Appeared in Vol. XIII, No. 2 Download PDF here

The Church, ever faithful to the need to read the signs of the times, has placed an ever greater importance upon the role of the laity to bring Christ, who is “the Way, the Truth and the Life,” to this troubled world of ours. In this fine article, Kevin Barry Walsh gives an excellent overview of the role of the Catholic laity in the light of recent Church teaching.

“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ…. For the body does not consist of one member but of many…. But as it is, God arranged the organs in the body, each one of them, as he chose.” (I Cor. 12: 12; 14; 18.)

The Church, in her long history, has passed through many crises. Her Divine Spouse, Jesus Christ, can, however, bring a much greater good out of these difficulties, for as Lord of History, He steadily brings her to the completion of His plan for her. Looking at the Church through the ages, one can see that as the she went through one doctrinal crisis after another, she was forced to examine specific points of doctrine more closely and reflect on them. This often bore fruit in a clear definition by a council, a Roman pontiff, or even a good theologian. The result is a clearer perception of what the Catholic Church believes and is. Even after each crisis has passed, the Church retains this beneficial insight as an enduring patrimony. For example, almost fifteen centuries after the Christological heresies, we can still be grateful for the crystalline definitions of the nature of Christ, the Godman. Cardinal Newman, in his Development of Christian Dogma, explains how the doctrine of the Church can develop in this way without essentially changing. This development of dogma can analogously be applied to ecclesiology, and spirituality.

As the Church goes through history, ever attempting to fulfill the mandate left to her by her divine Founder, she comes to a clearer awareness of various doctrines, and to a better understanding of herself. Her invisible Head continues to place different events and circumstances in her life, in order to help bring certain truths into sharper focus. Her understanding of her vocation becomes ever more precise. The diverse members of the Mystical Body become fleshed out, as the mosaic of the Body of Christ is brought to its fullness in time. One of the most recent parts of the body of the Church which has been coming to its maturity is the laity.

It seems that the Church, having read the signs of the times, has come to stress the proper role of the laity more. After the Protestant Revolt in the sixteenth century, the Church, in the Council of Trent, examined the Mass, the Sacraments, mediation, and consequently the priesthood and the hierar­chy more in depth. As regards the laity, if anything, there was a lack of emphasis, as the Church stressed the role of the priest to counteract the negative influence of the Protestants. Later, when she had passed through the Age of Enlightenment, whose proponents exaggerated the use of reason, she had to readapt to the new socio-historic situation as a secularistic mentality infected the temporal realm which had previously been Christia­nized. At that time, and with the subsequent rise of the democracies in the nation states, the Church continued to lose influence. Today, in order to carry on her mission of evangelization, even in countries once thought to be Christian, she has to rely more and more on the witness of lay people evangelizing those around them. Also, there has been a decrease in the number of those responding to God’s call to the priesthood and religious life. And finally, there have been some sociological pressures resulting from a better educated and more influential laity with more means than in past centuries, as we shall see in a future section of this work. Vatican II explained the reasons for this increased emphasis on the role of the laity in this way.

All the more urgent has this apostolate become, now that autonomy- as is only right – has been reached in numerous sectors of human life, sometimes with a certain relinquishing of moral and religious values, seriously jeopardizing the Christian life. Besides, in many regions where priests are very scarce or (as is sometimes the case) deprived of the freedom they need for their ministry, it is hard to see how the Church could make her presence and action felt without the help of the laity.1

This is summarized well by one author in the following way.

Various factors have contributed to the stress that has been laid in recent times upon the role of the laity. (1) the deterioration in European countries of the traditional Church-State relationship has created a need for lay support and activity. As society has become more secularistic, the Church has depended upon organized movements among the laity for the exercise of its leavening influence upon society. (2) Experience has shown that people are often more effectively reached and influenced by those to whom they are bound by close social or professional ties and who share their condition of life. (3) The increase in the number of the clergy has not kept pace with the general growth in population, and there are not enough priests whose exercise of the sacred ministry proper to the sacerdotal state leaves them with sufficient time to do more than a small part of the apostolic work that needs to be done. (4) the rise in the educational level of the general population has made it easier to find men and women with sufficient training to acquire the skills and knowledge necessary to the exercise of some form of the apostolate.2


This thesis shall attempt to demonstrate that with the rise of secularism there has been a move to drive Christianity from the public arena. The Church has seen this as the problem, and believes that the best way to solve it is through the lay apostolate. It has pointed this out in many official documents emanating from the Holy See from the time of Pope Pius IX. The culmination of these directives has been the Second Vatican Council which devoted an entire decree to the laity, and in many of the remaining documents referred to the laity in some way.

We shall proceed in the following way: we shall begin with a brief historical overview of the Church and changes that have occurred in the temporal sphere which have affected her, and the impact that these changes have had on spirituality; then we shall look at the essential elements of the lay apostolate, whether it is exercised individually or in a group; next we shall see the works that are proper to the lay apostolate; after that we shall delve into the correct relationship of lay apostolates to other members of the Mystical Body, for example, the hierarchical Church, and the role of priests within these apostolates; this will be followed by an examination of the spirituality that should characterize a lay apostle; and finally we shall mention some actual historical embodiments of the lay apostolates which have put many of these principles into practice.

The primary Church documents which we shall be making reference to are the conciliar documents, Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church; Gaudium et Spes, the Pastoral Constitution on the Church; Apostolicam Actuositatem, the Decree on the Lay Apostolate; Gravissimum educationis, the Declaration on Christian Education; Ad gentes divinitus, the Decree on the Church’s Missionary Activity; and the post-conciliar documents Evangelii Nuntiandi; Les Laics Catholiques; Familiaris Consortio; Priests Within Associations of the Faithful; and several studies and resource materials published by the Pontifical Council on the Laity.



“Be ye, therefore, perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mt. 5:48) These words that our Lord spoke during the Sermon on the Mount were addressed to all of His disciples and not just to His twelve Apostles. In the early Church, they were certainly taken to heart, since to become a follower of Christ signified a radical change in one’s entire lifestyle. For many, it meant a life of suffering, and often the need to hide away in tombs, with the constant threat of being hunted down and killed.

After the victory of Constantine in 312, many Christians tried to continue to live a life that would at least come close to the Christian witness of martyrdom, through a life of celibacy and poverty, totally cut off from the world as hermits. In a similar vein, others gathered together in a community (the cenobites). In addition to poverty and chastity, they added the dimension of obedience to their imitation of Christ. They also offered up the particular trials that community life can entail, while enjoying the comforts it can provide. As time went on, the various ways of living the monastic life were inevitably codified. The most famous rule, especially in the West, was written by St. Benedict. As the Benedictine tradition developed, study became an almost essential part of the life of most monks. This occurred at the same time when a general intellectual decline was setting in in the West. Therefore it is not surprising that literacy and education came to be seen as the domain of clerics, though it is true that some wealthy laity and a few others were also educated.

This perception was not minimized by one of the next major developments in spirituality, namely the rise of the mendicant orders. Even when the Jesuits were founded and dedicated themselves to teaching, formal education still eluded the masses. With the invention of the printing press, though, this situation did improve somewhat. Nevertheless, most of the faithful had to be content with their agrarian life. With its many and long work days, little more was possible in the way of religious practice than Sunday attendance at Mass to fulfill one’s obligation. By and large, religion had to be left to the “professionals”, to those who dedicated themselves to it full time. With this scenario, it is easy to see how the notion grew up that sanctity should basically be left up to the priests and nuns, since it seemed to be beyond the reach of most lay people. The Church, however, never officially taught this.

It is true that some did try to combat this misunderstanding; witness for example the oblates (lay people invited by monastic foundations to be associated with their work and prayers,3 third orders, sodalities, and in recent centuries, secular institutes. Unfortunately, however, even these valiant efforts were, at times, infected with the attitude that for the laity to attain to holiness, it would be necessary to have them live as much as possible like religious, and the measure in which they were successful in doing this reflected the degree of sanctity which they had achieved. Even those who did not adopt these attitudes were not successful in reaching any but a fraction of all the faithful.

All the forms of community described so far, though each is a valid path to the heart of the Church, seem to have failed to completely answer the spiritual hunger of the modern age. The secular orders too often appear moribund and stagnant. In the wake of Vatican II, there was a widespread tendency to want to ease burdens on the laity.

But attempts to revive the orders by relaxing the requirements of the rule seem to have been counterproductive, since most people are attracted to an order by its promise of greater spiritual commitment and helpful discipline. If one is going to write a rule at all, it may as well be a demanding one. Furthermore, parishes in today’s urban environments often consist of a patchwork of disparate lives, flung together by circumstances. No clear sense of community can emerge easily from such a patchwork.

And so, since World War II, lay movements have been springing up in the Church which cut across national and parish boundaries, and which do not fit neatly into old categories. Though sometimes founded by priests, they often have a lay leadership. As a result, the movements tend to be perceived as semi-independent of existing Church structures.

There are also occasional accusations of “integralism” -the idea being that the movements mistakenly identify themselves with the “true Church” or a “Church within the Church.” Even if it is groundless, the fear on the part of many parish priests, and even many bishops, of being swamped by

a well-organized movement does exist ….4

In the meantime, more and more people were becoming literate, and with the Industrial Revolution, many left their rural backgrounds. Eventually, people had more and more leisure time. As we come to the twentieth century we can see that in the West, the combination of near-universal literacy, and the unprecedented amount of free time, coupled with the communications revolution, has put modem man in a unique situation. Never before has he had so much information available’to him. It is not at all inconceivable that an average mother of a family could know more about nutrition – just from the daily newspaper or the local library – than did a medical doctor a century ago. Other examples could be provided to illustrate how an average person could become knowledgeable about any of a host of different fields if he has the desire, and judging from the vigorous participation by some in diverse hobbies, some people do have that desire.

As general knowledge of secular pursuits increased, however, knowledge of the faith often remained stagnant. It is true that presentations of the faith continued to be learned by many of the faithful, but all too often a necessary understanding of what was learned did not accompany the process and the learning remained superficial. At the same time the mentality widely persisted that a deeper knowledge of the faith was to be left up to priests and nuns. It also appeared that this was the case with a more intense practice of the faith. Parenthetically, we might note that even if we looked at the pre-Vatican II situation from a purely sociological point of view, we can see with hindsight that what was to occur was almost unavoidable given the growing disparity between the faithful’s ever-increasing knowledge of matters secular and their knowledge of the faith which in general remained static. Eventually, by comparison, their faith had to appear as the faith of a more primitive people, since, in fact, their perception of the faith was indeed primitive when contrasted to their more advanced knowledge in other areas.
As we arrive to the twentieth century, then, we can see that the need for
the lay apostolate becomes ever more urgent. First of all, the laity are better
educated and have more autonomy in the modern age, and consequently
should take on more responsibility to spread the faith in ways that are proper
to them. Also the current scarcity of priests, and perhaps even the current
crises in the faith of the past 25 years could be ways in which Our Lord is prodding the laity to assume a more active concern for His work. Also, all over the world priests and religious are being hampered in their work either because of atheistic governments which harass them and restrict their activity, or because of secular governments which set up barriers between the preaching and living of the Gospel and the life of society. The mentality prevails that one’s religion should be merely a private affair absolutely kept out of the public domain in every way. Finally, another reason that the need for the lay apostolate is especially being perceived in this century, is that people are coming to an increased sense of the need for community, precisely when the trends and pressures of modern society seem to be separating individuals into isolated entities. This is manifested in part by a breakdown in neighborhoods, the extended family, and even the family itself. This has multiple causes some of which are increased mobility, people living far away from where they work, television, and even fear of others whom one does not know which contributes to the vicious circle.

A recent journalist touched on this when he wrote

In order to do this [live as a Christian in the world today] in today’s secularized environment, many of us need the support of some kind of community – a community consisting of friends who are trying to do the same thing, friends because they are trying to do the same thing. The breakdown of families, combined with the increasing fragmentation of the world outside the family, means that there is a growing hunger for personal warmth and encounter. s


As we examine the lay apostolate per se, it behooves us to give a definition of the laity. For practical purposes, we may use the one given by Vatican II, in Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church. It said that

The term `laity’ is here understood to mean all the faithful except those in Holy Orders and those who belong to a religious state approved by the Church. That is, the faithful who by Baptism are incorporated into Christ, are placed in the People of God, and in their own way share the priestly, prophetic and kingly office of Christ, and to the best of their ability carry on the mission of the whole Christian people in the Church and in the world.6

We should also define the lay apostolate. First of all we may say that from their very Baptism and Confirmation, all laity are strictly obliged to spread their faith.

Incorporated into the church by Baptism, the faithful are appointed by their baptismal character to Christian religious worship; reborn as sons of God, they must profess before men the faith they have received from God through the Church. By the sacrament of Confirmation they are more perfectly bound to the Church and are endowed with the special strength of the Holy Spirit. Hence they are, as true witnesses of Christ, more strictly obliged to spread the faith by, word and deed.7

We may define the apostolate as every activity of the Mystical Body which aims to “spread the kingdom of Christ over all the earth for the glory of God the Father, to make all men partakers in redemption and salvation, and through them to establish the right relationship of the entire world to Christ.”‘ In short, all the laity are called to the apostolate, as Vatican II states on numerous occasions. For example, when it says that the lay apostolate “derives from the layman’s very vocation as a Christian”9 And that, “The Christian vocation is, of its nature, a vocation to the apostolate as well.”10 The apostolate is a vocation to which they must give themselves completely.

Gathered together in the People of God and established in the one body of Christ under one head, the laity – no matter who they are – have, as living members, the vocation of applying to the building up of the Church and to its continual sanctification all the powers which they have received from the goodness of the Creator and from the grace of the Redeemer.11

Perhaps one of the most striking examples of this is when the Council says that “A member who does not work at the growth of the body to the extent of his possibilities must be considered useless both to the Church and to himself.” The laity are to do this precisely as lay people. “The characteristic of the lay state being a life led in the midst of the world and of secular affairs, laymen are called by God to make of their apostolate, through the vigor of their Christian spirit, a leaven in the world.”12

The Council Fathers even go so far as to say it is the “laymen’s right and duty to be apostles”. They base this on the fact that they are united with Christ the head, and inserted into the “Mystical body of Christ by baptism and strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit in confirmation”. Because of this, “it is by the Lord himself that they are assigned to the apostolate.”13

This apostolate can be exercised in an individual way, or as a group in an association. As exercised by an individual, it ” . . . is the starting point and condition of all types of lay apostolate, including the organized apostolate; nothing can replace it”.14 The individual apostolate is also one which can be exercised by anyone at any time, in any place. At times it is the only one which can be exercised, and all must practice it whether they are able to join an association or not. This apostolate can be exercised by example or by word. In some circumstances it is the only apostolate that is possible, for example in areas where the Church is persecuted, or where Catholics are few and scattered.

It is easy to see that this kind of apostolate can be exercised with anyone that one comes in contact with. This could be in casual contact or one that may not be repeated, for example when one deals with people either because he is the dispenser of some service to them, or because he is obtaining some service from them. Thus one would be witnessing and truly evangelizing simply by his manner of carrying himself about, his demeanor, and his words, conversation, and actions. It could also be carried out in one’s place of work, be it an office, or some other such setting. Certainly in dealing with one’s co-workers repeatedly over a long period of time is an excellent opportunity to leave an impression on them. An individual would not have to preach so much with his words, as by his example. That is the kind of sermon that is more effective anyway. One’s neighbors provide another field of apostolate for the individual. These are people living in generally close community with us who often get to know a great deal about us-would that they would be uplifted by what they came to notice about us. And finally, we must not forget one’s own relatives and family. Though more will be said about the family later, suffice it to say for now that one’s family are those who get to know us the best, and with whom we have our first duty of Christian charity. Perhaps because it is so basic, we all too often and too easily forget it. It is our family who knows whether or not we really practice what we profess. It is ultimately with them that we preach a daily sermon which will be judged to be either hypocritical or eloquently authentic.

Vatican II summarizes this by saying

A special form of the individual apostolate is the witness of a whole lay life issuing from faith, hope and charity; it is a sign very much in keeping with our times, and a manifestation of Christ living in his faithful. then, by the apostolate of the word, which in certain circumstances is absolutely necessary, the laity proclaim Christ, explain and spread his teachings, each one according to his condition and competence, and profess those teachings with fidelity.15

Though it is true that all must exercise the individual apostolate, there are also distinct advantages to the practice of the group apostolate. Since God has created man to be social by nature, the group apostolate fulfills an essential need in man himself, as well as symbolizes the unity and communion in the Church.

The faithful are called as individuals to exercise an apostolate in the various conditions of their life. They must, however, remember that man is social by nature and that it has been God’s pleasure to assemble those who believe in Christ and make of them the People of God (cf. I Pet. 2: 5-10), a single body (cf. 1 Cor. 12:12). The group apostolate is in happy harmony therefore with a fundamental need in the faithful, a need that is both human and Christian. At the same time it offers a sign of the communion and unity of the Church in Christ, who said: “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there in the midst of them” (Mt. 18:20).16

It is part of the meaning of the Church to be a community, and it is an essential part of Catholicism that we do not just save ourselves. Rather there is a communitarian dimension to our salvation, and we help or hinder others by the way we live. This is not only by the power of our example, but is also true because of the mystical union that our Lord has set up in His Church, His Mystical Body. It is He who has wished to gather us together in this way, and have us depend on one another so that we might not think that we can achieve everything by ourselves alone. As St. Paul says in his letter cited in the above quote, though we are many and distinct, we are members of tone and the same Body of Christ.

This thought is echoed in another document:

… the support of the community represents a great help to the lay person in the world. This is why the Council reminds the faithful that man is by nature a social being and that it has pleased God to gather together into one people and into one body those who believe in Christ. It is therefore a matter both of human and of Christian necessity to give witness to the faith and to undertake apostolic activities in collaboration and union (cf. A.A., 18).17

There are times when this thought recurs in this and other documents. 18

Also a group apostolate can do things that an individual alone could not do. For example, certain works of apostolate, by their very nature, require concerted action. As Vatican II said, “Organizations created for the group apostolate afford support to their members, train them for the apostolate, carefully assign and direct their apostolic activities; and as a result a much richer harvest can be hoped for from them than if each one were to act on his own.”19

Training, which often only a group can provide, is indispensable. Some types of apostolate, in fact, require a specific and individual training.20 This training must be all-encompassing, according to the Council.

Besides spiritual formation, solid grounding in doctrine is required: in theology, ethics and philosophy, at least, proportioned to the age, condittion and abilities of each one. The importance too of a general culture linked with a practical and technical training is something which should by no means be overlooked.21

In addition to the training supplied by group apostolates, however, one cannot ignore the obligation that each individual has to take responsibility for his own self-formation.

As there are various fields of apostolate in which one can engage, so also there are specific methods of training which correspond to these fields. In Familiaris Consortio, for example, Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation in response to the bishop’s synod on the family, commented on those who will be working with married couples recognizing “. . . the importance of the proper preparation of all those who will be more specifically engaged in this kind of apostolate.22

The ministry of married couples to one another is very important, and is a classic example of an apostolate of like towards like which will be developed later. The Holy Father recognizes this, again in Familiaris Consortio, “But it is especially necessary to recognize the unique place that, in this field, belongs to the mission of married couples and Christian families, by virtue of the grace received in the sacrament.”23

Continuing on with the theme of the grace of apostleship that is conferred in the sacrament of Matrimony, His Holiness writes,

For it is He who, by virtue of the fact that marriage of baptized persons has been raised to a sacrament, confers upon Christian married couples a special mission as apostles, sending them as workers into His vineyard, and, in a very special way, into this field of the family.24

The Holy Father sees this mission to the family as a true work of mercy, especially in our age when the family is besieged by so many trials. He continues:

The modern Christian family is often tempted to be discouraged and is distressed at the growth of its difficulties; it is an eminent form of love to give it back its reasons for confidence in itself, in the riches that it possesses by nature and grace, and in the mission that God has entrusted to it.25

In the present times, this outreach to the family takes on an added significance. Given the obstacles that families today must face, a Christian is called to help families avoid the temptation of despair, and realize what they are and what their sublime vocation is. From Familiaris Consortio, we read again:

Christians also have the mission of proclaiming with joy and conviction the Good News about the family, for the family absolutely needs to hear ever anew and to understand ever more deeply the authentic words that reveal its identity, its inner resources and the importance of its mission in the City of God and in that of man. 26

As he receives training and preparation, the Christian layman must not lose sight of the end for which he is preparing. In the welter of pressures that the modern world presents to the layman trying to follow Christ, the lay apostle must always remember that before he can be a useful and worthy instrument of Christ, he must possess Christ himself. He must be holy before he can help others to become holy. No matter how hard he is working, he may never lose sight of this basic principle.

Another reason that the lay apostolate is and should be increasingly stressed is that experience has shown that priests and nuns cannot reach into every environment, and that people in general prefer to be evangelized by their peers. This is customarily called the apostolate of like towards like. For example, one college student would try to tell those in his environment about the message of Christ by the way he lives and what he says. And of course as we just saw, one family is in an excellent position to evangelize another family. As Vatican II said:

The apostolate in one’s social environment endeavors to infuse the Christian spirit into the mentality and behavior, laws and structures of the community in which one lives.27

We can see here that the Council Fathers are encouraging the laity to take advantage of all of the opportunities that they have of giving witness to their faith by the daily contact that they have with their co-workers, friends, and acquaintances. Surely they are able to have more of an impact on these persons with whom they regularly deal, than a priest who may not be able to reach them at all, or who will probably have at best, just some superficial encounters with them. The laity are exhorted to use every opportunity that presents itself, including an apostolate where they live, among their neighbors


The actual works of the apostolate that the laity will realize will vary. Of course many will apply themselves to what we could call the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. One of the most important of these that the Church has repeatedly stressed is that of education. Vatican II dedicated an entire document on Catholic education, called Gravissimum Educationis. Here the fathers of the Council point out the tremendous responsibility that parents have in this regard.

As it is the parents who have given life to their children, on them lies the gravest obligation of educating their family. They must therefore be recognized as being primarily and principally responsible for their education. The role of parents in education is of such importance that it is almost impossible to provide an adequate substitute. It is therefore the duty of parents to create a family atmosphere inspired by love and devotion to God and their fellow-men which will promote an integrated, personal and social education of their children.28

The same document speaks of the need and importance of Catholic schools and praises teachers who conscientiously fulfill their work as a vocation.

Splendid, therefore, and of the highest importance is the vocation of those who help parents in carrying out their duties and act in the name of the community by undertaking a teaching career. This vocation requires special qualities of mind and heart, most careful preparation and a constant readiness to accept new ideas and to adapt the old.29

The Council also declared in this document that “the services of teachers constitute an active apostolate, one which is admirably suited to our times and indeed is very necessary.”30

In another document dedicated to the witness of lay Catholics in schools, the Vatican also praised the lay apostolate of teaching.31

Other lay people will dedicate themselves to evangelization and sanctification. For example, they could serve as lay missionaries, or even spiritual guides. But the work of apostolate which more than any other belongs to the laity and is, in a sense, its private domain, is the Christian renewal of the temporal order. This work is specific to them. This, of course, is because they live in the world; the secular order is their monastery. Also, many facets of society are proper only to the laity, for example, politics, business, and to a lesser extent, the media, medicine, labor, etc.32 This would include putting the Church’s social teachings into effect.

As Vatican II said in Apostolicam Actuositatem:

Moreover, cooperating as citizens of this world in all that has to do with the constructing and conducting of the temporal order, the laity should, by the light of faith, try to find the higher motives that should govern their behavior in the home and in professional, cultural and social life; they should too, given the opportunity, let these motives be seen by others, conscious that by so doing they become cooperators with God the creator, redeemer and sanctifier, and give him glory.33

Some lay movements have a definite vision of what they want to achieve; a clear agenda of what they want to attain, and often, in addition to these well-defined goals, they have very specific means to reach them. As was recently reported in a Catholic periodical:

Lay members of the movements are encouraged to act as Catholics not just in an ecclesial setting, but in the world of business, of politics, of education or of the mass media – in an attempt to create the beginnings of a distinctively new Catholic culture.34

As Vatican II says, the laity themselves are transformed by the living Word of Jesus Christ. After letting the Gospel message penetrate to the core of their being, they must bring the Christian principles that they have learned to bear upon the environment in which they live. Thus, they apply the Christian spirit to all of the events, circumstances, and people in their lives; everything that they encounter. In this way, all of the facets of society would be imbued with the teachings of Christ. “And so, worshipping everywhere by their holy actions, the laity consecrate the world itself to God.”” It is part of the role of the laity to help establish the kingdom of Christ, as is made clear when the Holy Father quotes from the preface of the Mass of the Feast of Christ the King while addressing the laity.

For the Lord wishes to spread His kingdom by means of the laity also, a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of hoiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace.36

As regards the apostolate directed towards the family, priests also have a certain duty towards it. By helping out the family, in fact, they are themselves helped in their own vocation. They should also receive a special preparation for this.

Their responsibility extends not only to moral and liturgical matters but to personal and social matters as well. They must support the family in its difficulties and sufferings, caring for its members and helping them to see their lives in the light of the Gospel. It is not superfluous to note that from this mission, if it is exercised with due discernment and with a truly apostolic spirit, the minister of the church draws fresh encouragement and spiritual energy for his own vocation too and for the exercise of his ministry.

Priests and deacons, when they have received timely and serious prep­aration for this apostolate, must unceasingly act towards families as fathers, brothers, pastors and teachers, assisting them with the means of grace and enlightening them with the light of truth.37


Since Christ has set up His Church with certain men in a position of authority, there is a certain relation which exists between the lay apostolate and the hierarchy. There are certain duties which the laity have towards the bishop just as there are certain duties which the bishops have towards the laity. For example, ” . . . all the bishops have the obligation … of promoting all that type of active apostolate which is common to the whole Church, especially in order that the faith may increase and the light of truth may rise in its fullness on all men.”38 It is also up to the bishops to judge the apostolate and to see what is good and to hold on to it. And when it comes to the renewal of the temporal order, they are the ones who are to set forth the principles to be followed. The hierarchy should cooperate with the lay apostolates and help coordinate their activities. Again in the words of the Council, “The hierarchy’s duty is to favor the lay apostolate, furnish it with principles and spiritual assistance, direct the exercise of the apostolate to the common good of the Church, and see to it that doctrine and order are safeguarded.”39

Yet the Council itself goes on to explain that the specific relation that a lay apostolate can have with the hierarchy can be one of three kinds, depending on the various forms and objects of this apostolate.

First of all, there is the kind that is the most independent. This is made up of apostolic enterprises which owe

their origin to the free choice of the laity and run at their own discretion. Such enterprises enable the Church, in certain circumstances, to fulfill her mission more effectively; not seldom, therefore, are they praised and commended by the hierarchy. But no enterprise must lay claim to the name `Catholic’ if it has not the approval of legitimate ecclesiastical authority.40

An example of this would be the Apostolate for Family Consecration which we shall examine in chapter VI.

Vatican II repeatedly recognized the laity’s right to establish and direct associations and to join existing ones.

In addition to the kind of apostolate set up by the laity to address a certain need that they perceive, and which enjoys a large degree of independence, there is a second legitimate form which has closer ties to the hierarchy. It is an organization which is started by the laity and which receives a mandate from the hierarchy. Here the organization is officially responsible to the hierarchy, as opposed to the first category which was merely approved by the hierarchy.

Finally, the third type is one where

the hierarchy entrusts the laity with certain charges more closely connected with the duties of pastors: in the teaching of Christian doctrine, for example, in certain liturgical actions, in the care of souls. In virtue of this mission the laity are fully subject to superior ecclesiastical control in regard to the exercise of these charges.41

This is basically synonymous with what was known as “Catholic Action” in the past, but is now practically extinct.

   In our century, Church authorities have also encouraged a more diverse and broadly-based phenomenon that merits being called the first of the “lay movements” in the modern Church: Catholic Action. This provided a new kind of lay apostolate in the parishes, led by the clergy, its purpose being to awaken and involve the laity in the spiritual work of the church. The council describes Catholic Action as “a collaboration of the laity in the hierarchical apostolate” (Apostolicam Actuositatem, no. 20). For Catholic Action, the distinction between Church and world is very clear, and its own sphere is definitely that of the Church: Its influence on the temporal order remains indirect.42

In fact, in recent times, almost any lay apostolate that has been started by the hierarchy – though many may not want to admit it because it is embarrassing – has failed. This phenomenon seems to prove the Catholic doctrine of subsidiarity, since those organizations which have most been left to themselves as regards their day-to-day operations have been the ones which have flourished the most, if at the same time they have remained faithful to the Church’s doctrine and discipline, and have been approved by the Church, and at least reported to the hierarchy on their activities.

This distinction between the various possible relations that can exist between the hierarchy and lay apostolates has now been codified in the 1983 Code of Canon Law. Although it would be interesting to examine the new provisions of Canon Law as regards the laity more in depth, the scope of this present work does not permit it. For our purposes it will suffice to refer the reader to Book II of Canon Law, “The People of God”, Part I “The Christian Faithful” (also translated as Christ’s Faithful – “christifidelis” in Latin), Title V, “Associations of the Christian Faithful”. As canon 301,3 points out, “Associations of the Christian faithful which are erected by competent ecclesiastical authority are called public associations.”43 This would cover the category which is most directly under the control of the hierarchy. There does not appear to be a separate allowance in canon law for the intermediate category. This entire Title V is enlightening, but the chapter which corresponds to the category of apostolates which have the most freedom, is Chapter III, “Private Associations of the Christian Faithful”, which is made up of canons 321-326. Basically these private associations can be set up by the Christian faithful whenever they perceive a need in the Church which should be addressed. They have a good deal of freedom, and can be run completely by lay people. They have almost complete autonomy, and must only follow their statutes. They need to seek a bishop who will be their official liaison with the Church, but in their daily operations he will not generally intervene. Normally he will only intervene if they are deviating in their doctrine or discipline. In fact, Canon Law stipulates three reasons which could be grounds for suppression of a private association of Christ’s faithful: serious harm to ecclesiastical doctrine or discipline or scandal to the faithful.44

Both in the Council documents and in Canon Law, the Church urges us to especially support those apostolates which the magisterium recommends and praises.

Another relation that we should examine is the relation between the lay apostolate and the priest.45

The laity must remember that even though they play an indispensable role, it is also one that has its limits. While it is true that, as members of the Mystical Body of Christ, they share in His priesthood, their priesthood differs from the ministerial priesthood in essence and not only in degree. Therefore, for example, they cannot confect the sacraments, to mention one practical consequence of this. But also, priests must recognize the role of the laity, and work with them as brothers. As Vatican II said

The pastors, indeed, know well how much the laity contribute to the welfare of the whole Church. For they know that they themselves were not established by Christ to undertake alone the whole salvific mission of the Church to the world, but that it is their exalted office so to be shepherds of the faithful and also recognize the latter’s contribution and charisms that everyone in his own way will, with one mind, cooperate in the common task.46

Going beyond mere cooperation, the Council provides for some priests to be assigned to work directly with certain lay apostolates. They are called chaplains or “ecclesiastical advisors”, and should be priests who have

the ability and appropriate training for helping special forms of the lay apostolate. Those who take part in this ministry in virtue of a mission received from the hierarchy represent the hierarchy in this pastoral action of theirs. Ever faithfully attached to the spirit and teaching of the church they will promote good relations between laity and hierarchy, they will devote their energies to fostering the spiritual life and the apostolic sense of the Catholic associations confided to them; their wise advice will be there to help these along in their apostolic labors; their encouragement will be given to their enterprises. In constant dialogue with the laity they will make painstaking search for methods capable of making apostolic action more fruitful; they will develop the spirit of unity within the association, and between it and others.47

One expert on the new Code of Canon Law, commenting on the laity in the new Code, saw that progress for the laity in the Church consists in a better understanding of the correct role of the laity. A confusion of roles, or a
clericalizing of the laity would not help in this. It is not a compliment to the
laity to tell them that the best way that they can fulfill their vocation to be lay
people is to assume as much as possible roles traditionally held by clerics.
Since Vatican II, there appears to have been a confusion of roles of the
priest and the layman. Though the directives to both of them were clear, it almost seems that there was a cross of communication lines, since many priests and religious assumed many endeavors in the world that were proper to the laity, in politics, social justice, etc., while many lay people thought that they could best fulfill their vocation by being in the sanctuary. It may very well be at the upcoming synod on the laity that we will see a clarification of the role and identity of the priest. Though this may appear paradoxical, it is really by more properly understanding the one that we better understand the other. For the laity to realize to the fullest the part that they are called to play in the Mystical Body of Christ, they should do what is proper to them as best as they can.

But as it touches on the laity, is that to be limited to the capacity to fulfill a series of new Church functions? I don’t think we have laid hold of the spirit of Vatican II, nor of the Code of Canon Law itself, regarding the laity if we simply see them as a group within the People of God from whom we may now draw more ministers or holders of ecclesiastical office. This may represent a certain progress for the laity, but only progress in sharing in certain functions and not even functions dependent upon their status as laity, as dealt with in the Council. Is it the deepest recognition of a layman’s rights to say that he may now do things formerly reserved to the clergy? Let us recall that Vatican Council II’s definition of the laity was of a portion of the People of God with a particular, necessary mission to be carried out, which is not open to another part of the same People.48

The laity share in the priesthood of Christ since they become part of His Mystical Body, as Canon Law says.

Christ’s faithful are those who, since they are incorporated into Christ through baptism, are constituted the people of God. For this reason they participate in their own way in the priestly, prophetic and kingly office of Christ. They are called, each according to his or her particular condition, to exercise the mission which God entrusted to the Church to fulfill in the world.49

Canon Law also recognizes a certain equality among all the members of the Mystical Body of Christ, because of their common Baptism. “Flowing from their rebirth in Christ, there is a genuine equality of dignity and action among all Christ’s faithful. Because of this equality they all contribute, each according to his or her own condition and office, to the building up of the body of Christ.”50

Stemming also from their common Baptism into the one Body of Christ, is the fact that the laity are capable of being admitted into ecclesial ministries. This was determined in Pope Paul VI’s Apostolic Letter, Ministeria Quaedam, issued in 1972. These would of course be non-ordained ministries. Yet the Code of Canon Law does not say that the laity have a right to ecclesial ministries, but only that they are “capable of being admitted by the sacred Pastors to those ecclesiastical offices and functions which, in accordance with the provisions of the law, they can discharge.”51 Clerics, on the other hand, “have the right and duty to exercise ministry of word and sacrament, but the laity have a capacity to be called to ministry.”52 Not every apostolate performed by the laity qualifies to be called a ministry, ofcourse, since there are many things that they can do by virtue of the common priesthood. The term “ministry” would apply to those activities which would result from receiving a canonical mission or mandate from the hierarchy.53

As stated earlier, it is no step forward for the laity to say that they are achieving their highest place by clericalizing them, but rather to recognize what is proper to their vocation.

… we do not really satisfy the implementation of the rights and duties of the laity fully by merely extending to them certain ecclesiastical offices or functions, but principally by respecting and fostering the actions and functions proper to them as laity. Vatican II opened up whole areas of the apostolate and ways to sanctity basically meant for lay people, which are not the usual way for clerics or those in consecrated life, even when these latter are often laity.54

The laity should bring Christian principles to bear on everything that they are involved in in the temporal sphere, but should not pretend to represent the official Church when siding with a certain idea in matters of opinion. Thus if there were a certain controversy going on, they could enter the fray only as private members of the Church, and not speak definitively for it. This would apply to the concrete ways of putting various principles of social justice into effect in the political are, for example.

To lay members of Christ’s faithful belongs the right to have acknowledged as theirs that freedom in secular affairs which is common to all citizens. In using this freedom, however, they are to ensure that their actions are permeated with the spirit of the Gospel, and they are to heed the teaching of the Church proposed by the Magisterium, but they must be on guard, in questions of opinion, against proposing their own view as the teaching of the Church.55

A good example of this would be for those lay Catholics involved in the medical industry to abide by the principles enumerated in the recent document issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith entitled “Instruction on Respect for Human Life in Its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation”.

Another relationship with the Church that we should consider is the relation between a priest and a lay association. Working with a lay association offers a priest many special opportunities to exercise his priestly ministry, but also entails certain possible dangers. While making the most of the advantages to spread the faith, he must be careful to avoid losing his own priestly identity. His specific vocation will ask him to balance the two in his life.

The particular framework of each association offers him invaluable opportunities for carrying out his mission. His closeness to the community which has been entrusted to him, and to its social milieu and its aims, must facilitate the communication of the faith. And this remains true even if his sense of solidarity with the other members of the association threatens to blur the specific nature of his ministry. In order to avoid this risk, the ecclesiastical assistant has to shoulder the tension brought about by his twin concern of fidelity to his priestly identity and identification with the community, and find the unity between the two.56

While trying to identify himself with those with whom he works in order to enhance his ministry, he must never forget that he is always, first and foremost and essentially a priest of Christ.

“In the organizations and associations which you serve, – make no mistake about it! – the Church wishes you to be priests, and the lay people that you meet in them wish you to be priests and nothing but priests. Confusion of charisms impoverishes the Church; it does not enrich it in any way.” (John Paul II, Address to the ecclesiastical assistants of International Catholic Associations, 13th Dec. 1979)57

As stated previously, although the priest shares in the same priesthood of

Jesus Christ as do the faithful to whom he ministers, by virtue of the common Baptism that they have all received, his priesthood differs not only in degree, by in its very essence by virtue of his participation in the sacramental priesthood of Jesus Christ the Highpriest.58 In this way, his mission is irreplaceable.

… Christ himself lifts the priest’s service on to a higher level, according him in this way a quality which distinguishes his service from the private priesthood common to all Christians: the priest is officially empowered to accomplish, by his words and his actions, salvation in Jesus Christ. This is the true content of the specific power of the priest in the public life of the Church: To the man who is ready to interpret the priestly mission in faith and to accept it, there comes, in his time and where he is, what the most daring imagination would not have risked conceiving: the believer encounters the Father’s love in salvific word and effective sign – that is, he encounters that love which is personified in Christ. It is this fact which makes the priest irreplaceable. And it is comprehensible that there exist on earth “places where men anxiously await a priest or, after some years, they feel his absence and never stop wishing for his coming” (John Paul II, Letter to Priests, 10)59

Yet, the priest must always bear in mind that, though he has received such a sublime calling, it is not because of any merit of his own. He himself did not choose, but rather has been chosen; and he has been chosen so that he will spend himself in a life of service to the other members of the Mystical Body. The specific power of a minister should not be considered as a reward or as a personal distinction. By his ordination, the one who is called and sent is not nor does he become a better Christian than others – even bearing in mind the fact that “acting on behalf of Christ” demands from him a personal commitment; Saint Paul too had the feeling of being affected by a “necessity laid upon (him)” from which he neither could nor should withdraw (cf. I Cor. 9, 16).60

Though he ministers to the laity, and is dedicating his time and energy to them, he does not receive his power from them, nor is he elected by them to preside over them. Instead it is the sacrament of ordination of Christ Himself that confers this power.

…. He does not receive the power of the hands from those whom he is to serve…. neither delegation nor election confer his ministry upon him, but the Sacrament of Orders alone. No group within the Church, nor any ecclesiastical authority, can of themselves be the origin of priestly mission. It is Christ himself who must be present in the word and gesture of a priest, and so it is also he who must be responsible for this mission.61

The apostolate of these priests within lay associations is principally spiritual. As the laity are the leaven in the society in which they live, so the priest is a kind of spiritual leaven within the lay association, trying to sanctify its members so that they will be more effective in their apostolate.

The ecclesiastical assistant is to learn then the art of spiritual direction, that “most subtle art” (John Paul II), to the extent that he himself is committed to the way of sanctity and sets himself to penetrate the mystery of God the Trinity and live according to Holy Scripture. He must be a man of prayer, for prayer is the first condition of conversion, personal fulfillment, spiritual progress and sanctity. As a man of prayer, he also makes visible to other Christians ” the vocation to sanctity” to which everybody is called and in particular the members of a community.62

In addition to this strictly spiritual aspect, an ecclesiastical assistant ought to possess certain human qualities in order to correctly discharge his duties within a lay association. He should not think that he is superior to the laity with whom he will be working, plus he should be identified with the specific mission of the association with whom he is working.

[The ecclesiastical assistant must] be capable of fitting in, as a priest, to the association; of collaborating, with respect and fidelity, with the lay people in charge; of understanding the objectives, programmes and educational strategy of the association as situated in the context of the Church’s mission; of bringing with him, on the pastoral level, a particular care for the social milieu in which the association acts.63

Narrowing the range of souls that one will work with has distinct advantages, but it also brings with it some possible dangers. When one specializes, so to speak, in any field, he is able to concentrate his attention more on what he is doing, and hopefully he will become very proficient at what he does. But if an individual is not careful, he can lose proficiency in those areas that he is not regularly involved in, and he can begin to mistake the part that he is doing for the whole of his field.

[An ecclesiastical assistant has] … the possibility of dedicating oneself to a precise age-group, a typical social context or a definite pastoral goal. For this reason, and also because he is much closer than other members of the community, he can identify himself more easily with those with whom he exercises his priestly ministry.

This closeness and this identification constitute an opportunity but also a problem. On the one hand, they increase the ecclesiastical assistant’s capacity for witness, and this witness is certainly the most important basis for the proclamation of the Gospel. And they free him from limitations which can arise out of his official position and which often cause obstacles to pastoral involvement. On the other hand, this closeness makes the assistant more vulnerable, since the “structures” may equally represent a protection against excessive absorption by the milieu. And the fact of always being within the same intellectual horizon may, through lack of discernment, habit or solidarity with the situation, lead the assistant to consider, erroneously, the social, cultural and political options peculiar to it as belonging to the truths of the Faith, and thence to absolutize them instead of seeing them as no more than a context shaping his pastoral and spiritual orientations.64

Other possible difficulties, challenges, and advantages of a priest working with a lay apostolate are discussed in several documents issued in recent years from the Vatican.65


In attempting to address itself to the historical and political situation

         described above, Vatican Council II reaffirmed traditional Church teaching that  all followers of Christ are called to holiness. “Strengthened by so many and such great means of salvation, all the faithful, whatever their condition or state – though each in his own way – are called by the Lord to that perfection of sanctity by which the Father himself is perfect.”66 Twenty years later, the Extraordinary Synod that met to evaluate the fruits of the Council had this to say when it examined the topic of the universal call to holiness, especially in regards to the laity:

The call to holiness is an invitation to an intimate conversion of heart and to participation in the life of God, One and Triune; and this signifies and surpasses the realization of man’s every desire. In our day above all, when so many people feel an interior void and spiritual crisis, the Church must preserve and energetically promote the sense of penance, prayer, adoration, sacrifice, self-giving, charity and justice. Men and women saints have always been fonts and origins of renewal in the most difficult circumstances throughout the Church’s history. Today we have tremendous need of saints, for whom we must assiduously implore God       The apostolic movements and the new movements of spirituality are the bearers of great hope, if they properly remain in ecclesial communion. All the laity must perform their role in the Church in their daily occupations such as the family, the workplace, secular activities, and leisure time so as to permeate and transform the world with the light and life of Christ. Popular devotion, rightly understood and practiced, is very useful in nourishing the holiness of the people. It therefore merits greater attention on the part of pastors. The Blessed Virgin Mary, who is our Mother in the order of grace is an example for all Christians of holiness and of total response to God’s call.67

Later on in the document quoted earlier, Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, the Council Fathers go on to stress that although there is diversity in the Church, there is a common dignity among all its members, and no inequality. It maintained, however, that even though all are called to sanctity, they are called in different ways. The idea of the universal call to holiness was repeated and especially developed in Chapter 5 of this document which was dedicated to this concept.68

The laity will sanctify themselves primarily through their daily duty. They do not have to attempt to live a monastic life, or try to become like religious. (They will not attain holiness this way any more than priests or nuns will attain it by trying to live like lay people. Each member of the Mystical Body of Christ has his proper role to play. Only be living our vocation – God’s plan over our life – will we best achieve sanctity.) Through their job, and the circumstances, events, and people lovingly placed in their lives by God, the laity, if they accept and live God’s will for them, have all the ingredients they need to attain sanctity. Or, they may also freely reject His will, and receive the consequences of their free-will actions.

For a whole theology of work and its importance in the sanctification of man, we refer the reader to the encyclical Laborem Exercens. It is by sanctifying what one does in one’s work and leisure time too that one will become holy. Indeed, speaking of what one does in one’s leisure time, art and all of culture should be Christianized as part of the Christian renewal of the temporal order.

Their state in life will also play a key role, obviously, in the living of their vocation. If they are married, then their spouse and family will enter into their daily duty in a substantial way; if they are celibate, then there will be other considerations. For married couples, Vatican II says that they “… should support one another in grace all through life with faithful love, and should train their children (lovingly received from God) in Christian doctrine and evangelical virtues.”69 Then, after discussing how people in different states of life and different circumstances should live, the Council goes on to say:

Accordingly all Christians, in the conditions, duties and circumstances of their life and through all these, will sanctify themselves more and more if they receive all things with faith from the hand of the heavenly Father and cooperate with the divine will, thus showing forth in that temporal service the love with which God has loved the world.70

We could call this attention to the circumstances of one’s life and to the events that happen and the people that enter into it a spirituality of the grace of the present moment. This has been especially developed by Fr. Jean-Pierre Caussade, S.J. in a book called Abandonment to Divine Providence. Another way of referring to this would be to use the Latin dictum “Age quod agis”, do what you are doing, or supposed to be doing at any given moment. Of course we would add that one should not only accomplish one’s duty, but accomplish it for the right motive which should be out of pure love for Jesus Christ. To attain such purity of intention in one’s actions will undoubtedly require repeated acts of the will.

An essential part of the concept of daily duty for lay people will be secularity, that is, living in the world. They will not withdraw from the world as would be proper to religious, but rather by living in it will be the ones responsible for bringing the message of Christ to elements of the world which would not otherwise receive it.

Their place, in fact, is “in the midst of the world”.

In their political and economic activities, they have to come to decisions which bring the spirit of the Gospel into the public and private domain…. they find themselves at the point where the demands of the Gospel touch upon the autonomy of the world.71

Far from being a hindrance to holiness, it is precisely by living in the world that the laity are to sanctify it and sanctify themselves; their daily activities and responsibilities will be the nuts and bolts which will make up their sanctity.

But by reason of their special vocation it belongs to the laity to seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and directing them according to God’s will. They live in the world, that is, they are engaged in each and every work and business of the earth and in the ordinary circumstances of social and family life which, as it were, constitute their very existence. There they are called by God that, being led by the spirit of the Gospel, they may contribute to the sanctification of the world, as from within like leaven . . . .72

Still, they must be careful that though they are in the world, they do not become “of the world” in the bad sense. They are to go out and convert the world, and not be converted by it. In order to avoid being swallowed up by the world, they must endeavor to maintain that which is essential to a follower of Christ.

… he [the layman] must not lose his Christian identity amidst the conflict of the tensions surrounding him. How can he be an instrument of salvation if he himself becomes blind to the salvation which comes from God? He will be reduced to that teetering on the brink which others have at the centre of their lives. “If salt has lost its taste …”(Mt. 5, 13)73

Later, in another Council document, Apostolicam Actuositatem, the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, the Council, when it addresses what the spirituality of lay people should be like, goes on to point out that fruitfulness in the apostolate depends on one’s union with Christ, and that the means to achieve this are especially through active participation in the liturgy, frequent reception of the sacraments, cultivation of eucharistic piety74, the practice of the virtues, and meditation on Scripture. It also reiterates its stress on the accomplishment of one’s daily duty, and points out that family cares should be incorporated into the spirituality of lay people.

In and through the events, problems, difficulties and circumstances of everyday life, God comes to them, revealing and presenting the concrete “demands” of their sharing in the love of Christ for His Church in the particular family, social and ecclesial situation in which they find themselves.76

In fact, it goes on to say that no temporal concern should be foreign to their spirituality, a theme to which we shall return later.77

Our Lord, Jesus, of course, plays a pre-eminent role in the life of a lay apostle. He is the efficient cause of our sanctity, because we get all of our grace from Him; He is the exemplary cause as well, because He is the model that we imitate; He is also the final cause, because it is to Him that we are tending; and finally He is the formal cause because He is the form of our sanctity, since we are incorporated into Him, and live His very life through grace.78

So also must Mary and Joseph occupy an important place in the life of a layman. As Vatican II points out, the

Perfect model of this apostolic spiritual life is the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Apostles. While on earth her life was like that of any other, filled with labors and the cares of the home; always, however, she remained intimately united to her Son and cooperated in an entirely unique way in the Saviour’s work. And now, assumed into heaven, “her motherly love keeps her attentive to her Son’s brothers, still on pilgrimage amid the dangers and difficulties of life, until they arrive at the happiness of the fatherland.” Everyone should have a genuine devotion to her and entrust his life to her motherly care.79

This is especially directed to lay apostles. She is the mother of the Church, and was with the Church, in its midst praying, as it was born on Pentecost. She is the model of all virtues for Christians, including that of apostolic zeal, or bringing Christ to others, as she did right after the Annunciation when she went in haste to visit her cousin Elizabeth.

Since the role of Christ and Mary in the lives of all Christians is well-developed in other works, and widely known by most apostles, more time will be spent now on the role of St. Joseph in the life of a lay apostle, something which is too often neglected. The following quotes are from a work that has theologically developed the place that St. Joseph should occupy in the life of a lay apostle:

One idea which seems to stand out particularly in the person of St. Joseph is that of the dignity of the layman. We are not surprised to learn that Mary, who was Jesus’ mother, is nearest to him in her sharing in his fullness. But it should leave us quite breathless to recall that it is at least a pious belief that next after her – before the apostles, popes, bishops and saints and dignitaries of every kind – comes St. Joseph.

St. Joseph filled a big place in Jesus’ life. He must be given a place in ours also. We must love and revere him. We must draw confidence from the fact that he reached his amazing level of holiness without many of Mary’s unique privileges: he lived well by virtually the same graces that are offered to us. And he must be allowed to lead us to Jesus. For if we really admit how much Jesus lived in Joseph it will be less difficult for us to see him in our fellow-men and to admit that he can live in us also.

St. Joseph’s special right to a place in our devotions follows on the almost certain truth that, unlike Mary, he was not conceived immaculate. He is, therefore, a quite unique example of a man who, with nothing more than the graces offered to all men, found himself associated in closest intimacy with God Incarnate and lived that intimacy worthily.

St. Joseph is the archetype of the weak who prove strong.80

It is indeed fitting to say that those who should especially be the patrons of the layman and serve as guides in his spirituality should be none other than Jesus, Mary and Joseph themselves, the Holy Family, since the layman is usually a family man too. They give an example of perfect family life, of how a husband and father, a wife and mother, or a child should live, just as much as they show us how us how those living consecrated virginity should live.

When Pope John Paul II addressed himself to the topic of the family following the synod on the family in his Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio, he spoke of the sublime mission that families are called to.

This apostolic mission of the family is rooted in Baptism and receives from the grace of the sacrament of marriage new strength to transmit the faith, to sanctify and transform our present society according to God’s plan.81

An image rich in meaning for the family to meditate on is the image of the “domestic church”, as Vatican II called it. Based on the doctrine of St. Paul (Eph. 5:22-33), the family is an image of the Church; a husband should love his wife as Christ loves the Church. The domestic church is the first community into which every person is born. It is here where, hopefully, the children first learn their prayers and eventually come to love God. Even in those areas where, because of persecution or for other reasons, the faith can not be learned in schools, “`the Church of the home’ remains the one place where children and young people can receive an authentic catechesis.82 In fact, John Paul II sees the family as so important in the handing on of the faith and all that is good that he repeatedly states that, “The future of the world and of the Church passes through the family.”83

To such a degree does married and family life make up a part of the daily duty of married couples that we may speak of a spirituality proper to them:

Christian spouses and parents are included in the universal call to sanctity. For them this call is specified by the sacrament they have celebrated and is carried out concretely in the realities proper to their conjugal and family life. This gives rise to the grace and requirement of an authentic and profound conjugal and family spirituality that draws its inspiration from the themes of creation, covenant, cross, resurrection, and sign ….84

To achieve this sanctity to which they are called, the Christian family will, of course, have frequent recourse to prayer, since it is common to all spiritualities. Still, the form and style that the prayer will take will often be tailored to the circumstances of their life. They are to see all the events that they pass through as signposts of God’s personal love for them.

Family prayer has for its very own object family life itself, which in all its varying circumstances is seen as a call from God and lived as a filial response to His call. Joys and sorrows, hopes and disappointments, births and birthday celebrations, wedding anniversaries of the parents, departures, separations and homecomings, important and far-reaching decisions, the death of those who are dear, etc. – all of these mark God’s loving intervention in the family’s history. They should be seen as suitable moments for thanksgiving, for petition, for trusting abandonment of the family into the hands of their common Father in heaven. The dignity and responsibility of the Christian family as the domestic Church can be achieved only with God’s unceasing aid, which will surely be granted if it is humbly and trustingly petitioned in prayer.85

The children will learn this prayer only if they are taught it. The parents, as the first educators of their children, are the ideal ones to do this. Parents are in a unique position to make an impression on their children which will be deep and lasting, since they are the first to come in contact with them and normally have their children almost exclusively under their care until they reach school age.

By reason of their dignity and mission, Christian parents have the specific responsibility of educating their children in prayer, introducing them to gradual discovery of the mystery of God and to personal dialogue with Him: “It is particularly in the Christian family, enriched by the grace and the office of the sacrament of Matrimony, that from the earliest years children should be taught, according to the faith received in Baptism, to have a knowledge of God, to worship Him and to love their neighbor.” [Gravissimum Educationis, no. 3]

The concrete example and living witness of parents is fundamental and irreplaceable in educating their children to pray. Only by praying together with their children can a father and mother – exercising their royal priesthood – penetrate the innermost depths of their children’s hearts and leave an impression that the future events in their lives will not be able to efface.86

In taking up the theme of marriage and the family in the second part of Gaudium et Spes, the fathers of the Second Vatican Council spoke of the holiness of marriage and among other things, praised the parents of large families. “Among the married couples who thus fulfill their God-given mission, special mention should be made of those who after prudent reflection and common decision courageously undertake the proper upbringing of a large number of children.”87

One last consideration will be the part that prayer will have in the life of the lay apostle. Though treated last, this is by no means because it is unimportant. On the contrary, it is absolutely essential to the spiritual and apostolic life since only with a strong life of prayer shall we be able to maintain our union with Christ, the Vine, and thus bear fruit. ” . . . prayer constitutes an essential part of Christian life, understood in its fullness and centrality. “88

As mentioned earlier, prayer is common to all spiritualities. Indeed, even to speak of a specific spirituality is to imply that there are certain principles which would universally apply to all spiritualities. These would be the perennial ascetico-mystical principles of prayer and penance lived by the early Christians and given more form in the monastic setting. What would make them specific would be their particular application to one’s circumstances of life. For example, a layman may not have the strict, regulated schedule of a monk, and yet he will have some timetable to follow in which he must make time for prayer.

Some prayer will be conventional formulas said meaningfully. Sometimes the prayer will be formal and planned, other times not, but either way, some mental prayer is needed. The practice of having a fixed time for mental prayer gradually grew up in the history of the Church, especially with St. Ignatius of Loyola. Later St. Francis de Sales encouraged this for laity. As society has become more secular, fixed times for mental prayer have become almost necessary. Some prayer will certainly be liturgical prayer, principally the Mass. Extra-liturgical prayer, of course, also has its place, for example in small groups – though this may not be for all – especially the family. The kind of prayer will, in part, depend on the individual’s disposition, the progress he has made in the spiritual life, and the circumstances in which he finds himself.

Prayer, like conversation, can be formal. It may be formal in the sense of being structured, of following a pre-determined plan. Formality of this kind tends to diminish as intimacy with God grows. One speaks to God or remains lovingly silent in his presence as the grace of the moment inspires. Some pre-determined introductory prayers and a topic with which to begin the conversation with God will almost always be found helpful. It would, in fact, be quite presumptuous to enter into lengthy conversation with him without any thought of how to conduct it.

Prayer may also be formal in the sense of having a fixed time appointed for it.89


Now we will briefly examine some of the lay apostolates that actually exist in the world today. We will not be considering groups of oblates who are cooperators of monastic groups; nor third orders, which are really members of religious orders; nor shall we examine sodalities, which are the apostolates of some religious orders. We shall not look at secular institutes either, though they are for lay people, since these are geared to the living of the religious life in the world. Indeed, our criteria for selection for consideration are narrow, and may even appear slightly arbitrary. We are choosing for consideration, those groups of lay people which live a consecrated life, and have provision for this consecrated life to be lived full-time, in a community, albeit without losing contact with the world. This restricts us to lay associations that have been founded in the twentieth century. In general they have distinct branches for varying degrees of commitment, including a separate branch for single consecrated laymen, and another for single consecrated laywomen. We shall also restrict ourselves to the most well-known of these groups.

The forerunner of all of these lay associations, and perhaps the best known of them all, is the Opus Dei. This was founded by a Spaniard, Msgr. Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, in Madrid, in 1928, and for lack of a proper classification at the time, was finally declared a secular institute in 1947 for the purposes of canon law, though it did not fit into this category perfectly. Today it has a membership of over 72,000 in 87 different countries. It is made up of lay people – men and women, married, single or widowed – and priests. They try to sanctify themselves by fulfilling their duties according to their state in life as best as they can. Long before Vatican II, they preached the universal call to sanctity and the sanctification of ordinary work as a means to holiness.

The Opus Dei activities in which the co-operators share are a means of spreading the universal call to holiness among people of all social back- grounds working in every kind of trade or profession, and a way of reminding them of the duty of all baptized Christians to order “temporal realities” according to the teachings of Christianity. 90

As time passed, Msgr. Escriva petitioned the Holy See for a different juridical classification, more in keeping with Opus Dei’s structure and specific characteristics. This was in 1962. The Second Vatican Council – perhaps, to a great degree, in response to his request – made some provisions for a personal prelature in the Decree Presbyterorum Ordinis, n. 10. We may define a personal prelature as an association of priests and deacons of the secular clergy in which membership is not determined by geography, but by similar interests. The document said in part that this would be useful for “apostolic reasons”, in order “to facilitate specificpastoral activities with different social groups in some regions or nations, or indeed world-wide”91 After the Council, in 1966, Pope Paul VI, in a Motu Proprio called Ecclesiae Sanctae which implemented this conciliar document gave norms for the correct application of that specific portion of the decree. In one place it said “there is no objection to lay people … by means of a contract with the prelature, dedicating themselves to the service of the works and activities of the prelature”.92 In 1969, Pope Paul VI advised Msgr. Escriva to call a Special General Congress which would study how to transform the Work into a personal prelature. After Msgr. Escriva died in 1975 and His Holiness died in 1978, this was encouraged by Popes John Paul I and John Paul II. Finally in 1979, John Paul II entrusted the Sacred Congregation for Bishops with the study of the question of whether or not Opus Dei could become a personal prelature, and if so, what norms should guide its erection and government. After a two year study and consultation with local bishops, His Holiness promulgated the Apostolic Constitution Ut Sit, which set up Opus Dei as the Church’s first personal prelature. The Constitution was issued on November 28, 1982, and provided, among other things, for the prelature to have an incardinated clergy, and to have jurisdiction even over the lay persons who belong to it, “only in what refers to the fulfillment of the specific obligations undertaken through the juridical bond, by means of a contract with the Prelature.”93 In other words, the jurisdiction is only in matters of spiritual formation and apostolic activity. But

as regards decisions in professional, social, political matters, etc., the lay faithful of the prelature enjoy, within the limits of Catholic faith and morals and of the discipline of the Church, the same freedom as other Catholics, their fellow citizens; hence, the prelature does not make itself responsible for the professional, political or economic activities of any of its members.94

The purpose of Opus Dei

in the words of Pope John Paul I as Patriarch of Venice, is to provide not a spirituality for lay people but a lay spirituality. that is, the laity are not incomplete [sic] clergymen but the stuff of the Church, with a responsibil­ity, not an option, to become saints. Priests exist to help them do it, thus receiving a double obligation to do the same themselves.95

One can be a “numerary” of Opus Dei, and this means that he is a single lay man or lay woman who lives at one of their centers. Or he may be a “supernumerary” who generally has more contact with the world, does not have as formal a commitment, and may be married or single. Finally, one may be a “cooperator” of Opus Dei, which entails the reciting of some prayers every day, and the participation in the spiritual benefits and spirituality of Opus Dei. Anyone can be a cooperator, even a non-Catholic. The priests who serve Opus Dei are drawn from among their lay men, and make up about 2% of the total membership, and have generally also finished a course of studies for a secular career.

As was mentioned above, members bind themselves to the Work by means of a contract, not by vows, and thus they retain their state as laity, or, in the case of the priests, they remain secular priests and do not become religious. As Msgr. Escriva himself said,

Opus Dei is not interested in vows or any form of consecration but the one which all have already received through Baptism. Our Association in no way wants it [sic] members to change their state in life, or to stop being simple faithful exactly the same as anyone else, in order to acquire a status perfectionis. On the contrary, what it wants and endeavors is that each should do an apostolate and should sanctify himself within his own state, in the place and condition which he has in the Church and in society.96

The founder of Opus Dei always stressed the intrinsic value of work since it is a means of sanctification. Once he said that

a Christian should do all honest human work, be it intellectual or manual, with the greatest perfection possible, with human perfection (professional competence) and with Christian perfection (for love of God’s will and as a service to mankind). Human work done in this way, no matter how humble or insignificant it may seem, helps to shape the world in a Christian manner.97

On a broader topic, Opus Dei believes, and rightly so, defining lay spirituality, as it does, actually helps the Church during the present identity crisis among some priests and consecrated souls today.

The failure to provide specific spirituality for the laity may explain in part the deterioration of lay and Religious apostolates in recent years. Various attempts to combine the two, especially as tried by many women religious, have had disastrous results. Rather than provoke criticism or envy, the success of Opus Dei – properly reflected upon – could help inspire a renewal of the founding charisms in the classical Rules.98

Another lay association is the Focolare Movement. “Focolare” in Italian means “hearth”. It was founded in Trent, Italy in 1943 by Chiara Lubich, who is its current President. Today it claims a membership of 1,500,000 in 144 countries. It admits non-Catholic Christians, and maintains relations even with non-Christians. It is also called the “Opera di Maria” (Work of Mary, in Italian), and is composed of different branches. The “Focolari” are communities of men and women who have given themselves totally to God and who form the core of those who have adopted the same ideal. some of the married people who have accepted this spirit have felt the call to give themselves entirely to God, while remaining married: these are the married Focolarini, who are full members of the Focolare;99

The “volunteers” are “lay people who wish to build up the christian
community and do all they can to contribute towards the consecration of the world”. Also many diocesan priests and religious have accepted the Movement’s spirituality. The have a group called the “new families”which is composed of families that. have undergone a revival around the married Focolarini; their ideal is to foster the values of marriage and the family. Then there is a group called the “New Humanity” Movement which “grew up around the volunteers and seeks to imbue the worlds of education, medicine, art, science, etc. with the spirit of Christ.” Priests who are associated with Focolare are called part of the “Priest Movement”, and parishes that are renewed according to their spirituality are part of what they call the “Parish Movement”. The “New Gen Movement”, which began in 1967,

came into being, composed of young people undertaking a total commitment and communicating their lives to other young people. In a very short time, this spirituality also managed to penetrate among adolescents (Gen 3) who are the Movement’s third generation, and children (Gen 4), forming the fourth generation.100

It is classified as a “Pious Association”, depending on the Pontifical Council for the Laity.

A third lay association in this representative was also founded in Italy: Communion and Liberation. It was started by Luigi Giussani, a diocesan priest in Milan, in 1954. First aimed at high school and college students, it went by the name Student Youth. Fr. Giussani wanted to reenkindle a love for the faith, so he stressed ” the need for a personal encounter with Jesus, coupled with the ecclesial experience of Catholicism.”101

In the 1960’s, Student Youth broke up, and some of its former members helped found Communione e Liberazione, or CL, as it is commonly called. Because it is active in universities and believes that real faith will make an impact on culture, it soon had enemies among the Communists and neo-Fascists of Italy. Though not a political organization itself, CL has close ties with the Movimento Popolare, a political party in Italy, which is itself allied with the Christian Democrats. Just as CL works for the reestablishment of a Christian culture, so also the Movimento Popolare pushes for Catholic values in the political and economic sphere.

The main vehicle that CL has to promote its work are weekly prayer and discussion groups which they call “Schools of Community”. CL does not see itself as an elite group, but encourages its members to integrate themselves into the parish structure. As its name suggests, they place a lot of emphasis on friendship and fellowship among their members, but this is an outgrowth of their common friendship and fellowship with Christ.102

A fourth lay movement that we shall consider is called Regnum Christi, which means Kingdom of Christ in Latin. Since it is somewhat secretive, its name is not very well known. Better known is the religious order that has complete control over it, namely, the Legionaries of Christ. Though canonically it is a religious congregation, its founder, Mexican priest Fr. Marcial Maciel, considers it to be one unit with Regnum Christi which he also founded. Actually he considers Regnum Christi to be a single movement – which he calls The Movement which is made up of a priests branch (the Legionaries of Christ) and a lay branch. Their specific apostolate is to work with the leaders and elite in society, which generally means the wealthy, and gradually form them into what they believe a real Christian should be.

The Legionaries will begin working with youth around the ages of 12-15, (males and females are always strictly separated in the Regnum Christi) and if they appear promising and have leadership qualities, or come from the right family, they will be incorporated into a group called ECYD, which is an acronym in Spanish for Educacion, Cultura, y Deportes, which translates into English as Education, Culture, and Sports. This name may appear a bit misleading for a religious group. But since Regnum Christi itself is not completely above ground, it could hardly call ECYD “pre-Regnum Christi”, though that is, in fact, what it is. They usually do not really know what they are getting into at this time. They will normally have a weekly meeting which will include some games, prayers and reflection on the Gospel, and individual moral orientation. After a few years in ECYD, during which time a further process of selection has been going on, and those not deemed fit have not been encouraged to continue, those who have been chosen are invited to be incorporated into the Regnum Christi, often without their parents even knowing it. Though they usually do not realize it, they have only been incorporated into the First Degree of commitment of Regnum Christi. There is a Second and a Third Degree of commitment that they may not find out about for quite a while. In the First Degree, they have committed themselves to attending a weekly meeting called an “Encounter with Christ” which basically consists of a group check-up on how they have fulfilled any individual commitments that the group decided on at the previous week’s meeting; a reading and reflection on a Gospel passage along with a n application of it to one’s life; selection of some event or occurrence that someone in the group is aware of, and then examination of it according to a formula of seeing it, judging it, and acting upon it. (This is, no doubt, copied from the Young Christian Workers’ Movement – Jeunesse Ouvriere Chretienne – founded in Belgium in the 1920’s by Fr. Joseph Cardijn. This movement stresses a pedagogy of life based on three key words: ” voir, juger, agir”, or “see, judge, act”. In other words, one learns from what one sees in one’s life, judges it and separates what is good in it from what is bad, and then acts upon that information.)103 After this, the group takes some commitment upon itself.

The Second Degree would require one to give a certain amount of time each week to the Movement, generally helping out with members of ECYD, or with members of the First Degree. The Second Degree is the highest degree that married couples and diocesan priests can belong to. (Members of other religious orders cannot belong to the Regnum Christi since they will already be imbued with a different spirituality.)

The Third Degree is made up of single men and women who belong to the Movement full time, generally live in community, and take promises of poverty, chastity, and obedience which are not public, along with at least two other secret promises and possibly as many as four. The first secret promise would be to not criticize, in any external way, the Movement, any policy or custom that it has, or any superior, anything that he does or says, or even anything having to do with him. External would be understood as being expressed in writing, verbally, with a facial expression or gesture. Also, if the individual notices that any other member has violated this promise, he is obliged to inform a higher superior. Anyone who breaks this promise will not be considered for any important post in the Movement. The second secret promise is not to desire any position within the Movement either for oneself, or for another, and consequently, not to work to such an end. Once again, if the individual notices that any other member has violated this promise, he is obliged to inform a higher superior, and one who has broken it will not be considered for any important post in the Movement. The possible third and fourth secret promises may only be taken upon invitation by the General Director of the Movement and entail promising absolute fidelity to policies and procedures of the Movement, and to its methodology, that is, the way that it does everything that it does. Only those who have been invited to take these promises may hold certain defined, important positions. Though the founder personally considers these just as binding as vows, he prefers to call them promises since in this way, the members of the Third Degree are not classified as members of a Secular Institute, do not directly come under Rome’s supervision or Canon Law, and may be dealt with with a greater degree of flexibility.

With such a highly structured organization and well-defined plan (we have not been able to go into all of the aspects of it in this short work), Regnum Christi, which includes the Legionaries of Christ, hope to strategically place its members in certain positions in society, and eventually take it over for Christ.”

There are dozens of other groups which cannot be examined because of lack of space since this is only a representative sampling. We can think of the Apostleship of Prayer, Schonstatt, L’Arche, the Charismatic Renewal Movement (though this is not a single, unified group), the Cursillo Movement, Teams of Our Lady, Foi et Lumiere, the Young Christian Workers (mentioned above), the Legion of Mary, the Militia of the Immaculate, Worldwide Marriage Encounter, Foyers of Charity, Miles Jesu, Lumen Dei, etc., etc. For a brief explanation of some of these groups, we refer to the following works put out by the Pontifical Council for the Laity and listed in the Bibliography: Spirituality of the Laity: forms and movements today, Lay Associations: Summary Data, and The Catholic International Organization,

One last lay association that it would be good to mention, however, is one that was begun in our own country recently: the Apostolate for Family Consecration. Up to this point, we have seen only lay associations or movements that were founded in other countries and which inevitably bear something of the stamp of their founder, including the characteristics of his nationality. When speaking of the diverse forms of the lay apostolate, Vatican II warns about the danger of indiscriminately transplanting a form from one country to another without making the necessary adaptations.’ 05 Some forms of the apostolate are more suited to a specific national character and temperament, which, if not contrary to morality, the Church respects as legitimate. For example, some would hold that the United States, with its spirit of openness and sense of equality, would probably not, on the whole, be amenable to a type of apostolate that is in many ways secretive and tends to work only with the elite, as is often alleged of Opus Dei and theLegionaries of Christ. In fact some would say that that way of operating could be successful in the days of kings and queens and nobility. Today, however, they would maintain that this method is incompatible with the pervasive influence of the emphasis on the value of each individual and the rights and dignity of each human person. They would charge that working this way in the long run will only plant seeds of discontent similar to the discontent currently seen in Latin and South America that some trace in part to the fact that Jesuits and others concentrated on working with and educating the wealthy in the past. Others also believe that a shroud of secrecy will, finally, prove to be counterproductive. It is true that in the short run secrecy can permit efficiency. However when people find out about this, the majority tend to repudiate the group that is perceived this way and dissociate themselves from it, if we may learn anything from the example of what happened to Opus Dei in Spain after their way of working became common knowledge. Some would go so far as to say that just because enemies of the Church have used these methods and been effective, for example the Masons and others, we may not adopt their method because the end never justifies the means.

The Apostolate for Family Consecration seems to have captured the American temperament and character more than some of the other groups that we have seen. It has a prudent openness about its work, stresses efficiency which is a hallmark of the American spirit, and tries to make the most of technology and the mass media which is another strong point of the United States. It was founded in 1975 by an American couple, Mr. and Mrs. Jerome Coniker. Its specific purpose is to reinforce family life through the transformation of today’s neighborhoods into truly God-centered communities in the joyful, family-centered, and Marian spirit of Pope John Paul IL By doing this it hopes to eventually revitalize our entire culture.

Its primary vehicle for doing this is weekly meetings in private homes called “Neighborhood Peace of Heart Forums”. At these forums the participants watch a video tape in which a panel of spiritual authorities in the Church discuss a certain part of Sacred Scripture or a portion of a spiritual book, and then the participants themselves share their own insights that they have had during the previous week as they were reading and reflecting on these passages. As they continue with their on-going intellectual and spiritual formation, they should then perceive a desire, if they are truly growing in the spiritual life, to undertake some active apostolate. The Apostolate for Family Consecration would help to coordinate their activities and give them recommendations on how to go about engaging in a specific outreach program.106


Summing up, if the exhortations that the Council issued to lay people had been implemented in their spiritual lives, then truly the New Pentecost that has been promised in the Church would have resulted – indeed, if they are put into effect even now, the New Pentecost will still come.

In his much-touted book, The Ratzinger Report, Cardinal Ratzinger, after talking about some of the phenomena that have occurred in the Church since the Council, and appearing negative in his evaluation, was asked if there was anything positive. He replied that

What is hopeful at the level of the universal Church – and that is happening right in the heart of the crisis of the Church in the Western world – is the rise of new movements which nobody had planned and which nobody has called into being, but which have sprung spontaneously from the inner vitality of the faith itself.107

After that he mentioned some of them by name, such as the Focolare movement, and Communion and Liberation. He then went on to describe how prayerful, joyful, exuberant and energetic some of these groups are, in addition to being totally loyal to the magisterium of the Church. Then he said

What is striking is that all this fervor was not elaborated by any office of pastoral planning, but somehow it sprang forth by itself. As a consequence of this fact, the planning offices – just when they want to be very progressive – don’t know just what to do with them. They don’t fit into their plan. Thus while tensions rise in connection with their incorporation into the present form of the institutions, there is absolutely no tension with the hierarchical Church as such.

What is emerging here is a new generation of the Church which I am watching with a great hope. I find it marvelous that the Spirit is once more stronger than our programs and brings himself into play in an altogether different way than we had imagined. In this sense the renewal, in a subdued but effective way, is afoot. Old forms that had run aground in self-contradiction and in the taste for negation are leaving the stage, and the new is making headway.108

Once enough lay Christians are truly formed in their faith, live it as they should, and bring Christian principles to bear on all the aspects of their lives – no matter what those aspects are: politics, business, the media, medicine, education, etc. – they will be fulfilling their duty and the consequence of this will be “to restore all things in Christ”.

We are truly living in exciting times. Just when secularism seems to have won in its battle against the Church, our mother calls out to her children for help in this time of need. They must take on themselves the duty that is proper to them as her members. But these times are also difficult and require sacrifice and heroism. And yet, seen in this light, they are not really so different from the past. There have been other former enemies going by various names who thought they, too, had finally triumphed over Christ’s Mystical Body. But just as they were ready to lay It in the tomb, It rose again.

Let us end now with one last quote from the Council:

The Council, then, makes to all the laity an earnest appeal in the Lord to give a willing, noble and enthusiastic response to the voice of Christ, who at this hour is summoning them more pressingly, and to the urging of the Holy Spirit. The younger generation should feel this call to be addressed in a special way to themselves; they should welcome it eagerly and generously. It is the Lord himself, by this Council, who is once more inviting all the laity to unite themselves to him ever more intimately, to consider his interests as their own (cf. Phil. 2:5), and to join in his mission as Saviour. It is the Lord who is again sending them into every town and every place where he himself is to come (cf. Lk. 10:1). He sends them on the Church’s apostolate, an apostolate that is one yet has different forms and methods, an apostolate that must all the time be adapting itself to the needs of the moment; he sends them on a apostolate where they are to show themselves his cooperators doing their full share continually in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord their labor cannot be lost (cf. Cor. 15:58).109


1 Austin P. Flannery, ed., Documents of Vatican II, “Apostolicam Actuositatem” (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1975), p. 767.

2J. J. Sullivan, “Lay Apostolate,” New Catholic Encyclopedia, (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America, 1967), p. 574.

3 Stratford Caldecott, “Facing the faith challenge,” National Catholic Register, p. 6.

4Ibid., p. 6.

5Ibid., p. 1.

   6Austin P. Flannery, ed., Documents of Vatican II, (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical

Press, 1975), p. 388.

 7Ibid., p. 361; see also pp. 369; 390-391; 768. For other references and many

other good quotes which would appear redundant here, see also: Bernard J. Kelly,

Lay Spirituality (London: Sheed and Ward, 1980), pp. 3-5; 39.

8Ibid., p. 767.

9Ibid., p. 766.

10Ibid., p. 768.

11 Ibid., p. 390.

12Ibid., p. 768 (both quotes). See also p. 769. See also Kelly, pp. 109-127, for the first quote; pp. 53-74; 75-91 for the second.

13Ibid., p. 768.

14Ibid., p. 783.

15Ibid., p. 783.

16Ibid., pp. 784-785.

17Priests within Associations of the Faithful: Identity and Mission, Vatican City: Tipograpfia Poliglotta Vaticana, p. 12.

18One more example from this same document, Priests within Associations of the Faithful on pp. 12-13 follows: “. . . the effectiveness of the apostolate presupposes community with others who share the same faith.” The Council Fathers go so far as to affirm that the pursuit of concrete objectives presupposes uniting efforts in common: “The group apostolate is in happy harmony therefore with a fundamental need in the faithful, a need that is both human and Christian. At the same time it offers a sign of the communion and unity of the Church … The group apostolate is very important also for another reason: often, either in ecclesial communities or in various other environments, the apostolate calls for concerted action.” (A.A., 18)

19 Flannery, p. 785.

20 Ibid., p. 793. See also Kelly, pp. 128 145.

21Ibid., pp. 793-794. See also p. 795.

 22 Pope John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio (Boston, MA: St. Paul Editions, n.d., p. 106.

23Ibid., p. 106.
24Ibid., p. 107.

25Ibid., p. 130.

26Ibid., p. 130.

27 Flannery, p. 781.

28Ibid., p. 728.

29Ibid., p. 731.

30Ibid., p. 734.

31Austin Flannery, ed. Vatican Council II More Postconciliar Documents, (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press) p. 633. (All future references to Flannery will be to the first volume, Documents of Vatican 11). This document is Les Laics Catholiques, or, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith, issued by the Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education on Oct. 15, 1982. Some salient excerpts from it follow:

“The evangelization of the world takes place in such a variety and complexity of situations that frequently it is only the laity who can be effective witnesses to the gospel in many instances and for many people.

“Lay people’s experience and their involvement in all domains of human activity make them especially capable of discerning the signs of the times in which God’s people live today.

“Therefore, since it is properly part of their vocation, they should by their initiative and creativity, their competent, conscientious and ungrudging contribution help ensure that the People of God will be able to distinguish clearly between evangelical and counter-evangelical values.”

Later on p. 644, the Sacred Congregation speaks of teaching being a vocation rather than a profession:

“The work of a lay educator has an undeniably professional aspect; but it is not to be limited to it. Professionalism is marked by, and raised to, a supernatural Christian vocation. The life of the Catholic teacher must be marked by the exercise of a personal vocation in the Church, and not simply by the exercise of a profession. In a lay vocation, detachment and generosity are joined to legitimate defence of personal rights; but it is still a vocation, with the fulness of life and the personal commitment that the word implies. It offers ample opportunity for a life filled with enthusiasm.

“It is, therefore, very desirable that every lay Catholic educator become fully aware of the importance, the richness, and the responsibility of this vocation. They should fully respond to all of its demands, secure in the knowledge that their response is vital for the construction and ongoing renewal of the earthly city, and for the evangelization of the world.”

32 Flannery, p. 786 and p. 796.

33Ibid., p. 783.

34Caldecott, p. 6.

35Flannery, p.391.

36 Pope John Paul II, p. 93.

37 Ibid., p. ll0.

38Ibid., p. 376. See also p. 383; for the comments that follow refer to pp. 768-769; 773-774; 789-790. See also Kelly, p. 43.

39Ibid., p. 789. See also p. 790.

40 Ibid., p. 789.

41 Ibid., p. 790. See also Kelly, p. 41.

42Caldecott, p. 6. See also John J. Farrell, “Lament for Catholic Action,” Homiletic & Pastoral Review (New York: Catholic Polls, Inc., October, 1984), pp. 10-17.

43Code of Canon Law, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1983, p. 51.

44James A. Doriden, The Code of Canon Law: A Text and Commentary (New York/Mahwah: Paulist Press, 1985), p. 255. For a further examination of the new provisions for the laity in Canon law see also especially canons 298-300; 304-305; 327-329. Also for a discussion on the lay priesthood, see Kelly, pp. 8-10; 44; 51.

45For a more complete discussion of this topic, the reader is referred to what must be the definitive text – until the present moment at least – regarding this subject. This is the document “Priests Within Associations of the Faithful,” issued by the Pontifical Council for the Laity on December 3, 1981, and printed in the May 10, 1982 issue of L’Osservatore Romano, pp. 13-16, and continued in the May 17, 1982 issue of same on pp. 10-11. It deals primarily with: 1. The place of the ordained ministry within associations; 2. The specific nature of the relationship between it and the common priesthood of the faithful; and 3. The forms which this can take.

46Flannery, p. 388. See also p. 369, and pp. 790-791.

47Ibid., p. 791.

48Bradley K. Arturi, “The laity and the new code of Canon Law,” Homiletic & Pastoral Review, New York: Catholic Polls, Inc., July 1984, p. 17.

49 Code of Canon Law, Canon 204, 1, p. 34.

50Ibid., Canon 208, p. 35.

51Jordan Aumann, O.P., “Non-ordained Ministry and Lay Apostolate after Vatican Council II,” Angelicum, Vol. 63, 1986, Fasc. 3, Rome: Pontificia Universitas a Sancto Thoma, p. 408.

52Priests within Associations of the Faithful, p. 29.

53Ibid., p. 407.

54Arturi, p. 19.

55Code of Canon Law, Canon 227, p. 37.

56 Priests within Associations of the Faithful, pp. 7-8.

57Ibid., p. 17.

58Flannery, p. 361.

59Priests within Associations of the Faithful, p. 29. Another interesting quote is the following from p. 11: “It is then above all the laity who, through their twin position in the Church and in temporal reality, form the indispensable link and the point of junction between the two, a situation which is always very demanding.”

60Ibid., p. 30.

 61Ibid., p. 30. Another interesting quote follows from Pope John Paul II (Familiaris Consortio), p. 84: “The sacrament of marriage is the specific source and oriinal means of sanctification for Christian married couples and families.”

62Ibid., p. 47. We quote also again from Familiaris Consortio, p. 80: “The ministry of evangelization carried out by Christian parents is original and irreplaceable. It assumes the characteristics typical of family life itself, which should be interwoven with love, simplicity, practicality and daily witness.”

 63 Ibid., p. 41. Another beautiful quote from Familiaris Consortio, p. 90-91 that could not be included in the main text because of its size follows:

“There exists a deep and vital bond between the prayer of the Church and the prayer of the individual faithful, as has been clearly reaffirmed by the Second Vatican Council. An important purpose of the prayer of the domestic Church is to serve as the natural introduction for the children to the liturgical prayer of the whole Church, both in the sense of preparing for it and of extending it into personal, family and social life. Hence the need for gradual participation by all the members of the Christian family in the celebration of the Eucharist, especially on Sundays and feast days, and of the other sacraments, particularly the sacraments of Christian initiation of the children. The directives of the Council opened up a new possibility for the Christian family when it listed the family among those groups to whom it recommends the recitation of the Divine Office in common. Likewise, the Christian family will strive to celebrate at home, and in a way suited to the members, the times and feasts of the liturgical year.

“As preparation for the worship celebrated in church, and as its prolongation in the home, the Christian family makes use of private prayer, which presents a great variety of forms. While this variety testifies to the extraordinary richness with which the Spirit vivifies Christian prayer, it serves also to meet the various needs and life situations of those who turn to the Lord in prayer. Apart from morning and evening prayers, certain forms of prayer are to be expressly encouraged, following the indications of the Synod Fathers, such as reading and meditating on the word of God, preparation for the reception of the sacraments, devotion and consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the various forms of veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary, grace before and after meals, and observance of popular devotions.”

64Ibid., p. 39.

65Here we give a sampling of some significant quotes which could not be included in the text because of size:

“Be within these groups the architects of communion, educators in Faith, witnesses to God’s absoluteness, true apostles of Jesus Christ, ministers of sacramental life, especially of the Eucharist, the spiritual animators. …” (John Paul II, Address to Ecclesiastical Assistants, op. cit.) Priests within Associations of the Faithful, p. 37.

“The priest’s work will vary according to the personal charism of the ecclesiastical assistant, and the position of the association.

“But in any and every case, the work of the priest ought to consist in proclaiming the Gospel and administering the sacraments.” Priests within Associations of the Faithful, p. 40.

“This service bears fruit to the precise degree that the one who has been called to render it proclaims the message by his own life. In this lies the extraordinary pastoral opportunity offered to the ecclesiastical assistant. Sharing his life with the members of the association, and his own identification with the values of that life which he promotes, allow him to give greater concreteness to his pastoral designs and bestow greater vigour on his capacity for persuasion.” Priests within Associations of the Faithful, p. 40.

“Amongst the faithful, every priest should have a consciousness of being “brothers among brothers” (P.O., 9). An assistant can easily acquire this consciousness since he is entering into the larger family of an association which is in agreement about the goal which it is pursuing, and since he is bound to it by the kinship of choice. …

“But at the same time, priests should be “fathers and pastors” of their brothers (P.O., 9) …. Priests working within associations are therefore called upon, by turns, to work fraternally with the faithful and to have a “paternal attention” for them in Christ (L.G., 28); they should therefore share with zeal and joy in the life of the community, without forgetting that they carry an irreplaceable responsibility.” Priests within Associations of the Faithful, p. 42.

[Domenico Grasso, SJ, in an article entitled The Priest in the Community of Tomorrow, speculates on what a priest will be like in the future, basing himself on trends he sees today. He believes that priests will specialize themselves more and more, and then he considers some practical consequences of this.]

“For pastoral work this means that there have to be specialized priests but there may not be isolated priests, each one trying to do the ministry entrusted to him on his own. The various social groupings and the various professions influence each other. Just as there is no such thing as man in the pure state so also there is no such thing as someone who is purely student or purely worker. Hence the necessity for specialized priests to be together in their apostolic work, to share their experiences, so as to draw some advantage from each other’s work. The same should be said for work with lay people.

“In this context the common life of priests can contribute a great deal, giving priests a way to help each other also on a psychological level. At one time this was much less necessary. Indeed it used to be that the priest, even if he was alone in a mountain village, had a kind of activity and a kind of prestige that made him feel useful enough to the community so as not to feel the need for a `private’ life. He was everyone’s man, and everyone caused him to experience his spiritual paternity. In our time, and even more so in the time to come, things are bound to be different. The priest can easily get isolated. Especially if he is exercising his ministry in a dechristianized area, he will suffer more from solitude, not drawing the satisfaction that could once be found in his apostolic work. Apart from the example of fraternity and harmony they will give the community, however small it is, that forms around them, they will sustain each other in their work, begrudging as it is today, in yielding any human consolation.” Towards Responsible Christian Communities, p. 234-235.

66 Flannery, p. 363.
67 Extraordinary Synod, (Boston, MA: St. Paul Editions, 1985), pp. 47-48.

68Flannery, pp. 389-390. See also pp. 396-402 and Kelly, p. 3.

69lbid., p. 399. See also Kelly, pp. 92-108.

70 Ibid., p. 400. See also Kelly, p. 2; 4-7.

71 Priests within Associations of the Faithful, p. 11.

72Flannery, p. 389.

73 Priests within Associations of the Faithful, p. 12.

74 Flannery, p. 784.

75 Ibid., p. 770-771.

76 Pope John Paul II, p. 79.

77 Flannery, p. 770.

 78See also Kelly, pp. 146-164, for a discussion on the role of Christ in the life of the lay apostle.

79Flannery, pp. 771-771; see also pp. 413-423.

80Kelly, p. 161; 162; 178.

81Pope John Paul II, p. 80.

82Ibid., p. 80.

83Ibid., p. 110.

84Ibid., pp. 84-85.

85Ibid., p. 88.

86Ibid., p. 89.

  87Flannery, p. 954. The reader is also referred to the entire first chapter of the second part of Gaudium et Spes, for a beautiful section dedicated to the dignity of marriage and the family.

 88Pope John Paul II, p. 91.

   89 Kelly, p. 21; see also pp. 16-38, especially pp. 20-26 for the importance of prayer in the life of the lay apostle, forms it may take, and practical suggestions.

90Spirituality of the Laity: Forms and Movements Today, Vatican City: Typis Polyglottis Vaticanis, Inc., p. 10. See also Lay Associations: Summary Data, Vatican City: Typis Polyglottis Vaticanis, pp. 18-20.

91“Declaration concerning Opus Dei” [together with commentary, issued by the Sacred Congregation for Bishops, August 23, 1982.] n.d., n.p., n. pag.

93 Ut Sit, n.d., n.p., n. pag.

94 “Declaration concerning Opus Dei.”

95George William Rutler, “The Rise of Opus Dei,” New Oxford Review, June 1983, p. 7.

96Ibid., p. 7.

97Ibid., p. 7.

98Ibid., p. 7.

99Spirituality of the Laity: forms and movements today, p. 21.
100Ibid., p. 22.

101Charlotte Hays, “Communion & Liberation: Coming to a neighborhood near you.”, National Catholic Register, 8 Feb., 1987, p. 9. .

102Ibid., p. 1; 9. See also: Lay Associations: Summary Data, pp. 37-39.

103Lay Associations: Summary Data, pp. 82-83. See also, “Jocism,” New Catholic Encyclopedia.

104This information is a summary of firsthand knowledge of the author.
105 Flannery, p. 786.
106This information is a summary of firsthand knowledge of the author.

107Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger with Vittorio Messori, trans. Salvator Attanasio and Graham Harrison, The Ratzinger Report: An Exclusive Interview on the State of the Church (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1985), p. 43.

108Ibid., p. 44.

109Flannery, p. 797-798.

Through God’s mysterious design, it was in that family that the Son of God spent long years of a hidden life. It is therefore the prototype and example for all Christian families. It was unique in the world. Its life was passed in anonymity and silence in a little town in Palestine. It underwent trials of poverty, persecution and exile. It glorified God in an incomparably exalted and pure way. And it will not fail to help Christian families – indeed, all the families in the world – to be faithful to their day-to-day duties, to bear the cares and tribulations of life, to be open and generous to the needs of others, and to fulfill with joy the plan of God in their regard.

St. Joseph was “a just man,” a tireless worker, the upright guardian of those entrusted to his care. May he always guard, protect and enlighten families. (Familiaris Consortio, p. 131.)


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