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The laity share in the Church's saving mission

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 2 March 1994 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. The laity's participation in the growth of Christ's kingdom is a historical reality in every age--from the gathering in apostolic times; to the Christian communities of the early centuries; to the groups, movements, unions, fraternities and societies of the Middle Ages and the modern period; to the activities of individuals and associations that, in the last century and in ours, have supported the Church's pastors in defending faith and morals in families, societies, social contexts and classes. At times they have even paid for this witness with their blood. These activities, often promoted by saints and supported by bishops in the 19th and 20th centuries, have led to a deeper awareness of the laity's mission. They have also led to an ever clearer and more explicit conception of this mission as true and proper "apostolate."

Pius XI spoke of the "laity's cooperation in the apostolate of the hierarchy" with regard to "Catholic Action." This was a decisive period in the Church's life. It led to a remarkable development along two lines: the organizational, which especially took shape in Catholic Action, and that of theoretical, doctrinal reflection, culminating in the teaching of the Second Vatican Council. It presented the apostolate of the laity as "a participation in the salvific mission of the Church itself" (LG 33).

2. The Council could be said to have given a clearer doctrinal formulation to the ecclesial experience that began with Pentecost. All who then received the Holy Spirit felt they had been given a mission to proclaim the Gospel, to establish and develop the Church. In the centuries that followed sacramental theology made it clear that all who become members of the Church through Baptism are obliged, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to give witness to the faith and to spread Christ's kingdom. This task is strengthened by the sacrament of Confirmation, by which the faithful, as the Council says, "are more strictly obliged to spread and defend the faith, both by word and by deed, as true witnesses of Christ" (LG 11). In more recent times, advances in ecclesiology have developed the concept of lay involvement, not only in relation to the two sacraments of Christian initiation, but also as an expression of a more conscious participation in the Church's mystery in accordance with the spirit of Pentecost. This is another basic point of the theology of the laity.

3. The theological principle that "The apostolate of the laity derives from their Christian vocation and the Church can never be without it" (AA 1), clarifies in ever fuller and more transparent fashion the need for lay involvement in our age. This necessity is further emphasized by certain circumstances that characterize the present time. For example, there is the population growth in cities, where the number of priests is always insufficient; mobility because of work, school, recreation, etc., which is a feature of modern society; the autonomy of many areas of society which make ethical and religious conditions more difficult and action from within more necessary; the sociological distance of priests from many areas of work and culture. For these and other reasons a new work of evangelization is required of the laity. On the other hand, the growth of institutions and of the democratic mentality itself has made and is making the laity more sensitive to the demands of the ecclesial commitment. The spread and the rise in the average level of culture gives to many people greater abilities in working for the good of society and the Church.

4. From the historical point of view, then, one should not be surprised at the new forms that lay activity has assumed. Under the impulse of modern sociocultural conditions, greater attention has been paid to an ecclesiological principle, which had previously been left somewhat in the background: the diversity of ministries in the Church is a vital need of the Mystical Body. All its members are needed for it to develop, and it requires everyone's contribution in accord with each one's various abilities. "The whole body grows and, with the proper functioning of the members...builds itself up in love" (Eph 4:16). It is a "self-building" which depends on Christ, the head of the body, but requires the co-operation of each member. Hence the Church has a diversity of ministries in the unity of mission (cf. AA 2). Unity is not harmed but enriched by diversity.

5. There is an essential difference between ordained ministries and non-ordained ministries, as I explained in the catecheses on the priesthood. The Council teaches that the common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood differ essentially and not only in degree (cf. LG 10). The Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laici notes that the ordained ministries are exercised in virtue of the sacrament of Orders. The non-ordained ministries, the offices and roles of the lay faithful "have their foundation in the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, and for a good many of them, in Matrimony" (CL 23). This last statement has great value, especially for married couples and parents, who are also called to carry out a Christian apostolate especially in their families (cf. CCC 902).

The same apostolic exhortation points out: "Pastors ought to acknowledge and foster the ministries, offices and roles of the lay faithful" (n. 23). A pastor of souls cannot expect to do everything in the community entrusted to him. He must put the laity's activity to the best possible use, with sincere esteem for their competence and availability. Although it is true that a lay person cannot replace the pastor in the ministries that require the powers given by the sacrament of Orders, it is also true that the pastor cannot replace the laity in areas where they have greater competence. Therefore he must promote their role and encourage their participation in the Church's mission.

6. In this regard what the Code of Canon Law prescribes must be kept in mind: "When the necessity of the Church warrants it," the laity can supply for certain of the clergy's activities (can. 230, §3). But as we read in Christifideles Laici, "The exercise of these tasks does not make pastors of the lay faithful." They derive their "legitimacy formally and immediately from the official deputation given by the pastors, as well as from its concrete exercise under the guidance of ecclesiastical authority" (n. 23).

However, it should be immediately added that the laity's activity is not limited to that of supplying "in situations of emergency and chronic necessity." There are areas of Church life in which, along with the tasks proper to the hierarchy, the active participation of the laity is also desired. The first is that of the liturgical assembly. Certainly the Eucharistic celebration requires the action of someone who has received from the sacrament of Orders the power to offer the sacrifice in Christ's name--the priest. However, according to Christifideles Laici, the liturgical celebration "is a sacred action not simply of the clergy, but of the entire assembly." It is a community action. "It is, therefore, natural that the tasks not proper to the ordained ministers be fulfilled by the lay faithful" (CL 23). How many lay people, children and adults, young and old, carry out these tasks extremely well in our churches, with prayers, readings, songs and various services inside and outside the sacred building! Let us thank the Lord for this reality of our time. We must pray that he will enable them continually to increase in number and quality.

7. In addition to the liturgy, lay people have their own duty to proclaim the Word of God, since they have a role in Christ's prophetic office and hence a responsibility for evangelization. To this end they can be given particular functions and even permanent mandates, for example, in catechesis, in education, in managing and editing religious periodicals, in Catholic publishing, in the mass media, in various works and projects that the Church sponsors for spreading the faith (cf. CCC 906).

In every case we are talking about a sharing in the Church's mission, in the ever new Pentecost whose goal is to bring the entire world the grace of the Spirit who descended on the upper room in Jerusalem so that the marvels of God might be proclaimed to all nations."

After the Catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai fedeli di lingua francese

Chers frères et sœurs,

Je salue avec plaisir les pèlerins francophones présents aujourd’hui, en particulier les prêtres du Mans et leur Evêque, Monseigneur Gilson. J’offre mes vœux cordiaux aux diocésains de Nîmes, afin que leur venue à Rome les fortifie dans leur engagement ecclésial. Aux nombreux jeunes présents, comme ceux du Centre Madeleine Daniélou de Blois ou les scouts de Lyon, je souhaite amicalement d’affermir leur foi et leur espérance par l’expérience spirituelle de leur pèlerinage auprès des Apôtres et des martyrs qui ont fondé l’Eglise de Rome.

A tous, je donne de grand cœur ma Bénédiction Apostolique.

Ai fedeli di espressione inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I extend a cordial welcome to the Marist Brothers, with gratitude for their testimony of generous service to the Church. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors from England, Ireland and the United States I cordially invoke the joy and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Ai fedeli giapponesi

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

Dilettissimi pellegrini di Kyoto. Carissime studentesse di Joci (Sophia) università di Tokyo, Fuji di Sapporo, Junshin di Kagoshima e Bunka-Gakuen di Nagoya. Il futuro del mondo dipende da voi giovani. Vi esorto pertanto a vivere secondo i sani principi delle vostre università e specialmente secondo lo spirito della devozione a Maria, affinché, imitando la sua vita, possiate essere portatori di pace nel mondo. È con questo auspicio che vi benedico di cuore. Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

Ai pellegrini tedeschi

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Mit dieser kurzen Betrachtung grübe ich alle deutschsprachigen Pilger und Besucher sehr herzlich. Mein besonderer Grub gilt den Studenten der Katholischen Universität Eichstätt sowie den Teilnehmern an der von der Volkshochschule Coesfeld organisierten Studienreise. Mit meinem Wunsch, die Fastenzeit möge uns fruchtbringend zu innerer Umkehr verhelfen, erteile ich Euch allen, Euren Angehörigen zu Hause sowie allen mit uns über Radio Vatikan und das Fernsehen verbundenen Gläubigen von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai fedeli di lingua spagnola

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Saludo ahora muy cordialmente a todos los peregrinos y visitantes de lengua española. En particular, a los Religiosos Misioneros del Verbo Divino, a las Oblatas del Santísimo Redentor y a las Esclavas del Sagrado Corazón de Jesús. Asimismo, a la peregrinación de Argentina y del Colegio “Mater Salvatoris”, de Madrid.

A todas las personas, familias y grupos procedentes de los distintos Países de América Latina y de España imparto con gran afecto la Bendición Apostólica.

Ai fedeli portoghesi

Queridos Irmãos e Irmãs,

Caríssimos peregrinos de língua portuguesa, agradeço a Deus a cooperação que, nas vossas próprias terras, prestais para o crescimento do Corpo místico do Senhor. Que o Espírito Santo vos assista e fortaleça, na vossa missão de apóstolos e testemunhas convictas da vida e verdade divina, que recebestes com a obrigação também de a dar. Esta é a minha prece, neste momento significativo da vossa caminhada quaresmal que vos trouxe até junto do túmulo de São Pedro para aí, iluminados pelo seu exemplo, renovardes a vossa adesão a Jesus Cristo. Desejando-vos paz e bem, concedo a vós e aos vossos entes queridos, uma propiciadora Bênção Apostólica.

Ai fedeli polacchi

Witam pielgrzymów z Polski: Księdza Kardynała Metropolitę Krakowskiego, Księdza Arcybiskupa z Łodzi, Księdza Biskupa Albina z Krakowa, prócz tego z Łodzi - pielgrzymkę parafii św. Antoniego Marii Clareta, z Poznania - dyrekcję Domu Wydawniczego “Ławica”, z Opola i Żagania - grupy turystyczne, oraz wszystkich innych pielgrzymów z kraju i emigracji, obecnych na dzisiejszej audiencji.

Ai latinisti della Pontificia Università Salesiana

Eadem deinde lingua Latina, quam cotidie ipsi profitentur alacriter ac laudabiliter tuentur suo discendi studio, suo docendi officio, libentissimi sane adloquimur Praesidem-Decanum et praeceptores, alumnos et alumnas Pontificii Istituti Altioris Latinitatis sive Facultatis Litterarum Classicarum et Christianarum Studiorum Universitatis Pontificiae Salesianae, qui hodie coram Petri Successore firmam suam redintegrant voluntatem, non solum diligenter adservandi integros, verum efficaciter propagandi etiam in posterum tempus praeclaros hos thesauros sermonis Romani litterarumque Latinarum.

Triginta enim abhinc annos provido prorsus consilio Decessor Noster immortalis memoriae Paulus Sextus idem illud maxima cum spe fiduciaque condidit Institutum Altioris Latinitatis, cuius proposita excelsa etiamnum restant plene consequenda cuiusque fines pariter postulant, ut a pluribus discipulis paratioribusque usque magistris efficientius attingantur. Quo in nobili opere numquam Ecclesia Mater satis vehementer cohortari satis studiose concitare potest moderatores participesque eiusdem Facultatis, ut contra cuncta adversa sese dedere pergant hisce disciplinis, studiis, artibus, unde tot ac tanta derivabuntur beneficia in humanam hominum institutionem ipsamque in Christi Evangelii et Ecclesiae causam.

Ai fedeli di lingua italiana

Rivolgo il mio cordiale benvenuto a tutti i pellegrini di lingua italiana.

In particolare, sono lieto di accogliere i corsisti e i volontari della Scuola di Volontariato della Caritas di Taranto, accompagnati dal Vicario Generale e dal Direttore della Caritas diocesana. Carissimi, la vostra esperienza - nata più di dieci anni or sono - dimostra che il volontariato è un segno di speranza, che cresce e matura nella Comunità cristiana soprattutto quando è accompagnato da una seria formazione. Vi esorto a proseguire con impegno e di cuore benedico i vostri corsi, come pure le iniziative intraprese nella città di Taranto e in Albania. Saluto inoltre i pellegrini della parrocchia di San Nicola in Sant’Agata di Puglia. Cari Fratelli e Sorelle, il terzo centenario della vostra Chiesa Matrice faccia sgorgare nell’intera Comunità un rinnovato spirito di fede e di testimonianza evangelica.

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli

Il mio saluto va ora ai giovani, ai malati e agli sposi novelli.

Carissimi, vi invito a perseverare nel cammino quaresimale, che stiamo percorrendo: cammino di preghiera, di povertà, di carità concreta.

A questa scuola di verità e di amore, voi, cari giovani, progredirete nella conoscenza del senso cristiano della vita; voi, cari ammalati, apprenderete la sapienza della Croce; e voi, cari sposi novelli, inizierete a rendere santa la famiglia, che avete appena costituito.

La mia Benedizione Apostolica ottenga a tutti la grazia che ravviva la fede e muove al generoso impegno verso Dio e verso il prossimo.

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