Church Life, Theology

Apostolate of the Laity, excerpts

Here is our lovely Ambrosian Rite Pope Paul VI.What is the point of this website, and of my ministry in general? The Second Vatican Council released a document entitled Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity or Apostolicam Actuositatem. Promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1965, this document builds upon Lumen Gentium's understanding of the role of the Laity in the Church by speaking directly to the activity of the laity in spreading the Gospel and living it out.

This document, in my opinion, is deep, timely, and prophetic, but is largely forgotten from Vatican II history. I think, more so than anything I have come across lately in Church documents, this Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity sums up the mission and purpose of LayEvangelist.com and what I believe my mission is for the Church today.

From the first paragraph, the Council Fathers state their intent for this document:

In this decree the Council seeks to describe the nature, character, and diversity of the lay apostolate, to state its basic principles, and to give pastoral directives for its more effective exercise. All these should be regarded as norms when the canon law, as it pertains to the lay apostolate, is revised. (AA, 1)

Every Catholic ought to know this document, whether clergy or not, in order to properly understand what it is the Laity should be busying themselves about when it comes to living the Christian life and proclaiming it to all the nations.

Far too often lay Catholics who desire God's will for their lives try to become some sort of hybrid, non-ordained clerics. Holiness and active ministry become defined only in proximity to the duties of the altar. They become Lectors, Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist, Sacristans and such, thinking that their path to holiness is whatever they can share in the sacerdotal ministry.

This is a weird type of clericalism, that left-over mentality of the post-Trent Church where the clergy or religious were the only ones capable of true union with God, while the lay Catholic was supposed to not mortal sin, contribute time, treasure and talent, and show up on Holy Days of Obligation. I don't think this tendency really went away, it just morphed into a new form as the liturgical duties once reserved for priests alone have expanded into opportunities for lay involvement.

Now, I'm not saying the parish shouldn't have lay Sacristans or Lectors or anything like that. What I am speaking to is the underlying mentality that still clings to the Laity in the Church today. Clericalism's residue remains as lay persons garrison themselves inside the walls of the parish. Though the Laity can and do participate in these functions, our specific apostolate lies elsewhere.

Furthermore, I do also believe that people like me, traveling evangelists, youth ministers and those who hold similar positions, are also in danger of this new type of clericalism. Though we do not seek to minister at altars or handle the Sacred Mysteries, we may secretly be hungering for the Ambo and Lectern of Christ's priests. Just as with liturgical lay ministers, so too with lay evangelists, catechists and coordinators of faith formation programs- we all need greater discernment, more honesty with ourselves and God, and an awareness of why we are doing the ministry that we have been called to do. I am not here to replace the homily. As a lay evangelist, I have a special apostolate that comes from, but does not replace, the sacramental priesthood.

 

Here is the Decree's contents:

  1. Introduction (1)
  2. The Vocation of the Laity to the Apostolate (2-4)
  3. Objectives (5-8)
  4. The Various Fields of the Apostolate (9-14)
  5. The Various Forms of the Apostolate (15-22)
  6. External Relationships (23-27)
  7. Formation for the Apostolate (28-32)
  8. Exhortation (33)

 

Below I have selected paragraph 6 which introduces the role of the lay person in evangelization. This paragraph highlights the living, daily witness to the Gospel of the lay person in the world, the change to also preach the Gospel when opportunities arise, and the Laity's unique place to confront the world in all of its immorality, leading people back to Christian principles.

This one paragraph for me sums up my mission more than any other.

I am going to just let the document speak its own words to you. The Laity have a valuable apostolate, a complimentary but different mission, than the priest or religious. It is from this uniqueness that our apostolate is framed, seeking to bring sanctification into the temporal order. Check it out.

 

Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, #6. There are innumerable opportunities open to the laity for the exercise of their apostolate of evangelization and sanctification. The very testimony of their Christian life and good works done in a supernatural spirit have the power to draw men to belief and to God; for the Lord says, "Even so let your light shine before men in order that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 5:16).

However, an apostolate of this kind does not consist only in the witness of one's way of life; a true apostle looks for opportunities to announce Christ by words addressed either to non-believers with a view to leading them to faith, or to the faithful with a view to instructing, strengthening, and encouraging them to a more fervent life. "For the charity of Christ impels us" (2 Cor. 5:14). The words of the Apostle should echo in all hearts, "Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel" (1 Cor. 9:16).

Since, in our own times, new problems are arising and very serious errors are circulating which tend to undermine the foundations of religion, the moral order, and human society itself, this sacred synod earnestly exhorts laymen-each according to his own gifts of intelligence and learning-to be more diligent in doing what they can to explain, defend, and properly apply Christian principles to the problems of our era in accordance with the mind of the Church.