Friday, May 25, 2012
What is the Role of the Laity?
The role of the laity, outlined primarily in Apostolicam Actuositatem, may seem ordinary to Catholics today, but it was a radical concept when introduced by the Second Vatican Council in 1965. Christ commissioned the Church to spread the Gospel to all the nations (Matt 28:19-20) and the Council defined the role of the laity within the context of this apostolic mission. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (863) directly explains that “all members of the Church share in this mission.” Hence the Council defined “all activity of the Mystical Body directed to the attainment of this goal” of evangelization and sanctification as the apostolate (AA, 2).
According to Sacrosanctum Concilium (SC), the Church prepares the laity for the apostolate by instructing them to follow the teachings of Christ. The Church invites the faithful to participate in “the works of charity, piety, and the apostolate.” These acts demonstrate that Christ’s followers “though not of this world, are to be the light of the world and to glorify the Father before men” (SC, 9).
Lumen Gentium (LG) lays the foundational understanding of the role of the faithful in works of the apostolate. The laity, as members of the Body of Christ, is called to use their entire well being for the growth and continued sanctification of the Church (LG, 33). The lay apostolate “is a participation in the salvific mission of the Church itself.” Through the sacraments of initiation, the faithful are called directly by God to answer this vocation. The “soul of the apostolate is communicated and nourished” through the Eucharist. Fortified by the sacraments, the laity are called “to make the Church present and operative” in all walks of life (LG, 35).
Apostolicam Actuositatem (AA), viewed in conjunction with Lumen Gentium (LM, 4 & 5), can be called a practical handbook to the universal call to holiness. The Council explains that the lay apostolate stems from the general Christian vocation and is vital to the Church (AA, 1). The lay faithful “share in the priestly, prophetic, and royal office of Christ” and therefore share in the mission to evangelize all the nations (AA, 2). They are essential precisely because they possess the ability to enter into all aspects of life and address the needs of a changing world.
Each member participates in the apostolate through “the faith, hope, and charity which the Holy Spirit diffuses in the hearts of all members of the Church.” This participation is forged through the gifts of the Holy Spirit in each (AA, 3). Furthermore, it is formed and influenced by one’s particular state of life (LG, V, 42). Moreover, “the success of the lay apostolate depends upon the laity’s living union with Christ” (AA, 4). This means by sanctifying their ordinary lives they witness to the Gospel truth, announcing it to non-believers and fortifying the faith of believers (AA, 5). The sacred synod spurs the laity to use their particular gifts “to explain, defend, and properly apply Christian principles to the problems of our era in accordance with the mind of the Church” (AA, 6). The function of the apostolate is to influence the temporal order and cultural milieu into conformity with Christian ideals (AA, 7).