Lay people in the Instrumentum Laboris for the Synod on Synodality

The Instrumentum Laboris for the First Session of the Synod on Synodality was published on 22 June 2023.

So, as usual, I have examined it from the point of view of the “lay apostolate” and lay people in general.

First, let me say it is encouraging to see the several references to lay movements and associations in the proposed questions.

Nevertheless, there is still a long way to go to in terms of the lay apostolate and the mission of lay people in general.

A few simple observations.

The word “bishop” appears 82 times in the text and the word “episcopal” appears another 43 times. Well, Synods are still meetings of bishops so this is to be expected at some level, I guess.

The word “priest” appears 20 times in reference to the ordained ministerial priesthood and 11 times in reference to the common or baptismal priesthood or the “Priesthood” of Christ.

The word “deacon” appears 5 times.

There are 18 references to “consecrated” life, i.e. religious men and women.

The word “laity” appears twice. The word “lay” appears 13 times, including several mentions of lay movements (1) and lay associations (2), lay-led groups and lay institutions (1).

So, a total of 15 references to laypeople.

Not a single reference, however, to the term “lay apostolate” which – lest we forget – was actually specifically referenced by Vatican II in Apostolicam Actuositatem, the Decree on the Lay Apostolate, and in Lumen Gentium, Chapter 4 on The Laity.

On the other hand, there are 14 references to the “baptised,” 99.9% of whom are lay people.

Summary: 125 references to the episcopacy, 20 references to the ministerial priesthood, 25 if we include deacons, 18 references to religious men and women and 15 to lay people either individually or collectively.

It’s good to see the emerging category of the “baptised” encompassing all believers from pope to baptised infant.

But it’s also difficult to avoid the conclusion that the role of lay people and their lay apostolate has increasingly been subsumed by the category of the “baptised.” Isn’t this diminishing if not denying the identity of lay people in the Church?

In any case, it’s a long way from what Vatican II envisaged and what Cardijn hoped for when he published his book “Laïcs en premières lignes” (literally, “Lay people in the front lines”) or “Laymen/Laypeople into Action” in English edition of the book.

In conclusion, it’s hard to go past the question that Romeo Maione first articulated in 1971: “Is Cardijn passé or yet to be discovered?”

Stefan Gigacz