Lay people are called to share in the Church’s mission of proclaiming Jesus Christ, and especially in the urgent task of the evangelization
At the General Audience of Wednesday, 16 March, the Holy Father continued his discussion of the laity's participation in the Church's mission of bearing witness to Christ before the world. They are called to share in the work of the new evangelization and the Church appreciates the exemplary way they live their Christian calling. The Pope's catechesis was the 86th in the series on the mystery of the Church and was given in Italian.
1. Today it is not difficult for Christians to admit that all the Church's members, including the laity, can and must share in her mission of bearing witness to, proclaiming and bringing Christ to the world. This requirement of Christ's Mystical Body has been reiterated by Popes by the Second Vatican Council and by Synods of Bishops in harmony with Sacred Scripture and Tradition, the experience of the early Christians, the teaching of theologians and the history of pastoral life. In our century there has been no reluctance to speak of "apostolate", and this term and the idea it expresses are known to the clergy and faithful. However, one frequently has the feeling that there is still some uncertainty about the areas of concrete involvement and about the ways in which this involvement should be carried out. It would be helpful, then, to set forth some clearly established points on this subject, with the realization, though, that a more concrete, direct and developed formation can and should be sought locally from one's own parish priests, diocesan offices and centers for the lay apostolate.
2. The first area for the laity's apostolate within the ecclesial community is the parish. The Council insisted on this point in the Decree Apostolicam actuositatem, which says: "The parish offers an outstanding example of community apostolate" (n. 10). It is also stated that lay action is needed here so that the Pastors' apostolate can achieve its full effect. This action, which must be developed in close union with their priests, is for "lay persons who have a truly apostolic spirit" a form of direct immediate participation in the Church's life (cf. ibid.).
Laity called to work on diocesan projects
Lay people can accomplish much in assisting with the liturgy, in teaching catechism, in pastoral and social projects, and on pastoral councils (cf. Christifideles laici, n. 27). They also contribute indirectly to the apostolate by helping with parish administration. The priest must not feel alone, but be able to count on their competence and the support of their solidarity, understanding and generous devotion in the various ways of serving God's kingdom.
3. A second area of needs, concerns and possibilities was indicated by the Council when it urged the laity to "cultivate the 'feeling for the Diocese' " (Apostolicam actuositatem, n. 10). The local Church actually takes concrete shape in the Diocese and makes the universal Church present for the clergy and faithful belonging to it. The laity are called to collaborate with a generous and lofty spirit on today's frequent diocesan projects in executive, consultative and at times directive roles, in accordance with the instructions and requests of the Bishop and the agencies responsible. Also significant is the contribution they make by participating in diocesan pastoral councils, whose establishment was recommended by the 1987 Synod of Bishops as "the principal form of collaboration, dialogue and discernment at the diocesan level" (Christifideles laici, n. 27). We also expect from the laity specific help in spreading the teachings of the diocesan Bishop, united with the other Bishops and especially with the Pope, on religious and social issues that the ecclesial community faces; in a good formulation and resolution of administrative problems; in managing the catechetical, cultural and charitable activities that the Diocese establishes and supports on behalf of their poor brothers and sisters, etc. How many other opportunities there are for fruitful labour for anyone who has goodwill, a desire for commitment and a spirit of sacrifice! May God inspire ever new and vigorous efforts to help Bishops and Dioceses, where many excellent lay people are showing their awareness that the local Church is everyone's home and family!
4. On a broader, even universal, scale the laity can and must feel that they are members of the Church and be committed to her growth, as the 1987 Synod of Bishops recalled (cf. Christifideles laici, n. 28). They should think of her as an essentially missionary community, whose members all have the duty and responsibility of preaching the Gospel to every nation, to all who need God, whether they know it or not. In this vast area of individuals and groups, of environments and social levels, there are also many who, although being registered as Christians, are spiritually distant, agnostic and indifferent to Christ. The new evangelization is aimed at these brothers and sisters, and lay people are called to give their valuable, indispensable co-operation to it. The 1987 Synod, after having said: "Without doubt a mending of the Christian fabric of society is urgently needed", added: "At this moment the lay faithful, in virtue of their participation in the prophetic mission of Christ, are fully part of this work of the Church" (Christifideles laici, n. 34). There are many places for the laity in the forefront of this new evangelization!
To carry out this task a suitable preparation in the doctrine of the faith and in pastoral methodology is indispensable one which the laity too may receive in institutes of religious studies and special courses, in addition to their personal effort to study divine truth. The same degree of religious or even theological education will not be needed by everyone nor for every form of collaboration: but it cannot be neglected by those who must face the problems of science and human culture in relation to faith (cf. Christifideles laici, n. 34).
5. The new evangelization is aimed at forming mature ecclesial communities consisting of convinced Christians who are knowledgeable and persevering in faith and charity. They will be able to enliven the multitudes from within, even where Christ, the Redeemer of man, is unknown or forgotten (cf. Christifideles laici, n. '5), or where the bond linking him to thought and life is weak. To this end old and new forms of association will be useful, such as confraternities, "companies", pious unions, enriched when necessary with a new missionary spirit, and the various "movements" flourishing in the Church today. Traditional initiatives and popular exhibitions on the occasion of religious celebrations, while preserving certain features connected with local or regional customs, also could and should have an ecclesial impact, if prepared and carried out in a way that takes into account the needs of the new evangelization. It will be the task of the clergy and the laity who organize them to adapt them with wisdom, sensitivity and courage to the needs of the missionary Church, in every case fostering an instructive catechesis on the custom as well as sacramental practice especially Penance and the Eucharist.
Church appreciates those who spread the Gospel
6. Eloquent examples of missionary endeavour in the above-mentioned fields or areas, and in so many others, are given to us by many lay people who in our day have discovered the fullness of their Christian vocation and have accepted the divine mandate of universal evangelization, the gift of the Holy Spirit, who seeks to accomplish in the world an ever new Pentecost. The Church is grateful for these brothers and sisters of ours, both known and unknown, and they have certainly been blessed by God. May their example raise up an ever greater number of lay people committed to bringing Christ's message to every individual and to seeking to enkindle the missionary flame everywhere. For this reason too the Successor of Peter tries to visit every nation on every continent, in order humbly to help spread the Gospel. And in every country the Bishops, successors of the Apostles, are active as individual Pastors and as an ecclesial body in the new evangelization.
L'Osservatore Romano March 23, 1994