Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity

Otherwise known as Apostolicam Actuositatem, henceforth on CS to be known as AA, OK?

To intensify the apostolic activity of the people of God, the most holy synod earnestly addresses itself to the laity, whose proper and indispensable role in the mission of the Church has already been dealt with in other documents.

Great! We’ve caught a substantial whiff of this in CS’s examination of the documents on priests and bishops. We know it from the post-conciliar emphasis on liturgical participation. Clearly, Vatican II saw need for improvement in the realm of lay activity, and they mention it again three sentences later:

Our own times require of the laity no less zeal: in fact, modern conditions demand that their apostolate be broadened and intensified.

Why? AA says that because of population increase, technological progress, and “closer interpersonal relationships” new problems in the world have arisen that “demand (the laity’s) expert attention and study.” The past forty years have seen no less a quantity of societal upheaval in the sciences, technology, culture, media, politics, and the moral implications of all of these.

This apostolate becomes more imperative in view of the fact that many areas of human life have become increasingly autonomous. This is as it should be, but it sometimes involves a degree of departure from the ethical and religious order and a serious danger to Christian life. Besides, in many places where priests are very few or, in some instances, deprived of due freedom for priestly work, the Church could scarcely exist and function without the activity of the laity.

I take this reference to functioning in the absence of the clergy to be a secondary consideration in AA’s introduction. AA lays out the basic principle: “The apostolate of the laity derives from their Christian vocation and the Church can never be without it.” Derived from baptism. In fact, it could be argued that the lay apostolate should be a testing ground for considering candidates for more specialized apostolates, namely the priesthood. If one has not manifested and excelled at the baptismal call to follow Christ, how might we expect that person to be a fruitful priest? Or music director, religious, catechist, etc.? The Council then lays down the whole point:

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.



About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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