October 10, 2012
By Father William Muench
One of the most important documents proclaimed by the Second Vatican Council’s concerns the teaching on the Church called The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium). There is a section on the hierarchy of the Church - the bishops and priests – and also an important section concerning the laity. The chapter on the laity is a call to the Church to recognize the great gifts of the laity. It calls upon the leaders of the Church to use well this important resource, the lay men and women of the Church.
By their Baptism, lay people are chosen, called to live good and holy lives and to participate fully in the life of Christ’s Church. These are the words of the Council: “That is, the faithful who by Baptism are incorporated into Christ, are placed in the People of God, and in their own way share the priestly, prophetic and kingly office of Christ and to the best of their ability carry on the mission of the whole Christian people in the Church and in the world.” In this way, the Council was sending an important message to the whole Church. For too long, the laity were only spectators – spectators at liturgy and spectators to the various activities of the Church.
Consider how this has opened the door of opportunity for the lay people in the life of a parish today. Have you ever noticed what happens on a typical Sunday as Mass is being prepared in your parish? The choir practices the various music chosen for the Mass . The lectors go over the readings for the Mass for the final time. The Eucharistic ministers prepare for their ministry. The sacristans prepare the altar for Mass. The Offertory procession is prepared. The altar servers are organized. The ushers determine their duties. Greeters welcome people as they arrive. The teachers prepare for the special Liturgy of the Word for the children – and all of these are lay people. Formerly, all of these duties were carried out by the priest.
Now, I do know that many lay people carried out various duties before the Council, like caring for the maintenance of the Church buildings and property. Now the Council encourages that lay men and women become more involved in the Church’s life, even to overseeing parish activities as members of a Parish Council or a Parish Finance Council.
The Second Vatican Council emphasized the importance, even the necessity, of the involvement of lay men and women in the life of the Catholic Church. In the Chapter on the Laity in the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church – this is written: “Gathered together in the People of God and established in the Body of Christ under one head – the laity, no matter who they are – have, as living members, the vocation of applying to the building up of the Church and to its continual sanctification all the powers which they have received from the goodness of the Creator and the grace of the Redeemer.”
Recently, the first Scripture reading at the daily Mass – from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians – concerned Paul’s comparing the Church to a body, all the Baptized united into one Body. Paul writes, “Now the body is not a single part but many. You are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it – some people God has designated in the Church to be, first Apostles, second, prophets, third, teachers, then mighty deeds.” I am absolutely certain that all the lay people of the Church accomplish as active members can be placed under this category of “mighty deeds.”As a priest and pastor, I have experienced the wonderful “mighty deeds” done by lay men and women. I have relied upon their enthusiasm in so many activities and their wonderful witness to living good lives, a sign of God’s great love for them and their great love for God. I have been so deeply impressed with their messages of faith – in Confirmation classes, in Marriage Preparation Programs, their wisdom as they organized programs and encouraged members of the parish to become more involved in parish life. May we continue to carry out that dramatic call of the Vatican Council – “Therefore, may the way be clear for them to share diligently in the salvific work of the Church according to their ability and the needs of the times.”