All That I Have Written Is Straw. . .

Meanderings of a Catholic Devout

A [hidden] leaven for the world

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In a recent discussion for my Vatican II course, the lay people of the class gathered to discuss the Apostolicam Actuositatem (Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity) document from Vatican II and it’s implications in the current day-and-age.  Our first reaction: where’s this document been all my life?

We only had three questions to answer/discuss:

  1. What did we find most significant and/or surprising about the document?
  2. Has implementation in the post-conciliar period held true to the document?
  3. Would we change anything in the document considering the modern-day environment?

In our group, we have myself (a full-time worker, part-time student), a retired-from-work student, a couple of full-time students, a youth director of a local Catholic high school, and two immigrants discerning the priesthood and diaconate. Aside from the two immigrants, here are things we noted:

  • Where was this document our whole (Catholic) lives? It seemed to us that this document was a precious jewel for providing purpose and a strategy for our Catholic lives. It refers to our vocation as laity as an apostolate, or mission, a term previously used only when discussing the clergy or religious. At once, we recognize our role in the Church’s mission and divine plan.
  • The document ties everything about our lay lifestyle to our spirituality. If you are single, you are still called to reap the fruits of faith, hope and love in your life, perhaps in your work and social circles. If you are married with no children, you still have the same vocation in work, social circles, and among other couples. If you are married with children, you now represent the most fundamental model of Church in the parent-child relationship. If you are a child, you have obligations of these virtues among your circle of friends, by leading by example, understanding that peers listen to peers. If you are a professional (psychiatrist, e.g.), then your services should be offered to the Church if needed to fulfil a role that a priest cannot.
  • If you believe what you believe, how can you do anything but live your life as such? This is why we are the leaven of the world.
  • We are called to action. If you have faith, hope and love, you find that you cannot but help evangelize. And by “evangelize”, we’re not speaking of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker here. We mean living by example, your soul should not contradict your temporal reality. And if you’re in this state, or even just getting there, then you will find that you are fulfilled by serving those around you: educating, working, politicking, taking a ministry, serving the underserved, going to Scripture Studies, writing, listening, forgiving, we could go on.

How has the implementation been since 1965?  Our professor noted an interesting paradox about the laity:  prior to this decree, the Catholic laity did not participate in the liturgy (Mass), but they were more compelled to action. Think of Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker Movement in the 1930s. But since the Second Vatican Council, the reverse has occurred:  there is more participation at Mass (lectors, Eucharistic ministers, ushers, music ministry) and less action for individual and social justice causes, by and large.

When I was attending my weekly scripture study, I was discussing the ramifications of Vatican II with some of the attendees since most are old enough to remember the implementation.  Some were angry because the implementation was so unorganized, hastily implemented, and most of all: unexplained.

Our group theorized that perhaps it was because the role of the laity in the mission of the Church was a new concept and perhaps the clergy had no idea for how to make use of us. Maybe some parish priests didn’t want to give up control. Some priests only saw this decree as allowing laity to work on the miniscule “missions” of the church, like the bookkeeping or the church secretary, but that isn’t what the Council fathers had in mind.

In fact, it’s very much like the Holy Spirit. The laity is the third part of a trinitarian audience, but the least understood. Without them, there is no Church. All priests, all religious begin as part of the laity, only their apostolate changes.

The implementation was made, though, because the opportunities exist in the Church on any given day. A local scripture study? Not prior to Vatican II. Legion of Mary? A bereavement ministry? Eucharistic adoration? CCD classes for youth? Catholic schools? RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults)? Family life ministry? Catholic journals/news? Catholic Relief Services? The call to our vocation is everywhere, but it’s left waiting in the pew each Sunday. Perhaps, we speculated, because no one has read the decree and thus most Catholics don’t tie their attendance at Mass to a lifelong vocation.

Would we change the document? I spoke up and said absolutely not. The language in the document is not unclear by today’s terminology. It’s not sexist, it’s not too conservative.  Another gentleman thought that perhaps the language needed to the stronger. But the point we all agreed upon was the fact that this document, though nearly 50 years after the fact, needs to be promulgated to more than just the clergy.

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Written by Written Straw

October 19, 2011 at 11:07 am

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