Lay apostolate vs ministry in the Vatican II documents

As the ACI Plenary submission shows, Cardijn developed his own concept of “lay apostolate” understood as:

a) “the lay (secular) life of lay people, the problems of that life, at every level: local, regional, national and international,”

b) “the divine value” of which was “to implement the work of God and Christ, in order to transform life and the world, “

c) a transformation that he said “must take place with, by and in Christ and the Church, with the resources of the Church (prayer, sacraments, etc.) but which are incarnated in the affairs of the world, the institutions of the world, in view of the inseparable goals that are the happiness of humanity and the glory of God.”

As we have also seen, Vatican II adopted much of this vision, noting in Lumen Gentium that “the laity are called in a special way to make the Church present and operative in those places and circumstances where only through them can it become the salt of the earth” with Gaudium et Spes adding that “secular duties and activities belong properly although not exclusively to laypeople.”

We also noted that the concept of lay apostolate in the Vatican II sense was largely absent from the website of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, which contains only “39 largely inconsequential references to “lay apostolate,” as opposed to a total of 160 references to “lay ministry.”

In this light, it is worth returning to the Vatican II documents to see how they treated the respective concepts of “apostolate,” “lay apostolate” as against “ministry” or “lay ministry.”

Initially, it’s interesting to note that, perhaps contrary to people’s expectations today, Vatican II actually contains more references to “apostolate” – 205 – versus a total of 160 for “ministry.”

Particularly interesting is the fact that by far most references to “apostolate” – 122 – occur in the Decree on Lay Apostolate, Apostolicam Actuositatem.

This is even more striking in view of the Church’s historical reluctance or even refusal to condone any association of lay people with the “apostolate,” which was viewed as reserved to the bishops as successors of Jesus Twelve Apostles.

The Council documents also contain 19 references to the specific term “lay apostolate” emphasising the significance of the change that has occurred – centuries of history overturned with a bang by Vatican II!

On the other hand, whereas the term “apostolate” occurs mostly with respect to the role of lay people, the term “ministry” occurs overwhelmingly in relation to the role of ordained priests, i.e. the ministerial priesthood. Thus, Presbyterorum Ordinis, the Decree on the Ministry of Priests, makes 50 references to “ministry.”

Moreover, and also strikingly, not one of the Vatican II documents adopts the term “lay ministry.”

The nearest any document comes to this is Apostolicam Actuositatem which merely states that “priests should focus their attention on the formation of the laity for the apostolate in their catechetics, their ministry of the word, their direction of souls, and in their other pastoral services.” (§30).

Also very striking and relevant is the way Apostolicam Actuositatem explains the relationship between ministry and apostolate in §6:

“The mission of the Church pertains to the salvation of men, which is to be achieved by belief in Christ and by His grace. The apostolate of the Church and of all its members is primarily designed to manifest Christ’s message by words and deeds and to communicate His grace to the world. This is done mainly through the ministry of the Word and the sacraments, entrusted in a special way to the clergy, wherein the laity also have their very important roles to fulfill if they are to be “fellow workers for the truth” (3 John 8).”

And §6 adds that “it is especially on this level that the apostolate of the laity and the pastoral ministry are mutually complementary.”

In other words, the whole point of “pastoral ministry’ is to serve and assist the “the apostolate of the laity.”

Yet, paradoxically, however, since Vatican II, the term “lay apostolate” has largely been forgotten while “lay ministry” has become all the rage. In a future post, we will look at some of the reasons for this eclipse of the “lay apostolate.”

Ministry vs Apostolate at Vatican II
MinistryLay MinistryApostolateLay Apostolate
Dei Verbum6000
Lumen Gentium280102
Sacrosanctum Concilium5000
Gaudium et Spes3010
Ad Gentes200114
Presbyterorum Ordinis50050
Apostolicam Actuositatem6012210
Optatam Totius16041
Perfectae Caritas60130
Christus Dominus140281
Unitatis Redintegratio2021
Orientalium Ecclesiarum1010
Inter Mirifica0060
Gravissimum Educationis2020
Nostra Aetate0000
Dignitatis Humanae1000

Author: Stefan Gigacz


Dave582 / Wikipedia / CCA BY SA 4.0


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