Go to Part 2
The Theology of the Laity
by John Saward
I have come here to celebrate a high calling, a noble work for God. My brief is to consider with you a royal, a
priestly, a prophetic mission, an apostolate in the world, a vocation to holiness. My privilege is to bear witness
to a grace given me many years ago which I treasure as nobler than lordship of earth's widest bounds; I mean the
grace, the apostolate, the vocation, of being a Roman Catholic layman.
What is a Layman?
The fourth chapter of Lumen Gentium gives this definition:
The term "laity" Is here understood to mean all the faithful except
those in holy orders and those In a religious state sanctioned by the Church. These faithful are made one body
with Christ by baptism and put into the People of God. In their own way they are made sharers in the priestly,
prophetic and kingly office of Christ and play their own part in the mission the whole Christian people in the
Church and in the world (LG 31)
This definition has two aspects: positive (the layman has been baptismally incorporated into
Christ and shares in His threefold office) and negative (the layman is neither cleric nor religious). Let us ignore
the advice of the popular song and begin by accentuating the negative: the layman is someone who is not in holy
orders and does not profess by sacred vows, in the religious state, the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity
and obedience. A truism, you may be thinking, and you would be right. But truisms have this much to be said for
them: they are true. So let us see what we can learn from the humble obviousness of this truth.
To recall that a layman is neither cleric nor religious presupposes two important truths of the faith: first, the
Church, by her divine Founder's will and making, has an hierarchical structure; secondly, in the words of the Code
of Canon Law, the evangelical counsels are 'a divine gift which the Church
received from the Lord and which by His grace she preserves always' (CIC 575). Our apparently negative definition reveals the Church to us
as endowed with a rich unity in diversity. It is within this richness that the layman stands.
The Greek laikos (Latinized as laicus), from which we derive our English word 'lay' is not found in the New Testament. It means literally 'pertaining
to, or one who belongs to, the people (laos)'. Some writers, convinced that the early Church knew nothing of her distinction between clergy and laity,
have claimed that, when first used by Christians, laikos
simply denoted membership of the holy People of God. However, Father Ignace de la Potterie has shown that laos does not only mean the whole People of God; in the Septuagint (Greek
translation of the OT), it also denotes a certain part of the whole, the ordinary folk of Israel as distinct from
their leaders, prophets, priests, or princes (cf
Is. 24. 2). Moreover, in its earliest Christian usage,
laikos clearly designates a simple member of God's people,
a 'non-specialist' who is neither priest nor
levite (Pope St Clement of Rome, Epistle I, 40, 6; de la Potterie, Nouvelle Revue Théologique 80 (1958),
'People of God' and 'laity' are not synonymous. Populus Dei, as received by the Fathers of Vatican II from Scripture and Tradition, names not the laity but the totality
of the Church - those in holy orders, religious, and laity. The 'faithful', similarly, are all who believe in Christ, ordained and non-ordained; the sensus
fidelium is the whole Body's sense of the faith, not just lay people's. To avoid
confusion, the 1987 Synod used the exspression 'lay faithful' in its Message to the People of God. While Lumen Gentium defines the layman as a believer who is neither cleric nor religious, the new Code of Canon Law contents
itself with the 'non-cleric' designation (CIC 207/1). It further indicates that those who profess the evangelical counsels are drawn from both the clergy
and the laity (CIC 207/1). Clearly, the Code
is thinking here not only of lay brothers and sisters but of lay members of secular institutes, who have the canonical
status of laypersons (CIC 207/2). The state
of the evangelical counsels, though it does not belong to the hierarchical structure of the Church, does pertain
to her life and holiness (CIC 207/2).
The distinction between clergy and laity has its foundation in the New Testament, indeed in the will and work of
Our Lord Himself. As Trent and Vatican I and II teach, the hierarchical structure of the Church is of divine institution
(cf Trent, Sess. 23,
Canon 6 [DS 1776]; Vatican I, [DS 3050f]; LG 18). I am labouring this point because of
the continuing attraction of the heresy that the Church was originally, and should therefore now be, a formless
'democracy'. There have been many variations
on this tired theme. For example, in the early Church, the Montanist sect would only accept the authority of those
they regarded as charismatic. Then there is Luther's levelled-out theology of the royal priesthood of all believers.
More recently, Schillebeeckx has pictured the Church as a kind of Flemish social club. To these various romanticisms
we must oppose the reality of the Mystical Body of Christ, which, like any other living body, as St Paul shows,
has differentiated organs and limbs. There are diverse gifts, offices, ways of serving, but only one God, Lord
and Spirit. (cf 1 Cor. 12). To all would-be ecclesiastical levellers, I would say:
'Return, with an open mind and heart, to the Gospels.'
Consider the concentric circles round Our Lord in the sixth chapter of St Luke's Gospel. First, there is the 'great multitude' who press hard to hear and to be healed by
Him (cf v.17); then there is 'the great crowd of his disciples' (ibid), those who follow Him more closely; finally, chosen from
his disciples, are the twelve men, with Peter at their head, whom Jesus appoints as Apostles after a night of prayer
to the Father (cf vv.12ff). The hierarchical apostolic order of the Church is Our Lord's
own sacramental gift, flowing from His prayer, in the Spirit, to the Father. To seek to order Christian life and
ministry in some other way is to oppose the very mind and heart of Jesus.
Unity and Diversity in the Church
The Church is a Trinitarian and Christological mystery, and for that very reason her life is one of unity in diversity.
The Church is Trinitarian, 'a people brought into unity from the unity
of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit' (LG
4) , a created communion reflecting in a certain way the uncreated communion of the Three
really distinct Divine Persons in the numerical identity of the One Substance. The Church is a Christological mystery,
the Mystical Body of Christ, and so there will be something in her make-up that corresponds to the 'unconfused and undivided' way in which in Him divinity and humanity
are united in the one person of the divine Word. St Maximus the Confessor, that great seventh-century defender
of the orthodox Christology of the Church, came to see that, since it is in the Word incarnate that all creation
finds its meaning and fulfilment, the words used by the Council of Chalcedon to describe the hypostatic union ('without confusion or change, without division or separation')
provide us with a key to understanding every kind of natural and supernatural relationship (cf Hans Urs von Balthasar, Kosmische Liturgie, passim). By analogy with the Incarnation, all differentiation
within the Church is held fast within a surrounding unity; unity preserves and guarantees rich diversity. So, then,
it seems reasonable to describe the mutual ordering of laity and clergy within the Church of Christ as being 'without confusion or division' In the past, there may have been
a tendency to harden the distinctions into divisions, leaving the laity, theologically and spiritually, in the
cold, but in the present there is without doubt a dangerous trend towards confusion - the laicizing of the clergy
and the clericalizing of the laity.
All Christian states of life are united in Christ 'without division'. There are no sacred castes or social classes within Catholic Christianity. As Lumen
Gentium teaches, 'there is a common dignity
of the members deriving from their regeneration in Christ, a common filial grace, a common vocation to perfection' (LG 32). Although, by Christ's will, for the good of the whole Church, some are 'teachers,
dispensers of the mysteries, and pastors', all remain equal 'with regard to the dignity and action common to all the faithful for the building up of the Body
of Christ' (ibid.).
There is a real difference, of kind not just of degree (cf LG 10), between the ministerial priesthood and the rest of the People of God, but that difference exists for
the sake of service. Christ, the Lord of all, came not to be served but to serve, as do those who, by the sacrament
of Ordination, share in His threefold mission. In the beautiful words of St Augustine, quoted by Lumen Gentium, 'for you I am a
bishop, with you I am a Christian' (LG 32). The necessarily male apostolic ministry, which is only one part of the People of God, exists to serve
the Church as a whole, the Church embodied most purely and perfectly in Our Lady.
At the present time, in many places, there is an undoubted trend, in theory and practice, towards the confusion
of the distinct identities of priest and layman: priests adopting lay dress and life-style; laymen caught up into
quasi-clerical activities and institutions. This trend is not to be blamed on the doctrine of Vatican II, but on
a failure to be faithful to its authentic form as unfolded by the Popes. The modern mix-up has its roots in the
distortion of conciliar teaching and post-conciliar disciplinary changes.
The harmful muddling of clergy and laity has come about through the abuse of some of the goods which God has given
His Church since Vatican II. For example, the institution of extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist has been
a real blessing in many parishes, because it has enabled the sick and elderly to receive Our Lord in the Blessed
Sacrament far more regularly than would otherwise be possible. It is an abuse of this good when such ministers
are allowed to become a kind of para-clergy, operating beyond the bounds of the Church's law. Then again, though
lay catechists are necessary on the foreign missions (cf AG 15) and may play a useful auxiliary role in longer established local Churches,
catechesis is something that cannot be wholly delegated to the laity; it is an essential part of the specifically
priestly ministry of the Word (cf PO 4).
One very widespread confusion of priestly and lay vocations is the use of the word 'ministry' to describe almost anything done by the laity. For example, there is a series of booklets published
in the USA which includes titles on the 'ministry'
of parents to their children and of ushers at the back of the church. The muddle here is between 'ministry' and 'service'. Ministry in the language of the Church is authorized office and is the God-given task of only some
Christians; service, on the other hand, in imitation of Christ the Suffering Servant, is the vocation of all. The
Council Fathers bequeathed us a whole chapter of Lumen Gentium on the laity and a complete decree on the lay apostolate, yet not once is the word ministeriurn there applied to the mission of the layman. 'Ministry' at Vatican II always means the ordained ministry of
bishops, priests, and deacons. True, in 1972 Pope Paul VI replaced the old minor orders with the two 'ministries' of lector and
acolyte, which in principle are open to laymen, but these are ministries only by a certain
analogy with the ministerial priesthood, of which they are a participation and an extension; that is why they are
fitting stepping stones to ordination and are open only to males. Were ministry and service not really distinct,
it would be a tautology to assert, as I have done already, that sacred ministers are called to service. St Thomas
Aquinas, when discussing gratitude, cites the opinion of the philosopher Seneca that a servant exercises his ministerium when he does what he is supposed to do; when he does more than
he is bound to, he is doing his master a favour (beneficium);
once friendship is his motive, there can be no longer any question of ministerium (2a2ae 106, 3, ad 4). Now charity is a kind of friendship (cf 2a 2ae 23, 1). It would, therefore, be a cruel error to
insist on dubbing every act of Christian love a ministry. Man and woman are ministers, in the technical sense,
of the Sacrament of Matrimony, but their life together, in the grace of that sacrament, is surely better described
as mutual loving service than ministry. Parents serve their children out of love; they have duties and responsibilities
towards them, but they do not 'minister' to
them - that word would suggest something coldly officious. Our Blessed Lady is the ancilla
Domini, the Lord's handmaid, but surely not His minister. To call the Blessed Virgin's
service of God a 'ministry' would be to remove
it from the unbounded open space of loving ready obedience and set it down in the narrower world of office, With
regard to God, servitium, according to St Thomas, is
a synonym of the worship we all owe Him as our Creator (cf 2a2ae 25, 5), whereas ministerium is the special service
to which He calls only some of His creatures.
The major difference between ministry and service is that the former is of its very nature public, whereas the
latter is more often hidden and humble. Father Georges Chantraine SJ, a close colleague of the late Father von
Balthasar, suggests that the modern cult of lay ministry may cause a resurgence of Pharisaism, the parading of
I am afraid that since the Council two diseases have joined forces: on the
one hand, the disease of bureaucracy (just look at the annual directories); and on the other, making too visible
what ought to remain in large part invisible (Nouvelle
Revue Théologique 109 (1987), 372)
Too much self-consciousness about 'ministry' can divert the layman from the little, lowly way of serving God and neighbour in charity. (in this connection,
I would like to add that I think that CRUX's shunning of publicity is wise and honourable, In the words of our
little pamphlet on Aims and Objects, 'publicity, especially if deliberately courted, could produce pride in ourselves and envy
The Lessons of History
Those presently pleading for a theology of ministrv 'from below', for a Church in which there is only a functional 'division
of labour' between pastors and ordinary believers, would be advised to study the history
of the various bodies that have rejected the hierarchical priesthood of the Church. Have they succeeded in establishing
egalitarian communities of fraternal love? On the contrary, their refusal of Christ's sacramental gift of holy
order has left them susceptible to the tyranny of strong-willed individuaIs and the adoption of merely worldly
structures of authority. Clericalism in the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches comes about through the abuse
of apostolic order: in the denominations it can become a way of life. The Protestant minister what he is by human
qualification, doubtless also by sincere prayer and laying on of hands, but not by the Sacrament which the divine
Word incarnate gave to His Church to ensure she was ordered according to His will and not the world's. His ministry
may be fruitful and blessed by God, but, being a simply human creation, modelled inevitably on secular professions,
its centre of gravity tends to be the individual ministers personality and virtues. Vladimir Soloviev, the 'Russian Newman', argued this forcefully in the last century.
He maintained that, however subjectively arrogant a Catholic priest may be, there is an objective humility about
his office: he is because of what God, through the Sacrament of Ordination, has made him to be; his ministry and
his teaching are not strictly his own but Christ's.
With the founders and leaders of sects separated from the Church it is just
the opposite. They are often personally humble men, but their ministry is founded on self and pride, for they witness
of themselves - they do and preach that which is right in their own eyes (God, Man and the Church, p. 161).
And what of the laity in such denominations? It is my view that Christian communities which lack
the Sacrament of Holy Order (valid bishops and priests through the apostolic succession) also have an imperfect
realization of the lay vocation. First, though God's grace is available to them in other way's, these communities
are deprived of the Sacrament of Confirmation, which engraces a layman for spiritual combat and witness to Christ;
they have no God-given sacramental means of reconciliation; above all, they do not have the Mass, the source and
summit of the layman's life. Their doctrinal deficiencies likewise impoverish their theology of the laity. Their
Maryless Christology has bequeathed them an impersonal, coldly masculine idea of the Church, which leaves them
particularly vulnerable to the taunts of feminism. Finally, all the Protestant bodies have now abandoned Our Lord's
teaching about the indissolubility of marriage and the openness of conjugal union to the gift of children, thereby
overthrowing the dignity of laypeople's married and family life. Christian sacramental marriage exists outside
the visible limits of the Catholic Church, yet only in the Church, only in the courageous teaching of Peter's successors,
do Christian couples and families receive the guidance and support they need for their following of Christ. As
a convert I know this to be true from my own experience. In full communion with the Church built on Peter, I have
rediscovered the truth and the beauty of my vocation as a husband and father. In the Church of England, the Church
created by Henry the divorcee, it seemed as if the whole institution was determined to undermine it.
Where there is valid Catholic priesthood, and where that priesthood is treasured and understood in an orthodox
manner, the lay apoatolate flourishes. Likewise, when laymen and women, that is to say, Christian families, are
strong in faith and prayer, ardent in love of God, Our Lady and the Church, then priestly and religious vocations
are poured out. The Church in Poland, 'ever faithful'
to Catholic orthodoxy, is vivid proof of my thesis. It is the Church where the priest's true identity as a ministerial
icon of the Eternal High Priest has never been obscured in the minds and hearts of the people. The result has been
not only a profusion of vocations to the priesthood, but a flowering of the lay apostolate. It is Polish Catholicism
after all which gave the world Solidarity, not an effete 'lay ministry', but a dynamic trade union of essentially Christian inspiration.
Accentuating the Positive
I have said what the layman is not. Now I must turn to what he is, what he is meant to do, and what he is called
to become. It is the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation which give the layman his positive identity and apostolate.
In their Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity the Fathers of Vatican II teach as follows:
inserted into the Mystical Body of Christ by Baptism and strengthened by the
power of the Holy Spirit in Conformation, [the laity] are appointed to an apostolate by the Lord Himself. They
are consecrated a royal priesthood and a holy people, so that they may offer spiritual sacrifices in everything
they do and bear witness to Christ throughout the world (AA 3).
In Lumen Gentium they make the same
point, indicating that the laity in their own way, through incorporation into Christ, share in his threefold office
as prophet, priest, and king (LG 31).
The Christian layman's identity is defined by the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation. Baptism incorporates
him into Christ, plunges him into the death and resurrection of the incarnate Son, making him a son in the Son,
a child of the Father and a temple of the Holy Spirit. The layman is born an alienated son of Adam; by water and
the Holy Spirit, in Christ, he is reborn as an adopted son of God. He comes into existence in the state of Original
Sin, deprived of living friendship with the Trinity; but through Baptism in the name of the Trinity he is made
a sharer in the very life of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, a partaker of the divine nature. That is not all. By
incorporating us into Himself in Baptism, Our Lord brings us into communion not only with the other divine persons
of the Trinity, with the Father in the Holy Spirit, but also with all the human persons who belong to Him: His
Mother becomes our Mother; the other members of His Body become our brothers and sisters in the family of God,
the communio sanctorum. In the Sacrament of Confirmation
the layman is endowed by the Holy Spirit with the strength to witness to Christ, to confess His name and His Cross
before the world (cf Florence, DS 1319; LG 11).
Addressing new Christians, St Cyril of Jerusalem describes the effect of their 'chrismation' (Confirmation) as follows:
Just as the Saviour, after his Baptism and the coming of the Holy Spirit,
went forth to vanquish the Enemy [in the wilderness], so you too, after Holy Baptism and Mystical Chrismation,
having put on the whole armour of the Holy Spirit, are to resist the power of the Adversary and to vanquish him,
saying, "I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me" (cf
Phil. 4. 13) (Mystagogical Catechesis 3, 4).
In Confirmation, as in Baptism. Our Lord leaves His indelible mark on the soul, that is to say,
He imprints a character. This, as St Thomas explains, is a spiritual power by which one shares in the priesthood
of Christ (cf ST 3a, 63. 3), The character of
Baptism is a passive power, the capacity to receive divine gifts. The character of Confirmation is the active power
to confess our Catholic faith in Christ openly and to engage in spiritual cormbat against the enemies of the faith
(cf 3a, 72, 5). By his Baptism and Confirmation
the layman is a marked man, marked by Jesus, defined in relation to Jesus and, through Him and His Cross, to the
Our Lord shares His All with us. All that the divine Head has or achieves in His human nature is for sharing, by
grace, with His members. He is priest, prophet, and king, and He makes us 'a
kingdom, priests to His God and Father' (Rev.
1. 6), a prophetic people to 'declare (God's)
wonderful deeds' (cf 1 Peter 2. 9). He Himself is the first and chief 'apostle' (cf Heb. 3. 1.), that is to say,
the one who is sent, the eternal Son sent into the world by the Father, yet in His goodness He makes men sharers
in that sending. Now it is important to distinguish the participation in Our Lord's apostolate and threefold office
given in the Sacraments of initiation from the one effected by Ordination. The difference between the two participations
is ontological, a difference of being, of essence not degree (cf LG 10). Ordination does not destroy, nor does it enhance, the characters conferred by Baptism and Confirmation.
It confers a distinctive character of its own (cf Trent, Session 7, Canon 9; DS 1609), a new kind of
conformity to Christ the Priest, a new spiritual power, the power, namely, to consecrate the true Body and Blood
of Our Lord and to forgive or retain sins. Bearing this in mind, let us consider the apostolate that is proper
to the layman; his priestly, prophetic, and royal dignity; and the difference between his mission and that of the
The Lay Apostolate
The laity, in virtue of their Baptism and Confirmation, are divinely called to an apostolate (cf AA 2; LG 33). It is their right and duty, deriving from their fundamental
Christian vocation (cf AA I). The Greek word
apostolos means 'one
who is sent'. The first and chief apostle, the source of all apostolate, is, therefore,
Our Lord Himself, the eternal Son sent into the world by the Father, 'the
apostle and high priest of our confession' (Heb.
3. 1). Every mission or apostolate in the Church
is a participation, through the mission of the Spirit, in the mission of the Son. By his Baptism the layman is
a son in the Son; he is therefore also, by God's calling and making, a sent son, a son with an apostolate.
Since Christ in His mission from the Father is the fountain and the source
of the whole apostolate of the Church, the success of the lay apostolate....depends upon the laity's living union
with Christ. For the Lord has said: 'He who abides In me, and I in him, he bears much fruit, for without me you
can do nothing' (John 15. 5)' (AA 4).
The lay apostolate is more than a simply human work, to be exercised by the layman from his unaided
resources, according to his own inclinations. It is nothing less than a collaboration with 'God the Creator,Redeemer, and Sanctifier' (AA
16), a co-operation with the incarnate Son's redemptive work, a share in His glorifying
of the Father and His sanctifying of men in the Spirit.
There can only be fruitful co-operation when there is intimate union, when worker and co-worker
have a common mind and heart. We can, therefore, only be fruitful when our minds are conformed to the mind of Christ
Jesus (cf Phil. 2. 5), when our hearts are like His
most Sacred Heart, meek and lowly, burning with love of the Father and our fellow men. The apostles of Jesus must
be friends of Jesus. The first requirement of any lay movement or association must, therefore, be to help its members,
as CRUX tries to do in its Gospel Enquiries, 'to deepen (their) knowledge,
understanding and love of Our Lord, so that (they) may more closely model (themselves) on Him'.
Only in this way can we hope to 'bring some glimpse of Him to others'. The true apostle, whether lay or ordained, must contemplate, must devote himself to, the apostolic
heart of Jesus if (through, with and in Jesus) he is to glorify the Father and serve his brethren in love. By prayer
and penance, he must let the grace that flows from the Heart of Jesus through the Sacraments transform him by conforming
him to the image of the Son-Apostle of the Father.
The fields of the lay apostolate are many and varied. According to Apostolicam Actuositatem, they are to be found in both the Church and the world; in the parish and diocese, in the family, among
youth, in national and international affairs. Among these, the family, the domestic Church and first cell of society,
has a central importance (cf AA 11). What the
Council sketched in pencil, Pope John Paul II has painted in rich colour. In Familiaris
Consortio he has given us an inspiring picture of what the saving and sanctifying
mission of the Christian family should be. I shall consider this teaching in detail in what follows.
Lumen Gentgum makes a distinction between the apostolate
that is proper to the laity, their making the Church present and active in situations where they alone can be and
act, and those rarer, extraordinary activities where they co-operate more immediately in the apostolate of the
hierarchy (cf LG 33). Some laymen may be chosen
by God and called by the bishop 'to devote themselves exclusively to apostolic
labours' (LG 41).
Such exceptional cases should not be taken as a model of the lay apostolate. The vast majority of the laity exercise
their mission without hierarchical mandate, simply by witnessing to Christ, in faith, hope and charity, in their
ordinary daily life and work. Their mission derives from Baptism and Confirmation, their incorporation into Christ,
not from a special appointment from the bishop. In an article written towards the end of his life, Jacques Maritain
pointed out that the great Catholic lay witnesses and apologists of our century - Peguy, Claudel, Bernanos, Chesterton,
Belloc - 'spoke in [their] own name, according to [their] own personal
inspiration and personal experience, without having received either a mission or a mandate from the hierarchy,
and it is precisely for this reason that their witness has had so great an influence'
(Communio (1987), 196). These were faithful
sons, but not full-time employees, of the Church. They witnessed to the faith not in the chambers of episcopal
committees and commissions but in the worlds of literature, journalism, diplomacy, and politics in which they worked.
They were the salt of the earth, the light of the world, a beacon of Catholic truth shining before men.
The Layman's Mission: in the World
According to the Fathers of Vatican II, 'a secular quality is proper and
special to the laity' (LG 31; cf AA 2, 29; GS
43). 'Secular' here
does not mean profane or worldly in the pejorative sense. It simply refers to the fact that the layman is a man
of the Church living and working and witnessing to Christ in the temporal order, the saeculum - family life, economic affairs, the arts and professions, political institutions. Acting as a kind of
leaven, the laity are called to 'seek the kingdom of God by engaging in
temporal affairs and ordering them according to God's will' (LG 31), that is to say, according to justice and charity, thereby co-operating
with the Redeemer in His saving, healing and transfiguring work.
Sharing in the Threefold Office of Christ
But what does this apostolate come down to? What exactly is the layman meant, sent, to do in the Church and in
the world? The Vatican II Decree on the Lay Apostolate gives us this definition:
For this the Church was born; that by spreading the Kingdom of Christ everywhere
to the glory of God the Father, she might make all men partakers of His saving redemption, and that through them
the whole world might in actual fact be ordered to Christ (AA 2).
Later on in the same paragraph, the Decree refers to Lumen Gentium's teaching on the laity's participation, through Baptism and Confirmation, in Christ's priestly, prophetic,
and regal office:
In the Church there is diversity in ministry but unity in mission. On the
apostles and their successors Christ conferred the office of teaching, sanctifying, and ruling in His name and
power. But the laity, too, share in Christ's priestly, prophetic and royal office and so have their own part to
play in the mission of the whole People of God in the Church and in the world. They exercise a real apostolate
by what they do for the evangelization and sanctification of men and for the penetration and perfection of the
temporal order by the spirit of the Gospel. in this way, by what they do in the temporal order, they openly bear
witness to Christ and promote the salvation of men (AA 2).
In further explaining the lay apostolate, I intend to follow the Fathers of Vatican II by considering it as a priestly,
prophetic, and royal mission in the Church and the world.
The Priestly Mission of the Layman
According to Lumen Gentium, the layman exercises his
priestly mission by offering up his daily life, in union with Christ, to the Father (LG
34). If we were to look for a prayerful expression of this, it would be the Morning Offering:
'O Jesus, through the immaculate heart of Mary, I offer to Thee this day
my prayers, my works, my joys, my sorrows, for all the intentions of Thy most Sacred Heart, in union with the Most
Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world, and especially this day for Pope John Paul's intentions.' St Paul appeals to us 'to present [our] bodies as a living
sacrifice, holy, and acceptable to God, which is [our] spiritual worship' (cf Rom. 12. 1). And Pope St Leo the Great, in a sermon, reminds
his Roman audience that there is no more priestly attitude than 'dedicating
to God a pure conscience and offering on the inward altar spotless oblations of piety.'
(Semi. 4, 1).
Husband and wife, father and mother, manifest their priestly dignity by living sacrificially for one another and
their children. Christian marriage is a special kind of participation in Christ's redemptive sacrifice, for it
was on the Cross that He lovingly gave Himself up for His Bride-Church. The Sacrament of Marriage therefore 'confers on [spouses] the grace and moral obligation of transforming their whole lives
into a "spiritual sacrifice"' (PC
56). 'Family communion can only be preserved
and perfected through a great spirit of sacrifice' (12). In their marriage and family life husbands and wives have the daily opportunity, with the help of grace,
to say Yes to God by saying No to self and Yes to the good of their spouses and their children. In so doing, they
are uniting themselves, by the work of the Spirit, with the self-offering of Christ the Priest-Victim to the Father.
They are living out the share in Christ's priesthood conferred on them at their Baptism.
In Familiaris Consortio Pope John Paul II shows how the
Christian family as 'a community in dialogue with God' (PC 55ff), exercises the common priesthood
through participation in the Sacraments, above all the Eucharist (57) and Penance (58), and in family prayer
(59). As examples of the latter, he mentions
Scripture reading and meditation, consecration to the Sacred Heart, devotion to Our Lady, grace before and after
meals, and the Rosary (61). True devotion to
Our Lady, sincere love of her as our Mother and 'generous imitation of
her interior spiritual attitude' to her Son, has a healing and transfiguring effect on
family life. Jesus gave us His Mother to be our Mother precisely so we should learn to advance on the Little Way
of humility and self-abandoning love and trust, which should be the heart of our lives as children of the Father.
Our Lord's gift of littleness, which comes to us through Mary, brings peace and serenity to family life. It enables
parents to be open to life and to the rejuvenating power of their children, and it helps children to come dose
to their parents in love, obedience, and gratitude.
It is perhaps also worth remembering the teaching of the Second Council of Nicaea (787), which decreed that sacred images of Our Lord, of His Blessed Mother, His saints and His angels should
be set up not only in churches but in Christian homes (cf DS 600). Some families like to have a little prayer corner with a crucifix, statue of Our Lady, or an icon. Nor
should we forget the value of sacramentals, such as the use of holy water, in family prayer: their reverent use
is a demonstration of our belief that God became man to save the whole man and to sanctify all of human life.
The Layman and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass
The source and summit of the laity's exercise of their common priesthood is their participation, in the way proper
to them, in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
The ministerial priest. . . In the person of Christ effects the Eucharistic
Sacrifice and in the name of all the people offers it to God. The faithful, by virtue of their royal priesthood,
participate in the offering of the Hoiy Eucharist (LG 10).
In expounding the common priesthood of the faithful, and in particular their share in the offering
of the Holy Sacrifice, Lumen Gentium refers to Pope Pius
XII's Mediator Dei. if we are to understand the Council
correctly, it will be advisable to remind ourselves of that encyclical's teaching. First, Pope Pius defines the
offering proper to the ministerial priest:
The unbloody immolation by which, after the words of consecration have been
pronounced, Christ Is rendered present on the altar in the state of victim, is performed by the priest alone, and
by the priest insofar as he acts in the name of Christ, not insofar as he represents the faithful (DS 3852).
The faithful offer the Holy Sacrifice 'through the hands
of' and 'with' the
through his hands, because the priest acts in the person of Christ the Head, offering in the name of all the members;
with him, because they unite 'their sentiments of praise, entreaty, expiation,
and thanksgiving' with those of the priest, indeed with the intentions of the High Priest
Himself (cf D 2300). Finally, and above all,
the laity participate in the Sacrifice by eating the divine Victim Himself, the sacrificed Lamb of God.
It is his union with Our Lord's sacrifice on the Cross, made really present and offered in an unbloody and sacramental
way in the Mass, which gives the layman the grace to offer his life, his joys and sorrows, 'as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God' (Rom. 12. 1). We cannot offer ourselves unless we are united to the incarnate
Son's offering of His most precious self to the Father. In the Mass Our Lord gives us the whole of Himself - His
Sacrifice to offer through the ministry of priests, His Body and Blood to eat and drink, and thereby He draws us
into His own attitude of self-surrender. This is one of the favourite themes of Father von Balthasar:
If [the believer] is prepared to surrender (to "sacrifice") his
most precious possession -his Lord and Saviour - for the salvation of the world, how much more his own self, which
Is as nothing in comparison (New Elucidations, p. 181).
The ministerial priesthood exists for service - of God and of the faithful's common worship of
God. As the International Theological Commission expressed it in their document on the Church:
Because they are linked to a single source (the priesthood of Christ) and
have a single goal (the offering of the whole Body of Christ), the common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial
priesthood of bishops and priests are strictly correlative (Themata selecte de ecclesiologie, 7/3).
The essential difference between the common priesthood and the ministerial priesthood is that
the latter, unlike the former, is representative. To quote Mediator Dei again, 'the priest acts in the name of the people precisely
and only because he represents in the person of Our Lord Jesus Christ, considered as Head of all the members and
offering Himself for them' (DS 3850). The bishop or priest acts in the person of Christ; he images the Eternal High Priest. He represents
Christ in the way an icon represents or portrays its subject, by way of natural resemblance; that is why he has
to be male. The common priesthood is not representative in this iconic sense. The baptismal character bestows on
the adopted son of God the power to offer devoted service to the Father. The character of Confirmation adds to
that the Spirit-given power to witness and struggle for Christ. The priestly character, by contrast, is the power
to be a sacramental sign and instrument of the divine Bridegroom and Good Shepherd of the Church.
The Prophetic Mission to the Laity
The laity participate in Christ's teaching or prophetic mission by giving witness to Him by word and deed.
Christ, the great prophet, who proclaimed the Kingdom of the Father by the
testimony of His life and the power of His word, fulfils His prophetic office until the full manifestation of His
glory. He does this not only through the Hierarchy, which teaches in His name and power, but aiso through the laity.
He has, therefore, made them witnesses and provided them with understanding of the faith (sensu fidei) and the
grace of speech (LG 35).
The lay exercise of the prophetic office is different from the episcopal or priestly one. Acting
in the person of Christ, the bishops are 'authentic teachers, endowed
with the authority of Christ' (cf LG 25). Official teaching authority differentiates the bishops from the laity, and yet, at the same time, it
is for the good of the laity that they exercise it, for their God-given task is to 'preach
to the people committed to them the faith they must believe and put into practice' (ibid.). Priests, too, as co-workers with the bishops, serve their people by teaching not their own wisdom but
the very Word of God (cf P04). The laity have
the right to receive from their pastors the full, orthodox faith of the Church, the faith which God wants them
to live out and demonstrate in the world.
How do we bear witness to Christ? To answer that question, let us consider the typical lay state - the state of
matrimony. Married laypeople, united indissolubly in the Sacrament of Marriage, have the vocation to be witnesses,
an efficacious sign, of Christ's unfailing love for the Bride He wedded on the Cross (cf
LG 35). By their fidelity, by abiding humbly and courageously in the bond by which God
has indestructibly joined them together, husbands and wives show forth the love of Christ, proclaim His Gospel
(cf AA 11; FC 20). But that is not all. According
to God's plan, the love of husband and wife is intended to lead beyond itself to new life, to children and the
family. This openness of Christian couples to the gift of life also has a prophetic dimension. By co-operating
with the Creator in the transmission of human life, men and women, created in the image of God, show forth something
of the unbounded ever-greaterness of the Trinity. They bear witness to the order implanted in the world and in
human nature by the Father almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth. They reflect the infinite fruitfulness of the
Bridegroom-Son's sacrifice on the cross. They image in a certain way the operation of the Holy Spirit, the Lord
and Giver of Life. The Christian family in its service of life and love has a truly prophetic role in the Church
and society. It is indeed, as Pope John Paul II says in Familiaris Consortio, 'a believing
and evangelizing community' (51f).
CRUX serves the prophetic mission of its members by encouraging and training them 'to
give public expression to Christian truth' This involves grappling with all the major
issues and questions of the day:
abortion; state-sponsoring of contraception; euthanasia; easier divorce; drug-taking;
Immoral genetic experiments; the de-Christianizing of State Schools. . - and all the other pagan recipes which
hinder virtue, promote unhappiness and destroy the worthwhile achievements of Christian civilization.
Martyrdom and the Lay Vocation
The supreme realisation of the Christian vocation to witness for Christ is martyrdom, witness by blood, as Lumen Gentium, with the whole of the Church's tradition, teaches us. (The
Greek word martus means 'a witness').
Since Jesus, the Son of God, manifested His charity by laying down His life
for us, no one has greater love than the one who lays down his life for Jesus and his brothers. From the earliest
times some Christians have been called, some Christians will always be called, to render this supreme testimony
of love to all men, especially to persecutors. The Church, therefore, regards martyrdom as the highest gift and
a supreme proof of charity. It makes the disciple like the Master, 'who freely accepted death for the salvation
of the world'. It conforms him to Him in the shedding of blood. Though this gift is given to few, all must nevertheless
be ready to confess Christ before men and to follow Him along the way of the cross through persecutions which the
Church never lacks. (LG 42)
At the 1987 Synod, the bishops of the Ukrainian Catholic Church continually reminded the other
Fathers of the martyrdom of the catacomb Church in their homeland, most of whom are laypeople. In the course of
the same Synod the Holy Father beatified three lay martyrs of the modern Church. One of these was Marcel Cab, a
young Catholic worker who died for Christ in a Nazi concentration camp on the Feast of St Joseph 1945. During the
occupation many young Frenchmen were deported to Germany for forced labour. Marcel could have been exempted. Instead,
he went as a missionary and apostle to work among the exiles. He was eventually arrested by the Gestapo and incarcerated
because 'his Catholic apostolate among his French companions ... was harmful
to the community of the German people'. Then in November 1987 the Pope beatified eighty-five
of our own English martyrs, twenty-two of whom were laymen.
It is important for the layman to keep before him the example of the martyrs. Nothing brings home more clearly
to him what his apostolate in the world is supposed to be. For martyrdom, as Father von Balthasar has shown, is
the Christian's normal stance (cf Cordula, p. 19). Notice that I say 'normal', not 'frequent'. Martyrdom by blood
is a gift given only to a few. Nonetheless, it is the norm that defines the calling of every Christian. Whatever
the circumstances of our life, however we die, we are called to take up our cross and follow Jesus, to share His
sufferings so that we may come to know the power of His resurrection (cf
Phil. 3.10). Our Blessed Lord wants us to witness to Him, as He witnessed to the Father,
in the way we live and in the way we die, to show the world, whether we live or whether we die, that we are the
Lord's (cf Rom. 16. 8). The martyrs do not die
for an idea, even the noblest. They die for and with the Son of God who first of all loved and gave Himself up
for them. They die in gratitude, in praise, in 'a passion of responsive
love' (Hans Urs von Balthasar, New Elucidations, p. 288).
With St Ignatius of Antioch, they all say, 'Leave me to imitate the Passion
of my God' (Letter
to the Romans, 6)
In thinking of the Christian as called, in a certain sense, to martyrdom, we should recall some
words of Charles Peguy, the great French poet and prophet, who died in action on the first day of the first battle
of the First World War.
The Crowned Head and the least of His members are united by a bond so perfect
that the least of the sick, in his bed, is allowed to imitate the suffering of Jesus on the Cross. The least of
the sick, in his bed, - . . effectively imitates - . . the very Passion of Jesus, the martyrdom of Jesus and the
. . . saints . - The least of the sick can, by a kind of appropriation, a consecration towards God, turn his illness
into martyrdom, make his malady the matter of martyrdom.
In His Passion, the incarnate Son somehow touched and embraced all human suffering, transfiguring
it, giving it new meaning. As Pope John Paul II has put it, 'suffering
is an invitation to be more like the Son in doing the Father's will; it offers us an opportunity to imitate Christ
who died to redeem mankind' (Southwark, 1982;
cf Salvifici Doloris, passim). The Christian who lovingly offers up his sufferings to the Father, in union with Our Lord, makes his
own unique contribution to the redemption of the world. In a mysterious but utterly real way, by the grace of our
crucified and risen Lord, whose power is made perfect in weakness (cf
2 Cor. 9 12), the suffering Christian can be not only martyr-witness but apostle and
missionary, glorifying God and saving souls.
Witnessing and Struggling
The example of the martyrs is also a reminder to us that the life of the layman, indeed of every Christian, is
a life of spiritual warfare, a struggle, not against flesh and blood, but 'against
the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual
hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places' (Eph.
6. 12). It is for strength in this battle against Satan that the Holy Spirit is given
to us in Confirmation. Gaudium et Spes describes the
battle in these dramatic words:
A monumental struggle against the powers of darkness pervades the whole history
of men. The battle was joined from the very origins of the world and will continue until the last day, as the Lord
has attested. Caught up in this conflict, man is obliged to wrestle constantly if he is to cling to what is good (GS 37).
CRUX underlines this essential dimension of Christian life by encouraging its members 'by all legitimate means to fight anti-Christian trends and influences'. The very name of our movement helps us to recall that 'we too
must shoulder that cross which the world and the flesh inflict upon those who search after peace and justice' (cf GS 38). On the Eve of His Passion,
Our Lord promised that the world, that is to say, the unholy alliance of Satan and sinful men who love self to
the point of despising God, would reject and hate the disciples as it rejected and hated the Master (Cf John 15. 18). in the West the 'world' in the negative sense takes the form, not of a violently oppressive
atheistic regime, but of a liberal society whose godlessness is obscured for some by its atmosphere of comfort
and indulgence. But it is still the world; it hates us as it hated the Lord. Satan, the 'prince of this world' (Cf John
12. 31), is at work within it, though more subtly. In a world where the forces of death
have entrenched themselves in medicine and media, the witness to the right of every human being to life from fertilisation
to the last breath will receive only contempt and bitterness. In a contraceptive culture where lust is prized above
life, where the child is treated as either a problem to be prevented or a plaything to be produced, the Gospel
of the God who became a little child of a pure Virgin will be seen as a subversive threat. But the Christian is
of good cheer. Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, has given him His peace, a peace the world cannot give (cf John 14.27), a joy to fill his heart to overflowing (cf 15. 11). For the incarnate Son of God, by His Cross and
bodily Resurrection, has overcome the world (cf 16. 33); the final triumph of the Lamb is certain: all shall be well.
The layman does not witness to Christ and struggle for His truth unaided and alone. In the Sacrament of Confirmation
Our Lord has strengthened him with the Holy Spirit precisely for this work of witness and spiritual combat. When
he is confronted by an uncomprehending or hostile worldly establishment, the Spirit will give him words (cf Matt. 10. 20). He is nourished and sustained by the precious
Body and Blood of the Lord. The layman is strong in the Lord, in the strength of His might (cf Eph. 6. 10). He is equipped with the shield of faith, the helmet
of salvation, the sword of the Spirit (cf Eph. 6. 16f). He lives and moves and has his being in the Catholic Communion of Christ's true Church, supported by
the prayers and sacrifices of his fellow Christians. He leans on the merits and prayers of the saints in heaven.
He is fenced round by St Michael and all the holy angels of God. And in the Virgin Mother of God, glorified in
body and soul, he has a sign of sure hope and a Mother and Queen to protect him.
AA Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity: Apostolicam
Acsuosuatem; Vatican II
AG Decree on the Church's Missionary Activity: Ad Gentes;
CIC Codex luris Canonici
DH Declaration on Religious Freedom: Dignitatis Humanae; Vatican II
DS Denzinger-Schoenmetzer, Enchiridion Symbolorum; 1976
FC Familiaris Consortio; Pope John
GS Pastoral Consitution on the Church in the Moden World
Gaudium et Spes: Vatican II
LG Dogmatic Constitution on the Church: Lumen Gentium; Vatican II
OT Old Testament
PO Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests; Presbyterorum Ordinis; Vatican II
RM Redemptoris Mater; Pope John Paul
ST Summa Theologiae, St Thomas Aquinas
All quotations applied to CRUX and not attributed to any other source, are taken from the CRUX booklet describing
the movement and its aims and methods. Quotations from the documents are either the author's own or an adaptation
versions of W M Abbott SJ and A Flannery OP.
Copyright © John Saward, 1994 and 2001
Go to Part 2
The author, John Saward, was a clergyman in the Church of England. He
and his wife, and eventually their three children, all became Catholics. Formely on the staff at St Cuthbert's
College, Ushaw, England for several years he then became Professor of Dogmatic Theology at the Saint Charles Borromeo
Seminary in Pennsylvania, U.S.A. Since 1998 he has been Professor of Dogmatic Theology at the International Theological
Institute (a Papal institute of graduate theology in Gaming, Austria). The above article is a slightly revised
version of a lecture given at a CRUX conference in 1988. The article originally appeared as a booklet published
by CRUX Publications Limited and is reproduced here with permission.
This version: 7th February 2003