Priestly reading: books for priests and ordinands

In a recent blog I mentioned that I am often asked to recommend books on priesthood to those already ordained and to ordinands. Indeed, when I visit theological colleges I always recommend some reading (usually Marmion – see below- and the Classics in Western Spirtuality volume on the French School and de Berulle). I have excluded general books on the spiritual life; here are books for priests and by priests. No doubt others will have their own list. I am disappointed that there is only one woman in this list but no doubt women priests will produce important books as the years pass, it is an important aim of the Sodality that we do so from a Catholic perspective.


I am grateful to some of our ordinands who have pushed me on the low number of women here, so add the following, and also ask for pointers to any other materials, blogs, articles etc written from a Catholic perspective about or by women in priesthood:

For God’s sake: Re-Imagining Priesthood and Prayer In A Changing Church

Jessica Martin and Sarah Coakley

Canterbury Press, 2016

The chapter by Rachel Mann on Parish Poetics is really good as is the opening essay by Jessica Martin on the daily office.

For God’s Sake is a sort of sequel to Praying for England (Coakley/Wells) that also contains excellent material not least the introduction.
They are in order of helpfulness (in my opinion):

1 The Priests’s Companion

G.A.C. Whatton

Knot, 1946

I love this book. It is a practical manual for priests on prayer, meditation, the sacraments and so much more. Utterly dated it has a lovely tone. Many devotions, litanies and novenas are provided as well as practical advice from a bygone age “After breakfast”, Fr Whatton tells us, “the priest is not free to indulge in his pipe and his paper..”. Sadly not reprinted it was published in several editions and used to be available second hand very regularly but I haven’t seen it for a while.

2 The Christian Priest Today

Michael Ramsey

SPCK, 1972

This is the most important book for Anglicans on the priestly life, every line is dripping with wisdom, holiness and love. 
3 The Joy of Being a Priest: Following the Cure of Ars

Christopher Cardinal Schonborn

Ignatius Press 2010

A wonderful celebration of the joy of priestly ministry. Firmly in the western tradition but assimilating the teaching of Vatican 2 and the Catechesim of the Catholic Church.  
4 Christ, The Ideal of the Priest

Columba Marmion

For me this is the foundation text for reflection on the ordained priesthood and what it is to live as a priest. Rigorous, serious, but practical. Devout, warm and devotional. The chapter on Mary as ‘mother of priests’ informs all my work with sister and brother priests in building priestly community and in seeking to be holy because the world needs holy priests. Essential.
5 Priestly Spirituality

Bans Urs Von Balthasar

Ignatius Press

Yet another essential read from one of, if not the greatest theologian of the twentieth century. A short read but a distillation of deep theological reflection.
6 On Christian Priesthood

Robin Ward

Continuum, 2011

This is essential reading for anyone looking for an understanding of priesthood fully in Catholic tradition and rooted in Anglican practice and theology. It is a manifesto for the recovery of the tradition in the face of numerous onslaughts, for an authentic Christian cult whose aim is the vocation to holiness of all the baptised. Written by the Principal of the only properly Sulpician seminary in the Church of England it gives a profound theology of priesthood that will underpin the French School spirituality as a base for priestly life.
7 The Priest in Union With Christ

Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange

TAN Books 2012 (First published 1954)

Firmly in pre-Vatican 2, Thomistic spirit this is a truly wonderful book with a superb section on the role of the priest as Spiritual Director – much neglected in many modern expositions of priesthood. It is also helpful on preaching. There is a lovely section on ‘priests in union with Mary’.
8 The Life and Work of a Priest

John Pritchard

SPCK 2007

Strongly in the Anglican tradition this is a very practical book rooted in Bishop John’s experience of ministry. It is kindly, thoughtful and wise.
9 Reclaiming Our Priestly Character

David L. Tours

The Institute for Priestly Formation, 2008

Written in the Roman Catholic tradition this book provides a helpful survey of the theology of ordination and the priestly life in the history of the church. It locates a post-Vatican 2 spirituality within the whole stream of Christian tradition. It calls for a confident yet humble priestly life and a good theology of ongoing formation in ‘consecrated study.’
10 Being A Priest Today

Christopher Cocksworth and Rosalind Brown

Canterbury Press, 2006

An excellent book reflecting on priestly ministry  within the Anglican tradition, each section begins with a hymn text by co-author Rosalind Brown. This book would make a great subject for a priests’ retreat with those texts sung as part of the worship. The sections are titled ‘Being …’. The section on ‘Being for Holiness’ would make a great preparation for confession by any priest and is a helpful account of what priestly holiness might be like, or at least nurtured to be. The section on ‘being for Prayer’ with its evocation of priest as Watcher is also very good. A must read for all ordained to priesthood in the Anglican tradition.
11 Priests Today

Ed. Brendan Leahy and Michael Mulvey

New City Press 2010

A collection of short passages from a variety of authors – Augustine, Von Balthasar, Helder Camaraderie, Basil Hume and many others – a useful book for the prayer desk, bedside or bathroom.
12 Priesthood in Reality

Tony Philpot

Mathew 1998

This is a lovely humane reflection on the life of the priest by someone who has been deeply influenced by the spirituality of Charles de Foucauld. The section on the Eucharist – perhaps because of the straightforwrad langauge the author uses – is deeply moving.
13 Notes from the Underground: The Spiritual Journal of a Secular Priest

Donald Cozzens

Orbis Books, 2013

Written by the author of 15 below, this is a more personal reflection in five sections: Faith, Communion, Prayer, Power, Imagination. It is an excellent example of a priest seeking to absorb the teaching of Vatican 2 and the changing world into an integrated life. The section on Power is especially helpful in acknowledging the use and abuse of power. 

14 Towards a Renewed Priesthood

Arthur Middleton

Grace Wong 1995

Written from a conservative point of view (on, for example, the ordination of women) there is, none the less much in this book that is helpful. It is distilled theology and the chapter on ‘Living Doctrine’ is especially good.

15 The Changing Face of the Priesthood

Donald Cozzens

Liturgical Press, 2000

Somewhat controversial at the time it was published – mainly because of the open discussion of homosexuality – this book contains fine reflections on the nature of public ordained ministry. Coming from a Roman Catholic perspective there is a good deal of material on the celibate life, but this is useful for everybody who seeks pyschological and personal integrity that celebrates our sexual nature and recognises its power particularly as an ordained person.

16 Manual of Minor Exorcisms for the Use of Priests

Julian Porteous

CTS, 2010

This is a different book to any of the others above, it is an extremely useful manual of prayers, and a reminder that priests stand in the frontline of the spiritual combat.


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