The Eucharist in Stereo

The Eucharist in Stereo

Keith, George A., S.J. (1883 – 1960) The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Meadville, Pa.: Keystone View Co., [ca. 1930].  100 sequentially-numbered stereoviews with texts to verso of each card. Housed in original publisher’s case, labeled "Stereographic Catholic Library / Mass [and] Benediction". The case has some signs of wear; the views are in very good to excellent condition.

A complete set of views portraying the liturgy of the Mass, produced by one of the leading publishers of stereographs and intended for use in CCD classes and other educational settings. They were prepared by Rev. George A. Keith, S.J., who devoted his life’s work to the study and explication of the mystery of the Holy Eucharist.


Known as “the apostle of the Mass,” Fr. Keith was born on Christmas Day in Denver, Colorado, where his parents were pioneer members of Sacred Heart Parish. He attended Regis College (then Sacred Heart College). He joined the Jesuit Order in 1900 and was ordained in San Francisco in 1916. He was posted to missions in Pueblo, Omaha, Mankato, and Denver, and served on the faculty of several institutions, including St. Ignatius College, Loyola University, St. Louis University, the University of Detroit, and Creighton University. [1]


Fr. Keith traveled widely to offer public lectures on the Eucharist and the life of Christ. One of his stops in 1925 was at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Standard Union (Brooklyn, NY), 4 April 1925, p. 4

Beginning quite early in his career, Fr. Keith focused his attentions on the Mass, offering presentations on the sacrament to laity and clergy alike. One lecture, “Ceremonies of the Mass,” was prepared for diocesan clergy. Another, “The Sacrifice of the Mass,” was aimed at popular audiences. Instruction in the Mass during the early decades of the twentieth century was deemed important not only as a matter of general catechism, but also as a form of acculturation. As historians have noted, steady immigration dramatically changed the demographics of American Catholicism, and although the church was in theory universal, ethnic and national differences marked deep differences across parishes boundaries. By and large, American-born populations regarded Mass as a weekly duty, and the most important mark of religious observance. For some other ethnic groups – Mexicans, for example – feasts, festivals, processions, domestic devotions, and a rich symbolism were much more important. The Mass, then, became one of the tangible vectors for a deliberate effort to Americanize the Church and standardize liturgical practice. [2]


The work that would consume Fr. Keith’s later years began as “The Holy Mass in Pictures,” a slideshow illustrated by great works of art. Collecting slides of artworks throughout Europe, he reworked the text of his lecture while visiting Loyola in 1928, and soon afterwards introduced “The Sacred Love Story of the Mass,” a considerably expanded version of his earlier presentations. As one newspaper summarized it:

Over 30 years, his entire career as a Jesuit, have been devoted by Father Keith to the preparation, perfection and rendition of this singularly unique pictorial masterpiece. The production tells the store of the Mass with 250 gems from the best works of the world’s most famous artists. The coloring is gorgeous. The talk teems with instruction. It is direct and practical.” [3]

Fr. Keith delivered “The Sacred Love Story of the Mass” in a wide variety of settings, from parish churches and Sunday schools to the Lyric Theater in Fort Collins, Co., which noted that his talk was “historically interesting to Non-Catholics.” [4] In 1932 he premiered a color film version of his talk, “produced after thirty years of effort.” [5]


Fr. Keith published an illustrated life of Christ formatted along lines similar to his work on the Mass, but he died before he could complete what would have been his masterwork. [6] This set of stereocards is what remains of his teachings on the Mass. The set is beautifully photographed with closeups of liturgical elements. Keith himself – easily recognizable from other published photographs – performs the priestly role, while both youthful and adult parishioners demonstrate the proper practice of the laity. Prayers and other texts are printed on the verso of each card. Four cards are hand-tinted to illustrate color variations in celebratory vestments.


The set was recommended for use in catechetical contexts. The Catholic School Journal, for example, recommended these stereoviews “to reinforce the main topic of the sixth grade.” [7] The set was sold in box labeled “Mass Benediction,” which is seldom found intact. (The last set we handled had been repackaged in one of Keystone's generic “Tour of the World” box, which is what the company used whenever they ran out of custom cases.)

Although once widely used, the set today is very rare. The dealer from whom we acquired this, a leading specialist in stereoviews and vintage photography, said he had seen only two sets in fifty years of collecting, and only one in the original case. We have located only three copies in institutional collections (Saint John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver, Boston College, and Loyola Marymount University).  These 100 sharp, detailed photographs offer an important record of popular liturgical practice during a time of demographic transition, and a stunning example of the visual culture of early twentieth century Catholicism.


[1] Denver Catholic Register, 11 August 1960, pp. 1-2; Denver Catholic Register, 29 December 1960, p. 12.

[2] For further discussion, see the work of Moises Sandoval, Jay P. Dolan, John McGreevy, Robert Orsi, James T. Fisher, et al.

[3] St. Cloud Times, 13 July 1931, p. 1.

[4] Fort Collins Coloradoan, 4 March 1934, p. 12.

[5] St. Louis Globe-Democrat, 1 Mar 1933, p. 22.

[6] George A. Keith, Christ’s Life in Pictures (Chicago: Extension Press, 1918).

[7] Catholic School Journal 31 (1931) p. 171.


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