New Insights on the Gospels

March for Life 2012

Evil triumphs when good men do nothing - Edmund Burke

Monday, January 17, 2011

The laity in the Church

The laity in the Church


The laity form a living, active and responsible part of the Church, and this accords with the will of Jesus Christ, who wished his Church to be open to all.

Suffice it here to recall the behaviour of the owner of the vineyard in the very significant and thought·provoking parable told by Jesus. Seeing some unemployed people, the owner said to them: 'You go to my vineyard too' (Matthew 20:4). 'From that distant day,' comments the 1987 Synod of Bishops, 'the call has never failed to resound throughout history, it is addressed to every person who comes into this world ... The call not only concerns Pastors, clergy, and men and women religious. It is addressed to everyone, lay people as well are personally called by the Lord, from whom they receive a mission on behalf of the Church and the world' (Christilideles laici, 2). All are invited 'to let themselves be reconciled with God' (2 Corinthians 5:20), to let themselves be saved and to co·operate in universal salvation, since God wants everyone to be saved' (I Timothy 2:4). All are invited, with their own personal qualities, to labour in the Father's 'vineyard', where each has a personal place and a personal reward.

The laity's calling entails their participation in the Church's life and consequently their intimate communion in Christ's own life too. It is a divine gift and at the same time a mutual commitment. For didn't Jesus ask the disciples who had followed him to remain constantly united with him and in him, and to let his own living energy burst into their minds and hearts? 'Remain in me, as I in you. Without me you can do nothing' (John 15:4-5). As for priests, so for the laity: true fruitfulness depends on union with Christ.'

The church is holy and all her members are called to be holy. The laity share in the holiness of the Church, being full members of the Christian community: and this sharing (which we may call ontological) in the Church's holiness is translated, in the laity's case, into an individual ethical commitment to sanctification.

In this capacity for and vocation to holiness all members of the Church are equal (d. Galatians 3:28). The degree of personal holiness doesn't depend on the position one holds in society, least of all in the Church, but only on the degree of charity one practises (d. 1 Corinthians 13). A member of the laity who open heartedly welcomes God's love into his or her heart and life is holier than any priest or bishop who only welcomes it half·heartedly."

The prayer life of every Christian, and therefore of all members of the laity, cannot thrive without participation in the Liturgy, recourse to the sacrament of Reconciliation and above all the celebration of the Eucharist, where sacramental communion with Christ is the source of that kind of mutual immanence between the soul and Christ which he fore tells: 'Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in that person' (John 6:56). The eucharistic banquet assures the Christian of that spiritual nourishment which makes it possible to produce much fruit. So the Christilideles laici are also called and invited to an intense Eucharistic life.For them sacramental participation in Sunday mass should be the source of their spiritual life and also of their apostolate. Blessed are they who, besides Sunday Mass and Communion, feel drawn and prompted to frequent Communion, recommended by so many of the Saints, especially in recent times, when the apostolate of the laity has been developing more and more.

The Christian laity as children of the promise' are called to bear 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 again for the salvation of all. In a world which, despite appearances to the contrary, is often racked with anguish over the ever renewed and disappointing experience of the limitations inadequacies and even emptiness of many structures created to ensure human happiness on earth, their witness of hope is particularly needed to direct spirits in their quest for a future life beyond the relative values of the things of this world. In this, the laity as workers in the service of the Gospel 'through the structures of secular life', have a special relevance of their own. They show that Christian hope does not mean shunning the world, nor renunciation of a full realization of earthly existence, but an opening of it to the transcendental dimension of life eternal, which alone gives this existence its true value.

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