Archbishop Antony Anandarayar Archbishop of Pondicherry


In his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation the Holy Father Pope John Paul II declared prophetically that the third millennium will be of the lay people. There seems to be an implicit admission that the second millennium has not been that of the laity1. There has been a number of studies on the role and mission of the laity in the last fifty years. The documents of Vatican II, specifically Lumen Gentium, Apostolicam Actuasitatem and Ad Gentes, the Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laici and the Codes of Canon Law CIC 1983 & CCEO have dwelt on laity quite elaborately. Still, laity have to come to their own in the Church and realize more fully the vision of holy Father.

1. Evolution of the Role of Laity

1.1 Etymological Meaning

The terms lay, layman, and laity are all derived from the Greek word ‘laikos’ which is an adjective, meaning popular or common or not sacred or secular. It refers to a person who does not belong to the specific category of those who govern but is a member of the common people. In the Bible, the word ‘laos’ is used both in the inclusive and exclusive meanings. While in the inclusive usage it includes all the members, in the exclusive usage, it makes a distinction between the leaders and the rest of the people. One cannot accept the proposition that exclusive usage is of a later origin since even Clement of Rome in his letter to the Church of Corinth used the term in this sense and philological studies confirm this2.

1.2. The Role of the Laity in the Early Church

The Early Christians community was very conscious about its special status as the Chosen race, a Royal priesthood, a Holy nation, God’s own people. For his reason the Fathers often address letters or treatises to the laity and emphasize the duty of every Christian, without distinction, to work for the good of the brothers according to their individual charisms. The laity shared in the administration. In the first centuries the common faithful took part in the election of presbyters and bishops and spoke in synodal meetings.

1. George Nedungatt, Laity and Church Temporalities Appraisal of a Tradition, Dharmaram Publications, Bangalore, 2000, p. 67.
2. Ibid. p. 70

The early Christian Community was well united forming one body with their leaders and sharing in their responsibilities. Paul had so many fellow-workers and collaborators like Silas, Barnabas, Timothy, Priscilla, Acquilla etc. Paul had many lay men and women working with him without any distinction or division. There was seldom any tendency for power or authority. But when there arose some ambition for asserting Superiority, Paul admonishes them: “There is neither Jew or Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus”.

The Didache mentions the existence of teachers as a special class within the Churches. Their ministry was the same as that of the prophets, a ministry of the Word. We have several examples of such eminent teachers who were laymen. Pantenus, Origin, Tertullian, Justin, Tatian and others, who trveled from place to place to combat heresies, wrote volumes in defense of the faith and even set up schools in larger towns to thwart the efforts of the heretical schools.

Some of these teachers were privileged to speak during the service, although they did not belong to the clergy. They did so till the clergy came to possess the qualification of teachers and assumed the task of education and instruction in the Church.

1.3. The Early Middle Ages

In these early middle ages, a dualistic concept of membership in the Church was introduced into the theology and ecclesiastical structures. The ‘laos’ of God became laity under the clergy. Gratian’s decretal speaks of ‘duo sunt genra christianorum’ namely, the clergy and the laity. The biblical and the theological understanding of the laity as a chosen people with equal dignity and co-responsibility gave way to a social and feudal understanding of the laity as a social category. They were considered a dependent and educationally ignorant section of the society. The ecclesiastical legislations, administrative, sacramental, juridical and penal systems – further affected the laity adversely. They soon came to be identified as the mass of believers who were not among the sacred elite. In his climate of the divisions of the ‘laos’ into clergy and laity Christianity, underwent a great institutional change. The laity became the object of pastoral care and not the agents of missionary proclamations.

1.4. The high and late middle ages

During the period from 1050 to 1300 there took place a series of conflicts between the kings and popes. The tension and opposition was no more between the Church and the world, as in the past, but, was in the Church itself, between the spiritual and the secular, the consecrated and the unconsecrated.

Lay intrusion was particularly strong after 1300, for the Canonists and Theologians failed to deal with the problems generated by the economic changes of the time. In all these major conflicts, there were laymen and clergy on both sides. Mutual interests and prevailing opinion drew the Church and the State together. The laity had also some function within the sacramental system, especially in the administration of matrimony, baptism etc.3

1.5. The 1917 Code of Canon Law

A clear definition of a lay person cannot be found in the 1917 Code of Canon Law. This is not to say that the Code does not have a precise understanding of a lay person. On the contrary, the role and functions of the laity were known rather definitely in contrast to the role and functions of the clergy. This could be well understood by examining three key Canons – 87, 107 and 948 in the 1917 Code.

Canon 87 states that:

By Baptism a human being becomes a person in the Church of Christ, with all the rights and duties of a Christian, unless as far as rights are concerned there is some obstacle impeding the bond of communion with the Church, or a censure by the Church.

(i) Examining Canon 87, in connection with our inquiry, we find two major themes.

(a) Baptism: It is through baptism that one becomes a person in the Church. This fundamental personality in the Church is an indelible Character. The baptismal character is the ontological incorporation of a person into the mystical body.

(b) Rights and Obligations: Commentators state that a ‘person’, in a juridic sense, is a subject of rights and obligations. This juridic personhood (state of being in the Church) brings into effect rights and obligations of the person. Canon 87 is as pure as ontological definition of “person in the Church” as will be found in the canonical legislation. It is important here to note that there is no mention made of the lay state or of the canonical distinction between clerics and laity.

(ii) Canon 107 gives the most explicit understanding of lay person:

By divine institution there are in the Church clergy distinct from laity, although not all degrees if clerics are of divine institution. Both clerics and laity may be religious.

Canon 107 is the leading canon in the 1917 Code’s treatment of clerics. It is found in book II of that Code, “On Persons”, and it opens the Book’s legislation on the “Order of the Hierarchy”. The matter dealt with in Canon 107 is entirely different than the matter of personhood discussed in Canon 87. The interpretation of Canon 107 by the commentators of the time revolved around three points.

a. The Church is an unequal society by the divine institution of Christ.

3. John Manthadam, “Role of the Laity in the Church: A Historical Introduction”, Jeevadhara, Vol XXVI (1996), pp. 291-306

b. The Church determines the distribution of power between the two groups, clerics and lay persons. Laity lack a participation in jurisdiction and especially orders; they are subjects. Clerics having received atleast first tonsure have accepted a part in both orders and jurisdiction; they can be prelates

c. Although technically religions do not form a third group, the Code’s legislation on persons in Book II is divided into three parts rather than two – clerics, religious and laity – thereby creating certain confusion.

Canon 682 states that the lay persons have the right to receive from the clergy, according to the norms of ecclesiastical discipline, spiritual goods and the helps necessary for salvation. Canon 683 expresses simply that it is forbidden for lay persons to wear clerical garb.

(iii) Canon 948 adds yet another dimension to our study of laity in the 1917 Code. It is the leading canon in title VI, “On Orders”.

By the institution of Christ, orders distinguishes clerics from laity in the Church for governing the faithful and for the ministry of divine worship.

Yet again, the context of this statement is crucial to an interpretation of the Canon. The sacrament of orders is constitutive element of the clerical state. Lay persons are not the primary concern of Canon 107, nor are they the concern of this legislation either. Since Canon 948 takes up the matter of Church governed and divine worship, it is fitting that the canon should incorporate the distinction between clergy and laity pertinent to the internal ordering of the Church.

Two conclusions could be drawn from the above stated canons. First, although baptismal status (personhood) and juridic status (lay state) were both subjects of legislation, due to the ecclesiology of that era juridic status was heavily emphasized. Therefore, atleast with reference to participation in the mission of the Church, baptismal status became diminished in importance.

1.6. Laity in Vatican II

The Second Vatican Council has revolutionized the understanding of the identity and function of lay person in the Church. It is the direct result of the new vision of the Church as “the people of God”, as “Christian faithful” as Christifideles. The dogmatic constitution on the Church brings out the nature and function of the Church through various biblical images such as sheepfold, flock, field of God, vineyard, edifice, household, family, temple, mother, spouse, and body of Christ. The second chapter of this entitled “The people of God” comes as a completion and culmination of the understanding of the nature of the Church. The Church is “the new people of God”. By this title, the council puts more emphasis on the human and communal side of the Church rather than on the institutional and hierarchical aspects. The term “Christian faithful” occurs frequently in the documents of the Council. And it refers to the clerics, the laity and the members of religious institutes. It brings out the equality and dignity of all the baptized and the responsibility flowing from baptism.

Lumen Gentium no. 31 is an important text for the conciliar understanding of a lay person. “The term laity is here understood to mean all faithful except those in holy orders and those in religious state sanctioned by the Church. These faithful are by baptism made one body with Christ and are established among the people of God. They are in their own way made sharers in the priestly, prophetic and kingly functions of Christ. They carry out their own part in the mission of the whole Christian faithful with respect to the Church and to the world. A secular quality is proper and special to laymen”.

This text does not give any definition but rather a typological description of the laity. It has been observed that “the laity are here defined not only negatively (as those not ordained and not in the religious state) but positively, in terms of their baptism and their active role in the people of God.4 The Council retains the necessary functional differentiation between the clergy and the laity and at the same time emphasizes the equality and dignity of all the Christian faithful and their common responsibility in the mission of the Church. There is a sacramental grounding for the laity for participation in the mission of the Church. It is baptism that gives one a share in the three-fold mission of Christ as carried on by the Church. The distinction between the clergy and the laity remains a matter of internal ordering of the Church and it is based on the distinction between the common priesthood and ministerial priesthood. The council brings out also the typicality “secular quality” of a lay person. It includes engagement in temporal affairs, employment in a secular profession and living in ordinary circumstances of family and social life. Like leaven, the laity are called to live in the world and transform the world. The laity is called to do God’s work in the world.

The Church will be fully alive only when laity participate in the Tria-Munera.

The Church is not truly established and does not fully live, nor is it a perfect sign of Christ, unless there is a genuine laity existing and working alongside the hierarchy.5

1.8. Laity in CCEO

CCEO deals with lay persons specifically in title XI that has 11 canons (CC. 399-409) while title I presents in general the rights and duties of all the Christian faithful (CC.7-26). While Title I6 is similar to CIC CC. 204-223, Title XI is comparable to CIC CC. 224-231.7 CCEO 7 gives a positive definition of Laity following L.G. 31. “In this Code by the term lay people are meant those Christian Faithful for whom secularity is proper and specific and who living in the world participate in the mission of the Church without being in holy order or enrolled in the religious state”. Secularity and spirituality are not mutually opposed and exclusive.

It is above all the proper vocation of lay persons to carry out and to arrange temporal affairs according to God’s plan, to seek the kingdom of God and thus in their private, family and politico-socio lives to be witnesses for Christ and to manifest Him to others; also shining in faith, hope and charity, to strive for just laws in society, and to be like leaven for the sanctification of the world. (CCEO C. 401)

4. Footnote of 16 of the Constitution Lumen Gentium
5. AG. 21
6. C.10 is an addition in CCEO, as it speaks of the obligation to maintain integrity of faith.
7. C.405 is special to CCEO as it speaks of the obligation to study

The above canon is more emphatic in understanding the specificity of laity’s role in the world than the Latin Code’s role permeate and perfect temporal sphere with the spirit of the Gospel.8

2. Laity in the Participatory Structures of the Church

2.1. At the Parish Level

The Holy Spirit endows the believers with diverse gifts and charisms and the pastors of the Church have to recognize them and channelize them for the building up of the community. The Consultative bodies prescribed in the Code of Canon Law (are some of the legitimate structures stably and organically established) enables the laity realize and manifest that they are people of God. Participation in these structures is a sign of communion and unity of the Church of Christ.

a. The New Understanding of Parish and Parish Priest


While for the Code of 1917 the Parish is a territory to which people are attached and a benefice endowed to the pastor, for the new code it is a community of Christian faithful established on a stable basis. In the 1977 schema, the parish was referred as the ((portion of the people of God)). Rightly has the term ((Community of faithful)) been preferred for the parish in the meeting held from 14-19 April 1980 since it expresses a more dynamic interaction among the members. What is important is not the division of the land but the community and its pastoral care. The emphasis of the former law was on the rights and duties of the parish priest; the parishioners were referred to only indirectly and seen as the passive subjects of the care of souls with no recognition by the law of their having any active role in the functioning of the parish. Parish is a reality of the Church whose concern and interest is to bring the Church nearer the faithful, whether priests or laity. It is the first ecclesial community, after the family it is the first school of faith, of prayer and of Christian custom; it is the first ground of ecclesial charity; the first organ of pastoral and social actions the ground most adapted for sacerdotal and religious vocations to bloom, the primary seat of catechetics.

Parish Priest

The definition of parish as the community of faithful leads to a new definition of parish priest who exercises pastoral care in co-operation with other priest deacons and with lay persons. According to Canon 519, ((The parish priest is the proper pastor of the parish entrusted to him. He exercises pastoral care of the community entrusted to him under the authority of the diocesan bishop whose ministry of Christ he is called to share so that for this community he may carry out the offices of teaching, sanctifying and ruling with the co-operation of other priests or deacons and with the assistance of lay members of Christ’s faithful, in accordance with the law)).

8. For detailed explanation of the rights and obligations and comparison, confer George Nedungatt, Laity and Church Temporalities, pp. 84-91 and Varghese Koluthara, “The Christian Faithful in the Oriental Code”, Jeevadhara, Vol. XXVI (1996), pp. 307-314.

The parish priest is proper pastor of the parish entrusted to his care. Just as the diocesan bishop is the proper pastor of the diocese, the parish priest is the proper pastor of the parish. Consequently, he is not merely a delegate of the bishop. His power is ordinary i.e. attached to the office by law itself. But he exercises the same always under the authority of the bishop, as it is he who entrusts him the pastoral care of the community. But he is not merely an extension of the bishop and the Code rightly calls him collaborator of the bishop when it defines the diocese. Canon 519 underlines the fact that the parish priest is called to share in the ministry of Christ with the bishop.

b. Parish Pastoral Care

The focal point of the whole section on parish is the community of persons. The parish priest exists for the parish community, which gives meaning to his office. He is no longer a landlord whose position and purpose had been falsely emphasized and adapted in relation to the temporal benefice of the Church. He is the spiritual leader of the Christian community while he forms part of that community.

What is the pastoral ministry of this leader? The Code itself speaks of the threefold ministry of teaching, sanctifying and governing and the parish priest is the one who fulfills them for the community entrusted to him. It is significant that the Code is in line with the terminology used to describe the ministry of the bishop (c. 375, #1). Moreover, the emphasis is not on the person of the parish priest but on the pastoral care exercised by means of the threefold functions. These functions are elaborated in the subsequent Canons 528 to 530.

c. Parish Priest in collaboration

How does he exercise this ministry? The parish priest exercises his pastoral care in co-operation with the other members of the parish community. He is to work co-responsibly with other priests, deacons, religious and lay members who also have a right and duty to assist him in the promotion of pastoral action. He has the double task of using his own gifts on the community and of searching for and encouraging resources in the community. As J.A. Coriden says, “Bishop and parish priests are not the only ones who are responsible for the missionary duties of their respective communities. Other ordained ministers, religious and laity that form the individual community also have a right and duty in promoting pastoral action. Priests and deacons who are assigned to the parish are to be regarded as the parish priest’s co-workers. The use of this term in the present law is praiseworthy because it reflects the idea of collegiality and co-responsibility.”9

It would seem that this ministry is directed towards the lay faithful in the parish. Does it mean that the action of the parish priest consists in giving the faithful the goods of salvation and of the laity in receiving the same from him? (cc. 682, 213). The laity must not only in receive the goods of salvation but also give the same to others (c. 214). The faithful have a proper role by virtue of their baptism and not by delegation from the parish priests. However, no one can deny that there are certain ministries in the Church, which require the sacrament of order. The role of the priest, therefore, consists not only in giving the goods of salvation to the community entrusted to his care but also in enabling that community to give the same to others. It is for him to distinguish between those ministries that require the sacrament of orders and those that do not. He is to help the people to discover their charisms and their vocation, from them for the proper ministry, and co-ordinate the various activity of the faithful.

9. The initial draft of the Canon read: «Parochus est sacerdos, qui tanquam eius pastor proprius, paroeciae sibi commissae cura pastorali defungitur, sub auctoritate Episcopi dioecesani, cuius in partem ministerii /Christi vocatus est, ut pro populo sibi concredito munera magistri, sacerdotis et rectoris exsequatur..»

d. Parish Pastoral Council

The constitution of parish pastoral council is not obligatory for the universal law. In fact, c. 536 says, “If, after consulting the council of priests the diocesan bishop considers it opportune, a parish pastoral council it is to be established in each parish. The opportuneness is to be decided by the Diocesan bishop after consulting the council of priests. While parish pastoral council is not obligatory for the universal law, particular law may make it binding and stabilize norms for its establishment and function.

It is an organ of ecclesial communion, participation and co-responsibility. The Parish Pastoral Council is a representative body of the faithful working in close collaboration with the priests of the parish with a view to furthering the mission of Christ and his Church in this corner of the Lord’s vineyard.

It is collegiality in action at parish level. The Council must concern itself with the whole range of pastoral activities in the parish. The parish priest is the president who acts as animator and facilitator. The bishop consults the council of priest before establishing it. It is not mandatory and the members have only consultative vote. The Parish Pastoral Council is different from the Parish Finance Council. The members of the Council mistakenly consider it at times merely as a ‘grievance – airing’ forum, a ‘talkshop’, a board of directors or a legislative body for issuing decrees or statutes that the parish priest must either sign or veto. On the other hand, some priests are allergic to the formation of such a council. Priests who are loudest in their criticism of the lack of consultation and shared decision making at universal and diocesan level are often they very worst offenders when it comes to applying these same principles in their own parish. The purpose and nature of the council should be rightly understood by the president and the members. ‘Its role is to help the pastor identify the pastoral needs in the parish, help him plan pastoral programs and improve pastoral services, evaluate the effectiveness of existing programs and services with a view to their improvement or at times their substitution or termination.’ The pastor should have sincerity of purpose respect for each person and openness to new learning and thus provide a new style of leadership for the success of the council.

The code gives only a general indication on the composition of the parish pastoral council. Without doubt, the pp has a significant place in the council with the right of presiding. It is but natural that all other who by virtue of their office participate in the pastoral care of the parish are also enlisted members such as app, chaplains, rectors of churches or permanent deacons lectors and catechists. One should take into consideration the local situation and circumstances peculiar to each parish. Care should be taken to constitute the council to be really representative of the parish community. The qualifications, mode of election and tenure and the functioning can be determined by particular law or statutes. The members should be in full communion with the church and love it and be distinguished for their faith, Christian life, prudence, disponibility for dialogue and capacity for pastoral collaboration.

The purpose of the council is to collaborate in the promotion of pastoral activity. Like the diocesan pastoral council, it needs to study and weigh those matters that concern pastoral works in the parish and propose practical conclusions to the parish priest. The parish pastoral council has only a consultative vote. This does not mean that the parish priest can do what he wants. The responsibility for the decision rests with the pp after he has seriously listened to and evaluated the suggestions and proposals of the members.

e. The Parish Finance Council

“The Parish Maintenance Council’ of the 1917 code is replaced by the Parish Finance Council of C.537. The documents of Vatican II gave a tremendous impulse to the active participation of the lay faithful including in the administration of church property. In the same line the Directory to the Bishops states, ‘The bishop is to establish financial council on the diocesan level in all parishes and other diocesan institutions. They are to be composed of clergy as well as laity selected among experts in administration, gifted with special honesty and love for the Church and her apostolate. Applying the general principle of C. 1280, every juridical person is to have its own finance committee or atleast counselors who are to assist in the performance of the administrator’s duties in accordance with the statutes (which provides for a finance committee to every juridical person) to the parish. C. 537 states, ‘In each parish there is to be a finance committee to help the parish priest in the administration of the goods of the parish without prejudice to C. 32. It is ruled by the universal law and by the norms laid down by the diocesan bishop and it is comprised of members of the faithful selected according to these norms. The points are clear from this canon. The Parish Finance Council is obligatory in all parishes irrespective of the number of members and the quantity of temporal goods they possess. Secondly, it is meant only to assist the parish priest. It does not specify any other constitutive element other than by referring generically to universal law and Episcopal norms. He council is to function making use of the provisions of Book V, Title II. The administration of goods and the norms governing Diocesan Finance Council which can be applied to it analogously.

The parish finance council does not have the task of administering the goods of the parish but only collaborates with the pp in the administrative management of the parish. It is the competence of the pp to administer the goods of the parish and not that of the parish finance council in itself. It I interesting to note that in the earlier draft of this canon, the establishment of this council was not necessarily obligatory but only (ubi adiuncta id suadeant) and it was assigned the task administration together with the parish priest-president.

Since the code does not explicitly state that the parish finance council has consultative or deliberative vote, the diocesan law can grant it deliberative vote in certain cases or atleast require the parish priest to get its administrators to render an account to the faithful and the goods offered to the church.

2.2 At the Diocesan Level

a. Laity in the Diocesan Synod

Canon 358 of 1917 Code restricted the membership of Diocesan Synod only to clerics. On the contrary, C. 463/5 of the 1983 Code makes lay participation obligatory. They are to be chosen by the Diocesan Pastoral Council or by Diocesan Bishop himself in a manner determined by him. In accordance with C. 463/2, the diocesan bishop may invite the lay members of Christ faithful especially if they are known for their knowledge, prudence and integrity. In this way, the Diocesan Bishop can ensure a wide representation of the faithful within the diocese.

b. Laity in the Diocesan Finance Council

The Diocesan Finance Council is to be established in every diocese and it should be composed of atleast three of Christ’s faithful who may be clerics, religious or lay persons. The expertise and experience of lay persons in financial matter and civil law can be used for the efficient administration of temporal goods of the Church. This Council has real power since the Bishop needs its consent and counsel for significant juridical acts with regard to the financial management of the Diocese. This council continues to function even when the Episcopal See is vacant or impeded.

c. Laity in the Diocesan Pastoral Council

The Diocesan pastoral Council is an innovation of Vatican II like the other councils. It is founded on the principles of communion and participation of the people of God in the ecclesial ministry and activity.

Its function is to study and weigh these matters which concern the pastoral works in the diocese and to propose practical conclusions concerning them. The composition of the Council must reflect the entire portion of the people of God duly representing the various regions, social conditions, professions and apostolate. Though the word “majority” in the 1977 draft has been replaced by “especially” (praesertim), it does not in any way dilute the significant place of the laity in Diocesan pastoral Council. Firm faith, high moral standards and prudence are required of the members.

2.3 At the Regional and National Level

a. Particular Councils

By virtue of C. 443/4 laity may be invited to particular Councils (Plenary and Provincial) but they are here only a consultative vote. Particular Councils has real power of governance especially legislative power. Since it can determine increase of faith, common pastoral action, direction of morality and ecclesiastical discipline, it should be fitting and advantages if the laity are asked to express thin views on matters that affect the life of the Church. These structures could contribute to Church communion and the mission of the Particular Churches.

c. Missionary Activity

The pilgrim Church is missionary by her very nature. Hence, the work of evangelization is a fundamental duty of all the people of God. (C. 781). Missionaries may be clergy, religious or lay members of Christ faithful (C. 784). Trained catechists are to be employed for missionary activity (C. 785).

3.2. Family Ecclesia Domestica

The first and basic expression of the social dimension of the person is the married couple and the family. It is the original cell of social life. It is the community in which, from childhood one can learn moral values, begin to honor God and make good use of freedom (CCC 2207). The Christian family constitutes a specific revelation and realization of ecclesial communion and for this reason it can and should be called a domestic Church (FC 9, CCC 2204). It is a communion of persons, a sign and image of the Trinitarian communion. Following of Jesus is the vocation of all families. The members of the family should strive to become “God’ family” buy doing the will of the Father in heaven (Mt. 12:49).

3.3. Family

The future of the world and of the Church passes through the family. Family values like filial respect, love and care for the aged and the sick, love of children and harmony are held in high esteem in all Asian cultures and traditions. In the family, Gospel should be the rule of life. The family is not simply the object of Church’s pastoral care; it is also to be of the church’s effective agents of evangelization.

3.4. Laity as Witnesses

There can be no more proclamation of the Gospel unless Christians also offer witness of lives in harmony with the message they preach: “the first form of witness is the very life of the missionary, which reveal a new way of living……… Everyone in the Church, striving to imitate the Divine Master, can and must bear this kind of witness; in many cases it is the only possible way of being a missionary”. Genuine Christian witness is need especially now, because “People today put ore trust in witnesses than in teachers, in experience than in teaching, and in life and action than in theories”. This is certainly true in the Asian context, where people are more persuaded by holiness of life than by intellectual argument. The experience of faith and of the gifts of the Holy Spirit thus becomes the basis of all missionary work, in towns or villages, in schools or hospitals, among the handicapped, migrants or tribal peoples, or in the pursuit of justice and human rights. Every situation is an opportunity for Christians to show forth the power, which the truth of Christ has become in their lives.

3.5 Transformation of the Temporal Order

It is the special vocation of the laity to seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and directing them according to God’s will. They have to permeate and perfect the temporal order with the spirit of the Gospel (LG 31, C. 225/2). By calling this witnessing as their special vocation, the council and the Code make it clear that the temporal order is not left to the laity as if it were in some way a second best.

The above responsibility and challenge requires a thorough education of Catholics in the social doctrines of the Church as well as the formation of hearts towards just and compassionate living in the present Asian society they will become evangelizers on their own; the young evangelizing the young, professionals evangelizing the professionals, government official evangelizing government officials, families evangelizing families. The area of their missionary work is the vast and complex worlds of politics, economics, industry, education, the media science, and technology, the arts and sport. This will they be leaven for the transformation of the whole of Asian society.10

3.6 Parents and Faith Formation of Children

Parents must regard their children as children of God and respect them as human persons. Showing themselves obedient to the will of the Father in heaven, they educate their children to fulfil God’s law.

Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children. They bear witness to this responsibility first be creating a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity and disinterested service are the rule. The home is the natural environment for initiating a human being into solidarity and communal responsibilities. Parents should teach children to avoid the compromising and degrading influences, which threaten human societies.

Through the grace of the sacrament of marriage, parents receive the responsibility and privilege of evangelizing their children. Parents should initiate their children at an early age into the mysteries of the faith of which they are the ‘first heralds’ for their children. They should associate them from their tenderest years with the life of the Church. A wholesome family life can foster interior dispositions that are a genuine preparation for a living faith and remain a support for it throughout one’s life.

Education in the faith by the parents should begin in the child’s earliest years. This already happens when family members help one another to grow in faith by the witness of a Christian life in keeping with the Gospel. Family catechesis precedes, accompanies and enriches other forms of instruction in the faith. Parents have the mission of teaching their children to pray and to discover their vocation as children of God. The parish is the Eucharistic community families; it is a liturgical life of Christian families; it is a privileged place for the catechizes of children and parents.11

4. New Millennium Age of the Laity

4.1. Lay Ministers

Official ministries for lay people were introduced with the reform of minor orders by Pope Paul VI. Tonsure and Sub-diaconate were abolished and the ministries of lector and acolyte were established, which were open to the laity. C. 230 of 1983, Code provides for the stable installation of lay men in these ministries in a liturgical rite. According to Christifideles laici all ministries are participation in the ministry of Christ. Ministries and role of lay people ought to be exercised in conformity with their specific lay vocation.

10. John Thakur, “The Role of the Laity in the Mission of the Church”, Laity, Vol. IV, December 1998, p. 3.
11. Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 2222.

4.2 The Laity and the Sanctifying Office

The common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial priesthood of the ordained, though they differ from one another in essence and not only in degree, are nonetheless inter-related. The Laity, as a “a people” (1 Pet. 2:9) exercise their common priesthood in many ways.

a. Baptism

The ordinary minister of Baptism is the Bishop, the priest and the deacon. If the ordinary minister is absent or impeded, a catechist or other lay persons could confer Baptism licitly. In case of necessity, any person, who has the right intention, can baptize licitly (C. 861). Hence, it is the duty of parish priests to instruct lay persons about the correct manner of baptizing. The parents and the sponsors present the child for baptism and help it to live a good Christian life. (C. 872).

b. Confirmation

Parents and parish priests are to see that Christian are properly instructed and receive confirmation at the opportune time (C. 890). The sponsors are to take care that children confirmed behave as true witness to Christ (C. 892).

c. Eucharist

The Extra-ordinary minister for distributing Holy Communio is an acolyte, or another of Christ faithful deputed according to the law (C. 910/2). In 1972 Pope Paul VI abrogated the minor orders and instituted the lay ministry of acolyte, among whose duties is that of distributing holy communion whenever ordinary ministers were not available or the number of communicants was great. Lay people can be installed on a permanent basis as acolytes by a special liturgical rite. In the absence of a priest or deacon, an acolyte, a special minister of Holy Communion or another by person deputed can be minister of exposition without benediction (C. 943). Lay persons can play the role of commentator and canter during liturgical services.

d. Orders

With the suppression of four minor orders and the institution of the lay ministries of Acolyte and Lector, lay persons can be installed as acolytes and lectors. They can receive a temporary deputation to the role of lector (C. 230).

e. Marriage

In the celebration of the sacrament of marriage the spouses themselves are the ministers and recipients of the sacrament, as they establish between themselves a partnership of their whole life (C. 1055/1) by their irrevocable personal consent lawfully manifested (C.1057/1). The canonical form of the celebration of marriage requires for validity that the spouses exchange the consent in the presence of the official witness of the Church and the two other witnesses. The official witness of the Church is the local ordinary or parish priest or the priest or deacon duly delegated by either of them. The Church’s official witness has the role of asking the spouses to manifest their consent and receive it in the name of the Church (C. 1108). The 1983 Code, with some restrictions, allows lay persons to be delegated t act as official witness at marriage (C. 1112).

First of all the conference of Bishop should vote for allowing individual Bishops to request the power to delegate lay persons. The CBCI, in the General Body meeting held at Kottayam in 1988, voted for allowing individual Bishops to request the permission of the Holy See to delegate lay persons to assist at marriages. Then the Bishop should request the permission of the Holy See to delegate a lay person chose by him to assist at marriages within the territory. It should be noted that it is the Bishop who delegates lay person and not the Holy See. However, the Bishop cannot validly delegate a lay person without the permission of the Holy See.

Lay person can be given delegation for specific marriages of they can be given a general delegation, which is to be given in writing (C.1111/2).The individual to be delegated, should be a suitable one, that is one who is respected and exemplary member of the community. He or she should be able to conduct the pre-nuptial enquiry, give instruction on marriage and perform the marriage liturgy properly. In their as official witness of the Church they ask for and receive the consent of the parties. They can preside preside over the liturgy of the Word. But they cannot bless the rings nor impart nuptial blessing. They cannot grant dispensation from matrimonial impediments under any circumstances (CC. 1079-1081). Lay persons of experience and expertise such as doctors, lawyers, psychologists and exemplary couples could help the Parish priest in his important task of preparing the faithful for marriage (C.1064).

f. Sacramentals

Lay persons, who are endowed with appropriate qualities can administer some sacramentals in accordance with the judgement of the Local ordinary and the norms of the Liturgical Book (C. 1168). Sacramentals such as the distribution of ashes of Ash Wednesday can be administered by lay persons.

4.3 Lay People and the Ministry of Priests

One should not forget that there is an essential difference between common priesthood and ministerial priesthood. The participation of the non-ordained in the tria-munera does not make them pastors of the lay faithful or laity of the pastors. It is unlawful for the non-ordained faithful to assume titles such as ‘pastor’, ‘chaplain’, ‘moderator’, etc. Entrusting a parish to the non-priests is only in case of shortage of priests and not the convenience or advancement of laity. Instructions from the Congregation of clergy on certain questions regarding the collaboration of the lay faithful in the ministry of priests warns against abuses and confusions with regard to the role of laity in the following areas: limitation of structures of collaboration, liturgical celebrations, Sunday celebrations, extra-ordinary minister of communion apostolate to the sick, assistance at marriages minister of Baptisms, leading the celebration of funerals.12

The Laity has an important role to play in the mission of the Church. Many signs indicate that the Spirit is empowering them for an even greater role in the new Millennium that is be called the age of the laity. Their commitment to evangelization, their involvement in ecclesial life and enthusiastic participation in small Christian communities are some of the signs.

12. Instructions from the Congregation of Clergy on certain questions regarding the collaboration of the lay faithful in the ministry of priests, Ecclesiae de Mysterio, August 15, 1997.

5. Empowering the Laity

5.1. Obligation and Rights of Laity

a. Announcing the Good News

The first obligation that concerns all Christ’s faithful by virtue of Baptism and Confirmation is that apostolate (CC. 211). Not only clerics or consecrated persons but also the laity have the right to announce the Gospel especially in circumstances in which they alone can announce (C. 225; cf. 759, 766, 84, 795, CFL 34-35). This can be done even in groups and associations.

b. Testimony of Life

C. 225/2 speak of another fundamental obligation i.e. the testimony of life, which the laity have to give in their secular condition. This type of apostolate is specific even if it is not the exclusive property of the laity. C. 227 recognizes their right for liberty and autonomy, in relation to the hierarchy with regard to secular affairs. While using this freedom, they are to make sure that their actions are permeated with the spirit of the Gospel and respect the Magisterium of the Church. They are also not to propose their views as the teaching of the Church.

c. Family Life

C. 226/1 acknowledges a specific obligation of the married. They have to build up the people of God through marriage and family. As the conciliar documents AA 11 and GS 47 affirm, they build up not only the people of God but also the civil society. C. 226/2 affirms the grave obligation and the natural right of parents to educate the Children that too in accordance with Catholic doctrine.

d. Doctrinal Formation

C. 229/1 enunciates the right and obligation of the laity to acquire knowledge of the Christian doctrine through spiritual and doctrinal formation (CFL. 60). They can obtain academic degrees in universities and faculties. Besides C. 231 speaks of the right of those dedicated to the special service of the Church to receive appropriate formation and just remuneration.

5.2. The Laity and the Office of Governance

Canon 135/1 divides the power of Governance legislative, executive Judicial.

a. Legislative Power of Governance

The Diocesan Bishop is the sole legislator in the Diocesan (C. 371/2). Lay persons, who are called to a legislative session, (CC. 339, 443/4, 463) have the right and duty to express their opinions sincerely (C. 228/2). Their vote is only a consultative vote. But the process of decision-making relies heavily on the consultative process of effectiveness. The laity, by responsible participation in the legislative bodies, contribute a lot to the quality of the decision to be made.

b. Judicial Power of Governance

In the Diocese, the Bishop exercises judicial power either personally or through others (C. 391/2). The Judicial Vicar, the associate Judicial Vicar and judges exercise power by virtue of office. Lay persons, both men and women could be appointed as judges on a collegiate tribunal (C. 1421/2). Lay persons, by being judges as such exercise truly judicial power of governance, no through delegation but by virtue of the office. In the diocesan tribunals, lay persons can serve as advocates (C. 1481), assessors (C.1424), auditor (C. 1428), relators (C. 1429), promoters of justice (C. 1435), defenders of bond (C. 1435) and notaries (C. 1437), It is understood that they are truly trained for these functions.

c. Executive Power of Governance

Lay persons are called to exercise delegated executive power of governance both at the diocesan and at the parish level by being members of diocesan pastoral council (C. 511-514), diocesan finance council (C. 492), parish pastoral council (C. 536) and parish finance council (C. 537). Any lay person, who is an expert in financial matters and of truly outstanding integrity, can be appointed as the diocesan financial administrator (C. 494). Diocesan Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor (C. 482) and notary (C. 483) could be lay people.

6 An Evaluation of the Laity in the Code

The new Code as far as the laity is concerned is characterized by transition from passivity to activity (CC. 225/1); from non-recognition to recognition of vocation (CC. 225/2, 226); from the absence to presence (CC.212, 228/2, 511); from silence to voice (C.212); from exclusion to inclusion.13 If we carefully analyze the terms used for the participation of the laity in the triple office

of the Church, we see that the new Code makes a shift from almost absolute and total exclusion to partial, hesitant, cautious and qualified inclusion of lay persons; “can be admitted” (C. 767/1), “are capable of employed” (785/1), “can be called to (C. 463/1), can be appointed (C. 129/2), “can be invited to participate (C. 1174/1), “Can receive canonical mandate” (CC. 229/3, 812), “Can fulfil the function” (C. 230/2), “can supply for” (C. 230/3). These are some of the expressions used for the ministries of laity. Moreover, we note that the laity are included in the ministries more from a sense of absence or non-availability of the clergy rather than from consequence of a theologically grounded sense of vocation and ministry in the Church (CC. 230/3, 1112). It gives the impression that the laity have a subsidiary status. Some of the offices, positions and functions available to the laity in the Code seem to be heavily conditioned (C. 216), carefully qualified (C. 212/3), institutionally circumscribed (C.230) or hierarchically controlled (C. 223/2).14

Lay persons can be entrusted with ecclesiastical offices and roles that do not require the exercise of the power of sacred orders. They are to be given offices and functions not simply by way of concession but by recognizing their dignity and responsibility rooted in their baptism. Pope John Paul II directs the Bishops to entrust to lay persons offices and roles when necessity and expediency in the Church require it, but always in conformity to their specific lay vocation.15 This directive needs to be seriously considered and implemented. The Charisms and competence, the expertise and experiences of lay persons are to be duly recognized. The clerics are to acknowledge and promote the mission which the laity, each for his or her part, exercise in the Church and in the word. (C. 275/2).

Lay persons must be suitable for the offices to which they are assumed (CC. 149/1, 228/1, 1112/2) and they must acquire the necessary knowledge and skill needed for a particular function (C. 1421/3). Lay people have a duty to acquire the appropriate formation, which their role demands so that they may conscientiously, earnestly and diligently fulfil their role (C. 231/1), it is clear that if lay persons are to participate more actively and efficaciously in the triple office of the Church, the Church should be prepared to se apart enough of resources and sufficient number of trained personnel to provide adequate formation to the laity. Lay persons as office holders are expected to exhibit due prudence, honesty (C. 228/2) and Zeal and diligence in fulfilling their functions. It should be also noted that lay person like other ecclesiastical office-holders need to be in communion with the Church, (C.149/1) and if they publicly defect from the Catholic faith or from communion with the Church, they lose offices by virtue of law itself (C.194/1).

With regard to the remuneration of the laity, the Code points out that lay persons who work for the church have a right to a worthy remuneration. This includes the right, observing the prescriptions of civil law, to an income appropriate to personal and family needs as well as provision for retirement, social security and health insurance (C. 231/2). However, the new law makes an exception concerning the acolytes and lectors who do not have such a right (C. 230/1). The 1983 Code, which translates into juridical language the ecclesiology and theology of Vatican II, contains noteworthy provisions for the active and meaningful participation of the laity in the governing, teaching and sanctifying office of the Church. These provisions need to be seriously considered and duly implemented.


13. Cf. Joseph J. Koury, “Thelimits of Collaboration: The new legal language for the laity”, Studia Canonica 26, (1992), pp. 432-433.
14. Cf. Ibid., pp. 434-435
15. Cf. Elizabet Mc Donough, “Laity and the inner working of the Church”, Jurist, 47 (1987), pp. 240-241


As pastoral proposals, we can suggest that the laity be given and integral formation. They should avoid all tension with the clergy by collaborating with the latter, whom they should respect as their spiritual leaders. Despite the conception of their apostolate as a participation in the saving mission of the Church the laity are expected to make a special contribution to society in virtue of their secular activities such as politics, science, the arts, culture and the media. In short, the laity’s secular responsibilities should never be abandoned for the sake of being at the altar, because while the clergy and the laity have a distinct role, they have the identical task of working towards the salvation of souls.

Hope will be developed as a result of the respect, trust and support given to the laity. This support that they are requesting is manifold. They want to be treated as adult lay Christians whose opinions should be listened to and respected and they wish to be treated s equals by clergy and laity alike, in keeping with their baptismal status. But to be truly effective, the lay person has to be properly trained in the faith, that is, return to the basics, according to his/her level of education. Such training must first of all enable the individual to accomplish a soul-searching journey and re-examination of his commitments and values, leading to an appropriate adult spirituality belonging to the laity and not copied from monastic life.

Many avenues are now accessible to the laity in India, and their apostolate will be effective – they will make the Church – only by being transformed into individuals of prayer and a spiritual community. Yves Congar reminds us:

We are convinced that ….if the Church, secure on her foundations, boldly throws herself open to lay activity, she will experience such springtime, as we cannot imagine. The general body of the faithful people has been a great reservoir of decisive energies in every age…. Today perhaps more than ever, lay people are called upon to give in full measure those energies by which they are in very truth ‘of the Church’ and, as Pope Pius XII has said, ‘make the church’.16

As we have entered the new millennium, the Asian Churches are faced with enormous challenges in the areas of lay formation, lay leadership and various roles of laity in the Church and in the secular world. New methods and pedagogues of lay formation need to be developed so that the laity become more aware that lived faith necessarily leads to social commitment. Investment in the formation of lay leadership needs to become a priority in the years to come. Small Christian Communities are the means by which the Church is brought down to the daily life and concerns of people where they actually live. In them, the Church takes on flesh and blood in the life situations of people.

16.Yves M.J. Congar, Lay People in the Church, London, 1988, xviii-xix

It is the task of the Pastors to ensure that the laity are formed as evangelizers able to face the challenges of the contemporary world, not just with worldly wisdom and efficiency, but with hearts renewed and strengthened by the truth of Christ. Witnessing to the Gospel in every area of life in society, the lay faithful can play a unique role in rooting out injustice and oppression, and for this too they must be adequately formed. To this end, I join the Synod fathers in proposing the establishment at the diocesan or national level of lay formation centers to prepare the laity for their missionary work as witnesses to Christ in Asia today.17

1). The clergy and religious are to form, encourage support and allow lay persons to do what they must do with all the risks and financial needs. The hierarchy must be aware of the absolute and irreplaceable role of lay persons. Lay formation centers at diocesan and national level to prepare the laity for missionary are highly recommended. And they should conduct adequate renewal programs, catechizes.

2). In the participatory Church no one must feel excluded and wider participation of women must be promoted and men in formation houses must be trained to regard women as co-workers in the apostolate especially involving them in pastoral programs, diocesan and parish councils, health care and education.

3). To promote the vocation of lay apostolate and their sense of responsibility, the laity need to be fostered with the Word of God. The most appropriate place for the people of God to be nourished with the living Word of God is in small ecclesial communities where they can practically experience the Church as communion.

4). The laity are to be trained to become discerning citizens and take up leadership in secular society if some kind of a just society is to emerge.

5). The laity should have good experience, have contemplative depth, give personal witness, have a spirit of sacrifice, present an ascetic image, be of humble attitude, simplicity of life style, closeness to the poor commitment to the marginalized and to the oppressed with transparency of character among other qualities.

17.Ecclesia in Asia, no. 45