In carrying out their prophetic office, lay people are sustained by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, who enables them to proclaim their hope
The laity's participation in Christ's prophetic mission was the topic of the Holy Father's catechesis at the General Audience on Wednesday, 26 January. The Pope stated that the lay faithful manifest the power of the Gospel especially by their lives of continuous conversion and their patient endurance of trials. The Holy Father's address was the 82nd in the series on the mystery of the Church and was given in Italian.
1. According to the Second Vatican Council, in the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, everyone shares not only in the dignity and mission of Christ, the Eternal High Priest, as we saw in the catechesis on the "common priesthood" but also in his dignity and mission as the "Great Prophet", which we wish to consider in today's catechesis.
We begin by rereading the text of the Constitution Lumen gentium, which states that "until the full manifestation of his glory, [Christ] fulfills this prophetic office, not only by the hierarchy who teach in his name and by his power, but also by the laity. He accordingly both establishes them as witnesses and provides them with the appreciation of the faith (sensus fidei and the grace of the word so that the power of the Gospel may shine out in daily family and social life" Lumen gentium, n. 35; cf. CCC, n. 904).
Laity receive grace to profess the faith
2. As the text points out, this charge comes from Christ himself, who "establishes [the laity] as witnesses", providing them with the "appreciation of the faith" and the "grace of the word", with a truly ecclesial and apostolic purpose: the objective of this witness and charge is to make the Gospel of Christ shine out in the "world", that is, in the various areas where the laity live and carry out their earthly tasks. The Council adds: "This evangelization, that is, the proclamation of Christ by word and the testimony of life, acquires a specific property and peculiar efficacy because it is accomplished in the ordinary circumstances of the world" (Lumen gentium, n. 35; CCC, n. 905). This, then, characterizes the laity's call to share in the prophetic mission of Christ, the true and faithful Witness (cf. Rv 1.5): to show that there is no opposition between following him and fulfilling the tasks that lay people must carry out in their "secular" condition and that fidelity to the Gospel actually helps to enhance and improve earthly structures and institutions.
3. At this point, however, the nature of the laity's witness and, we could say, their "prophesying", as well as that of the whole Christian community, needs to be spelled out with the same Council. Jesus speaks of this when he says to his disciples before the Ascension: "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes down on you, then you are to be my witnesses" (Acts 1:8). The Holy Spirit's intervention is needed for fulfilling the office of witness, as it is for exercising the universal priesthood. It is not only a question of a prophetic temperament linked to special "charisms" of the natural order, as they are sometimes understood in the language of modern psychology and sociology. It is rather a question of a supernatural prophesying, as foreshadowed in Joel's oracle (3:2), quoted by Peter on the day of Pentecost: "In the last days ... your sons and daughters shall prophesy" (Acts 2: 17). It means proclaiming, communicating, making resound in human hearts the revealed truths bringing the new life bestowed by the Holy Spirit!
4. For this reason the Council says that the lay faithful are appointed as witnesses, formed by "the appreciation of the faith and the grace of the word" (Lumen gentium, n. 35). And the Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles laici adds that they are given the ability and responsibility "to accept the Gospel in faith and to proclaim it in word and deed, without hesitating to identify courageously and denounce evil" (Christifideles laici, n. 14). All this is possible because they receive from the Holy Spirit the grace to profess the faith and to find the most suitable way to express and communicate it to everyone.
5. Lay Christians, as "children of the promise", are also called to give witness in the world to the greatness and fruitfulness of the hope they bear in their hearts, a hope based on the teaching and work of Jesus Christ, who died and rose for the salvation of all. In a world that, despite appearances, is often in anguish because of its ever new and disappointing experience of limitations, shortcomings and even the emptiness of many structures created for human happiness on earth, the witness of hope is particularly necessary to direct minds in the search for the life to come, beyond the relative value of the things of this world. In this task the laity, as workers serving the Gospel "through the structures of secular life" have an importance of their own: they show that Christian hope does not mean fleeing the world nor foregoing the fulfillment of earthly life but the latter's openness to the trascendent dimension of eternal life which alone gives that life its true value.
6. Faith and hope, under the impulse of charity, spread their witness throughout the living and working environment of the laity, who are called to make "the power of the Gospel shine out in daily family and social life" (Lumen gentium n. 35). The "power of the Gospel" is shown in the "continuous conversion" of one's soul to the Lord, in the struggle against the powers of evil at work in the world, in working to remedy the damage caused by obscure or clearly visible powers that seek to turn people from their destiny. The "power of the Gospel" appears in everyday life when in every context or circumstance there are courageous Christians who are not afraid to show their convictions, mindful of Jesus' words: "If a man is ashamed of me and my doctrine, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and that of his Father and his holy angels" (Lk 9:26, cf. Mk 8:38). "Whoever acknowledges me before men—the Son of Man will acknowledge him before the angels of God" (Lk 12:8). The "power of the Gospel" is shown whenever trials are patiently endured and one's behavior gives witness to the cross of Christ.
Power of the Gospel is received through prayer
7. The "power of the Gospel" is not required only of priests and religious in their mission as ministers of Christ's word and grace; it is also needed by the laity for evangelizing the secular surroundings and structures where they live their daily lives. In these areas of the world their witness is even more striking and can have an unexpected impact, beginning with "marriage and family life" as the Council recalls (Lumen gentium n. 35). For them and for all Christ's followers—called to be prophets of faith and hope—we ask for the power that can only be received from the Holy Spirit through fervent, assiduous prayer.
L'Osservatore Romano February 2, 1994