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Laity, Lay Vocation

Laymen should take up as their own proper task the renewal of the temporal order. If the role of the hierarchy is to teach and to interpret authentically the norms of morality to be followed in this matter, it belongs to the laity, without waiting passively for orders and directives, to take the initiatives freely and to infuse a Christian spirit into the mentality, customs, laws and structures of the community in which they live.

Populorum Progressio (“On the Development of Peoples”), Pope Paul VI, 1967 #33.

You, likewise, beloved children of the laity, we heartily commend for your willingness, your correspondence with the intent of your pastors, your support so cheerfully given to the cause of religion. When we consider that every church and school, every convent, asylum and hospital represents the voluntary offering brought by you, out of your plenty and more often out of your want, we cannot but marvel and glorify God who has made you “worthy of his vocation and fulfilled in you all the good pleasure of his goodness and the work of faith in power” (2 Thess. 1:11). For as faith is expressed in deeds, so, conversely, is it strengthened by doing: “by works faith is made perfect” (James 2:22).

Pastoral Letter of 1919, U.S. Catholic Bishops, 1919.


 

Our beloved sons, the laity, can do much to help this diffusion of Catholic social doctrine by studying it themselves and putting it into practice, and by zealously striving to make others understand it. They should be convinced that the best way of demonstrating the truth and efficacy of this teaching is to show that it can provide the solution to present-day difficulties. They will thus win those people who are opposed to it through ignorance of it. Who knows, but a ray of its light may one day enter their minds.

Mater et Magistra (“Mother and Teacher”), Pope John XXIII, 1961 #224-225.


 

The Church has the right and obligation not merely to guard ethical and religious principles, but also to declare its authoritative judgment in the matter of putting these principles into practice. It is a task which belongs particularly to Our sons, the laity, for it is their lot to live an active life in the world and organize themselves for the attainment of temporal ends.

Mater et Magistra (“Mother and Teacher”), Pope John XXIII, 1961 #239-240.


 

The Church today is faced with an immense task: to humanize and to Christianize this modern civilization of ours. The continued development of this civilization, indeed its very survival, demand and insist that the Church do her part in the world. That is why, as We said before, she claims the co-operation of her laity. In conducting their human affairs to the best of their ability, they must recognize that they are doing a service to humanity, in intimate union with God through Christ, and to God’s greater glory.

Mater et Magistra (“Mother and Teacher”), Pope John XXIII, 1961 #256.


 

The laity, by their very vocation, seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God. They live in the world, that is, in each and in all of the secular professions and occupations. They live in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life, from which the very web of their existence is woven. They are called there by God that by exercising their proper function and led by the spirit of the Gospel they may work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven.

Lumen Gentium (“Dogmatic Constitution on the Church”), Pope Paul VI, 1964 #31


 

Let the laity also by their combined efforts remedy the customs and conditions of the world, if they are an inducement to sin, so that they all may be conformed to the norms of justice and may favor the practice of virtue rather than hinder it. By so doing they will imbue culture and human activity with genuine moral values; they will better prepare the field of the world for the seed of the Word of God; and at the same time they will open wider the doors of the Church by which the message of peace may enter the world.

Lumen Gentium (“Dogmatic Constitution on the Church”), Pope Paul VI, 1964 #36.


 

The laity must take up the renewal of the temporal order as their own special obligation. Led by the light of the Gospel and the mind of the Church and motivated by Christian charity, they must act directly and in a definite way in the temporal sphere. As citizens they must cooperate with other citizens with their own particular skill and on their own responsibility. Everywhere and in all things they must seek the justice of God’s kingdom. The temporal order must be renewed in such a way that, without detriment to its own proper laws, it may be brought into conformity with the higher principles of the Christian life and adapted to the shifting circumstances of time, place, and peoples. Preeminent among the works of this type of apostolate is that of Christian social action, which the sacred synod desires to see extended to the whole temporal sphere, including culture.

Apostolicam Actuositatem (“Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity”), Vatican II, 1965 #7.


 

The laity exercise their apostolate in fact by their activity directed to the evangelization and sanctification of men and to the penetrating and perfecting of the temporal order through the spirit of the Gospel. In this way, their temporal activity openly bears witness to Christ and promotes the salvation of men. Since the laity, in accordance with their state of life, live in the midst of the world and its concerns, they are called by God to exercise their apostolate in the world like leaven, with the ardor of the spirit of Christ.

Apostolicam Actuositatem (“Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity”), Vatican II, 1965 #2.


 

As regards works and institutions in the temporal order, the role of the ecclesiastical hierarchy is to teach and authentically interpret the moral principles to be followed in temporal affairs. Furthermore, they have the right to judge, after careful consideration of all related matters and consultation with experts, whether or not such works and institutions conform to moral principles.

Apostolicam Actuositatem (“Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity”), Vatican II, 1965 #24.


 

But it is no less mistaken to think that we may immerse ourselves in earthly activities as if these latter were utterly foreign to religion, and religion were nothing more than the fulfillment of acts of worship and the observance of a few moral obligations. One of the gravest errors of our time is the dichotomy between the faith which many profess and their day-to-day conduct. As far back as the Old Testament the prophets vehemently denounced this scandal, and in the New Testament Christ himself even more forcibly threatened it with severe punishment. Let there, then, be no such pernicious opposition between professional and social activity on the one hand and religious life on the other. Christians who shirk their temporal duties shirk their duties towards his neighbor, neglect God himself and endanger their eternal salvation.

Gaudium et Spes (“The Church in the Modern World”), Vatican II, 1965 #43.


 

Laymen should take up as their own proper task the renewal of the temporal order. If the role of the hierarchy is to teach and to interpret authentically the norms of morality to be followed in this matter, it belongs to the laity, without waiting passively for orders and directives, to take the initiatives freely and to infuse a Christian spirit into the mentality, customs, laws and structures of the community in which they live.

Populorum Progressio (“On the Development of Peoples”), Pope Paul VI, 1967 #33.


 

Let each one examine himself, to see what he has done up to now, and what he ought to do. It is not enough to recall principles, state intentions, point to crying injustice and utter prophetic denunciations; these words will lack real weight unless they are accompanied for each individual by a livelier awareness of personal responsibility and by effective action. It is too easy to throw back on others responsibility for injustice, if at the same time one does not realize how each one shares in it personally, and how personal conversion is needed first.

Octogesima Adveniens (“A Call to Action”), Pope Paul VI, 1971 #48.


 

The road to holiness for most of us lies in our secular vocations. We need a spirituality that calls forth and supports lay initiative and witness not just in our churches, but also in business, in the labor movement, in the professions, in education and in public life. Our faith is not just a weekend obligation, a mystery to be celebrated around the altar on Sunday. It is a pervasive reality to be practiced every day in homes, offices, factories, schools and businesses across our land. We cannot separate what we believe from how we act in the marketplace and the broader community, for this is where we make our primary contribution to the pursuit of economic justice.

Economic Justice for All, U.S. Catholic Bishops, 1986 #25.


 

Holiness is not limited to the sanctuary or to moments of private prayer; it is a call to direct our whole heart and life toward God and according to God’s plan for this world. For the laity holiness is
Catholic Charities serves those most in need. We are a leader at solving poverty, creating opportunity, and advocating for justice in the community achieved in the midst of the world, in family, in community, in friendships, in work, in leisure, in citizenship. Through their competency and by their activity, lay men and women have the vocation to bring the fight of the Gospel to economic affairs, “so that the world may be filled with the Spirit of Christ and may more effectively attain its destiny in justice, in love and in peace.”

Economic Justice for All, U.S. Catholic Bishops, 1986 #332.


 

In this commitment, the sons and daughters of the Church must serve as examples and guides, for they are called upon, in conformity with the program announced by Jesus himself in the synagogue at Nazareth, to “preach good news to the poor… to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18-19). It is appropriate to emphasize the preeminent role that belongs to the laity, both men and women. It is their task to animate temporal realities with Christian commitment, by which they show that they are witnesses and agents of peace and justice.

Solicitudo Rei Socialis (“On Social Concern”, Donders translation), Pope John Paul II, 1987 #47.


 

In union with all people of good will, Christians, especially the laity, are called to this task of imbuing human realities with the Gospel.

Centesimus Annus (“The Hundredth Year,” Donders translation), Pope John Paul II, 1991 #25.


 

In short, our parishes need to encourage, support and sustain lay people in living their faith in the family, neighborhood, marketplace and public arena. It is lay women and men, placing their gifts at the service of others (cf. 1 Pt 4:10), who will be God’s primary instruments in renewing the earth by their leadership and faithfulness in the community. The most challenging work for justice is not done in church committees, but in the secular world of work, family life and citizenship.

Communities of Salt and Light, National Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1993.


 

The Church’s commitment to global solidarity belongs especially to lay people. It is reflected at least as much in the choices of lay Catholics in commerce and politics as in the statements and advocacy of our bishops’ conference. How U.S. businesses act abroad sets standards that advance or diminish justice. Catholics should bring their awareness of global solidarity to their diverse roles in business and commerce, in education and communications, and in the labor movement and public life. As teachers, broadcasters, journalists and entertainers, Catholics can awaken a sense, not only of the world’s problems, but also our capacity to respond. As citizens, we can urge public officials and legislators to seriously address the problems of the world’s persecuted, poor and displaced.

Called to Global Solidarity, U.S. Catholic Conference, 1997.


 

Being a believer means that one lives a certain way — walking with the Lord, doing justice, loving kindness, living peaceably among all people. Christian discipleship means practicing what Jesus preached. Discipleship is found in a relationship with Christ and a commitment to His mission of “bringing good news to the poor, liberty to captives, new sight to the blind and setting the downtrodden free.” We welcome and affirm the growing participation of lay women and men in the internal life of the Church. Service within the Church should form and strengthen believers for their mission in the world.

Everyday Christianity: To Hunger and Thirst for Justice, U.S. Catholic Bishops, 1998.


 

Every believer is called to serve “the least of these,” to “hunger and thirst for justice,” to be a “peacemaker.” Catholics are called by God to protect human life, to promote human dignity, to defend the poor and to seek the common good. This social mission of the Church belongs to all of us. It is an essential part of what it is to be a believer.

Everyday Christianity: To Hunger and Thirst for Justice, U.S. Catholic Bishops, 1998.


 

This social mission is advanced in many ways — by the prophetic teaching of our Holy Father; by the efforts of our bishops’ Conference; and by many structures of charity and justice within our community of faith. But the most common and, in many ways, the most important Christian witness is often neither very visible nor highly structured…This mission is the task of countless Christians living their faith without much fanfare or recognition, who are quietly building a better society by their choices and actions day by day. They protect human life, defend those who are poor, seek the common good, work for peace and promote human dignity.

Everyday Christianity: To Hunger and Thirst for Justice, U.S. Catholic Bishops, 1998.


 

Social justice and the common good are built up or torn down day by day in the countless decisions and choices we make. This vocation to pursue justice is not simply an individual task — it is a call to work with others to humanize and shape the institutions that touch so many people. The lay vocation for justice cannot be carried forward alone, but only as members of a community called to be the “leaven” of the Gospel.

Everyday Christianity: To Hunger and Thirst for Justice, U.S. Catholic Bishops, 1998.


 

Both on parish and diocesan levels, the presence of brothers and sisters from different cultures should be celebrated as a gift to the Church through well-prepared liturgies, lay leadership development programs inclusive of all, the appointment of prepared leaders of immigrant communities to parish and diocesan positions, and special efforts to help youth find their way as they experience themselves often torn between two cultures.

Welcoming the Stranger Among Us, National Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2001.


 

Lay people, especially those who share language and cultural background with the immigrant group, can be invaluable bridges in efforts to incorporate immigrant communities into the life of the parish and reach out to non-believers among the new immigrants. In many of the countries from which the new immigrants come, it was the lay catechist who led people to conversion or a deeper appreciation of the faith. Lay catechists were the leaders and evangelizers of their people. Their ministry needs to be reaffirmed and strengthened in the new context.

Welcoming the Stranger Among Us, National Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2001.


 

The direct duty to work for a just ordering of society, on the other hand, is proper to the lay faithful. As citizens of the State, they are called to take part in public life in a personal capacity. The mission of the lay faithful is therefore to configure social life correctly, respecting its legitimate autonomy and cooperating with other citizens according to their respective competences and fulfilling their own responsibility.

Deus Caritas Est (“God is Love”), Pope Benedict XVI, 2005 #29.


 

The eucharistic sacrifice nourishes and increases within us all that we have already received at Baptism, with its call to holiness, and this must be clearly evident from the way individual Christians live their lives. [T]he Christian laity, by virtue of their Baptism and Confirmation, and strengthened by the Eucharist, are called to live out the radical newness brought by Christ wherever they find themselves. They should cultivate a desire that the Eucharist have an ever deeper effect on their daily lives, making them convincing witnesses in the workplace and in society at large.

Sacramentum Caritatis (“Apostolic Exhortation on the Eucharist”), Pope Benedict XVI, 2007 #79.


 

I exhort the lay faithful, and families in particular, to find ever anew in the sacrament of Christ’s love the energy needed to make their lives an authentic sign of the presence of the risen Lord. I ask all consecrated men and women to show by their eucharistic lives the splendour and the beauty of belonging totally to the Lord.

Sacramentum Caritatis (“Apostolic Exhortation on the Eucharist”), Pope Benedict XVI, 2007 #94.


 

Forming their consciences in accord with Catholic teaching, Catholic lay women and men can become actively involved: running for office; working within political parties; communicating their concerns and positions to elected officials; and joining diocesan social mission or advocacy networks, state Catholic conference initiatives, community organizations and other efforts to apply authentic moral teaching in the public square. Even those who cannot vote have the right to have their voices heard on issues that affect their lives and the common good.

Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), 2007, 2012 #16.


 

At a time when we most need a missionary dynamism which will bring salt and light to the world, many lay people fear that they may be asked to undertake some apostolic work and they seek to avoid any responsibility that may take away from their free time. The problem is not always an excess of activity, but rather activity undertaken badly, without adequate motivation, without a spirituality which would permeate it and make it pleasurable. As a result, work becomes more tiring than necessary, even leading at times to illness. Far from a content and happy tiredness, this is a tense, burdensome, dissatisfying and, in the end, unbearable fatigue. Called to radiate light and communicate life, in the end they are caught up in things that generate only darkness and inner weariness and slowly consume all zeal for the apostolate. For all this, I repeat: Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of the joy of evangelization!

Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”), Pope Francis, 2013 #81-83.


 

Lay people are, put simply, the vast majority of the people of God. The minority – ordained ministers – are at their service. There has been a growing awareness of the identity and mission of the laity in the Church. We can count on many lay persons, although still not nearly enough, who have a deeply-rooted sense of community and great fidelity to the tasks of charity, catechesis and the celebration of the faith. At the same time, a clear awareness of this responsibility of the laity, grounded in their baptism and confirmation, does not appear in the same way in all places. In some cases, it is because lay persons have not been given the formation needed to take on important responsibilities. In others, it is because, in their particular Churches, room has not been made for them to speak and to act, due to an excessive clericalism which keeps them away from decision-making.

Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”), Pope Francis, 2013 #102.


 

In a culture paradoxically suffering from anonymity and at the same time obsessed with the details of other people’s lives, shamelessly given over to morbid curiosity, the Church must look more closely and sympathetically at others whenever necessary. In our world, ordained ministers and other pastoral workers can make present the fragrance of Christ’s closeness and his personal gaze. The Church will have to initiate everyone – priests, religious and laity – into this “art of accompaniment” which teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other (cf. Ex 3:5).

Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”), Pope Francis, 2013 #169.


 

No one must say that they cannot be close to the poor because their own lifestyle demands more attention to other areas. This is an excuse commonly heard in academic, business or professional, and even ecclesial circles. While it is quite true that the essential vocation and mission of the lay faithful is to strive that earthly realities and all human activity may be transformed by the Gospel, none of us can think we are exempt from concern for the poor and for social justice.

Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”), Pope Francis, 2013 #201.


 

Believers themselves must constantly feel challenged to live in a way consonant with their faith and not to contradict it by their actions. They need to be encouraged to be ever open to God’s grace and to draw constantly from their deepest convictions about love, justice and peace. If a mistaken understanding of our own principles has at times led us to justify mistreating nature, to exercise tyranny over creation, to engage in war, injustice and acts of violence, we believers should acknowledge that by so doing we were not faithful to the treasures of wisdom which we have been called to protect and preserve.

Laudato Si’ (“Praise Be”), Pope Francis, 2015 #200.

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