What is a Catholic priest? A New Documentary Asks the Question

A Mass of priestly ordination in St. Peter's Basilica, May 7, 2017. Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

A new documentary about the Catholic priesthood asks priests what kind of life they are supposed to live as they reflect on their vocations and the role of the priest in Catholic theology and spiritual life.

“I am what I do and I do what I am,” Father Hugh Allan, O.Praem., said in the film. “I am my life as a priest, and I live that life as a priest, and you can’t be anything other.”

“So priesthood is not a 9 to 5 job, where you can finish at the end of the day… it is your whole being,” he said in the documentary “In Persona Christi: The Catholic Priesthood.”

The documentary takes its name from the Latin phrase for the Catholic concept that an ordained priest acts “in the person of Christ.” The movie was produced by the Wales-based St. Anthony Communications.

Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury and several U.K. priests provide commentary in the movie, reflecting on the nature of the priestly vocation and the life of a priest.


Davies cited St. John Vianney, who described the priesthood as “the love of the heart of Jesus.”

“It is in the heart of Christ that we will understand the priest, his mission and his total consecration,” he said.

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In the movie, commentators trace the Catholic priesthood’s origins from the Old Testament through the ministry of Christ, his sacrifice on the Cross, and his institution of the ministerial priesthood to preach, teach, baptize, and celebrate the Eucharist.

Several priests talk about their vocation stories.

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Father Pascal Uche said his own discernment of a vocation began after family difficulties and tragedies in his family life helped him see “the fragility of life” and made him ask questions.

“I guess my heart and my mind sought a place of stability: ‘what doesn’t change? Where will my happiness come from?’ and those questions opened me up to God in a new way,” said Uche.

He said that prayer, the examples of others, and the lives of the saints made him feel “a deeper fire for God” who desired to give him happiness. He could listen anew to a call to the priesthood.

For Fr. Toby Lees, a vocation to the priesthood “didn’t come as a thunderbolt from the sky.”

“I didn’t have a certainty from a young age,” Lees said. “What I had was a growing dissatisfaction with the life I was in. I knew the life I was in, as a lawyer with a lovely girlfriend, wasn’t bad. But I was searching for something more.”


Lees’ encounter with the Dominicans, sisters and friars, led him to see “this joy and these elements of life I was trying to live in my own life.” Prayer, preaching, community and study had been integrated into “one holy way of life.”

“I started to be excited by the possibility of that,” said Lees.

Bishop Davies said every priest will hear the question “why did you want to become a priest?”

“It’s not a simple question to answer. The priesthood is not a personal project… or ambition or career direction,” he said. “It is always something unexpected and wonderful: that a priest has been called from all eternity, with his limitations and weaknesses, to share in the ministerial priesthood of Christ himself.”

This leaves a priest with “an abiding sense of wonder” which he experiences his whole life.

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In the movie, priests discuss topics like priestly fatherhood, celibacy, and the need for a “missionary zeal.” The documentary talks about the nature and theology of the priesthood and the importance of prayer, the centrality of the Mass, and devotion to the Virgin Mary in the life of priests.

“In Persona Christi: The Catholic Priesthood” was released June 15, with a runtime of 52 minutes. It is available for purchase on the video streaming site Vimeo or may be purchased on DVD in the U.K. through St. Anthony Communications.

Kevin J. Jones is a senior staff writer with Catholic News Agency. He was a recipient of a 2014 Catholic Relief Services' Egan Journalism Fellowship.