Ministry vs Apostolate: Where the confusion comes from

As I’ve shown in previous posts, e.g. here, there is no or at best little understanding of the lay apostolate in the Vatican II sense in the Instrumentum Laboris for the Plenary Council.

No doubt there are many causes for this. But here’s a particularly blatant one on the website of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference at a page entitled The Call to Ministry.

It quotes a book edited by William J. Cahoy, dean emeritus and associate professor of theology at Saint John’s School of Theology and Seminary in Collegeville, Minnesota, as follows:

The most significant shift in Vatican II with regard to the apostolate was not the idea that the laity could join in it. Instead the most significant shift was the Council’s recognition that the apostolate of the laity comes not from the hierarchy but from Christ himself.

Good so far, recognising that lay people have an apostolate of their own that does not depend on a kind of delegation from the bishops, i.e. the hierarchy.

It continues with another quote:

While Vatican II used the language of apostolate to describe broad participation in the mission of the church, in the years after the council, this language all but disappeared. In its place came ‘lay ministry’.

Here we see the problem, namely a complete confusion and conflation of the concepts of “lay apostolate” and “lay ministry.”

Yet as I have also shown in an earlier post, the concept of “ministry” in the Vatican II documents is linked precisely to the ministerial priesthood.

Lay apostolate, on the other hand, refers to lay people’s baptismal vocation OUTSIDE the confines of the Church – in family life, at work, in the community and the like.

It is very unfortunate to find such confusion over the concepts of “lay ministry” and “lay apostolate” on the website of the ACBC.


Cahoy W. In the name of the church. Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press; 2012. p. 43-44.






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