Evangelii Nuntiandi 73: Lay Ecclesial Ministries

Lay people are everywhere, including laboring with the clergy with their God-given charisms:

73. Hence the active presence of the laity in the temporal realities takes on all its importance. One cannot, however, neglect or forget the other dimension: the laity can also feel themselves called, or be called, to work with their pastors in the service of the ecclesial community for its growth and life, by exercising a great variety of ministries according to the grace and charisms which the Lord is pleased to give them.

Forty years ago, this was an occasion of joy for the pope–to see people working, collaborating, and serving together:

We cannot but experience a great inner joy when we see so many pastors, religious and lay people, fired with their mission to evangelize, seeking ever more suitable ways of proclaiming the Gospel effectively. We encourage the openness which the Church is showing today in this direction and with this solicitude. It is an openness to meditation first of all, and then to ecclesial ministries capable of renewing and strengthening the evangelizing vigor of the Church.

Not only does the Church recognize these ministries today, but it acknowledges their Biblical foundations in the New Testament. The Holy Spirit called, and people responded:

It is certain that, side by side with the ordained ministries, whereby certain people are appointed pastors and consecrate themselves in a special way to the service of the community, the Church recognizes the place of non-ordained ministries which are able to offer a particular service to the Church.

A glance at the origins of the Church is very illuminating, and gives the benefit of an early experience in the matter of ministries. It was an experience which was all the more valuable in that it enabled the Church to consolidate herself and to grow and spread. Attention to the sources however has to be complemented by attention to the present needs of (humankind) and of the Church. To drink at these ever inspiring sources without sacrificing anything of their values, and at the same time to know how to adapt oneself to the demands and needs of today- these are the criteria which will make it possible to seek wisely and to discover the ministries which the Church needs and which many of her members will gladly embrace for the sake of ensuring greater vitality in the ecclesial community. These ministries will have a real pastoral value to the extent that they are established with absolute respect for unity and adhering to the directives of the pastors, who are the ones who are responsible for the Church’s unity and the builders thereof.

Pope Paul VI acknowledged the strong role of the laity in evangelical ministries forty years ago. Notice his language of appreciation (“special esteem”) and also his sense of lay ministry as a consecration of time, energy, and life:

These ministries, apparently new but closely tied up with the Church’s living experience down the centuries – such as catechists, directors of prayer and chant, Christians devoted to the service of God’s Word or to assisting their brethren in need, the heads of small communities, or other persons charged with the responsibility of apostolic movements- these ministries are valuable for the establishment, life, and growth of the Church, and for her capacity to influence her surroundings and to reach those who are remote from her. We owe also our special esteem to all the lay people who accept to consecrate a part of their time, their energies, and sometimes their entire lives, to the service of the missions.

Formation is essential for lay ministry, and the pope singles out public speaking as a skill of great importance:

A serious preparation is needed for all workers for evangelization. Such preparation is all the more necessary for those who devote themselves to the ministry of the Word. Being animated by the conviction, ceaselessly deepened, of the greatness and riches of the Word of God, those who have the mission of transmitting it must give the maximum attention to the dignity, precision and adaptation of their language. Everyone knows that the art of speaking takes on today a very great importance. How would preachers and catechists be able to neglect this?

We earnestly desire that in each individual Church the bishops should be vigilant concerning the adequate formation of all the ministers of the Word. This serious preparation will increase in them the indispensable assurance and also the enthusiasm to proclaim today Jesus Christ.

Formation of the laity is a huge task. Consider not only catechists, but the millions of parents. I remember my mother’s example in this, to cite one possibliity. Though not a Catholic, she opted to train as a certified CCD catechist in the days when my siblings and I were being prepared for baptism. She wanted to be “ready for questions” as they arose.

The overall responsibility belongs to the bishop. Keep in mind that ministers of the Word also include lectors and cantors in the liturgical sphere. And for any lay person who feels any urge or hint to speak with others about the faith, a grounding in the Scriptures would seem to be indicated.

Any readerds seeing anything else of importance in this section?

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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