all-or-nothing fundraiser

When Gonzalez talked with Catholic publishers, he was worried they would take creative control of the book so he decided self-publishing was the best route to ensure his high-quality soft cover book got into the hands of readers.  

“I decided to print it myself, and I’m starting a Kickstarter campaign to help fund the printing,” Gonzalez said. “It’s an $8,000 funding goal, and it lasts for one month beginning Feb. 1. With Kickstarter, it’s all or nothing. You either get it all, or you get nothing. It’s not like, ‘Ah, close enough, you’re short $500, but we’ll give it to you.’ I’m paying for as much of it as I can, and that eight grand is the difference between what I can put in and what the whole printing cost is.”

Gonzalez is optimistic, though, because he knows what the book has to offer to readers. 

“(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.”

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