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Christifideles Laici


Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation of Pope John Paul II to bishops, priests, deacons, women and men religious and all the lay faithful

(December 30, 1988)


1. The lay members of Christ's faithful people (Christifideles laici), whose "Vocation and Mission in the Church and in the World 20 Years After the Second Vatican Council" was the topic of the 1987 Synod of Bishops, are those who form that part of the People of God which might be likened to the laborers in the vineyard mentioned in Matthew's Gospel: "For the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard" (Mt 20:1- 2).

The Gospel parable sets before our eyes the Lord's vast vineyard and the multitude of persons, both men and women, who are called and sent forth by Him to labor in it. The vineyard is the whole world (cf. Mt 13:38), which is to be transformed according to the plan of God in view of the final coming of the kingdom of God.


2. "And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and to them he said, 'You go into the vineyard too'" (Mt 20:3-4).

From that distant day the call of the Lord Jesus "You go into my vineyard too" never fails to resound in the course of history: it is addressed to every person who comes into this world.

In our times, the Church after Vatican II, in a renewed outpouring of the Spirit of Pentecost, has come to a more lively awareness of her missionary nature and has listened again to the voice of her Lord who sends her forth into the world as "the universal sacrament of salvation."[1]

You go too. The call is a concern not only of pastors, clergy and men and women religious. The call is addressed to everyone: lay people as well are personally called by the Lord, from whom they receive a mission on behalf of the Church and the world. In preaching to the people St. Gregory the Great recalls this fact and comments on the parable of the laborers in the vineyard: "Keep watch over your manner of life, dear people, and make sure that you are indeed the Lord's laborers. Each person should take into account what he does and consider if he is laboring in the vineyard of the Lord."[2]

The council, in particular, with its rich doctrinal, spiritual and pastoral patrimony, has written as never before on the nature, dignity, spirituality, mission and responsibility of the lay faithful. And the council fathers, re-echoing the call of Christ, have summoned all the lay faithful, both women and men, to labor in the vineyard: "The council, then, makes an earnest plea in the Lord's name that all lay people give a glad, generous and prompt response to the impulse of the Holy Spirit and to the voice of Christ, who is giving them an especially urgent invitation at this moment. Young people should feel that this call is directed to them in particular, and they should respond to it eagerly and magnanimously. The Lord himself renews His invitation to all the lay faithful to come closer to Him every day, and with the recognition that what is His is also their own (Phil 2:5), they ought to associate themselves with Him in His saving mission. Once again He sends them into every town and place where He himself is to come" (cf. Lk 10:1).[3]

You go into my vineyard too. During the Synod of Bishops, held in Rome, October 1-30, 1987, these words were re-echoed in spirit once again. Following the path marked out by the council and remaining open to the light of the experience of persons and communities from the whole Church, the fathers, enriched by preceding synods, treated in a specific and extensive manner the topic of the vocation and mission of the lay faithful in the Church and in the world.

In this assembly of bishops there was not lacking a qualified representation of the lay faithful, both women and men, which rendered a valuable contribution to the synod proceedings. This was publicly acknowledged in the concluding homily: "We give thanks that during the course of the synod we have not only rejoiced in the participation of the lay faithful (both men and women auditors), but even more so in that the progress of the synodal discussions has enabled us to listen to those whom we invited, representatives of the lay faithful from all parts of the world, from different countries, and to profit from their experience, their advice and the suggestions they have offered out of love for the common cause."[4]

In looking over the years following the council, the synod fathers have been able to verify how the Holy Spirit continues to renew the youth of the Church and how He has inspired new aspirations toward holiness and the participation of so many lay faithful. This is witnessed, among other ways, in the new manner of active collaboration among priests, religious and the lay faithful; the active participation in the liturgy, in the proclamation of the Word of God and catechesis; the multiplicity of services and tasks entrusted to the lay faithful and fulfilled by them; the flourishing of groups, associations and spiritual movements as well as a lay commitment in the life of the Church; and in the fuller and meaningful participation of women in the development of society.

At the same time, the synod has pointed out that the post-conciliar path of the lay faithful has not been without its difficulties and dangers. In particular, two temptations can be cited which they have not always known how to avoid: the temptation of being so strongly interested in Church services and tasks that some fail to become actively engaged in their responsibilities in the professional, social, cultural and political world; and the temptation of legitimizing the unwarranted separation of faith from life, that is, a separation of the Gospel's acceptance from the actual living of the Gospel in various situations in the world.

In the course of its work, the synod made constant reference to the Second Vatican Council, whose teaching on the lay faithful, after 20 years, has taken on a surprisingly contemporary character and at times has carried prophetic significance: such teaching has the capacity of enlightening and guiding the responses that today must be given to new situations. In reality, the challenge embraced by the synod fathers has been that of indicating the concrete ways through which this rich "theory" on the lay state expressed by the council can be translated into authentic Church "practice." Some situations have made themselves felt because of a certain "novelty" that they have, and in this sense they can be called post-conciliar, at least chronologically: to these the synod fathers have rightly given a particular attention in the course of their discussion and reflection. Among those situations to be recalled are those regarding the ministries and church services entrusted at present and in the future to the lay faithful, the growth and spread of new "movements" alongside other group forms of lay involvement, and the place and role of women both in the Church and in society.

At the conclusion of their work, which proceeded with great commitment, competence and generosity, the synod fathers made known to me their desires and requested that at an opportune time, a conclusive papal document on the topic of the lay faithful be offered to the universal Church.[5]

This post-synodal apostolic exhortation intends to take into account all the richness of the synod work, from the lineamenta to the instrumentum labors, from the introductory report, the presentations of individual bishops and lay persons to the summary reports after discussion in the synod hall, from the discussions and reports of the "small groups" to the final propositions and the concluding "message." For this reason the present document is not something in contradistinction to the synod, but is meant to be a faithful and coherent expression of it, a fruit of collegiality. As such, the council of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops and the secretariat itself have contributed to its final form.

This exhortation intends to stir and promote a deeper awareness among all the faithful of the gift and responsibility they share, both as a group and as individuals, in the communion and mission of the Church.


3. The basic meaning of this synod and the most precious fruit desired as a result of it is the lay faithful's hearkening to the call of Christ the Lord to work in His vineyard, to take an active, conscientious and responsible part in the mission of the Church in this great moment in history, made especially dramatic by occurring on the threshold of the third millennium.

A new state of affairs today both in the Church and in social, economic, political and cultural life, calls with a particular urgency for the action of the lay faithful. If lack of commitment is always unacceptable, the present time renders it even more so. It is not permissible for anyone to remain idle.

We continue in our reading of the Gospel parable: "And about the 11th hour he went out and found others standing; and he said to them, 'Why do you stand here idle all day?' They said to him, 'Because no one has hired us.' He said to them, 'You go into the vineyard too'" (Mt 20:6-7).

Since the work that awaits everyone in the vineyard of the Lord is so great, there is no place for idleness. With even greater urgency the "householder" repeats his invitation: "You go into my vineyard too."

The voice of the Lord clearly resounds in the depths of each of Christ's followers, who through faith and the sacraments of Christian initiation is made like to Jesus Christ, is incorporated as a living member in the Church and has an active part in her mission of salvation. The voice of the Lord also comes to be heard through the historic events of the Church and humanity, as the council reminds us: "The People of God believes that it is led by the Spirit of the Lord, who fills the whole world. Moved by this faith it tries to discern authentic signs of God's presence and purpose in the events, the needs and the longings which it shares with other people of our time. For faith throws a new light on all things and makes known the full ideal to which God has called each individual, and thus guides the mind toward solutions which are fully human."[6]

It is necessary, then, to keep a watchful eye on this our world, with its problems and values, its unrest and hopes, its defeats and triumphs: a world whose economic, social, political and cultural affairs pose problems and grave difficulties in light of the description provided by the council in the pastoral constitution, Gaudium et Spes.[7] This, then, is the vineyard; this is the field in which the faithful are called to fulfill their mission. Jesus wants them, as He wants all His disciples, to be the "salt of the earth" and the "light of the world" (cf. Mt 5:13- 14). But what is the actual state of affairs of the "earth" and the "world," for which Christians ought to be "salt" and "light"?

The variety of situations and problems that exist in our world is indeed great and rapidly changing. For this reason it is all the more necessary to guard against generalizations and unwarranted simplifications. It is possible, however, to highlight some trends that are emerging in present-day society. The Gospel records that the weeds and the good grain grew together in the farmer's field. The same is true in history, where in everyday life there often exist contradictions in the exercise of human freedom, where there is found, side by side and at times closely intertwined, evil and good, injustice and justice, anguish and hope.

Secularism and the Need for Religion

4. How can one not notice the ever-growing existence of religious indifference and atheism in its more varied forms, particularly in its perhaps most widespread form of secularism? Adversely affected by the impressive triumphs of continuing scientific and technological development and above all fascinated by a very old and yet new temptation, namely, that of wishing to become like God (cf. Gen 3:5) through the use of a liberty without bounds, individuals cut the religious roots that are in their hearts; they forget God, or simply retain Him without meaning in their lives, or outrightly reject Him, and begin to adore various "idols" of the contemporary world.

The present-day phenomenon of secularism is truly serious, not simply as regards the individual, but in some ways, as regards whole communities, as the council has already indicated: "Growing numbers of people are abandoning religion in practice."[8] At other times I myself have recalled the phenomenon of de-Christianization that strikes longstanding Christian people and which continually calls for a re-evangelization.

Human longing and the need for religion, however, are not able to be totally extinguished. When persons in conscience have the courage to face the more serious questions of human existence--particularly questions related to the purpose of life, to suffering and to dying--they are unable to avoid making their own the words of truth uttered by St. Augustine: "You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you."[9] In the same manner the present-day world bears witness to this as well, in ever-increasing and impressive ways, through an openness to a life, the renewed interest in religious research, the return to a sense of the sacred and to prayer, and the demand for freedom to call upon the name of the Lord.

The Human Person: A Dignity Violated and Exalted

5. We furthermore call to mind the violations to which the human person is subjected.

When the individual is not recognized and loved in the person's dignity as the living image of God (cf. Gen 1:26), the human being is exposed to more humiliating and degrading forms of "manipulation" that most assuredly reduce the individual to a slavery to those who are stronger. "Those who are stronger" can take a variety of names: an ideology, economic power, political and inhumane systems, scientific technocracy or the intrusiveness of the mass media. Once again we find ourselves before many persons, our sisters and brothers, whose fundamental rights are being violated, owing to their exceedingly great capacity for endurance and to the clear injustice of certain civil laws: the right to life and to integrity, the right to a house and to work, the right to a family and responsible parenthood, the right to participation in public and political life, the right to freedom of conscience and the practice of religion.

Who is able to count the number of babies unborn because they have been killed in their mothers' wombs, children abandoned and abused by their own parents, children who grow without affection and education? In some countries entire populations are deprived of housing and work, lacking the means absolutely essential for leading a life worthy of a human being, and are deprived even of those things necessary for their sustenance. There are great areas of poverty and of misery, both physical and moral, existing at this moment on the periphery of great cities. Entire groups of human beings have been seriously afflicted.

But the sacredness of the human person cannot be obliterated no matter how often it is devalued and violated because it has its unshakable foundation in God as Creator and Father. The sacredness of the person always keeps returning again and again.

The sense of the dignity of the human person must be pondered and reaffirmed in stronger terms. A beneficial trend is advancing and permeating all peoples of the earth, making them ever more aware of the dignity of the individual: the person is not at all a "thing" or an "object" to be used, but primarily a responsible "subject," one endowed with conscience and freedom, called to live responsibly in society and history, and oriented toward spiritual and religious values.

It has been said that ours is the time of "humanism": paradoxically, some of its atheistic and secularistic forms arrive at a point where the human person is diminished and annihilated; other forms of humanism, instead, exalt the individual in such a manner that these forms become a veritable and real idolatry. There are still other forms, however, in line with the truth, which rightly acknowledge the greatness and misery of individuals and manifest, sustain and foster the total dignity of the human person.

The sign and fruit of this trend toward humanism is the growing need for participation, which is undoubtedly one of the distinctive features of present-day humanity, a true "sign of the times" that is developing in various fields and in different ways: above all the growing need for participation regarding women and young people, not only in areas of family and academic life, but also in cultural, economic, social and political areas. To be leading characters in this development, in some ways to be creators of a new, more humane culture, is a requirement both for the individual and for peoples as a whole.[10]

Conflict and Peace

6. Finally, we are unable to overlook another phenomenon that is quite evident in present-day humanity: perhaps as never before in history, humanity is daily buffeted by conflict. This is a phenomenon which has many forms, displayed in a legitimate plurality of mentalities and initiatives, but manifested in the fatal opposition of persons, groups, categories, nations and blocks of nations. This opposition takes the form of violence, of terrorism and of war. Once again, but with enormously widespread proportions, diverse sectors of humanity today, wishing to show their "omnipotence," renew the futile experience of constructing the "Tower of Babel" (cf. Gen 11:1-9), which spreads confusion, struggle, disintegration and oppression. The human family is thus in itself dramatically convulsed and wounded.

On the other hand, totally unsuppressible is that human longing experienced by individuals and whole peoples for the inestimable good of peace in justice. The Gospel Beatitude--"Blessed are the peacemakers" (Mt 5:9)--finds in the people of our time a new and significant resonance: entire populations today live, suffer and labor to bring about peace and justice. The participation by so many persons and groups in the life of society is increasingly pursued today as the way to make a desired peace become a reality. On this road we meet many lay faithful generously committed to the social and political field, working in a variety of institutional forms and those of a voluntary nature in service to the least.


7. This, then, is the vast field of labor that stands before the laborers sent forth by the "householder" to work in his vineyard.

In this field the Church is present and working, every one of us, pastors, priests, deacons, religious and lay faithful. The adverse situations here mentioned deeply affect the Church: they in part condition the Church, but they do not crush her, nor even less overcome her, because the Holy Spirit, who gives her life, sustains her in her mission.

Despite every difficulty, delay and contradiction caused by the limits of human nature, by sin and by the evil one, the Church knows that all the forces that humanity employs for communion and participation find a full response in the intervention of Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of man and of the world.

The Church knows that she is sent forth by Him as "sign and instrument of intimate union with God and of the unity of all the human race."[11]

Despite all this, then, humanity is able to hope. Indeed it must hope: the living and personal Gospel, Jesus Christ himself, is the "good news" and the bearer of joy that the Church announces each day, and to whom the Church bears testimony before all people.

The lay faithful have an essential and irreplaceable role in this announcement and in this testimony: through them the Church of Christ is made present in the various sectors of the world, as a sign and source of hope and of love.


The Dignity of the Lay Faithful in the Church as Mystery

The Mystery of the Vine

8. The Sacred Scriptures use the image of the vine in various ways. In a particular case, the vine serves to express the mystery of the People of God. From this perspective, which emphasizes the Church's internal nature, the lay faithful are seen not simply as laborers who work in the vineyard, but as themselves being a part of the vineyard. Jesus says, "I am the vine, you are the branches" (Jn 15:5).

The prophets in the Old Testament used the image of the vine to describe the chosen people. Israel is God's vine, the Lord's own work, the joy of His heart: "I have planted you a choice vine" (Jer 2:21); "Your mother was like a vine in a vineyard transplanted by the water, fruitful and full of branches by reason of abundant water" (Ez 19:10); "My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones and planted it with choice vines..." (Is 5:1-2).

Jesus himself once again takes up the symbol of the vine and uses it to illustrate various aspects of the kingdom of God: "A man planted a vineyard, and set a hedge around it, and dug a pit for the wine press, and built a tower and let it out to tenants and went into another country" (Mk 12:1; cf. Mt 21:28ff).

John the Evangelist invites us to go further and leads us to discover the mystery of the vine: it is the figure and symbol not only of the people of God, but of Jesus himself. He is the vine and we, His disciples, are the branches. He is the "true vine," to which the branches are engrafted to have life (cf. Jn 15:1ff).

The Second Vatican Council, making reference to the various biblical images that help to reveal the mystery of the Church, proposes again the image of the vine and the branches: "Christ is the true vine who gives life and fruitfulness to the branches, that is, to us. Through the Church we abide in Christ, without whom we can do nothing (Jn 15:1-5)."[12] The Church herself, then, is the vine in the Gospel. She is mystery because the very life and love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are the gift gratuitously offered to all those who are born of water and the Holy Spirit (cf. Jn 3:5), and called to relive the very communion of God and to manifest it and communicate it in history (mission): "In that day," Jesus says, "you will know that I am in my Father and you in me, and I in you" (Jn 14:20).

Only from inside the Church's mystery of communion is the "identity" of the lay faithful made known and their fundamental dignity revealed. Only within the context of this dignity can their vocation and mission in the Church and in the world be defined.

Who are the Lay Faithful?

9. The synod fathers have rightly pointed to the need for a definition of the lay faithful's vocation and mission in positive terms, through an in-depth study of the teachings of the Second Vatican Council in light of both recent documentation from the magisterium and the lived experience of the Church, guided as she is by the Holy Spirit.[13]

In giving a response to the question, "Who are the lay faithful," the council went beyond previous interpretations which were predominantly negative. Instead, it opened itself to a decidedly positive vision and displayed a basic intention of asserting the full belonging of the lay faithful to the Church and to its mystery. At the same time it insisted on the unique character of their vocation, which is in a special way to "seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and ordering them according to the plan of God."[14] "The term 'lay faithful'"--we read in the Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium,--"is here understood to mean all the faithful except those in holy orders and those who belong to a religious state sanctioned by the Church. Through Baptism the lay faithful are made one body with Christ and are established among the People of God. They are in their own way made sharers in the priestly, prophetic and kingly office of Christ. They carry out their own part in the mission of the whole Christian people with respect to the Church and the world."[15]

Pius XII once stated: "The faithful, more precisely the lay faithful, find themselves on the front lines of the Church's life; for them the Church is the animating principle for human society. Therefore, they in particular ought to have an ever-clearer consciousness not only of belonging to the Church, but of being the Church, that is to say, the community of the faithful on earth under the leadership of the Pope, the head of all, and of the bishops in communion with him. These are the Church..."[16]

According to the biblical image of the vineyard, the lay faithful, together with all the other members of the Church, are branches engrafted to Christ, the true vine, and from Him derive their life and fruitfulness.

Incorporation into Christ through faith and Baptism is the source of being a Christian in the mystery of the Church. This mystery constitutes the Christian's most basic "features" and serves as the basis for all the vocations and dynamism of the Christian life of the lay faithful (cf. Jn 3:5). In Christ, who died and rose from the dead, the baptized become a "new creation" (Gal 6:15; 2 Cor 5:17) washed clean from sin and brought to life through grace.

Therefore, only through accepting the richness in mystery that God gives to the Christian in baptism is it possible to come to a basic description of the lay faithful.


10. It is no exaggeration to say that the entire existence of the lay faithful has as its purpose to lead a person to a knowledge of the radical newness of the Christian life that comes from Baptism, the sacrament of faith, so that this knowledge can help that person live the responsibilities which arise from that vocation received from God. In arriving at a basic description of the lay faithful, we now more explicitly and directly consider among others the following three fundamental aspects: Baptism regenerates us in the life of the Son of God, unites us to Christ and to His body, the Church, and anoints us in the Holy Spirit, making us spiritual temples.

Children in the Son

11. We here recall Jesus' words to Nicodemus: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God" (Jn 3:5). Baptism, then, is a rebirth, a regeneration.

In considering this aspect of the gift which comes from Baptism, the apostle Peter breaks out into song: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By His great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled and unfading" (1 Pt 1:3-4). And he calls Christians those who have been "born anew, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God" (1 Pt 1:23).

With Baptism we become children of God in His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. Rising from the waters of the baptismal font, every Christian hears again the voice that was once heard on the banks of the Jordan River: "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased" (Lk 3:22). From this comes the understanding that one has been brought into association with the beloved Son, becoming a child of adoption (cf. Gal 4:4-7) and a brother or sister of Christ. In this way the eternal plan of the Father for each person is realized in history: "For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brethren" (Rom 8:29).

It is the Holy Spirit who constitutes the baptized as children of God and members of Christ's body. St. Paul reminds the Christians of Corinth of this fact: "For by one Spirit we are all baptized into one body" (1 Cor 12:13), so that the apostle can say to the lay faithful, "now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it" (1 Cor 12:27); "and because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts" (Gal 4:6; cf. Rom 8:15-16).

We Are One Body in Christ

12. Regenerated as "children in the Son," the baptized are inseparably joined together as "members of Christ and members of the body of the Church," as the Council of Florence teaches.[17]

Baptism symbolizes and brings about a mystical but real incorporation into the crucified and glorious body of Christ. Through the sacrament, Jesus unites the baptized to His death so as to unite the recipient to His resurrection (cf. Rom 6:3-5). The "old man" is stripped away for a reclothing with "the new man," that is, with Jesus himself: "For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ" (Gal 3:27; cf. Eph 4:22-24; Col 3:9-10). The result is that "we, though many, are one body in Christ" (Rom 12:5).

In the words of St. Paul, we find again the faithful echo of the teaching of Jesus himself, which reveals the mystical unity of Christ with His disciples and the disciples with each other, presenting this unity as an image and extension of that mystical communion that bonds the Father to the Son, and the Son to the Father in the bond of love, the Holy Spirit (cf. Jn 17:21). Jesus refers to this same unity in the image of the vine and the branches: "I am the vine, you are the branches" (Jn 15:5), an image that sheds light not only on the deep intimacy of the disciples with Jesus, but on the necessity of a vital communion of the disciples with each other: all are branches of a single vine.

Holy and Living Temples of the Spirit

13. In another comparison, using the image of a building, the apostle Peter defines the baptized as "living stones" founded on Christ, the "cornerstone," and destined to "be raised up into a spiritual building" (1 Pet 2:5ff). The image introduces us to another aspect of the newness of Christian life coming from Baptism and described by the Second Vatican Council: "By regeneration and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, the baptized are consecrated into a spiritual house."[18]

The Holy Spirit "anoints" the baptized, sealing each with an indelible character (cf. 2 Cor 1:21-22), and constituting each as a spiritual temple, that is, He fills this temple with the holy presence of God as a result of each person's being united and likened to Jesus Christ.

With this spiritual "unction," Christians can repeat in an individual way the words of Jesus: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord" (Lk 4:18-19; Cf. Is 61:1-2). Thus, with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in baptism and confirmation, the baptized share in the same mission of Jesus as the Christ, the Savior-Messiah.


14. Referring to the baptized as "newborn babes," the apostle Peter writes: "Come to Him, to that living stone rejected by men but in God's sight chosen and precious; and like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.... You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light" (1 Pet 2:4-5, 9).

A new aspect to the grace and dignity coming from baptism is here introduced: the lay faithful participate, for their part, in the threefold mission of Christ as priest, prophet and king. This aspect has never been forgotten in the living tradition of the Church, as exemplified in the explanation which St. Augustine offers for Psalm 26: "David was anointed king. In those days only a king and a priest were anointed. These two persons prefigured the one and only priest and king who was to come, Christ (the name "Christ" means 'anointed'). Not only has our head been anointed but we, His body, have also been anointed.... Therefore anointing comes to mean all Christians, even though in Old Testament times it belonged only to two persons. Clearly we are the Body of Christ because we are all 'anointed' and in Him are 'christs,' that is, 'anointed ones,' as well as Christ himself, 'the anointed one.' In a certain way, then, it thus appears that with the head and body the whole Christ is formed."[19]

In the wake of the Second Vatican Council,[20] at the beginning of my pastoral ministry, my aim was to emphasize forcefully the priestly, prophetic and kingly dignity of the entire People of God in the following words: "He who was born of the Virgin Mary, the carpenter's son--as He was thought to be--Son of the living God (confessed by Peter), has come to make us 'a kingdom of priests.' The Second Vatican Council has reminded us of the mystery of Christ--priest, prophet-teacher, king--continues in the Church. Everyone, the whole People of God, shares in this threefold mission."[21]

With this exhortation the lay faithful are invited to take up again and reread, meditate on and assimilate with renewed understanding and love, the rich and fruitful teaching of the council which speaks of their participation in the threefold mission of Christ.[22] Here, in summary form, are the essential elements of this teaching.

The lay faithful are sharers in the priestly mission, for which Jesus offered himself on the cross and continues to be offered in the celebration of the Eucharist for the glory of God and the salvation of humanity. Incorporated in Jesus Christ, the baptized are united to Him and to His sacrifice in the offering they make of themselves and their daily activities (cf. Rom 12:1, 2). Speaking of the lay faithful the council says: "For their work, prayers and apostolic endeavors, their ordinary married and family life, their daily labor, their mental and physical relaxation, if carried out in the Spirit, and even the hardships of life if patiently borne--all of these become spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Pt 2:5). During the celebration of the Eucharist, these sacrifices are most lovingly offered to the Father along with the Lord's body. Thus as worshipers whose every deed is holy, the lay faithful consecrate the world itself to God."[23]

Through their participation in the prophetic mission of Christ, "who proclaimed the kingdom of His Father by the testimony of His life and by the power of His word,"[24] the lay faithful are given the ability and responsibility to accept the Gospel in faith and to proclaim it in word and deed, without hesitating to courageously identify and denounce evil. United to Christ, the "great prophet" (Lk 7:16), and in the Spirit made "witnesses" of the risen Christ, the lay faithful are made sharers in the appreciation of the Church's supernatural faith, that "cannot err in matters of belief,"[25] and sharers as well in the grace of the word (cf. Acts 2:17-18; Rv 19:10). They are also called to allow the newness and the power of the Gospel to shine out everyday in their family and social life as well as to express patiently and courageously in the contradictions of the present age their hope of future glory even "through the framework of their secular life."[26]

Because the lay faithful belong to Christ, Lord and King of the universe, they share in His kingly mission and are called by Him to spread that kingdom in history. They exercise their kingship as Christians, above all in the spiritual combat in which they seek to overcome in themselves the kingdom of sin (cf. Rom 6:12), and then to make a gift of themselves so as to serve, in justice and in charity, Jesus who is himself present in all His brothers and sisters, above all in the very least (cf. Mt 25:40).

But in particular, the lay faithful are called to restore to creation all its original value. In ordering creation to the authentic well-being of humanity in an activity governed by the life of grace, the lay faithful share in the exercise of the power with which the risen Christ draws all things to himself and subjects them along with himself to the Father, so that God might be everything to everyone (cf. 1 Cor 15:28; Jn 12:32).

The participation of the lay faithful in the threefold mission of Christ as priest, prophet and king finds its source in the anointing of Baptism, its further development in Confirmation, and its realization and dynamic sustenance in the holy Eucharist. It is a participation given to each member of the lay faithful individually, inasmuch as each is one of the many who form the one Body of the Lord: In fact, Jesus showers His gifts upon the Church, which is His Body and His spouse. In such a way, individuals are sharers in the threefold mission of Christ, as St. Peter clearly teaches when he defines the baptized as "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people" (1 Pt 2:9). Precisely because it derives from Church communion, the sharing of the lay faithful in the threefold mission of Christ requires that it be lived and realized in communion and for the increase of communion itself. St. Augustine writes: "As we call everyone 'Christians,' in virtue of a mystical anointing, so we call everyone 'priests' because all are members of only one priesthood."[27]


15. The newness of the Christian life is the foundation and title of the equality among all the baptized in Christ, of all the members of the People of God: "As members, they share a common dignity from their rebirth in Christ, they have the same filial grace and the same vocation to perfection. They possess in common one salvation, one hope and one undivided charity."[28] Because of the one dignity flowing from Baptism, each member of the lay faithful, together with ordained ministers and men and women religious, shares responsibility for the Church's mission.

But among the lay faithful this one baptismal dignity takes on a manner of life which sets a person apart, without however bringing about a separation from the ministerial priesthood or from men and women religious. The Second Vatican Council has described this manner of life as the "secular character": "The secular character is properly and particularly that of the lay faithful."[29]

To understand properly the lay faithful's position in the Church in a complete, adequate and specific manner, it is necessary to come to a deeper theological understanding of their secular character in light of God's plan of salvation and in the context of the mystery of the Church.

Pope Paul VI said the Church "has an authentic secular dimension, inherent to her inner nature and mission, which is deeply rooted in the mystery of the Word Incarnate and which is realized in different forms through her members."[30]

The Church, in fact, lives in the world, even if she is not of the world (cf. Jn 17:16). She is sent to continue the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, which "by its very nature concerns the salvation of humanity and also involves the renewal of the whole temporal order."[31]

Certainly all the members of the Church are sharers in this secular dimension, but in different ways. In particular, the sharing of the lay faithful has its own manner of realization and function, which, according to the council, is "properly and particularly" theirs. Such a manner is designated with the expression "secular character."[32]

In fact the council, in describing the lay faithful's situation in the secular world, points to it above all as the place in which they receive their call from God: "There they are called by God."[33] This "place" is treated and presented in dynamic terms: the lay faithful "live in the world, that is, in every one of the secular professions and occupations. They live in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life, from which the very fabric of their existence is woven."[34] They are persons who live an ordinary life in the world: they study, they work, they form relationships as friends, professionals, members of society, cultures, etc. However, the council considers their condition not simply an external and environmental framework, but as a reality destined to find in Jesus Christ the fullness of its meaning.[35] Indeed it leads to the affirmation that "the Word made flesh willed to share in human fellowship.... He sanctified those human ties, especially family ones, from which social relationships arise, willingly submitting himself to the laws of His country. He chose to lead the life of an ordinary craftsman of His own time and place."[36]

The "world" thus becomes the place and the means for the lay faithful to fulfill their Christian vocation, because the world itself is destined to glorify God the Father in Christ. The council is able then to indicate the proper and special sense of the divine vocation which is directed to the lay faithful. They are not called to abandon the position that they have in the world. Baptism does not take them from the world at all, as the apostle Paul points out: "So, brethren, in whatever state each was called, there let him remain with God" (1 Cor 7:24). On the contrary, he entrusts a vocation to them that properly concerns their situation in the world. The lay faithful, in fact, "are called by God so that they, led by the spirit of the Gospel, may contribute to the sanctification of the world, as from within like leaven, by fulfilling their own particular duties. Thus, especially in this way of life, resplendent in faith, hope and charity they manifest Christ to others."[37] Thus for the lay faithful, to be present and active in the world is not only an anthropological and sociological reality, but in a specific way a theological and ecclesiological reality as well. In fact, in their situation in the world God manifests His plan and communicates to them their particular vocation of "seeking the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God."[38]

Precisely with this in mind, the Synod father said: "The secular character of the lay faithful is not therefore to be defined only in a sociological sense, but most especially in a theological sense. The term secular must be understood in light of the act of God the Creator and Redeemer, who has handed over the world to women and men, so that they may participate in the work of creation, free creation from the influence of sin, and sanctify themselves in marriage or the celebrate life, in a family, in a profession, and in the various activities of society."[39]

The lay faithful's position in the Church, then, comes to be fundamentally defined by their newness in Christian life and distinguished by their secular character.[40]

The images taken from the Gospel of salt, light and leaven, although indiscriminately applicable to all Jesus' disciples, are specifically applied to the lay faithful. They are particularly meaningful images because they speak not only of the deep involvement and the full participation of the lay faithful in the affairs of the earth, the world, and the human community, but also and above all they tell of the radical newness and unique character of an involvement and participation which has as its purpose the spreading of the Gospel that brings salvation.


16. We come to a full sense of the dignity of the lay faithful if we consider the prime and fundamental vocation that the Father assigns to each of them in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit: the vocation to holiness, that is, the perfection of charity. Holiness is the greatest testimony to the dignity conferred on a disciple of Christ.

The Second Vatican Council has significantly spoken on the universal call to holiness. It is possible to say that this call to holiness is precisely the basic charge entrusted to all the sons and daughters of the Church by a council which intended to bring a renewal of Christian life based on the Gospel.[41] This charge is not a simple moral exhortation, but an undeniable requirement arising from the mystery of the Church; she is the choice vine, whose branches live and grow with the same holy and life-giving energies that come from Christ; she is the mystical Body, whose members share in the same life of holiness of the Head, who is Christ; she is the beloved spouse of the Lord Jesus, who delivered himself up for her sanctification (cf. Eph 5:25 ff). The Spirit that sanctified the human nature of Jesus in Mary's virginal womb (cf. Lk 1:35) is the same Spirit that is abiding and working in the Church to communicate to her the holiness of the Son of God made man.

It is ever more urgent that today all Christians take up again the way of Gospel renewal, welcoming in a spirit of generosity the invitation expressed by the apostle Peter "to be holy in all conduct" (1 Pt 1:15). The 1985 extraordinary synod, 20 years after the council, opportunely insisted on this urgency: "Since the Church in Christ is a mystery, she ought to be considered the sign and instrument of holiness.... Men and women saints have always been the source and origin of renewal in the most difficult circumstances in the Church's history. Today we have the greatest need of saints, whom we must assiduously beg God to raise up."[42]

Everyone in the Church, precisely because they are members, receive and thereby share in the common vocation to holiness. In the fullness of this title and on equal par with all other members of the Church, the lay faithful are called to holiness: "All the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of charity";[43] "all of Christ's followers are invited and bound to pursue holiness and the perfect fulfillment of their own state of life."[44]

The call to holiness is rooted in Baptism and proposed anew in the other sacraments, principally in the Eucharist. Since Christians are reclothed in Christ Jesus and refreshed by His Spirit, they are "holy." They therefore have the ability to manifest this holiness and the responsibility to bear witness to it in all that they do. The apostle Paul never tires of admonishing all Christians to live "as is fitting among saints" (Eph 5:3).

Life according to the Spirit, whose fruit is holiness (cf. Rom 6:22; Gal 5:22), stirs up every baptized person and requires each to follow and imitate Jesus Christ, in embracing the Beatitudes, in listening and meditating on the word of God, in conscious and active participation in the liturgical and sacramental life of the Church, in personal prayer, in family or in community, in the hunger and thirst for justice, in the practice of the commandment of love in all circumstances of life and service to the brethren, especially the least, the poor and the suffering.


17. The vocation of the lay faithful to holiness implies that life according to the Spirit expresses itself in a particular way in their involvement in temporal affairs and in their participation in earthly activities. Once again the Apostle admonishes us: "Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him" (Col 3:17). Applying the apostle's words to the lay faithful, the council categorically affirms: "Neither family concerns nor other secular affairs should be excluded from their religious program of life."[45] Likewise the synod fathers have said: "The unity of life of the lay faithful is of the greatest importance: indeed they must be sanctified in everyday professional and social life. Therefore, to respond to their vocation, the lay faithful must see their daily activities as an occasion to join themselves to God, fulfill His will, serve other people and lead them to communion with God in Christ."[46]

The vocation to holiness must be recognized and lived by the lay faithful, not as an undeniable and demanding obligation, but as a shining example of the infinite love of the Father that has regenerated them in His own life of holiness. Such a vocation, then, ought to be called an essential and inseparable element of the new life of Baptism, and therefore an element which determines their dignity. At the same time the vocation to holiness is intimately connected to mission and to the responsibility entrusted to the lay faithful in the Church and in the world. In fact, the same holiness which is derived simply from their participation in the Church's holiness represents their first and fundamental contribution to the building of the Church herself, who is the "communion of saints." The eyes of faith behold a wonderful scene: that of a countless number of lay people, both women and men, busy at work in their daily life and activity, oftentimes far from view and quite unacclaimed by the world, unknown to the world's great personages but nonetheless looked upon in love by the Father, untiring laborers who work in the Lord's vineyard. Confident and steadfast through the power of God's grace, these are the humble yet great builders of the kingdom of God in history.

Holiness, then, must be called a fundamental presupposition and an irreplaceable condition for everyone in fulfilling the mission of salvation within the Church. The Church's holiness is the hidden source and the infallible measure of the works of the apostolate and of the missionary effort. Only in the measure that the Church, Christ's spouse, is loved by Him and she, in turn, loves Him, does she become a mother fruitful in the Spirit.

Again we take up the image from the Gospel: the fruitfulness and the growth of the branches depends on their remaining united to the vine. "As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing" (Jn 15:4-5).

It is appropriate to recall here the solemn proclamation of beatification and canonization of lay men and women which took place during the month of the synod. The entire People of God, and the lay faithful in particular, can find at this moment new models of holiness and new witnesses of heroic virtue lived in the ordinary everyday circumstances of human existence. The synod fathers have said: "Particular Churches especially should be attentive to recognizing among their members the younger men and women of those Churches who have given witness to holiness in such conditions (everyday secular conditions and the conjugal state) and who can be an example for others, so that, if the case calls for it, they (the Churches) might propose them to be beatified and canonized."[47]

At the end of these reflections intended to define the lay faithful's position in the Church, the celebrated admonition of St. Leo the Great comes to mind: "Acknowledge, O Christian, your dignity!"[48] St. Maximus, Bishop of Turin, in addressing those who had received the holy anointing of Baptism, repeats the same sentiments: "Ponder the honor that has made you sharers in this mystery!"[49] All the baptized are invited to hear once again the words of St. Augustine: "Let us rejoice and give thanks: We have not only become Christians, but Christ himself.... Stand in awe and rejoice: We have become Christ."[50]

The dignity as a Christian, the source of equality for all members of the Church, guarantees and fosters the spirit of communion and fellowship, and at the same time becomes the hidden dynamic force in the lay faithful's apostolate and mission. It is a dignity, however, which brings demands, the dignity of laborers called by the Lord to work in His vineyard: "Upon all the lay faithful, then, rests the exalted duty of working to assure that each day the divine plan of salvation is further extended to every person of every era in every part of the earth."[51]


The Participation of the Lay Faithful in the Life of the Church as Communion

The Mystery of Church Communion

18. Again we turn to the words of Jesus: "I am the true vine and my Father is the vinedresser.... Abide in me and I in you" (Jn 15:1, 4).

These simple words reveal the mystery of communion that serves as the unifying bond between the Lord and His disciples, between Christ and the baptized: a living and life-giving communion through which Christians no longer belong to themselves but are the Lord's very own, as branches are one with the vine.

The communion of Christians with Jesus has the communion of God as Trinity, namely, the unity of the Son to the Father in the gift of the Holy Spirit, as its model and source, and is itself the means to achieve this communion: united to the Son in the Spirit's bond of love, Christians are united to the Father.

Jesus continues: "I am the vine, you are the branches" (Jn 15:5). From the communion that Christians experience in Christ there immediately flows the communion which they experience with one another: all are branches of a single vine, namely Christ. In this communion is the wonderful reflection and participation in the mystery of the intimate life of love in God as Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit as revealed by the Lord Jesus. For this communion Jesus prays: "that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me" (Jn 17:21).

Such communion is the very mystery of the Church, as the Second Vatican Council recalls in the celebrated words of St. Cyprian: "The Church shines forth as 'a people made one with the unity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit."[52] We are accustomed to recall this mystery of Church communion at the beginning of the celebration of the Eucharist, when the priest welcomes all with the greeting of the apostle Paul: "The grace of the Lord Jesus, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all" (2 Cor 13:13).

After having described the distinguishing features of the lay faithful on which their dignity rests, we must at this moment reflect on their mission and responsibility in the Church and in the world. A proper understanding of these aspects, however, can be found in the living context of the Church as communion.

Vatican II and the Ecclesiology of Communion

19. At the Second Vatican Council the Church again proposed this central idea about herself, as the 1985 Extraordinary Synod recalls: "The ecclesiology of communion is a central and fundamental concept in the conciliar documents. Koinonia-communion, finding its source in sacred Scripture, was a concept held in great honor in the early Church and in the Oriental Churches, and this teaching endures to the present day. Much was done by the Second Vatican Council to bring about a clearer understanding of the Church as communion and its concrete application to life. What, then, does this complex word 'communion' mean? Its fundamental meaning speaks of the union with God brought about by Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit. The opportunity for such communion is present in the word of God and in the sacraments. Baptism is the door and the foundation of communion in the Church. The Eucharist is the source and summit of the whole Christian life (cf. Lumen Gentium, 11). The body of Christ in the holy Eucharist sacramentalizes this communion, that is, it is a sign and actually brings about the intimate bonds of communion among all the faithful in the body of Christ, which is the Church (1 Cor 10:16)."[53]

On the day after the conclusion of the council, Pope Paul VI addressed the faithful in the following words: "The Church is a communion. In this context what does communion mean? We refer you to the paragraph in the catechism that speak of the sanctorum communionem, 'the communion of saints.' The meaning of the Church is a communion of saints. 'Communion' speaks of a double, life-giving participation: the incorporation of Christians into the life of Christ and the communication of that life of charity to the entire body of the faithful in this world and in the next, union with Christ and in Christ, and unity among Christians in the Church."[54]

Vatican Council II has invited us to contemplate the mystery of the Church through biblical images which bring to light the reality of the Church as a communion with its inseparable dimensions: the communion of each Christian with Christ and the communion of all Christians with one another. Thee is the sheepfold, the flock, the vine, the spiritual building, the holy city.[55] Above all, there is the image of the body as set forth by the apostle Paul. Its doctrine finds a pleasing expression once again in various passages of the council's documents.[56] In its turn, the council has looked again at the entire history of salvation and has reproposed the image of the Church as the People of God: "It has pleased God to make people holy and to save them, not merely as individuals without any mutual bonds, but by making them into a single people, a people which acknowledges Him in truth and serves Him in holiness."[57] From its opening lines, the constitution Lumen Gentium summarizes this doctrine in a wonderful way: "The Church in Christ is a kind of sacrament, that is, a sign and instrument of intimate union with God and of the unity of all the human race."[58]

The reality of the Church as communion is, then, the integrating aspect, indeed the central content of the "mystery," or rather, the divine plan for the salvation of humanity. For this purpose ecclesial communion cannot be interpreted in a sufficient way if it is understood as simply a sociologically or a psychological reality. The Church as communion is the "new" people, the "messianic" people, the people that "has, for its head, Christ ... as its heritage, the dignity and freedom of God's children ... for its law, the new commandment to love as Christ loved us ... for its goal, the kingdom of God ... established by Christ as a communion of life, love and truth."[59] The bonds that unite the members of the new people among themselves--and first of all with Christ--are not those of "flesh and blood," but those of the spirit, more precisely those of the Holy Spirit, whom all the baptized have received (cf. Jl 3:1).

In fact, that Spirit is the One who from eternity unites the one and undivided Trinity, that Spirit who "in the fullness of time" (Gal 4:4) forever unites human nature to the Son of God, that same identical Spirit who in the course of Christian generations is the constant and never- ending source of communion in the Church.

An Organic Communion: Diversity and Complementarity

20. Ecclesial communion is more precisely likened to an "organic" communion, analogous to that of a living and functioning body. In fact, at one and the same time it is characterized by a diversity and a complementarity of vocations and states in life, of ministries, of charisms and responsibilities. Because of this diversity and complementarity, every member of the lay faithful is seen in relation to the whole body and offers a totally unique contribution on behalf of the whole body.

St. Paul insists in a particular way on the organic communion of the mystical Body of Christ. We can hear his rich teaching echoed in the following synthesis from the council: "Jesus Christ"--we read in the constitution Lumen Gentium--"by communicating His Spirit to His brothers and sisters, called together from all peoples, made them mystically into His own body. In that body, the life of Christ is communicated to those who believe.... As all the members of the human body, though they are many, form one body, so also are the faithful in Christ (cf. 1 Cor 12:12). Also, in the building up of Christ's body thee is a diversity of members and functions. There is only one Spirit who, according to His own richness and the necessities of service, distributes His different gifts for the welfare of the Church (cf. 1 Cor 12:1-11). Among these gifts comes in the first place the grace given to the apostles to whose authority the Spirit himself subjects even those who are endowed with charisms (cf. 1 Cor 14). Furthermore it is this same Spirit, who through His power and through the intimate bond between the members, produces and urges love among the faithful. Consequently, if one member suffers anything, all the members suffer it too, and if one member is honored, all members together rejoice (cf. 1 Cor 12:26)."[60]

One and the same Spirit is always the dynamic principle of diversity and unity in the Church. Once again we read in the constitution Lumen Gentium, "In order that we might be unceasingly renewed in Him (cf. Eph 4:23), He has shared with us His Spirit who, existing as one and the same being in the head and in the members, gives life to, unifies and moves the whole body. This He does in such a way that His work could be compared by the fathers to the function which the soul as the principle of life fulfills in the human body."[61] And in another particularly significant text, which is helpful in understanding not only the organic nature proper to ecclesial communion but also its aspect of growth toward perfect communion, the council writes: "The Spirit dwells in the Church and in the hearts of the faithful, as in a temple (cf. 1 Cor 3:16; 6:19). In them He prays and bears witness that they are adopted sons (cf. Gal 4:6; Rom 8:15-16, 26). Guiding the Church in the way of all truth (cf. Jn 16:13) and unifying her in communion and in the works of service, He bestows upon her varied hierarchical and charismatic gifts and adorns her with the fruits of His grace (cf. Eph 4:11-12; 1 Cor 12:4; Gal 5:22). By the power of the Gospel He makes the Church grow, perpetually renews her and leads her to perfect union with her spouse. The Spirit and the bride both say to the Lord Jesus, 'Come!' (cf. Rv 22:17)."[62]

Church communion then is a gift, a great gift of the Holy Spirit, to be gratefully accepted by the lay faithful, and at the same time to be lived with a deep sense of responsibility. This is concretely realized through their participation in the life and mission of the Church, to whose service the lay faithful put their varied and complementary ministries and charisms.

A member of the lay faithful "can never remain in isolation from the community, but must live in a continual interaction with others, with a lively sense of fellowship, rejoicing in an equal dignity and common commitment to bring to fruition the immense treasure that each has inherited. The Spirit of the Lord gives a vast variety of charisms, inviting people to assume different ministries and forms of service and reminding them, as He reminds all people in their relationship in the Church, that what distinguishes persons is not an increase in dignity, but a special and complementary capacity for service.... Thus the charisms, the ministries, the different forms of service exercised by the lay faithful exist in communion and on behalf of communion. They are treasures that complement one another for the good of all and are under the wise guidance of their pastors."[63]


21. The Second Vatican Council speaks of the ministries and charisms as the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which are given for the building up of the Body of Christ and for its mission of salvation in the world.[64] Indeed, the Church is directed and guided by the Holy Spirit, who lavishes diverse hierarchical and charismatic gifts on all the baptized, calling them to be, each in an individual way, active and coresponsible.

We now turn our thoughts to ministries and charisms as they directly relate to the lay faithful and to their participation in the life of Church-communion.

Ministries, Offices and Roles

The ministries which exist and are at work at this time in the Church are all, even in their variety of forms, a participation in Jesus Christ's own ministry as the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep (cf. Jn 10:11), the humble servant who gives himself without reserve for the salvation of all (cf. Mk 10:45). The apostle Paul is quite clear in speaking about the ministerial constitution of the Church in apostolic times. In his first Letter to the Corinthians he writes: "And God has appointed in the Church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers" (1 Cor 12:28). In his Letter to the Ephesians we read: "But the grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ's gift ... and His gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the Body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Eph 4:7, 11-13; cf. Rom 12:4-8). These and other New Testament texts indicate the diversity of ministries as well as of gifts and ecclesiastical tasks.

The Ministries Derived from Holy Orders

22. In a primary position in the Church are the ordained ministries, that is, the ministries that come from the sacrament of Orders. In fact, with the mandate to make disciples of all nations (cf. Mt 28:19), the Lord Jesus chose and constituted the apostles--seed of the people of the new covenant and origin of the hierarchy[65]--to form and to rule the priestly people. The mission of the apostles, which the Lord Jesus continues to entrust to the pastors of His people, is a true service, significantly referred to in sacred Scripture as "diakonia," namely, service or ministry. The ministries receive the charism of the Holy Spirit from the risen Christ, in uninterrupted succession from the apostles, through the sacrament of Orders: from Him they receive the authority and sacred power to serve the Church, acting in "persona Christi capitis" (in the person of Christ, the head)[66] and to gather her in the Holy Spirit through the Gospel and the sacraments.

The ordained ministries, apart from the persons who receive them, are a grace for the entire Church. These ministries express and realize a participation in the priesthood of Jesus Christ that is different, not simply in degree but in essence, from the participation given to all the lay faithful through Baptism and Confirmation. On the other hand, the ministerial priesthood, as the Second Vatican Council recalls, essentially has the royal priesthood of all the faithful as its aim and is ordered to it.[67]

For this reason, so as to assure and to increase communion in the Church, particularly in those places where there is a diversity and complementarity of ministries, pastors must always acknowledge that their ministry is fundamentally ordered to the service of the entire People of God (cf. Heb 5:1). The lay faithful, in turn, must acknowledge that the ministerial priesthood is totally necessary for their participation in the mission in the Church.[68]

The Ministries, Offices and Roles of the Lay Faithful

23. The Church's mission of salvation in the world is realized not only by the ministers in virtue of the Sacrament of Orders but also by all the lay faithful; indeed, because of their Baptismal state and their specific vocation, in the measure proper to each person, the lay faithful participate in the priestly, prophetic and kingly mission of Christ.

The pastors, therefore, ought to acknowledge and foster their ministries, the offices and roles of the lay faithful that find their *foundation in the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation*, indeed, for a good many of them, *in the Sacrament of Matrimony*.

When necessity and expediency in the Church require it, the pastors, according to established norms from universal law, can entrust to the lay faithful certain offices and roles that are connected to their pastoral ministry but do not require the character of Orders. The Code of Canon Law states: "When the necessity of the Church warrants it and when ministers are lacking, lay persons, even if they are not lectors or acolytes, can also supply for certain of their offices, namely, to exercise the ministry of the word, to confer Baptism, and to distribute Holy Communion in accord with the prescriptions of the law."[69] However, *the exercise* of such tasks does not make the lay faithful pastors: in fact, a person is not a minister simply in performing a task, but through sacramental ordination. Only the Sacrament of Orders gives the ordained minister a particular participation in the office of Christ, the Shepherd and Head, and in his Eternal Priesthood.[70] The task exercised in virtue of supply takes its legitimacy formally and immediately from the official deputation of pastors, as well as from its concrete exercise under the guidance of ecclesiastical authority.[71]

The recent Synodal Assembly has provided an extensive and meaningful overview of the situation in the Church on the ministries, offices and roles of the baptized. The Fathers have manifested a deep appreciation for the contribution of the lay faithful, both women and men, in the work of the apostolate, in evangelization, sanctification, and the Christian animation of temporal affairs, as well as their generous willingness to supply in situations of emergency and chronic necessity.[72]

Following the liturgical renewal promoted by the Council, the lay faithful themselves have acquired a more lively awareness of the tasks that they fulfill in the liturgical assembly and its preparation, and have become more widely disposed to fulfill them: the liturgical celebration, in fact, is a sacred action not simply of the clergy, but of the entire assembly. It is, therefore, natural that the tasks not proper to the ordained ministers be fulfilled by the lay faithful.[73] In this way there is a natural transition from an effective involvement of the lay faithful in the liturgical action to that of announcing the word of God and pastoral care.[74]

In the same Synod Assembly, however, a critical judgment was voiced along with these positive elements, about a too- indiscriminate use of the word "ministry," the confusion and equating of the common priesthood and the ministerial priesthood, the lack of observance of ecclesiastical laws and norms, the arbitrary interpretation of the concept of "supply," the tendency toward a "clericalization" of the lay faithful and the risk of creating, in reality, an ecclesial structure of parallel service to that founded on the Sacrament of Orders.

Precisely to overcome these dangers the Synod Fathers have insisted on the necessity to express with greater clarity, and with a more precise terminology,[75] both *the unity of the Church's mission* in which all the baptized participate, and the substantial *diversity of the ministry* of pastors which is rooted in the Sacrament of Orders, all the while respecting the other ministries, offices and roles in the Church, which are rooted in the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation.

In the first place, then, it is necessary that in acknowledging and in conferring various ministries, offices and roles on the lay faithful, the pastors exercise the maximum care to institute them on the basis of Baptism in which these tasks are rooted. It is also necessary to guard against a facile yet abusive recourse to a presumed "situation of emergency" or to "supply by necessity," where objectively this does not exist or where alternative possibilities could exist through better pastoral planning.

The various ministries, offices and roles that the lay faithful can legitimately fulfill in the liturgy, in the transmission of the faith, and in the pastoral structure of the Church, ought to be exercised *in conformity to their specific lay vocation* which is different from that of the sacred ministry. In this regard the Exhortation "Evangelii Nuntiandi," that had such a great part in stimulating the varied collaboration of the lay faithful in the Church's life and mission of spreading the Gospel, recalls that "their own field of evangelizing activity is the vast and complicated world of politics, society and economics, as well as the world of culture, of the sciences and the arts, of international life, of the mass media. It also includes other realities which are open to evangelization, such as human love, the family, the education of children and adolescents, professional work, and suffering. The more Gospel-inspired lay people there are engaged in these realities, clearly involved in them, competent to promote them, and conscious that they must exercise to the full their Christian powers, which are often repressed and buried, the more these realities will be at the service of the Kingdom of God and therefore at the service of the salvation of Jesus Christ, without in any way losing or sacrificing their human content but rather pointing to a transcendent dimension which is too often disregarded."[76]

In the course of Synod work the Fathers devoted much attention to the "Lectorate" and the "Acolytate." While in the past these ministries existed in the Latin Church only as spiritual steps on route to the ordained ministry, with the "motu proprio" of Paul VI, "Ministeria Quaedam" (August 15, 1972), they assumed an autonomy and stability, as well as a possibility of their being given to the lay faithful, albeit, only to men. The same fact is expressed in the new Code of Canon Law.[77] At this time the Synod Fathers expressed the desire that "the 'motu proprio Ministeria Quaedam' be reconsidered, bearing in mind the present practice of local churches and above all indicating criteria which ought to be used in choosing those destined for each ministry."[78]

In this regard a Commission was established to respond to this desire voiced by the Synod Fathers, specifically to provide an in-depth study of various theological, liturgical, juridical and pastoral considerations which are associated with the great increase today of the ministries entrusted to the lay faithful.

While the conclusions of the Commission's study are awaited, a more ordered and fruitful ecclesial practice of the ministries entrusted to the lay faithful can be achieved if all the particular Churches faithfully respect the above mentioned theological principles, especially the essential difference between the ministerial priesthood and the common priesthood, and the difference between the ministries derived from the Sacrament of Orders and those derived from the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation.


24. The Holy Spirit, while bestowing diverse ministries in Church communion, enriches it still further with particular gifts or promptings of grace called charisms. These can take a great variety of forms, both as a manifestation of the absolute freedom of the Spirit, who abundantly supplies them, and as a response to the varied needs of the Church in history. The description and classification given to these gifts in the New Testament are an indication of their rich variety. "To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues" (1 Cor 12:7-10; cf. 1 Cor 12:4-6, 28-31; Rom 12:6-8; 1 Pt 4:10-11).

Whether they be exceptional and great or simple and ordinary, the charisms are graces of the Holy Spirit that have, directly or indirectly, a usefulness for ecclesial community, ordered as they are to the building up of the Church, to the well-being of humanity and to the needs of the world.

Even in our own times there is no lack of a fruitful manifestation of various charisms among the faithful, women and men. These charisms are given to individual persons and can even be shared by others in such ways as to continue in time a precious and effective heritage, serving as a source of a particular spiritual affinity among persons. In referring to the apostolate of the lay faithful, the Second Vatican Council writes: "For the exercise of the apostolate of the Holy Spirit, who sanctifies the People of God through the ministry and the sacraments, gives the faithful special gifts as well (cf. 1 Cor 12:7), 'allotting them to each one as He wills' (cf. 1 Cor 12:11), so that each might place 'at the service of others the grace received' and become 'good stewards of God's varied grace' (1 Pt 4:10), and build up thereby the whole body in charity (cf. Eph 4:16)."[79]

By a logic which looks to the divine source of this giving, as the council recalls,[80] the gifts of the Spirit demand that those who have received them exercise them for the growth of the whole Church.

The charisms are received in gratitude both on the part of the one who receives them and also on the part of the entire Church. They are in fact a singularly rich source of grace for the vitality of the apostolate and for the holiness of the whole Body of Christ, provided that they be gifts that come truly from the Spirit and are exercised in full conformity with the authentic promptings of the Spirit. In this sense the discernment of charisms is always necessary. Indeed, the synod fathers have stated: "The action of the Holy Spirit who breathes where He will, is not always easily recognized and received. We know that God acts in all Christians, and we are aware of the benefits which flow from charisms both for individuals and for the whole Christian community. Nevertheless, at the same time we are also aware of the power of sin and how it can disturb and confuse the life of the faithful and of the community."[81]

For this reason, no charism dispenses a person from reference and submission to the pastors of the Church. The council clearly states: "Judgment as to their (charisms') genuineness and proper use belongs to those who preside over the Church and to whose special competence it belongs, not indeed to extinguish the Spirit, but to test all things and hold fast to what is good (cf. 1 Thes 5:12, 19-21),"[82] so that all the charisms might work together, in their diversity and complementarity, for the common good.[83]


25. The lay faithful participate in the life of the Church not only in exercising their tasks and charisms, but also in many other ways.

Such participation finds its first and necessary expression in the life and mission of the particular Church, in the diocese in which "the Church of Christ, one, holy, catholic and apostolic, is truly present and at work."[84]

The Particular Church and the Universal Church

For an adequate participation in ecclesial life, the lay faithful absolutely need to have a clear and precise vision of the particular Church with its primordial bond to the universal Church. The particular Church does not come about from a kind of fragmentation of the universal Church nor does the universal Church come about by a simple amalgamation of particular Churches. But there is a real, essential and constant bond uniting each of them, and this is why the universal Church exists and is manifested in the particular Churches. For this reason the council says that the particular Churches "are constituted after the model of the universal Church; it is in and from these particular Churches that there comes into being the one and unique Catholic Church."[85]

The same council strongly encourages the lay faithful actively to live out their belonging to the particular Church, while at the same time assuming an ever-increasing "catholic" spirit: "Let the lay faithful constantly foster"--we read in the Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People- -"a feeling for their own diocese, of which the parish is a kind of cell, and be always ready at their bishops' invitation to participate in diocesan projects. Indeed, if the needs of cities and rural areas are to be met, lay people should not limit their cooperation to the parochial or diocesan boundaries, but strive to extend it to interparochial, interdiocesan, national and international fields, the more so because the daily increase in population mobility, the growth of mutual bonds and the ease of communication no longer allow any sector of society to remain closed in upon itself. Thus they should be concerned about the needs of the People of God scattered throughout the world."[86]

In this sense, the recent synod has favored the creation of diocesan pastoral councils as a recourse at opportune times. In fact, on a diocesan level this structure could be the principal form of collaboration, dialogue and discernment as well. The participation of the lay faithful in these councils can broaden resources in consultation and the principle of collaboration--and in certain instances also in decision- making--if applied in a broad and determined manner.[87]

The participation of the lay faithful in diocesan synods and in local councils, whether provincial or plenary, is envisioned by the Code of Canon Law.[88] These structures should contribute to Church communion and the mission of the particular Church, both in its own surroundings and in relation to the other particular Churches of the ecclesiastical province or episcopal conference.

Episcopal conferences are called to evaluate the most opportune way of developing the consultation and the collaboration of the lay faithful, women and men, at a national or regional level, so that they may consider well the problems they share and manifest better the communion of the whole Church.[89]

The Parish

26. The ecclesial community, while always having a universal dimension, finds its most immediate and visible expression in the parish. It is there that the Church is seen locally. In a certain sense it is the Church living in the midst of the homes of her sons and daughters.[90]

It is necessary that in light of the faith all rediscover the true meaning of the parish, that is, the place where the very "mystery" of the Church is present and at work, even if at times it is lacking persons and means, even if at other times it might be scattered over vast territories or almost not to be found in crowded and chaotic modern sections of cities. The parish is not principally a structure, a territory or a building, but rather "the family of God, a fellowship afire with a unifying spirit,"[91] "a familial and welcoming home,"[92] the "community of the faithful."[93] Plainly and simply, the parish is founded on a theological reality, because it is a eucharistic community.[94] This means that the parish is a community properly suited for celebrating the Eucharist, the living source for its upbuilding and the sacramental bond of its being in full communion with the whole Church. Such suitableness is rooted in the fact that the parish is a community of faith and an organic community, that is, constituted by the ordained ministers and other Christians, in which the pastor--who represents the diocesan bishop[95]--is the hierarchical bond with the entire particular Church.

Since the Church's tasks in our day is so great, its accomplishment cannot be left to the parish alone. For this reason the Code of Canon Law provides for forms of collaboration among parishes in a given territory[96] and recommends to the bishop's care the various groups of the Christian faithful, even the unbaptized who are not under his ordinary pastoral care.[97] There are many other places and forms of association through which the Church can be present and at work. All are necessary to carry out the word and grace of the Gospel and to correspond to the various circumstances of life in which people find themselves today. In a similar way there exist in the areas of culture, society, education, professions, etc., many other ways for spreading the faith and other settings for the apostolate which cannot have the parish as their center and origin. Nevertheless, in our day the parish still enjoys a new and promising season. At the beginning of his pontificate, Paul VI addressed the Roman clergy in these words: "We believe simply that this old and venerable structure of the parish has an indispensable mission of great contemporary importance: to create the basic community of the Christian people; to initiate and gather the people in the accustomed expression of liturgical life; to conserve and renew the faith in the people of today; to serve as the school for teaching the salvific message of Christ; to put solidarity in practice and work the humble charity of good and brotherly works."[98]

The synod fathers for their part have given much attention to the present state of many parishes and have called for a greater effort in their renewal: "Many parishes, whether established in regions affected by urban progress or in missionary territory, cannot do their work effectively because they lack material resources or ordained men or are too big geographically or because of the particular circumstances of some Christians (e.g., exiles and migrants). So that all parishes of this kind may be truly communities of Christians, local ecclesial authorities ought to foster the following: a) adaptation of parish structures according to the full flexibility granted by canon law, especially in promoting participation by the lay faithful in pastoral responsibilities; b) small, basic or so-called 'living' communities where the faithful can communicate the word of God and express it in service and love to one another; these communities are true expressions of ecclesial communion and centers of evangelization in communion with their pastors."[99] For the renewal of parishes and for a better assurance of their effectiveness in work, various forms of cooperation even on the institutional level ought to be fostered among diverse parishes in the very same area.

The Apostolic Commitment in the Parish

27. It is now necessary to look more closely at the communion and participation of the lay faithful in parish life. In this regard all lay men and women are called to give greater attention to a particularly meaningful, stirring and incisive passage from the council: "Their activity within church communities is so necessary that without it the apostolate of the pastors is generally unable to achieve its full effectiveness."[100]

This is indeed a particularly important affirmation, which evidently must be interpreted in light of the "ecclesiology of communion." Ministries and charisms, being diverse and complementary, are all necessary for the Church to grow, each in its own way.

The lay faithful ought to be ever more convinced of the special meaning that their commitment to the apostolate takes on in their parish. Once again the council authoritatively places it in relief: "The parish offers an outstanding example of the apostolate on the community level, inasmuch as it brings together the many human differences found within its boundaries and draws them into the universality of the Church. The lay faithful should accustom themselves to working in the parish in close union with their priests, bringing to the Church community their own and the world's problems as well as questions concerning human salvation, all of which need to be examined together and solved through general discussion. As far as possible the lay faithful ought to collaborate in every apostolic and missionary undertaking sponsored by their own ecclesial family."[101]

The council's mention of examining and solving pastoral problems "by general discussion" ought to find its adequate and structured development through a more convinced, extensive and decided appreciation for "parish pastoral councils," on which the synod fathers have rightly insisted.[102]

In the present circumstances, the lay faithful have an ability to do very much and, therefore, ought to do very much toward the growth of an authentic ecclesial communion in their parishes in order to reawaken missionary zeal toward non-believers and believers themselves who have abandoned the faith or grown lax in the Christian life.

If indeed, the parish is the Church placed in the neighborhoods of humanity, it lives and is at work through being deeply inserted in human society and intimately bound up with its aspirations and its dramatic events. Oftentimes the social context, especially in certain countries and environments, is violently shaken by elements of disintegration and dehumanization. The individual is lost and disoriented, but there always remains in the human heart the desire to experience and cultivate caring and personal relationships. The response to such a desire can come from the parish when, with the lay faithful's participation, it adheres to its fundamental vocation and mission, that is, to be a "place" in the world for the community of believers to gather together as a "sign" and "instrument" of the vocation of all to communion; in a word, to be a house of welcome to all and a place of service to all or, as Pope John XXIII was fond of saying, to be the "village fountain" to which all would have recourse in their thirst.


28. The lay faithful, together with the clergy and women and men religious, make up the one People of God and the Body of Christ.

Being "members" of the Church takes nothing away from the fact that each christian as an individual is "unique and irrepealable." On the contrary, this belonging guarantees and fosters the profound sense of that uniqueness and irrepeatability, insofar as these very qualities are the source of variety and richness for the whole Church. Therefore, God calls the individual in Jesus Christ, each one personally by name. In this sense, the Lord's words "You go into my vineyard too," directed to the Church as a whole, come specially addressed to each member individually.

Because of each member's unique and irrepealable character, that is, one's identity and actions as a person, each individual is placed at the service of the growth of the ecclesial community while at the same time singularly receiving and sharing in the common richness of all the Church. This is the "communion of saints" which we profess in the Creed. The good of all becomes the good of each one, and the good of each one becomes the good of all. "In the holy Church," writes St. Gregory the Great, "all are nourished by each one and each one is nourished by all."[103]

Individual Forms of Participation

Above all, each member of the lay faithful should always be fully aware of being a "member of the Church," yet entrusted with a unique task which cannot be done by another and which is to be fulfilled for the good of all. From this perspective the council's insistence on the absolute necessity of an apostolate exercised by the individual takes on its full meaning: "The apostolate exercised by the individual--which flows abundantly from a truly Christian life (cf. Jn 4:11)--is the origin and condition of the whole lay apostolate, even in its organized expression, and admits no substitute. Regardless of circumstance, all lay persons (including those who have no opportunity or possibility for collaboration in associations) are called to this type of apostolate and obliged to engage in it. Such an apostolate is useful at all times and places, but in certain circumstances it is the only one available and feasible."[104]

In the apostolate exercised by the individual, great riches are waiting to be discovered through an intensification of the missionary effort of each of the lay faithful. Such an individual form of apostolate can contribute greatly to a more extensive spreading of the Gospel, indeed it can reach as many places as there are daily lives of individual members of the lay faithful. Furthermore, the spread of the Gospel will be continual, since a person's life and faith will be one. Likewise the spread of the Gospel will be particularly incisive, because in sharing fully in the unique conditions of the life, work, difficulties and hopes of their sisters and brothers, the lay faithful will be able to reach the hearts of their neighbors, friends and colleagues, opening them to a full sense of human existence, that is, to communion with God and with all people.

Group Forms of Participation

29. Church communion, already present and at work in the activities of the individual, finds its specific expression in the lay faithful's working together in groups, that is, in activities done with others in the course of their responsible participation in the life and mission of the Church.

In recent days the phenomenon of lay people associating among themselves has taken on a character of particular variety and vitality. In some ways lay associations have always been present throughout the Church's history as various confraternities, third orders and sodalities testify even today. However, in modern times such lay groups have received a special stimulus, resulting in the birth and spread of a multiplicity of group forms: associations, groups, communities, movements. We can speak of a new era of group endeavors of the lay faithful. In fact, "alongside the traditional forming of associations and at times coming from their very roots, movements and new sodalities have sprouted, with a specific feature and purpose, so great is the richness and the versatility of resources that the Holy Spirit nourishes in the ecclesial community, and so great is the capacity of initiative and the generosity of our lay people."[105]

Oftentimes these lay groups show themselves to be very diverse from one another in various aspects, in their external structures, in their procedures and training methods, and in the fields in which they work. However, they all come together in an all-inclusive and profound convergence when viewed from the perspective of their common purpose, that is, the responsible participation of all of them in the Church's mission of carrying forth the Gospel of Christ, the source of hope for humanity and the renewal of society.

The actual formation of groups of the lay faithful for spiritual purposes or for apostolic work comes from various sources and corresponds to different demands. In fact, their formation itself expresses the social nature of the person, and for this reason leads to a more extensive and incisive effectiveness in work. In reality, a "cultural" effect can be accomplished through work done not so much by an individual alone, but by an individual as "a social being," that is, as a member of a group, of a community, of an association or of a movement. Such work is, then, the source and stimulus leading to the transformation of the surroundings and society as well as the fruit and sign of every other transformation in this regard. This is particularly true in the context of a pluralistic and fragmented society--the case in so many parts of the world today--and in light of the problems which have become greatly complex and difficult. On the other hand, in a secularized world, above all, the various group forms of the apostolate can represent for many a precious help for the Christian life in remaining faithful to the demands of the Gospel and to the commitment to the Church's mission and the apostolate.

Beyond this, the profound reason that justifies and demands the lay faithful's forming of lay groups comes from a theology based on ecclesiology, as the Second Vatican Council clearly acknowledged in referring to the group apostolate as a "sign of communion and of unity of the Church of Christ."[106]

It is a "sign" that must be manifested in relation to "communion" both in the internal and external aspects of the various group forms and in the wider context of the Christian community. As mentioned, this reason based on ecclesiology explains, on one hand, the "right" of lay associations to form and on the other, the necessity of "criteria" for discerning the authenticity of the forms which such groups take in the Church.

First of all, the freedom for lay people in the Church to form such groups is to be acknowledged. Such liberty is a true and proper right that is not derived from any kind of "concession" by authority, but flows from the sacrament of Baptism, which calls the lay faithful to participate actively in the Church's communion and mission. In this regard the council is quite clear: "As long as the proper relationship is kept to Church authority, the lay faithful have the right to found and run such associations and to join those already existing."[107] A citation from the recently published Code of Canon Law affirm it as well: "The Christian faithful are at liberty to found and govern associations for charitable and religious purposes or for the promotion of the Christian vocation in the world; they are free to hold meetings to pursue these purposes in common."[108]

It is a question of a freedom that is to be acknowledged and guaranteed by ecclesial authority and always and only to be exercised in Church communion. Consequently, the right of the lay faithful to form groups is essentially in relation to the Church's life of communion and to her mission.

"Criteria of Ecclesiality" for Lay Groups

30. It is always from the perspective of the Church's communion and mission, and not in opposition to the freedom to associate, that one understands the necessity of having clear and definite criteria for discerning and recognizing such lay groups, also called "criteria of ecclesiality."

The following basic criteria might be helpful in evaluating an association of the lay faithful in the Church:

--The primacy given to the call of every Christian to holiness, as it is manifested "in the fruits of grace which the Spirit produces in the faithful"[109] and in a growth toward the fullness of Christian life and the perfection of charity.[110]

In this sense whatever association of the lay faithful there might be, it is always called to be more of an instrument leading to holiness in the Church, through fostering and promoting "a more intimate unity between the everyday life of its members and their faith."[111]

--The responsibility of professing the Catholic faith, embracing and proclaiming the truth about Christ, the Church and humanity, in obedience to the Church's magisterium as the Church interprets it. For this reason every association of the lay faithful must be a forum where the faith is proclaimed as well as taught in its total content.

--The witness to a strong and authentic communion in filial relationship to the Pope, in total adherence to the believe that he is the perpetual and visible center of unity of the universal Church,[112] and with the local bishop, "the visible principle and foundation of unity"[113] in the particular Church and in "mutual esteem for all forms of the Church's apostolate."[114]

The communion with Pope and bishop must be expressed in loyal readiness to embrace the doctrinal teachings and pastoral initiatives of both Pope and bishop. Moreover, Church communion demands both an acknowledgement of a legitimate plurality of forms in the associations of the lay faithful in the Church, and at the same time a willingness to cooperate in working together.

--Conformity to and participation in the Church's apostolic goals, that is, "the evangelization and sanctification of humanity and the Christian formation of people's conscience so as to enable them to infuse the spirit of the Gospel into the various communities and spheres of life."[115]

From this perspective, every one of the group forms of the lay faithful is asked to have a missionary zeal which will increase their effectiveness as participants in a re-evangelization.

--A commitment to a presence in human society, which in light of the Church's social doctrine, places it at the service of the total dignity of the person.

Therefore, associations of lay faithful must become fruitful outlets for participation and solidarity in bringing about conditions that are more just and loving within society.

The fundamental criteria mentioned at this time find their verification in the actual fruits that various group forms show in their organizational life and the works they perform such as: the renewed appreciation for prayer, contemplation, liturgical and sacramental life; the reawakening of vocations to Christian marriage, the ministerial priesthood and the consecrated life; a readiness to participate in programs and Church activities at the local, national and international levels; a commitment to catechesis and a capacity for teaching and forming Christians; a desire to be present as Christians in various settings of social life and the creation and awakening of charitable, cultural and spiritual works; the spirit of detachment and evangelical poverty leading to a greater generosity in charity toward all; and conversion to the Christian life or the return to Church communion of those baptized members who have fallen away from the faith.

The Pastors in Service to Communion

31. The pastors of the Church, even if faced with possible and understandable difficulties as a result of such associations and the process of employing new forms, cannot renounce the service provided by their authority, not simply for the well-being of the Church, but also for the well-being of the lay associations themselves. In this sense they ought to accompany their work of discernment with guidance, and above all, encouragement so that lay associations might grow in Church communion and mission.

It is exceedingly opportune that some new associations and movements receive official recognition and explicit approval from competent Church authority to facilitate their growth on both the national and international level. The council has already spoken in this regard: "Depending on its various forms and goals, the lay apostolate provides for different types of relationships with the hierarchy.... Certain forms of the lay apostolate are given explicit recognition by the hierarchy, though in different ways. Because of the demands of the common good of the Church, moreover, ecclesial authority can select and promote in a particular way some of the apostolic associations and projects which have an immediately spiritual purpose, thereby assuming for them a special responsibility."[116]

Among the various forms of the lay apostolate which have a particular relationship to the hierarchy, the synod fathers have singled out various movements and associations of Catholic Action, in which "indeed, in this organic and stable form, the lay faithful may freely associate under the movement of the Holy Spirit, in communion with their bishop and priests, so that in a way proper to their vocation and with some special method they might be of service through their faithfulness and good works to promote the growth of the entire Christian community, pastoral activities and infusing every aspect of life with the Gospel spirit."[117]

The Pontifical Council for the Laity has the task of preparing a list of those associations which have received the official approval of the Holy See and, at the same time, of drawing up, together with the Pontifical Council for the Christian Unity, the basic conditions on which this approval might be given to ecumenical associations in which there is a majority of Catholics and determining those cases in which such an approval is not possible.[118]

All of us, pastors and lay faithful, have the duty to promote and nourish stronger bonds and mutual esteem, cordiality and collaboration among the various forms of lay associations. Only in this way can the richness of the gifts and charisms that the Lord offers us bear their fruitful contribution in building the common house: "For the sound building of a common house it is necessary, furthermore, that every spirit of antagonism and conflict be put aside and that the competition be in outdoing one another in showing honor (cf. Rom 12:10), in attaining a mutual affection, a will toward collaboration, with patience, farsightedness and readiness to sacrifice, which will at times be required."[119]

So as to render thanks to God for the great gift of Church communion which is the reflection in time of the eternal and ineffable communion of the love of God, Three in One, we once again consider Jesus' words: "I am the vine, you are the branches" (Jn 15:5). The awareness of the gift ought to be accompanied by a strong sense of responsibility for its use: it is in fact a gift that, like the talent of the Gospel parable, must be put to work in a life of ever-increasing communion.

To be responsible for the gift of communion means, first of all, to be committed to overcoming each temptation to division and opposition that works against the Christian life with its responsibility in the apostolate. The cry of St. Paul continues to resound as a reproach to those who are "wounding the body of Christ": "What I mean is that each one of you says, 'I belong to Paul,' or 'I belong to Cephas,' or 'I belong to Christ!' Is Christ divided?" (1 Cor 1:12-13). No, rather let these words of the apostle sound a persuasive call: "I appeal to you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment" (1 Cor 1:10).

Thus the life of Church communion will become a sign for all the world and a compelling force that will lead persons to faith in Christ: "That they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me" (Jn 17:21). In such a way communion leads to mission, and mission itself to communion.


The Corresponsibility of the Lay Faithful in the Church as Mission


32. We return to the biblical image of the vine and the branches, which immediately and quite appropriately lends itself to a consideration of fruitfulness and life. Engrafted into the vine and brought to life, the branches are expected to bear fruit: "He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit" (Jn 15:5). Bearing fruit is an essential demand of life in Christ and life in the Church. The person who does not bear fruit does not remain in communion: "Each branch of mine that bears no fruit, He (my Father) takes away" (Jn 15:2).

Communion with Jesus, which gives rise to the communion of Christians among themselves, is an indispensable condition for bearing fruit: "Apart from me you can do nothing" (Jn 15:5) And communion with others is the most significant fruit that the branches can give: in fact, it is the gift of Christ and His Spirit.

At this point communion begets communion: essentially it is likened to a mission on behalf of communion. In fact, Jesus says to His disciples: "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide" (Jn 15:16).

Communion and mission are profoundly connected with each other, they interpenetrate and mutually imply each other, to the point that communion represents both the source and the fruit of mission: communion gives rise to mission and mission is accomplished in communion. It is always the one and the same Spirit who calls together and unifies the Church and sends her to preach the Gospel "to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). On her part, the Church knows that the communion received by her as a gift is destined for all people. Thus the Church feels she owes to each individual and to humanity as a whole the gift received from the Holy Spirit that pours the charity of Jesus Christ into the hearts of believers, as a mystical force for internal cohesion and external growth. The mission of the Church flows from her own nature. Christ has willed it to be so: that of "sign and instrument ... of unity of all the human race."[120] Such a mission has the purpose of making everyone know and live the "new" communion that the Son of God made man introduced into the history of the world. In this regard, then, the testimony of John the Evangelist defines in an undeniable way the blessed end toward which the entire mission of the Church is directed: "That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; and our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ" (1 Jn 1:3).

In the context of Church mission, then, the Lord entrusts a great part of the responsibility to the lay faithful, in communion with all other members of the People of God. This fact, fully understood by the fathers of the Second Vatican Council, recurred with renewed clarity and increased vigor in all the works of the synod: "Indeed, pastors know how much the lay faithful contribute to the welfare of the entire Church. They also know that they themselves were not established by Christ to undertake alone the entire saving mission of the Church toward the world, but they understand that it is their exalted office to be shepherds of the lay faithful and also to recognize the latter's services and charisms that all according to their proper roles may cooperate in this common undertaking with one heart."[121]


33. The lay faithful, precisely because they are members of the Church, have the vocation and mission of proclaiming the Gospel: they are prepared for this work by the sacraments of Christian initiation and by the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

In a very clear and significant passage from the Second Vatican Council we read: "As sharers in the mission of Christ, priest, prophet and king, the lay faithful have an active part to play in the life and activity of the Church.... Strengthened by their active participation in the liturgical life of their community, they are eager to do their share in apostolic works of that community. They lead to the Church people who are perhaps far removed from it; they earnestly cooperate in presenting the word of God, especially by means of catechetical instruction; and offer their special skills to make the care of souls and the administration of the temporal goods of the Church more efficient."[122]

The entire mission of the Church, then, is concentrated and manifested in evangelization. Through the winding passages of history the Church has made her way under the grace and command of Jesus Christ: "Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation" (Mk 16:15)".... And lo, I am with you always, until the close of the age" (Mt 28:20). "To evangelize," writes Paul VI, "is the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her most profound identity."[123]

Through evangelization the Church is built up into a community of faith: more precisely, into a community that confesses the faith in full adherence to the word of God which is celebrated in the sacraments and lived in charity, the principle of Christian moral existence. In fact, the "good news" is directed to stirring a person to a conversion of heart and life and a clinging to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior; to disposing a person to receive Baptism and the Eucharist and to strengthen a person in the prospect and realization of new life according to the Spirit.

Certainly the command of Jesus: "Go and preach the Gospel," always maintains its vital value and its ever-pressing obligation. Nevertheless, the present situation, not only of the world but also of many parts of the Church, absolutely demands that the word of Christ receive a more ready and generous obedience. Every disciple is personally called by name: no disciple can withhold making a response: "Woe to me, if I do not preach the Gospel" (1 Cor 9:16).

The Hour Has Come for a Re-Evangelization

34. Whole countries and nations where religion and the Christian life were formerly flourishing and capable of fostering a viable and working community of faith are now put to a hard test, and in some cases, are even undergoing a radical transformation, as a result of a constant spreading of an indifference to religion, of secularism and atheism. This particularly concerns countries and nations of the so-called First World, in which economic well-being and consumerism, even if coexistent with a tragic situation of poverty and misery, inspires and sustains a life lived "as if God did not exist." This indifference to religion and the practice of religion devoid of true meaning in the face of life's very serious problems are not less worrying and upsetting when compared with declared atheism. Sometimes the Christian faith as well, while maintaining some of the externals of its tradition and rituals, tends to be separated from those moments of human existence which have the most significance, such as birth, suffering and death. In such cases, the questions and formidable enigmas posed by these situations, if remaining without responses, expose contemporary people to an inconsolable disappointment or to the temptation of eliminating the truly humanizing dimension of life implicit in these problems.

On the other hand, in other regions or nations many vital traditions of piety and popular forms of Christian religion are still preserved; but today this moral and spiritual patrimony runs the risk of being dispersed under the impact of a multiplicity of processes, including secularization and the spread of sects. Only a re-evangelization can assure the growth of a clear and deep faith and serve to make these traditions a force for authentic freedom.

Without doubt a mending of the Christian fabric of society is urgently needed in all parts of the world. However, for this to come about, what is needed is to first remake the christian fabric of the ecclesial community itself present in these countries and nations.

At this moment the lay faithful, in virtue of their participation in the prophetic mission of Christ, are fully part of this work of the Church. Their responsibility, in particular, is to testify how the Christian faith constitutes the only fully valid response--consciously perceived and stated by all in varying degrees--to the problems and hopes that life poses to every person and society. This will be possible if the lay faithful will know how to overcome in themselves the separation of the Gospel from life, to again take up in their daily activities in family, work and society an integrated approach to life that is fully brought about by the inspiration and strength of the Gospel.

To all people of today I once again repeat the impassioned cry with which I began my pastoral ministry: "Do not be afraid! Open, indeed, open wide the doors to Christ! Open to His saving power the confines of states and political and economic systems, as well as the vast fields of culture, civilization and development. Do not be afraid! Christ knows 'what is inside a person.' Only He knows! Today too often people do not know what they carry inside, in the deepest recesses of their soul, in their heart. Too often people are uncertain about the meaning of life on earth. Invaded by doubts they are led into despair. Therefore--with humility and trust I beg and implore you--allow Christ to speak to the person in you. Only He has the words of life, yes, eternal life."[124]

Opening wide the doors to Christ, accepting Him into humanity itself, poses absolutely no threat to persons, indeed, it is the only road to take to arrive at the total truth and the exalted value of the human individual.

This vital synthesis will be achieved when the lay faithful know how to put the Gospel and their daily duties of life into a most shining and convincing testimony, one in which not fear but the loving pursuit of Christ and adherence to Him will be the factors determining how a person is to live and grow. These factors will lead to new ways of living more in conformity with human dignity.

Humanity is loved by God! This very simple yet profound proclamation is owed to humanity by the Church. Each Christian's words and life must make this proclamation resound: God loves you, Christ came for you, Christ is for you "the way, the truth and the life!" (Jn 14:6).

This re-evangelization is directed not only to individual persons but also to entire portions of populations in the variety of their situations, surroundings and cultures. Its purpose is the formation of mature ecclesial communities, in which the faith might radiate and fulfill the basic meaning of adherence to the person of Christ and His Gospel, of an encounter and sacramental communion with Him, and of an existence lived in charity and in service.

The lay faithful have their part to fulfill in the formation of these ecclesial communities, not only through an active and responsible participation in the life of the community, in other words, through a testimony that only they can give, but also through a missionary zeal and activity toward the many people who still do not believe and who no longer live the faith received at Baptism.

In the case of coming generations, the lay faithful must offer the very valuable contribution, more necessary than ever, of a systematic work in catechesis. The synod fathers have gratefully taken note of the work of catechists, acknowledging that they "have a task that carries great importance in animating ecclesial communities."[125] It goes without saying that Christian parents are the primary and irreplaceable catechists of their children, a task for which they are given the grace by the sacrament of Matrimony. At the same time, however, we all ought to be aware of the "rights" that each baptized person has to being instructed, educated and supported in the faith and the Christian life.

Go into the Whole World

35. While pointing out and experiencing the present urgency for a re-evangelization, the Church cannot withdraw from her ongoing mission of bringing the Gospel to the multitudes--the millions and millions of men and women--who as yet do not know Christ, the redeemer of humanity. In a specific way this is the missionary work that Jesus entrusted and again entrusts each day to His Church.

The activity of the lay faithful, who are always present in these surroundings, is revealed in these days as increasingly necessary and valuable. As it stands, the command of the Lord "Go into the whole world" is continuing to find a generous response from lay persons who are ready to leave familiar surroundings, their work, their region or country, at least for a determined time, to go into mission territory. Even Christian married couples, in imitation of Aquila and Priscilla (cf. Acts 18; Rom 16:3ff.), are offering a comforting testimony of impassioned love for Christ and the Church through their valuable presence in mission lands. A true missionary presence is exercised even by those who for various reasons live in countries or surroundings where the Church is not yet established and bear witness to the Faith.

However, at present the missionary concern is taking on such extensive and serious proportions for the Church that only a truly consolidated effort to assume responsibility by all members of the Church, both individuals and communities, can lead to the hope for a more fruitful response.

The invitation addressed by the Second Vatican Council to the particular Church retains all its value, even demanding at present a more extensive and more decisive acceptance: "Since the particular Churches are bound to mirror the universal Church as perfectly as possible, let them be fully aware that they have been sent also to those who do not believe in Christ."[126]

The Church today ought to take a giant step forward in her evangelization effort and enter into a new stage of history in her missionary dynamism. In a world where lessening of distance makes the world increasingly smaller, the Church community ought to strengthen the bonds among its members, exchange vital energies and means, and commit itself as a group to a unique and common mission of proclaiming and living the Gospel. "So-called younger churches have need of the strength of the older churches and the older ones need the witness and impulse of the younger, so that individual churches receive the riches of other churches."[127]

In this area, younger churches are finding that an essential and undeniable element in the founding of churches[128] is the formation not only of local clergy but also of a mature and responsible lay faithful. In this way the community which itself has been evangelized goes forth into a new region of the world so that it too might respond to the mission of proclaiming and bearing witness to the Gospel of Christ.

The synod fathers have mentioned that the lay faithful can foster the relations which ought to be established with followers of various religions in which they live and in their activities: "Throughout the world today the Church lives among people of various religions.... All the faithful, especially the lay faithful who live among the people of other religions, whether living in their native region or in lands as migrants, ought to be for all a sign of the Lord and His Church, in a way adapted to the actual living situation of each place. Dialogue among religions has a preeminent part, for it leads to love and mutual respect and takes away, or at least diminishes, prejudices among the followers of various religions and promotes unity and friendship among peoples."[129]

What is first needed for the evangelization of the world are those who will evangelize. In this regard everyone, beginning with the Christian family, must feel the responsibility to foster the birth and growth of vocations, both priestly and religious as well as in the lay state, specifically directed to the missions. This should be done by relying on every appropriate means, but without ever neglecting the privileged means of prayer, according to the very words of the Lord Jesus: "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest!" (Mt 9:37, 38).


36. In both accepting and proclaiming the Gospel in the power of the Spirit, the Church becomes at one and the same time an "evangelizing and evangelized" community, and for this very reason she is made the servant of all. In her the lay faithful participate in the mission of service to the person and society. Without doubt the Church has the kingdom of God as her supreme goal, of which "she on earth is its seed and beginning,"[130] and is therefore totally consecrated to the glorification of the Father. However, the kingdom is the source of full liberation and total salvation for all people; with this in mind, then, the Church walks and lives, intimately bound in a real sense to their history.

Having received the responsibility of manifesting to the world the mystery of God that shines forth in Jesus Christ, the Church likewise revels one person to another, giving a sense of one's existence, opening each to the whole truth about the individual and of each person's final destiny.[131] From this perspective the Church is called, in virtue of her very mission of evangelization, to serve all humanity. Such service is rooted primarily in the extraordinary and profound fact that "through the Incarnation the Son of God has united himself in some fashion to every person."[132]

For this reason the person "is the primary route that the Church must travel in fulfilling her mission: the individual is the primary and fundamental way for the Church, the way traced out by Christ himself, the way that leads invariably through the mystery of the Incarnation and Redemption."[133]

The Second Vatican Council, repeatedly and with a singular clarity and force, expressed these very sentiments in its documents. We again read a particularly enlightening text from the constitution Gaudium et Spes: "Pursuing the saving purpose which is proper to her, the Church not only communicates divine life to all, but in some way casts the reflected light of that divine life over the entire earth. She does this most of all by her healing and elevating impact on the dignity of the human person, by the way in which she strengthens the bonds of human society and imbues the daily activity of people with a deeper sense and meaning. Thus, through her individual members and the whole community, the Church believes she can contribute much to make the family of man and its history more human."[134]

In this work of contributing to the human family, for which the whole Church is responsible, a particular place falls to the lay faithful, by reason of their "secular character," obliging them, in their proper and irreplaceable way, to work toward the Christian animation of the temporal order.

Promoting the Dignity of the Person

37. To rediscover and make others discover the inviolable dignity of every human person makes up an essential task, in a certain sense the central and unifying task, of the service which the Church and the lay faithful in her are called to render to the human family.

Among all other earthly beings, only a man or a woman is a "person," a conscious and free being and, precisely for this reason, the "center and summit" of all that exists on the earth.[135]

Personal dignity is the most precious good which a human being possesses. As a result, the value of one person transcends all the material world. The words of Jesus, "For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and to forfeit his life?" (Mk 8:36) contain an enlightening and stirring statement about the individual: value comes not from what a person "has"--even if the person possessed the whole world!-- as much as from what a person "is." The goods of the world do not count as much as the good of the person, the good which is the person individually.

The dignity of the person is manifested in all its radiance when the person's origin and destiny are considered: created by God in His image and likeness as well as redeemed by the most precious blood of Christ, the person is called to be a "child in the Son" and a living temple of the Spirit, destined for the eternal life of blessed communion with God. For this reason every violation of the personal dignity of the human being cries out to God for vengeance and is an offense against the Creator of the individual.

In virtue of an individual's personal dignity the human being is always a value as an individual, and as such demands being considered and treated as a person and never as an object to be used, or as a means, or as a thing.

The dignity of the person constitutes the foundation of the equality of all people among themselves. As a result, all forms of discrimination are totally unacceptable, especially those forms which unfortunately continue to divide and degrade the human family, from those based on race or economics to those social and cultural, from political and geographic, etc. Each discrimination constitutes an absolutely intolerable injustice, not as much for the tensions and the conflicts that can be generated in the social sphere, as much as for the dishonor inflicted on the dignity of the person: not only to the dignity of the individual who is the victim of the injustice, but still more to the one who commits the injustice.

Just as personal dignity is the foundation of equality of all people among themselves, so it is also the foundation of participation and solidarity of all people among themselves: dialogue and communion are rooted ultimately in what people "are," first and foremost, rather than on what people "have."

The dignity of the person is the indestructible property of every human being. The force of this affirmation is based on the uniqueness and irrepeatability of every person. From it flows that the individual can never be reduced by all that seeks to crush and to annihilate the person into the anonymity that comes from collectivity, institutions, structures and systems. As an individual, a person is not a number or simply a link in a chain, nor even less, an impersonal element is some system. The most radical and elevating affirmation of the value of every human being was made by the Son of God in His becoming man in the womb of a woman, as we continue to be reminded each Christmas.[136]

Respecting the Inviolable Right to Life

38. In effect the acknowledgment of the personal dignity of every human being demands the respect, the defense and the promotion of the rights of the human person. It is a question of inherent, universal and inviolable rights. No one, no individual, no group, no authority, no state, can change--let alone eliminate--them because such rights find their source in God himself.

The inviolability of the person, which is a reflection of the absolute inviolability of God, finds its primary and fundamental expression in the inviolability of human life. Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights--for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture--is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination.

The Church has never yielded in the face of all the violations that the right to life of every human being has received, and continues to receive, both from individuals and from those in authority. The human being is entitled to such rights in every phase of development, from conception until natural death; and in every condition, whether healthy or sick, whole or handicapped, rich or poor. The Second Vatican Council openly proclaimed: "All offenses against life itself, such as every kind of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia and willful suicide; all violations of the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, physical and mental torture, undue psychological pressures; all offenses against human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children, degrading working conditions where men are treated as mere tools for profit rather than free and responsible persons; all these and the like are certainly criminal: they poison human society; and they do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are a supreme dishonor to the Creator."[137]

If, indeed, everyone has the mission and responsibility of acknowledging the personal dignity of every human being and of defending the right to life, some lay faithful are given a particular title to this task: such as parents, teachers, health workers and the many who hold economic and political power.

The Church today lives a fundamental aspect of her mission in lovingly and generously accepting every human being, especially those who are weak and sick. This is made all the more necessary as a "culture of death" threatens to take control. In fact, "the Church family believes that human life, even if weak and suffering, is always a wonderful gift of God's goodness. Against the pessimism and selfishness which casts a shadow over the world, the Church stands for life: in each human life she sees the splendor of that 'Yes,' that 'Amen,' which is Christ himself (cf. 2 Cor 1:19; Rv 3:14). To the 'N' which assails and afflicts the world, she replies with this living 'Yes,' this defending of the human person and the world from all who plot against life."[138] It is the responsibility of the lay faithful, who more directly through their vocation or their profession are involved in accepting life, to make the Church's "Yes" to human life concrete and efficacious.

The enormous development of biological and medical science, united to an amazing power in technology, today provides possibilities on the very frontier of human life which imply new responsibilities. In fact, today humanity is in the position not only of "observing" but even "exercising a control over" human life at its very beginning and in its first stages of development.

The moral conscience of humanity is not able to turn aside or remain indifferent in the face of these gigantic strides accomplished by a technology that is acquiring a continually more extensive and profound dominion over the working processes that govern procreation and the first phases of human life. Today as perhaps never before in history or in this field, wisdom shows itself to be the only firm basis to salvation, in that persons engaged in scientific research and in its application are always to act with intelligence and love, that is, respecting, even remaining in veneration of, the inviolable dignity of the personhood of every human being, from the first moment of life's existence. This occurs when science and technology are committed with licit means to the defense of life and the cure of disease in its beginnings, refusing on the contrary-- even for the dignity of research itself--to perform operations that result in falsifying the genetic patrimony of the individual and of human generative power.[139]

The lay faithful, having responsibility in various capacities and at different levels of science as well as in the medical, social, legislative and economic fields, must courageously accept the "challenge" posed by new problems in bioethics. The synod fathers used these words: "Christians ought to exercise their responsibilities as masters of science and technology, and not become their slaves.... In view of the moral challenges presented by enormous new technological power, endangering not only fundamental human rights but the very biological essence of the human species, it is of utmost importance that lay Christians--with the help of the universal Church--take up the task of calling culture back to the principles of an authentic humanism, giving a dynamic and sure foundation to the promotion and defense of the rights of the human being in one's very essence, an essence which the preaching of the Gospel reveals to all.[140]

Today maximum vigilance must be exercised by everyone in the face of the phenomenon of the concentration of power and technology. In fact such a concentration has a tendency to manipulate not only the biological essence but the very content of people's consciences and lifestyles, thereby worsening the condition of entire peoples by discrimination and marginalization.

Free to Call Upon the Name of the Lord

39. Respect for the dignity of the person, which implies the defense and promotion of human rights, demands the recognition of the religious dimension of the individual. This is not simply a requirement of religious belief, but one that finds itself inextricably bound up with the very reality of the individual. In fact, the individual's relation to God is a constitutive element of the very "being" and "existence" of an individual: it is in God that we "live, move and have our being" (Acts 17:28). Even if not all believe this truth, the many who are convinced of it have the right to be respected for their faith and for their life- choice, individual and communal, that flows from that faith. This is the right of freedom of conscience and religious freedom, the effective acknowledgment of which is among the highest goods and the most serious duties of every people that truly wishes to assure the good of the person and society. "Religious freedom, an essential requirement of the dignity of every person, is a cornerstone of the structure of human rights and for this reason an irreplaceable factor in the good of individuals and of the whole society, as well as of the personal fulfillment of each individual. It follows that the freedom of individuals and of communities to profess and practice their religion is an essential element for peaceful human coexistence.... The civil and social right to religious freedom, inasmuch as it touches the most intimate sphere of the spirit, is a point of reference for the other fundamental rights and in some way becomes a measure of them."[141]

The synod did not forget the many brothers and sisters that still do not enjoy such a right and have to face difficulties, marginalization, suffering, persecution, and oftentimes death because of professing the faith. For the most part, they are brothers and sisters of the Christian lay faithful. The proclamation of the Gospel and the Christian testimony given in a life of suffering and martyrdom make up the summit of the apostolic life among Christ's disciples, just as the love for the Lord Jesus even to the giving of one's life constitutes a source of extraordinary fruitfulness for the building up of the Church. Thus the mystic vine bears witness to its earnestness in the faith, as expressed by St. Augustine: "But that vine, as predicted by the prophets and even by the Lord himself, spread its fruitful branches in the world, and becomes the more fruitful the more it is watered by the blood of martyrs."[142]

The whole Church is profoundly grateful for this example and this gift. These sons and daughters give reason for renewing the pursuit of a holy and apostolic life. In this sense the fathers at the synod have made it their special duty "to give thanks to those lay people who, despite their restricted liberty, live as tireless witnesses of faith in faithful union with the Apostolic See, although they may be deprived of sacred ministers. They risk everything, even life. In this way the lay faithful bear witness to an essential property of the Church: God's Church is born of God's grace, which is expressed in an excellent way in martyrdom."[143]

Without doubt, all that has been said until now on the subject of respect for personal dignity and the acknowledgment of human rights concerns the responsibility of each Christian, of each person. However, we must immediately recognize how such a problem today has a world dimension: in fact, it is a question which at this moment affects entire groups, indeed entire peoples, who are violently being denied their basic rights. Those forms of unequal development among the so-called different "worlds" were openly denounced in the recent encyclical, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis.

Respect for the human person goes beyond the demands of individual morality. Instead, it is a basic criterion, an essential element, in the very structure of society itself, since the purpose of the whole of society itself is geared to the human person.

Thus, intimately connected with the responsibility of service to the person is the responsibility to serve society, as the general task of that Christian animation of the temporal order to which the lay faithful are called as their proper and specific role.

The Family: Where the Duty to Society Begins

40. The human person has an inherent social dimension which calls a person from the innermost depths of self to communion with others and to the giving of self to others: "God, who has fatherly concern for everyone, has willed that all people should form one family and treat one another in a spirit of brotherhood."[144] Thus society as a fruit and sign of the social nature of the individual reveals its whole truth in being a community of persons.

Thus the result is an interdependence and reciprocity between the person and society: all that is accomplished in favor of the person is also a service rendered to society, and all that is done in favor of society redounds to the benefit of the person. For this reason the duty of the lay faithful in the apostolate of the temporal order is always to be viewed both from its meaning of service to the person founded on the individual's uniqueness and unrepeatability as well as in the meaning of service to all people which is inseparable from it.

The first and basic expression of the social dimension of the person, then, is the married couple and the family: "But God did not create man a solitary being. From the beginning 'male and female He created them' (Gn 1:27). This partnership of man and woman constitutes the first form of communion between persons."[145] Jesus is concerned to restore integral dignity to the married couple and solidity to the family (Mt 19:3-9). St. Paul shows the deep rapport between marriage and the mystery of Christ and the Church (cf. Eph 5:22-26; Col 3:18-21; 1 Pt 3:1-7).

The lay faithful's duty to society primarily begins in marriage and in the family. This duty can only be fulfilled adequately with the conviction of the unique and unreplaceable value that the family has in the development of society and the Church itself.

The family is the basic cell of society. It is the cradle of life and love, the place in which the individual "is born" and "grows." Therefore a primary concern is reserved for this community, especially, in those times when human egoism, the anti-birth campaign, totalitarian politics, situations of poverty, material, cultural and moral misery, threaten to make these very springs of life dry up. Furthermore, ideologies and various systems, together with forms of disinterest and indifference, dare to take over the role in education proper to the family.



Copyright 2004 Victor Claveau. All Rights Reserved