May I portray a priest at historical re-enactments?


Our family has recently started participating in historical re-enactments. As we are in the missionary South, I would like to portray a Catholic priest of the mid-1800’s. Specifically, I would like to portray Fr. Bonaventure Keller who ministered in Texas during the early 1850s and offered the Mass in Utah in 1859 for local mountain men.

I realize that it would be improper to attempt to say Mass or exercise any liturgical duties restricted to priests.

I would like dress as Father Keller and to pray the hours in Latin, perhaps give a “catechism class,” and maybe lead a Sunday Liturgy of the Word. I would like to get some reproductions of historical Catholic tracts of the age printed for distribution at re-enactments.

What say the fine scholars of Catholic Answers? Any additional guidance would be appreciated.


To the extent that a historical re-enactment is an acting job, it is perfectly fine for a layman to portray a priest. Actors such as Bing Crosby, Spencer Tracy, and Sir Alec Guinness all did so to great acclaim. On the other hand, actually appearing to the public to minister as a priest by teaching and preaching would be deeply problematic. Visitors could all too easily presume you to be a real priest.

Sir Alec Guinness once told the story of how he walked home in costume through the French countryside from the set of a movie in which he was portraying a priest. A young boy ran up to him, yelling “Mon pere! Mon pere!” (“My father! My father!”) Guinness did not speak French, so he could not correct the young boy’s mistake, and was touched that the young boy apparently immediately bonded to him on the assumption that he was a priest. If this could happen to Guinness with no encouragement on his part besides wearing clerical blacks, imagine how easily your audience could mistake you for a priest if you are leading a catechism class or presiding at a Liturgy of the Word.

I recommend limiting your role as Fr. Keller to giving lectures on his life (perhaps told in the first person) and taking part in actual plays put on by the re-enacters (which will limit the potential for confusion). If allowed by the company, distributing tracts to visitors is also fine.

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