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The laity have full membership in the Church

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 27 October 1993 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. During our catecheses on ecclesiology, first we focused on the Church as the People of God, as a priestly and sacramental community, and then reflected on her various offices and ministries. We went from the apostles, chosen and sent by Christ, to the bishops, their successors; to the priests, the bishops' co-workers; and to the deacons. It is logical then for us to turn our attention to the status and role of the laity, who represent the vast majority of the Populus Dei. We shall do so by following the lead of the Second Vatican Council, but also by again considering the directives and guidelines in the Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laici , published on December 30, l988, following the 1987 Synod of Bishops.

2. It is widely known that the word "lay" comes from the Greek term laikós , which in turn derives from laós --people. Thus "lay" means "belonging to the people." In this respect it is a beautiful word. Unfortunately, a long historical development has caused the word "lay," in secular and especially political usage, to acquire the meaning of opposition to religion and to the Church in particular. It thus expresses an attitude of separation and rejection, or at least, stated indifference. This development is certainly regrettable.

In Christian usage, however, the "laity" are those belonging to the People of God. More particularly, they are those who do not have functions and ministries related to the sacrament of Orders and do not belong to the "clergy," according to the traditional distinction between "clerics" and "lay people" [1] . Clerics are sacred ministers, that is, the Pope, bishops, priests and deacons; the laity are the other Christifideles, who, together with the pastors and ministers, constitute the People of God.

After making this distinction, the Code of Canon Law adds that from both groups--clergy and laity--there are faithful consecrated to God in a special way by a canonically recognized profession of the evangelical counsels [2] . In accordance with the distinction mentioned above, a certain number of religious or consecrated persons who take vows but do not receive sacred Orders are included, in this respect, among the laity. However, because of their consecrated state, they have a special place in the Church and so are distinguished from other lay people. For its part, the Council preferred to discuss them separately and considered as lay people those who are neither clerics nor religious (cf. LG 31). Without implying doctrinal complications or confusion, this further distinction is useful for simplifying and facilitating discussion of the various groups and categories in the Church's structure.

Here we adopt the threefold distinction mentioned, treating lay people as members of God's People who do not belong to the clergy and are not committed to the religious state or the profession of the evangelical counsels [3] . After speaking of the status and role of this vast majority of those constituting the People of God, we will then be able to speak of the status and role of the religious Christifideles or those consecrated.

3. While noting that the laity are not the whole Church, the Council intended fully to recognize their dignity. If, from a ministerial and hierarchical standpoint, sacred Orders put the faithful receiving them in a particular position of authority by virtue of the role assigned them, the laity have full membership in the Church, as much as do sacred ministers or religious. In fact, according to the Council, "These faithful are by Baptism made one body with Christ" (LG 30) and have received the indelible sign of their belonging to Christ by virtue of the baptismal character. They belong to the Mystical Body of Christ.

On the other hand, the initial consecration through Baptism involves them in the mission of all God's people. "They are in their own way made sharers in the priestly, prophetic and kingly functions of Christ" (LG 30). Therefore, what we have said in preceding catecheses on the Church as a priestly and prophetic community also applies to the laity, who, together with the Church's members enjoying hierarchical functions and ministries, are called to develop their baptismal potential in communion with Christ the one head of the Mystical Body.

4. The recognition of lay people as full-fledged members of the Church excludes the identification of the latter with the hierarchy alone. It would be too narrow a concept and even an anti-evangelical, anti-theological error to think of the Church exclusively as the hierarchical body--a Church without people! According to the Gospel and Christian tradition, the Church is a community in which there is a hierarchy, indeed, but precisely because there is a people of "laity" who must be served and guided on the ways of the Lord. It is to be hoped that both clerics and lay people would be increasingly aware of this and never regard the Church from the outside, as an organization imposed on them without being their "body," their "soul." Clergy and laity, hierarchy and non-ordained faithful, are the one People of God, the one Church, the communion of Christ's followers, since the Church belongs to each and every one, and we are all responsible for her life and growth. Indeed, the words of Pius XII in a 1946 discourse To the New Cardinals are still famous: the laity "must have an ever clearer awareness of not only belonging to the Church, but of being the Church" [4] . This is a memorable statement that marked a turning-point in pastoral psychology and sociology in the light of a better theology.

5. This same conviction was affirmed by the Second Vatican Council, as an awareness of the pastors (cf. LG 30).

It must be said that in recent decades a clearer and richer awareness of this role has developed, with the contribution, in addition to that of pastors, of outstanding theologians and pastoral experts. Before and after Pius XII's address and the First World Congress for the Lay Apostolate (1951), they tried to clarify the theological questions about the lay state in the Church, writing as it were a new chapter of ecclesiology. Also helpful in this regard were meetings and conferences in which scholars and experts with practical, organizational experience compared the results of their reflections and the data obtained from their pastoral and social work. Thus they prepared valuable material for the papal and conciliar Magisterium. However, everything was in continuity with a tradition going back to the earliest Christian times, especially to Paul's exhortation quoted by the Council (cf. LG 30), which requested solidarity of the entire community and called to mind the responsibility of working to build up the body of Christ (cf. Eph 4:15-16).

6. In reality, as they have done in the past, countless lay people are working in the Church and the world in accordance with the recommendations and the requests of their pastors. They are quite worthy of admiration! Alongside those lay people who have a high-profile role, many, many more live their baptismal vocation without attracting attention. They spread throughout the Church the benefits of their charity. In silence, their apostolate flourishes, made effective and fruitful by the Spirit.

[1]   cf. CIC, can. 207 §1
[2]   cf. CIC, can. 207, §2
[3]   cf. CL 9, and CCC 897, which repeat the Council's concept
[4]   AAS 38 [1946], p. 149, cited in CL 9, and CCC 899"

After the Catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai fedeli di espressione tedesca 

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Mit der inständigen Bitte, Eurer Verantwortung als Laien in Kirche und Gesellschaft in Verbindung mit Euren Bischöfen und Priestern gerecht zu werden, grübe ich Euch alle sehr herzlich. Mein besonderer Grub gilt den Teilnehmern an der Wallfahrt des Bistums Mainz unter der Leitung unseres geschätzten Herrn Bischofs Lehmann, ebenso den zahlreichen Schülerinnen und Schülern aus Deutschland und Österreich sowie den Polizeibeamten aus Graz und aus Fulda.

Euch allen, Euren Lieben zu Hause sowie den mit uns über Radio Vatikan und das Fernsehen verbundenen Gläubigen erteile ich von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen. 

Ai fedeli di lingua francese 

Chers Frères et Sœurs,

A tous les pèlerins francophones, j’adresse mon bien cordial salut. En particulier, je suis heureux d’accueillir le pèlerinage de Poitiers, avec son éveque Monseigneur Rozier, à l’occasion de la conclusion du synode diocésain: je leur dis mes encouragements à avancer sur les routes de l’Evangile, en esprit de communion missionnaire. Je salue également les représentants de grandes entreprises, “ Elf ” et les “ Trois Suisses ” notamment; j’apprécie leur désir de rencontrer l’Eveque de Rome au cours de leurs voyages d’étude.

Je voudrais dire toute mon affection aux membres de l’Association valaisanne de la sclérose en plaques, les malades et leurs accompagnateurs bénévoles: je les encourage dans l’épreuve et dans leurs efforts pour combattre la maladie; je les confie de grand cœur à la bienveillance maternelle de Notre–Dame.

A tous, je donne volontiers ma Bénédiction Apostolique. 

Ai pellegrini di lingua inglese 

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I extend cordial greetings to the pilgrims from the State of Chuuk in Micronesia: May your journey to the See of Peter strengthen you in faith and generous service. To all the English speaking visitors and pilgrims, especially those from England, Ireland, India, Canada and the United States, I offer heartfelt good wishes that your visit to Rome will be a time of spiritual growth and renewal.

Ai pellegrini del Giappone 

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

Carissimi pellegrini provenienti da ogni parte del Giappone.

Voi nutrite una grande devozione verso la Madre di Gesù, come evidenzia il nome particolare del vostro gruppo. E poiché questo mese è dedicato al Rosario, vi esorto caldamente a recitarlo sempre e bene, anche perché sul mondo si stabilisca la vera giustizia e la pace.

Con questa esortazione desidero impartirvi la mia Benedizione Apostolica. Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

Ai fedeli di espressione spagnola 

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Mi cordial bienvenida a esta audiencia a todos los peregrinos y visitantes de los distintos Países de América Latina y de España.

En particular, al “ Grupo Mariano Virgen de Guadalupe ”, de México. Igualmente, a los integrantes de la “ Asociación Pequeños Arroceros ”, del Perú, y a las Comunidades Neocatecumenales de Valencia (España).

A todos bendigo de corazón.

Ai fedeli di lingua portoghese

Queridos Irmãos e Irmãs,

Saúdo afectuosamente todos os peregrinos de língua portuguesa, nomeadamente o grupo de brasileiros de ascendência italiana vindos do Estado de Espírito Santo. O Senhor está convosco e conta com todos! Como penhor da Sua graça e paz nas vossas vidas, concedo–vos, extensiva aos vossos familiares e amigos, a Bênção Apostólica.

Ad alcuni gruppi di lingua italiana 

Rivolgo un saluto cordiale ai pellegrini di lingua italiana, in particolare al folto gruppo dell’Associazione Nazionale Lavoratori Anziani d’Azienda, proveniente dall’Emilia Romagna. Carissimi, voi vi proponete di tenere alto il valore fondamentale del lavoro praticato con fedeltà e mettete la vostra pluriennale esperienza a servizio delle nuove generazioni. Auspico che possiate perseguire sempre con successo tali obiettivi, più che mai validi nell’attuale società.

Saluto anche gli studenti che ieri hanno ricevuto dal Presidente della Repubblica Italiana l’attestato di “Alfieri del Lavoro”; mi congratulo con loro e li esorto a mettere a frutto la buona preparazione conseguita.

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli 

Carissimi, desidero adesso rivolgere il mio saluto ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli qui presenti.

Invito voi, giovani, a trasmettere col vigore della vostra età il messaggio della salvezza evangelica, che i Santi Apostoli Simone e Giuda, dei quali domani celebreremo la festa, hanno testimoniato con la loro vita.

Esorto voi, ammalati, ad essere coraggiosi nell’accettare il dolore, con spirito apostolico e missionario.

E voi, sposi novelli, arricchite sempre la Chiesa mediante il vostro amore fedele e fecondo. A tutti la mia apostolica benedizione.

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