Last Updated:Saturday - 12/11/2010
November 6, 2000
Church celebrates fruit of laity
Synod of 1987 affirmed laity's place in the vineyard of the Lord
SPECIAL TO THE WCR
In the last decade or so, many kinds of Church documents have been written, so many, in fact, that any attempt at summarizing their views on a specific topic is a perilous venture.
With that caution in mind we turn to our third focus in this lay ministry series, Pope John Paul's 1989 apostolic exhortation on the laity.
Among the first things that strikes us is its magnificent Latin title: Christifideles Laici. Even if our high school Latin is a bit rusty, we can see the basic elements of this phrase: Christ, faithfulness or fidelity, and laity.
I love the sound of the first term, the way it rolls on the tongue, Christifideles - this is exactly what we long for as disciples: to experience a deep and connected fidelity with Christ, a way of being faithful that opens us to the excruciatingly beautiful experience of the Divine. This document was based on the 1987 World Synod of Bishops, whose theme was the Vocation and Mission of the Laity in the Church and in the World 20 Years after the Second Vatican Council.
Beginning with the reaffirmation that the laity, too, are called to work in the vineyard of the Lord, it celebrates how "the Holy Spirit . . . has inspired new aspirations toward holiness and the participation of so many lay faithful." This is witnessed, it goes on to say, "in the new manner of active collaboration among priests, religious and lay faithful" (n. 2) in many areas of Church life.
It is a mistake to view collaboration as an easily attainable goal but we continue to strive for this ideal. At a recent ministries conference in Saskatoon, lay formation leaders from across Canada expressed their fervent desire to grow in a cooperative collaboration in ministry between laity and clergy.
This extensive document also cautions that the laity may have overstepped the boundaries in some places, crossing over to the realm reserved for the ordained. It recognizes both the progress made and the ambiguities engendered when Vatican II swung open the gates to a much broader definition of ministry.
And thus the document, reflecting a critique voiced in the synod, speaks of "a too-indiscriminate use of the word ministry (and) the confusion and the equating of the common priesthood and the ministerial priesthood" (n. 23). When previously locked gates are swung wide open, the flow of traffic going through can get a little out of control, and the pastors of the Church also addressed the issue of re-ordering a measure of chaos that had crept in along with the bountiful good of a much more active and involved laity.
The majority of the text, however, celebrates that involvement, recognizing that "bearing fruit is an essential demand of life in Christ (John 15:5) and life in the Church (and that) the person who does not bear fruit does not remain in communion" (n. 32) and will ultimately be pruned away (John15:2).
It recognizes that the Holy Spirit bestows diverse ministries upon the Church community that can take many forms according to the absolute freedom of the Spirit (n. 24). But it is the pastors' role to determine how these gifts or charisms best respond to the needs of the Church.
The role of women in the Church is also addressed in this expansive text. While retaining the traditional prohibitions against allowing women into ordained ministry, it nonetheless reaffirms the council's view that "since in our days women are taking an increasingly active share in the whole life of society, it is very important that they participate more widely also in the various fields of the Church's apostolate" (n. 49).
This is perhaps especially true in the 21st century in a society and culture like Canada in which exclusion, based on gender, from any field of endeavour is prohibited by the law of the land. Since we know that in Christ there is no distinction between male or female (Galatians 3:28), and in God there is both male and female (Genesis 1:27), this difficult area needs our ongoing prayer and loving dialogue as faithful brothers and sisters in the Lord's vineyard.
Another important area treated in Christifideles Laici is the question of proper formation for lay ministry:
"Formation is not the privilege of a few, but the right and duty of all. . . . For the purpose of a truly incisive and effective pastoral activity, the formation of those who will form others is to be developed through appropriate courses and suitable schools. Forming those who in turn will be given the responsibility for the formation of the lay faithful constitutes a basic requirement of assuring the general and widespread formation of the lay faithful" (n. 63).
And thus the exhortation "appeals to the prophetic task of Catholic schools and universities" in which "the simultaneous presence of clergy, the lay faithful and men and women religious offers students a vivid image of the Church and makes recognition of its riches easier" (n. 62).
In a society where higher education has been accessed by many people in the last half century, we dare not skimp on the necessary education for a well-informed ministry, whether lay or ordained.
A decade after the promulgation of this text, it remains fresh and relevant. Across Canada, many Catholic laity took up the challenge in the '90s and pursued theological training in preparation for work in the Church. A large number of these men and women have turned their backs on lucrative careers in order to respond to the call to be Christifideles.
(Third in a series – Adela Torchia is director of the Lay Pastoral Leadership Program at Newman College.)
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