Formation in the Instrumentum Laboris

Apostolicam Actuositatem devotes a whole chapter to “Formation for the Apostolate” understood as “a diversified and thorough formation” of the lay person, which “is demanded not only by the continuous spiritual and doctrinal progress of the lay person himself but also by the accommodation of his activity to circumstances varying according to the affairs, persons, and duties involved.” (AA§28)

How does the IL look at “formation,” particularly formation for lay people?

The IL makes 21 references to formation in relation to a variety of areas:

a) Faith formation, sacramental formation

b) Formation for seminarians, deacons, clergy and religious

c) Formation for students and teachers

d) Formation for church workers

e) Formation for adult parish leaders

f) Formation for children and young people loosely connected to the Church

g) Formation for married life

h) Formation for the Gospel mission and Christian living.

Thus, it is clear that formation is thought of mainly in reference to various roles in the Church.

While the text does refer to formation for “Christian living,” the only reference to the specifically lay role are in relation to marriage. There is no reference at all to formation for lay people’s broader role in transforming life, community and world.


The diverse practices of prayer and the ecclesial/liturgical families of the Catholic communion (the Eastern Catholic Churches and the Latin Church) can all help to build up strong communities of faith, to enable the active and effective participation of all the baptised, to create opportunities for ongoing formation in faith and to draw all believers deeper into the mission of the gospel.

Concrete action is required to address improvements in governance and leadership, recognition and formation for a wider range of ministries to strengthen local missionary presence, and to implement national priorities for the inclusion of First Nations people, the promotion of an integral ecology of life and the fuller participation of women in the mission of the Church.


As “places of evangelisation, formation and enculturation”, they allow students and teachers to explore and experience the Catholic faith tradition. Catholic education offices have developed new curricula and pedagogies in religious education that relate to the contemporary student population of our schools.34 For many children, the first time they hear about God in a substantial way—or experience prayer and liturgy—is through attendance at a Catholic school.

Spirituality and Faith Formation


There is a crucial need, therefore, for vocational discernment and ongoing formation, particularly in key areas of Catholic belief, sacraments, the Church and Christian living. Numerous positive efforts exist to support Catholics’ knowledge of scripture. However, many people desire more spiritual direction and formation in prayer so that they can live as Christ’s disciples, experiencing the renewal of ongoing conversion. This is needed more in rural areas where people lack access to Mass and sacraments. Preaching is another area that many see as needing renewal to enhance openness to conversion and formation for Christian living.


Lack of formation can have detrimental effects for Catholic agencies who run the risk of operating like non-profit organisations rather than genuine agencies of mission. Formation for advisory bodies and Catholic boards is recognised as being crucial to ensure leaders’ ability to support the ongoing formation of their employees to live the Catholic identity and mission proper to their institution.

Laity and Church Governance


The emergence of lay pastoral ministries in parishes, schools, hospitals and welfare organisations has given new vitality to evangelisation, pastoral care and outreach. This has led to an increase in collaborative approaches to ministry in the parish context. Many submissions recognised the need for appropriate formation and support to assist lay people in discerning and using their gifts wisely.


The retention and support of young people are of particular concern for the Church today. The breakdown in transmission of faith through generations has resulted in fewer youth attending Mass and participating actively in parishes. Some perceive the Church’s doctrines as a barrier, and the Church as less than inclusive, and are less likely to want to be part of it themselves. They are more unengaged than opposed. Others respond enthusiastically to the ‘countercultural’ message of the Church, and demonstrate their zeal through participation in charity work, social justice activity, youth groups and festivals, and various formation opportunities.


Impelled by the Holy Spirit, Jesus manifested the kingdom of God in his ministry and teaching and in his formation of a community of disciples to share in his mission. At the centre of Jesus’ mission and identity is the great commandment of love of God and love of neighbour (Mark 12:28-31), which Jesus learned from his people’s scriptures and redefined in terms of his own person and ministry: “This is my commandment, that you should love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12).


Other questions arise. Has the Church effectively communicated the meaning and value of its teachings and traditions? Have some Church teachings or discipline been applied in ways that unnecessarily alienate people or obscure the truth of these teachings? What steps can the Plenary Council propose to strengthen the quality and effectiveness of the Church’s proclamation and faith formation for all people? While topics of doctrinal and moral teaching will emerge and are important, the primary focus of the Plenary Council is the effectiveness of the Church’s pastoral response in its mission of proclaiming and living the Gospel in Australia today.


In this light, the formation and leadership of clergy is identified as critical to the growth of dioceses and parishes and future efforts at evangelisation in the wider community. Some clergy can feel stretched by increasing administrative demands and be discouraged by a decline in participation and engagement in their parishes, which can also lead to fewer volunteers and resources.


The Plenary Council might consider ways in which the formation, resourcing and support of clergy and religious can be enhanced at a national, diocesan and parish level. This is equally important for clergy working in specialised ministries, such as migrant communities and various ecclesial movements. The aim of these initiatives would be to ground all these ministries more deeply in the mystery of Christ, and to ensure that they are more widely promoted and practically supported by the whole Church.


It is a fact today that lay women and men already hold significant positions of leadership in many Church ministries including education, health and social outreach, faith formation, diocesan administration and in other forms of service and oversight. It is open to the Plenary Council to explore ways in which this co-responsibility might be formalised and expanded, and the ways in which women in particular might be more fully involved in all aspects of the Church’s life while upholding the Church’s teachings on the nature of ordained ministry in the Catholic Church


Areas of opportunity for such growing involvement include: the initial formation and selection of seminarians; the ongoing formation of deacons, priests and bishops; practical supports to enable the clergy to be faithful to their pastoral commitments; the need for a renewal of preaching and the growth of practical skills and leadership among clergy; specific support for clergy who come to Australia from other countries and cultures, and the support of parish communities to embrace both the possibilities and the challenges posed by the multicultural nature of our society, the Church itself and the clergy. These needs also apply to consecrated Religious who, according to their charisms, are called to play an active role in the mission of the Church as they have always done in the past.


Every parish should be a school of holiness and evangelisation. These two dimensions provide a framework for urgently needed parish renewal. In relation to this need, the National Consultation provided a number of suggestions: restructure parishes within a diocese to make the best use of limited resources; assess the sustainability of current diocesan boundaries; strengthen formation of adult leaders; encourage the sharing of resources and fostering of collaboration between parishes, schools, agencies and movements; re-examine the effectiveness of sacramental preparation programmes; promote the spiritual life and an intentional, missionary discipleship LOOKING WITHIN Instrumentum Laboris: Fifth Plenary Council of Australia 44 amongst the faithful; and engage new forms of technology as adopted during the recent COVID-19 pandemic.


Our parishes in particular are challenged to renew the formation of children, young people and families who may not be strongly connected to the Church but who still have an ‘instinct for the faith’ which prompts them to seek the sacraments or engage in part with of the Church’s life. The great challenge of accompaniment, as promoted by Pope Francis, is to encounter people where they are in order to, according to help them take some further steps along the journey of faith. In seeking to apply this general principle to catechesis and formation, there will be a need for a deeper understanding of evangelisation and effective outreach to those near and far, and for the advice and expertise of people well-formed in listening, spiritual discernment and supporting the growth of discipleship.


Recognising that fewer people today participate in the sacramental life of the Church than in previous times, the question of how best to provide formation on the sacraments arises. Such formation will need to focus on both deepening people’s faith and increasing their knowledge. A dimension of this formation must be the ethical and missionary implications of the Eucharist for the Church’s communion of faith will always be incomplete while the poor go hungry, for “we cannot properly receive the Bread of Life without sharing bread for life with those in want”.1


As we look to the future, we recognise the important role that our bishops, dioceses, parishes, Religious congregations, retreat centres, theological institutes, and communities of the lay faithful can play in this renewal of formation in prayer and holiness. Recognising the ‘signs of the times’, the development of theologically sound resources, including digital forms of accompaniment such as podcasts and other online media, can support the People of God in learning to pray within the tradition of the Church and in their daily lives.


Identifying and forming those who are suited to ministry with young people must be a priority. Catholic schools and higher education institutions make an important contribution to the formation of and ministry to young people. This includes universities where the dialogue between faith and reason can take place. However, given the changing landscape in Catholic schooling—and acknowledging varying levels of faith and formation of staff and students within many schools and related agencies—the identity, mission and evangelising capacity of Catholic education in Australia should be examined with candour and courage if they are to bring people closer to Christ and his plan for their lives.


The National Consultation and recent Church documents also highlight the need for “remote” formation of young people in the Christian understanding of and aspiration to marriage, more “proximate” marriage formation for engaged couples and support for the newly married and young families in their efforts to pass on the faith amidst many competing voices and social influences.


For Catholics, formation for married life and parenting, arising from their baptismal vocation, requires an intentional and ongoing ministry of peer support, spiritual and sacramental accompaniment, and discerning reflection on and support for the challenges of each phase of married and family life. This vision of initial and ongoing formation for Christian marriage and parenting has been described by Pope Francis as a “catechumenal” journey that could be considered by the Council delegates.


At the heart of these opportunities for renewal is a deeper appreciation for an anthropology centred on Christ who reveals to each and every one, in each and every circumstance, what it means to be a human person in relationship to God, others and the world. This invites the Church to explore ways to make this account of Jesus Christ living and present in worship, preaching, pastoral accompaniment, faith formation and other practices of ecclesial life.


The gradual shift from a culturally Christian society to a more pluralistic and individualistic range of worldviews and faiths presents a real challenge to the mission of proclaiming the Gospel and the formation of Catholic communities and families. Inherited forms of faith transmission, well-suited to earlier cultural settings, lose their potency in different “soil” (Matt 13: 4-9). In particular, two new frontiers for Christian witness and dialogue open up in relation to the Church’s relationship with people of other religion and with people of no religion.

Stefan Gigacz





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