Over at the New Liturgical Movement, the editor Shawn Tribe has written an interesting piece proposing a set of guiding principles for missal layout coinciding with the new Roman translation of the Novus Ordo mass.
Upon seeing the article, I was immediately reminded of the words of Percy Dearmer on the subject of liturgical books and layout which are well worth repeating in full:
It is an established convention that the books associated with religious worship shall be not only bound in black or at best in dingy colours, but shall be printed and arranged in the most repellent manner. It is almost impossible to procure Bibles and Prayer Books printed in good type and arranged in the best way, as other books are arranged. Occasionally well-bound copies are given as presents — thirty years ago they were still dismal, however great their cost, though today they are brighter outside — but when you open these expensive copies, the same ugly typography meets your eye. Now a publisher who issued a new book in such type, chopped it up into short verses, sprinkled it with unemphasized words in italics, arranged it in narrow columns with cramped margins, spaced the verse as if it were prose, eschewed quotation marks in his dialogue, and finally encased the whole in cheap black cloth — such a publisher would be bankrupt in a year. However good his books, people simply would not read them. (Art of Public Worship, 33.)
Dearmer called for beautiful books that would be worthy of and properly honor (honour?) both the words that they conveyed and the dignity of public worship for which they were intended.
Apart from a few fits and starts in this direction, not many folks have heeded him… (The outstanding outliers in this case were the English printer Pickering and the American Daniel Updike. [Corrected per comments!] For more on this topic see Martin Hunter’s essay “Prayer Books and Printers” in The Oxford Guide to the BCP.)
C’mon folks! In this age of computer printing and graphic work there is absolutely no reason why liturgical works cannot be beautiful! Indeed, care and beauty on the front end can make a well thought-through and designed book more functional than an ugly one!
I have seen in draft a missal for the monastics, oblates, and friends of the Order of Julian of Norwich which holds great promise in this regard, but these sorts of works should be the rule—not the exception.