Lay apostolate and lay ministry according to Pope Francis

Here is perhaps the clearest explanation I have found of the difference between “lay apostolate” and “lay ministry” as well as the relationship between them.

Significantly, it comes in Pope Francis’ Motu Proprio, “Antiquum Ministerium” “Instituting the Ministry of Catechist.”

Here is the way §6 of that important document explains the “lay apostolate”:

The lay apostolate is unquestionably “secular”. It requires that the laity “seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and directing them according to God’s will” (cf. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 31). 

In their daily life, interwoven with family and social relationships, the laity come to realize that they “are given this special vocation: to make the Church present and fruitful in those places and circumstances where it is only through them that she can become the salt of the earth” (ibid., 33).

In other words, the “lay apostolate” is directed to “daily life” and engagement in “temporal affairs.”

On the other hand, as §2 explains, “ministry” is directed to “the building up of the Church:

From the beginning, the Christian community was characterized by many different forms of ministry carried out by men and women who, obedient to the working of the Holy Spirit, devoted their lives to the building up of the Church.

All this is already very clear in the documents of Vatican II but, given the way the difference has been lost or conflated, particularly in Australia, this is a very helpful explanation.

Lay Ministry 

Now despite or more precisely in addition to this basic distinction, Antiquum Ministerium also explains that lay people have a role in ministry, i.e. “lay ministry.” Thus, §6 notes:

We do well to remember, however, that in addition to this (lay) apostolate, “the laity can be called in different ways to more immediate cooperation in the apostolate of the hierarchy, like those men and women who helped the apostle Paul in the Gospel, working hard in the Lord” (ibid.).

Hence, as §5 states:

It is the task of pastors to support them (i.e. lay people) in this process and to enrich the life of the Christian community through the recognition of lay ministries capable of contributing to the transformation of society through the “penetration of Christian values into the social, political and economic sectors” (Evangelii Gaudium, 102).

In effect, then, the Church through its pastors needs to recognise lay ministries that will support lay people in their “secular” lay apostolate transforming society on the basis of Christian values.

A very clear and very helpful explanation of the relationship between ministry and apostolate.

The catechist as a lay minister 

And in light of this, §6 goes on to explain the role of the catechist as one form of “lay ministry”:

The role played by catechists is one specific form of service among others within the Christian community. Catechists are called first to be expert in the pastoral service of transmitting the faith as it develops through its different stages from the initial proclamation of the kerygma to the instruction that presents our new life in Christ and prepares for the sacraments of Christian initiation, and then to the ongoing formation that can allow each person to give an accounting of the hope within them (cf. 1 Pet 3:15). 

At the same time, every catechist must be a witness to the faith, a teacher and mystagogue, a companion and pedagogue, who teaches for the Church. Only through prayer, study, and direct participation in the life of the community can they grow in this identity and the integrity and responsibility that it entails (cf. Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, Directory for Catechesis, 113).

The “secular” role of lay ministers 

Very significantly, §8 also emphasises that catechists as lay ministers must not compromise their lay character. They must therefore avoid “clericalisation” carry out their role in a “secular” manner”:

To be sure, “there has been a growing awareness of the identity and mission of the laity in the Church. We can indeed count on many lay persons, although still not nearly enough, who have a deeply-rooted sense of community and great fidelity to the tasks of charity, catechesis and the celebration of the faith” (Evangelii Gaudium, 102). It follows that the reception of a lay ministry such as that of Catechist will emphasize even more the missionary commitment proper to every baptized person, a commitment that must however be carried out in a fully “secular” manner, avoiding any form of clericalization.

Thus, in the first instance, lay ministers must not neglect their own specifically lay apostolate in the world.

Secondly, the role of ministers, and particularly lay ministers, also involves awakening “personal enthusiasm on the part of all the baptized” as well as reviving an “awareness of their call to carry out a proper mission in the community.” (§5).

In other words, catechists as lay ministers also have a particular role in educating lay people of their own “secular” lay apostolate.

Let us hope that this important document by Pope Francis will also inspire further reflection and proposals at the Australian Plenary Council.


Pope Francis, Motu Proprio “Antiquum Ministerium”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *