Documents of Vatican II: Apostolicam Actuositatem

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Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People

by Dianne Rachal, Director of the Office of Worship

In its desire to intensify the apostolic activity of the People of God the Council now earnestly turns its thoughts to the Christian laity.”  AA 1

The Second Vatican Council approved a decree on the laity, Apostolicam Actuositatem, on November 18, 1965. The document speaks of the “apostolate” of the laity; eventually this term was replaced with “ministry.” The laity have a “special and indispensible role in the mission of the Church,” and their ministry is integral to their vocation as Christians. Current realities call for even greater lay participation in ministry: increased population, advances in science and technology, globalization and the scarcity of priests.

The mission of the Church is to spread the kingdom of Christ to the entire world, thus bringing salvation to all people. To be a Christian is to participate in this mission.  Initiated into the Mystical Body of Christ at Baptism and strengthened by the Holy Spirit in Confirmation, the laity witness to Christ the world over.  Apostolicam Actuositatem addresses the spirituality of lay people, which is essentially union with Christ.  This union is maintained primarily through active participation in the liturgy, meditation on scripture, living the Beatitudes, developing their charisms and following the example of Mary.

The specific objectives of lay ministry are: 1) evangelization and sanctification, 2) renewal of the temporal order, and 3) charitable works and social aid.  Laity evangelize by the witness of their Christian life and their good works. The laity renew the temporal order by bringing the world into harmony with the principles and values of Christian life.

When lay people follow the great commandment to love God and one’s neighbor, and to do unto the least, they express solidarity with all humanity. Charity, mercy, justice and social assistance on a local and global scale should not only alleviate suffering, but also eliminate the unjust systems at the root of human suffering.

Lay people exercise their ministry in the Church and in the world: Church communities, the family, the young, the social environment, national and international spheres. Nourished by the liturgy, the laity engage in the ministry of spreading the Word of God, catechetical instruction and administration of Church goods. Lay people infuse Christian spirit into their communities: social environments, work places, schools, clubs and leisure activities.  “There the witness of their life is completed by the witness of their word.”  AA 13

Adequate training of lay people is indispensable if ministry is to attain full efficacy.  AA 28

Apostolicam Actuositatem ends with an exhortation to the laity to respond to the call of Christ to carry the Church’s apostolate into the world:  “He (the Lord) sends them on the Church’s apostolate, … doing their full share continually in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord their labor cannot be lost.” AA 33

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