Role of Laity in the Mission of the Church: Vat II and later Documents

Role of Laity in the Mission of the Church Vat II and later Documents

General Introduction

My presentation consists of five main divisions. The first major part is just an account of the Second Vatican Council’s teachings on laity. It is followed by (second part) a brief presentation of the Church’s teachings on laity as culled from later documents, particularly those that were issued by Popes St. John Paul II and Francis. The third part of this paper will try to describe the actual profile of laity as it is concretely found in India, with a view to making it clear that the actual participation of laity in the mission of the Church is far from fulfilling the expectations of the Magisterium. In the fourth part, an attempt is made to probe into the causes for the wide gap between the ideal and the actual. The fifth and final section attempts to suggest some remedial measures, so that prospects for the laity brightened up and that they would be able to play their due role in the mission of the Church more effectively in the future.


The Second Vatican Council’s teachings on laity are intimately related with its teachings on mission of the Church, in general. Hence let me, first, try to focus on the council’s teachings on the mission of the Church. Since mission is intimately connected with vision, we need to bring out also the Council’s new vision of Church. This is attempted in the second subsection of this part of the paper. Then the third subsection proceeds to lay bare the Council’s teachings on the laity’s mission, directly. This is mainly done in reference to the principal documents of the Council: Lumen Gentium, Gaudium et Spes and Apostolicam Actuositatem.

1.1. The Conciliar View of the Church’s Mission

The very purpose of convening of the Second Vatican Council by Pope St. John XXIII was to bring about Renewal of the Church in all respects. Accordingly, the traditional understanding of the Church was revamped in the light of Biblical Sources, re-defining Church’s identity and mission. It is important firstly to set forth the vision of the Church as discovered by the Council and unravel its implications on the laity. To understand the new view of the Church it is better to contrast it with the earlier view of the Church.

  1. a) The former view of the Church focused on
  • Its institutional and hierarchical nature along with its pyramidal structure. Its top most point indicated the Pope and the lowest rung were constituted by the laity. So the internal relationship within the Church was discriminatory, implying high and low.
  • Instituted for serving as a life-boat to save the humanity who are struggling in the shipwrecked world.
  • The Church’s relation with the world as well as other religions was conceived in terms of polarity relations:

o The Citadel of Salvation versus valley of tears and damnation;

o The Revealed versus merely the natural and the human ;

o Fully the Divine, holy and sacred versus satanic, unholy and profane;

o The perfect Religion versus theirs is imperfect;

o The all Truth versus the all untruth;

o The all Light versus the all Darkness;

o The Life-giving versus death-producing;

o The only right Way versus the wrong path and distorted in its core1.


  • Hence its mission was seen to bring as many people as

possible into its boundaries, and as quickly as possible.

  • The ‘Great Commission’ (Mt.28:19-20) given by Jesus to his

disciples before he ascended to heaven was very often

understood as the mission of the Church. It meant proclaiming

the good news of Jesus Christ to people of all nations and

bringing as many souls as possible into fellowship with God.

  • Thus the mission of the Church was seen as: to conquer &

convert. This task was mainly the job of the priests and

religious. They were to go to far off lands where native people

still practiced cannibalism, superstition, idolatry, completely caught

up by the snares of the devil, and destined to eternal damnation.

  • Further, the Church as a whole was to serve as a community

of worship and fellowship in the world, to sustain the salvation

of people.

  • The body of believers ought to be prepared and strengthened

and equipped for works of ministry, through the Word of God.

o They need to be trained in such a maturity of faith that

they will be able to serve, according to God’s plan, in

some aspect of ministry (Rom. 12:6, 1 Cor. 12:14-31),

especially as it pertains toward bringing souls to Christ

(2 Cor. 5:17).

The urgency of such a mission so sincerely felt by the Church so

much that it was ready to employ any means of conversion.

Priests and religious of those days were so motivated to spread

the Gospel in the way they understood it in their context that they

voluntarily made a lot of self-sacrifices. They willingly gave up all

their comforts, affluence, prospective careers in life just to save the

world in peril. They were willing to forego even their inheritance

and wealth. They voluntarily broke away their relationship with

their dearest kith and kin. They made bold to live in utter


hardship, not intimidated by even the headhunting tribes. They

happily faced all sorts of life-conditions that were totally different

from their native life conditions which were healthy both climatically

and environmentally. In fact many of the missionaries were killed

in the process of their attempt to evangelize such tribes. They

learnt languages of the indigenous people, dared write grammars

and dictionaries. Their courage was so indomitable and their

efforts were unbeatable.

  1. b) As against such a view of the past Christians, Second

Vatican Council proposed an altogether different new outlook

of the Church on the contemporary world, its diverse cultures

and other religions. Accordingly,

  • The Church is more a movement than an institution. The

movement is that of the ‘people of God’, imbued with the

spirit of ‘communion’ so much so the laity are said to equally

participate in the divine communion and are accorded with the

same dignity and the call to holiness as the clergy and religion.

  • The Church is a community of believers, who are “united in

Christ, led by the Holy Spirit in their journey to the Kingdom

of their Father” make the ‘joys and the hopes, the grief and

the anxieties of the world their own “joys and hopes, the grief

and anxieties”. That is why this community realizes that it is

truly linked with mankind and its history by the deepest of

bonds. (GS 1)

  • The Church’s relation with the world is that of solidarity with

people, not polarity. No more to shun the world. She is now

resolved to meet the world with all its problems and promises

Jesus her Master entered this world, became part of it and

initiated radical transformation of it. So also the church saw

her intrinsically related to all created reality, bound in genuine

concern for it and in communion with it.The Council affirmed

its respectful affection for the whole human family, by entering

into dialogue with it about different problems.


  • The conciliar view of Church’s mission was also quite different.

No doubt the basic point of its mission remained unchanged:

church is simply as a continuation of Christ’s earthly ministry

(John 14:12).

o With a renewed understanding of Christ’s mission as that

of a struggling encounter with the world, even to the

extent of being victimized by the sinful world and of dying

a historicized death which ultimately ended in resurrection,

the Church saw its mission also in terms of getting to

know the problems of the world from within and struggling

with the world to change existing structures through

combined efforts and collaborative action, transforming from

within, rather than infusing something from without.

  • As regards its relation with other religions the Council declared

and enunciated a positive approach towards other religions.

This involved a deep fellowship and collaboration with people

of all religions, treating them as partners in dialogue. Religious

believers are all co-pilgrims who share intimate spiritual

experiences and reflections with one another with concern and

compassion with genuine openness to truth and freedom of

spiritual search.

  • Church was also seen as a means to represent the interests of

the Kingdom of God in the world, and to influence our society

with the ideals of the Lord, by being “the salt of the earth”

and “the light of the world” (Mt. 5:13-14). The Church was

never to be passive, nor to be confined within four walls of a

building, but to be involved as a catalyst of God’s high ideals

in the world around us so that “Let your light so shine before

men, that they may see your good works and glorify your

Father in heaven” (Mt. 5:16).

  • The mission of the Church was to be in terms of service to

human needs in all its realms: the social, economic, and

political, as well as the preaching of the word and the

celebration of the sacraments.


  • To carry out the will of the Father, Christ inaugurated the

Kingdom of heaven on earth and revealed to us the mystery

of that kingdom. By His obedience He brought about

redemption. The Church, or, in other words, the kingdom of

Christ now present in mystery, grows visibly through the power

of God in the world (LG 5).

It is in this context that the Lumen Gentium defines the mystery

of the Church as the “sign and instrument” of the Kingdom

(LG 1) and that the Ad Gentes states that the Church is “a

universal sacrament of salvation” (AG 1) asdistinct from the

‘particular sacraments’ such as baptism, confirmation, the Eucharist


A catch phrase, found throughout the document on missions Ad

Gentes is that bishops are primarily responsible for the task of

missionary activity. As successors of the Apostles who comprise

“the beginning of the sacred hierarchy” of Christ (AG 6), and as

vicars of Christ they form the centre of the mystery of the local

Church (not simply as the administrative unit of the Church as a

whole based at Rome).

No doubt the central theme of the document’s discussion on

“mission” is its relationship to service. It speaks of service as the

primary motivation of the missionary. Whether it be down the

street, in a neighbouring town or in an entirely different culture and

lingual context mission is all about outreach to others with the

heart of a servant.


  • Most active missionaries continue to be represented by religious

communities. They are even invited to consider “adapting their

constitutions … (in order to involve their members) as much as

possible in missionary activity” (AG 40).

  • The contemplative institutes are also asked to contribute “by

their prayers, works of penance and sufferings … [which] have

a very great importance in the conversion of souls” (AG 40).


  • Lay people, too, are called to active missionary work,

including “catechists,” who are singled out as “co-workers of

the priestly order”(AG 17)2.

  • The final chapter discusses the importance of better collaboration

between bishops, priests, the religious and the laity in order

to contribute to the “work of evangelization”, making it clear

that evangelization remains the personal responsibility of all

Catholics (AG 35).

1.2. The New Vision of the Church

The Vatican II was able to present a collaborative view of mission

mainly because it was based upon its new vision of the Church’s

nature. The council made use of various descriptions to explain

Church’s nature as ‘Mystery’, ‘Sacrament’, ‘Mystical Body of

Christ’, ‘People of God’, and ‘Communion’. The two descriptions

last mentioned are very pertinent for our theme.

(a) The Church as People of God

‘People of God’ is an Old Testament notion that identified the

covenanted people in as much as they accepted God’s sovereignty

in their lives collectively. But the same notion is used by NT

writers to call the new people gathered by Jesus, as “the chosen

race, the royal priesthood, the holy nation, God’s own people”

(I Pet.2:9) or the “one people God has called for one hope, one

Lord, one faith and one baptism” (Eph.4:5).

Now, by re-claiming this biblical term to describe the Church, the

Council proposes a participatory approach in life of the Church. In

the former view of the Church laity was considered as the passive,

powerless and voiceless lot who were at lowest rung of a

hierarchical structure. As against it, the Council now acknowledges

that all the members (the laity, clergy and religious alike) are

2 Emphasis in this paragraph and in the previous one is added.


“God’s own people”, all participating directly in the life of God in

Christ and through the Spirit. “All the members ought to be

molded in the likeness of Him, until Christ is formed in them”

(LG 7). Further the document acknowledges “that all the faithful of

Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the

Christian life and to the perfection of charity… In this way, the

holiness of the People of God will grow into an abundant harvest

of good, as is admirably shown by the life of so many saints in

Church history (LG 40).

By describing the Church as People of God, Vat. II proposes a

participatory approach towards the Church’s mission too. Each

and every one of the members (the laity, clergy and religious alike)

is said to participate directly in the mission of Jesus Christ, the

priest, prophet and King (LG 30, 33).

It is significant to note that the Dogmatic Constitution on the

Church, Lumen Gentium made a deliberate decision to place

‘People of God’ as Chapter 2, immediately after Chapter 1 on

‘The Mystery of the Church’, discarding the order of chapters

found in the preparatory draft. There the ‘Hierarchical Structure of

the Church’ was to follow the ‘Mystery of the Church’. The

question was not simply the order chapters but of accepting a

paradigm shift. The bishops with old ecclesiology and its mentality,

wanted to retain the original draft. As opposed to it, the bishops

with the new ecclesiology wanted ‘People of God’ to proceed the

chapter on Hierarchy. It was indeed after a long and bitter

struggle that the Council finally settled in favour of the new

ecclesiology. The present form was overwhelmingly approved by a

vote of 2,151 bishops in favour, and only five negative.3

3 WiliamMadges, “Formulating a New Understanding of Church” in Eds. William

Madges and Michael J. Daley, Vatican II: Forty Personal Stories, (Bayard:

Twenty Third publications, 2003) 69-76


In fact this vision of the Church is the earliest ecclesiology of the

Christian history.4 Accordingly it decided to place ‘people of God’

first and then only to deal with hierarchy. It has a lot of

implications for the theology of laity.

Of course the chapter on Laity follows the chapter on Hierarchy.

But at the very beginning of the chapter, it is stated that ‘Everything

that has been said about the People of God is intended for the

laity, religious and clergy alike’ (LG 30). This gives the laity rightful

place as people of God along with all others: hierarchy, clergy and

religious. It also confers on the laity equal dignity common to “all

the members deriving from their rebirth in Christ, a common grace

as children, a common vocation to perfection, one salvation, one

hope and undivided charity” (LG 32). This is directly in opposition

to the hierarchical vision of the Church which will be explained in

3.1 below. Thus it was indeed paradigm shift, vindicating the

words of Pope Pius XII: “The laity ought to have an ever more

clear consciousness not only of belonging to the Church, but of

being the Church – they are the Church.” 5

(b) Church as Communion

Communion was another fundamental idea the Council made use

of to express the core Mystery of the Church, contributing to

renewal of Catholic ecclesiology. Communion is a complex concept

with multiple connotations. First and foremost, communion means

our sharing in the same source of divine life, given to us in Christ

and fostered by the Holy Spirit.6 This sharing in the Trinitarian

4 S. Karotemprel, “The Vocation and Mission of the Laity in the Asian Context”

in Indian MissiologicalReveiew, (Shilong Sacred Heart College, Vol. 8 No 3,

July 1986)143.

5 as quoted by Yves Congar, Lay People in the Church, (London: Chapman

1965), emphasis added

6 The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation presents revelation in terms

of ‘the salvific work of Christ, who, through his words and deeds, makes an

invitation to openness to communion with God and others’ Cf.Dei verbum,

Nos. 2, 4, 17. Also 10).


mystery evidently creates solidarity and fellowship among the

believers and forms them into a real eklesia,Assembly of God’s

people.7 So, communion meant this bond of the Church membersas

brothers and sisters to one another, founded on faith and Baptism8

and nourished in and through the Eucharist.9 This ecclesial

communion is not to remain in a ghetto. It has to embrace the

unity of all the Christian churches10 as well as all the believers and

even non-believers through dialogue and collaboration to establish

the reign of God on earth.11

Such a description of the Church as communion opens up rich

possibilities for understanding the identity and mission of laity. For,

it is all the faithful, the hierarchy and the laity alike that are sharing

the Trinitarian mystery, getting incorporated into the body of Christ

and are built up into a more intimate communion by the celebration

of divine worship and establishing the harmony of life both in both

ecumenical circles and in those of wider ecumenism. In other

words, the same vocation and mission of Christ is given to all

members of the Body of Christ, an organically structured community

and “brought into one by the unity of the Father and of the Son

and of the Holy Spirit”(LG 4b).

7 F. Wilfred, Sunset in the East, (Madras: University of Madras, 1991), p.311

8 The dogmatic Constitution on the Church describes the Church as the

universal sacrament of salvation, a sign and instrument of communion with

God and others (Lumen Gentium1, 3, 48. Also Nos. 4, 8, 13-15, 18, 21,


9 The Constitution on Sacred Liturgyteaches how the Church, on her earthly

journey towards the fullness of the Kingdom, finds the source and summit of

her communion of ecclesial life in the celebration of the Eucharist, the

memorial of the paschal mystery of Jesus Christ (Sacrosanctum Concilium

5-10, 47-48).

10 The decree on Ecumenism deals with the unity and collaboration with the

Christian churches (Unitatis Redintegrtio, 2-4, 14-15,17-19, 22).

11 Finally, the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World

Gaudium et Spes describes the specific contribution the Church can make to

society in collaborating for the unity of humanity by bearing witness to

the Church’s communion, which is founded in Christ (GS 42. Also, GS 32)


A further implication of the concept of ‘Communion’is that there is

the intimate union between the local and the universal church. As

against the former view that local Church was a sub-unit of the

universal Church, nowthe local Church is recognized to have entire

mystery of the Church or the whole reality of what makes the

Church ‘Church’ being one, holy, catholic and apostolic. In this

new understanding, every member of the faithful belongs to the

universal Church not ina mediate way, through belonging to a

particular Church, but in an immediate way; because the local

Church is never simply particular unit, but by its very nature is

always universal so much so that one’s entry into and life in a

particular Church is automatically is brought about within the

universal Church (LG 13b).

1.3. Vat. II Directly on The Mission of Laity

Apart from offering a new vision of the Church, having rich

implications for understanding the identity and mission of the laity,

Vat. II discussed the subject of laity so extensively that it had

something or other to say with reference to laity in all its except

two documents.12 There are three major documents that speak of

the laity’s mission directly: (a)The Dogmatic Constitution on the

Church (Lumen Gentium). (b)The Pastoral Constitution on the

Church in Modern World,(Gaudium et Spes) (c) The Decree on

Laity’s Apostolic Activity (Apostolicam Actuositatem). The contents

of the document last mentioned have been reinforced by Pope

John Paul II in Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laici, almost

theme after the theme.13As I intend to elaborately deal with in a

separate section on Christifideles Laici, here let me be satisfied

with focusing of the teachings of the two Constitutions on the

Church on laity.

12 Perfectae Caritatis (on religious life) and Nostra Aetate (on Church’s Relation

with other religions)

13 the parallels between the two documents are presented in systematic study

establishing that the Post Synodal document Christifideles Laici is proven to

be a commentary on the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, Cf. Anointed

for Others Vocation and Mission of the laity(Bangalore: NBCLC, 1993)


  1. a) Lumen Gentiumon Laity

The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentiumallots a

separate chapter for laity. It has 9 articles.14 The basic principles,

propounded in these articles, may be laid bare in the words of the

document itself.

  1. Recognition of the laity’s Charism and services

But there are certain things which pertain in a special way to

the laity, both men and women, by reason of their condition

and mission. …it is the noble duty of the sacred Pastors to

recognize their (laity’s) services and charism, so that all

according to their proper roles may cooperate in this common

undertaking with one heart.…For from Him the whole body,

being closely joined and knit together through every joint of

the system, according to the functioning in due measure of

each single part, derives its increase to the building up of itself

in love” (LG 30).

  1. Secularity is the specific field of laity

These (lay) faithful are by baptism made one body with Christ

and are constituted among the People of God; they are in their

own way made sharers in the priestly, prophetical, and

kingly functions of Christ; and they carry out for their own

part the mission of the whole Christian people in the Church

and in the world. A secular quality is proper and special to

them…By their vocation they seek the kingdom of God by

engaging in temporal affairs and ordering them according to the

plan of God. (LG 31).

  1. Basic Equality

Therefore, the chosen People of God is one: “one Lord, one

faith, one baptism,” (Eph.4:5) sharing a common dignity as

members from their regeneration in Christ, having the same

filial grace and the same vocation to perfection; possessing

in common one salvation, one hope and one undivided charity….

14Lumen Gentium Chapter 4, articles 30 -38.


And if by the will of Christ some are made teachers, pastors

and dispensers of mysteries on behalf of others, yet all share

a true equality with regard to the dignity and to the activity

common to all the faithful for the building up of the Body of

Christ. (LG 32).

  1. The Special Mission of the Laity

The laity are gathered together in the People of God and

make up the Body of Christ under one head (and are given)

a participation in the salvific mission of the Church itself.

Through their baptism and confirmation all are commissioned to

that apostolate by the Lord Himself. Moreover, by the

sacraments, especially holy Eucharist, that charity toward God

and man which is the soul of the apostolate is communicated

and nourished. Now 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. (LG 33)

  1. The Priestly Role of the laity

The supreme and eternal Priest … besides intimately linking

them to His life and His mission also gives them a sharing in

His priestly function of offering spiritual worship for the glory

of God and the salvation of men. For this reason …all their

works, prayers and apostolic endeavors, their ordinary married

and family life, their daily occupations, their physical and

mental relaxation, if carried out in the Spirit, and even the

hardships of life, if patiently borne—all these become

“spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ….

Thus, as those everywhere who adore in holy activity, the laity

consecrates the world itself to God. (LG 34)

  1. The Prophetic Role of the Laity

Christ, the great Prophet … continually fulfills His prophetic

office…not only through the hierarchy who teach in His name


and with His authority, but also through the laity… so that the

power of the Gospel might shine forth in their daily social and

family life…Consequently, even when preoccupied with temporal

cares, the laity can and must perform a work of great value

for the evangelization of the world…Therefore, let the laity

devotedly strive to acquire a more profound grasp of revealed

truth, and let them insistently beg of God the gift of wisdom.

(LG 35)

  1. The Kingly Role of the laity

Christ, becoming obedient even unto death and because of this

… entered into the glory of His kingdom… has communicated

this royal power to His disciples that they might be constituted

in royal freedom and that by true penance and a holy life they

might conquer the reign of sin in themselves… In this kingdom

creation itself will be delivered from its slavery to corruption

into the freedom of the glory of the sons of God…The faithful,

therefore, must learn the deepest meaning and the value of all

creation, as well as its role in the harmonious praise of God…

The laity have the principal role in the overall fulfillment of this

duty. Therefore, by their competence in secular training and by

their activity, elevated from within by the grace of Christ, let

them vigorously contribute their effort, so that created

goods may be perfected by human labor, technical skill and

civic culture for the benefit of all men according to the

design of the Creator and the light of His Word. May the

goods of this world be more equitably distributed among all

men …In this manner, through the members of the Church, will

Christ progressively illumine the whole of human society with

His saving light.

Moreover, let the laity also by their combined efforts remedy

the customs and conditions of the world, if they are an

inducement to sin, so that they all may be conformed to the

norms of justice. …the faithful should learn how to distinguish


carefully between those rights and duties which are theirs as

members of the Church, and those which they have as members

of human society. Let them strive to reconcile the two,

remembering that in every temporal affair they must be guided

by a Christian conscience, since even in secular business

there is no human activity which can be withdrawn from God’s

dominion. (LG 36)

  1. Responsibility towards the Hierarchy

The laity …by reason of the knowledge, competence or

outstanding ability which they may enjoy, permitted and

sometimes even obliged to express their opinion on those

things which concern the good of the Church. When occasions

arise, let this be done through the organs erected by the

Church for this purpose. …The laity should, as all Christians,

promptly accept in Christian obedience decisions of their

spiritual shepherds, since they are representatives of Christ as

well as teachers and rulers in the Church. (LG 37)

  1. Responsibility of the Hierarchy

Let the spiritual shepherds recognize and promote the dignity

as well as the responsibility of the laity in the Church. Let

them willingly employ their prudent advice. Let them confidently

assign duties to them in the service of the Church, allowing

them freedom and room for action. Further, let them encourage

lay people so that they may undertake tasks on their own

initiative … consider with fatherly love the projects, suggestions

and desires proposed by the laity. (LG 37)

  1. The Laity to be Soul to the World

Each individual layman must stand before the world as a

witness to the resurrection and life of the Lord Jesus and

a symbol of the living God. All the laity as a community and

each one according to his ability must nourish the world with

spiritual fruits. They must diffuse in the world that spirit


which animates the poor, the meek, and the peace makers –

whom the Lord in the Gospel proclaimed as blessed. In a

word, “Christians must be to the world what the soul is to the

body. (LG 38)

  1. b) Gaudiumet Spes on Laity

The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World

(GS) declares that the Church should take an active part in

‘the world’, precisely because it is the mission-field of the

Church. It takes pain to expound the theme in three especially

in Chapters 2, 3 and 4. Now that the dogmatic Constitution

on the Church (LG) ascribes ‘the secular’ to the laity, it

follows that whatever is said about the Church’s involvement in

the world, is applicable to Laity’s mission, too.The most salient

points are the following:

  1. Basic Equality of all

It is significant that Gaudium et Spes talks about the equality

of the whole of humankind despite the rightful differences

among them. If so, it is needless to draw out how much more

it is applicable to the basic equality existing among Christians.

The diversity of functions will be there, the rightful differences

ought to exist, but the hierarchy will have to recognize the

basic dignity and equality of the laity and the laity will have to

realize it too, so that they will be able to contribute their mite

to establishment of God’s reign on earth, militating for social

justice, equity and peace.

Since all men possess a rational soul and are created in God’s likeness,

since they have the same nature and origin, have been redeemed by

Christ and enjoy the same divine calling and destiny, the basic equality

of all must receive increasingly greater recognition.

True, all men are not alike from the point of view of varying physical

power and the diversity of intellectual and moral resources.

Nevertheless, with respect to the fundamental rights of the person,


every type of discrimination, whether social or cultural, whether based

on sex, race, color, social condition, language or religion, is to be

overcome and eradicated as contrary to God’s intent. For in truth it

must still be regretted that fundamental personal rights are still not

being universally honored. Such is the case of a woman who is denied

the right to choose a husband freely, to embrace a state of life or to

acquire an education or cultural benefits equal to those recognized for


Therefore, although rightful differences exist between men, the equal

dignity of persons demands that a more humane and just condition of

life be brought about. For excessive economic and social differences

between the members of the one human family or population groups

cause scandal, and militate against social justice, equity, the dignity of

the human person, as well as social and international peace. (GS 29)

  1. Gifts to be dedicated for Service

While the Council gives recognition to different charism and

diverse gifts, it lays greater emphasis on the dedication required

of all to dedicate those gifts to service.

Now, the gifts of the Spirit are diverse: while He calls some to give

clear witness to the desire for a heavenly home and to keep that desire

green among the human family, He summons others to dedicate

themselves to the earthly service of men and to make ready the material

of the celestial realm by this ministry of theirs. Yet He frees all of them

so that by putting aside love of self and bringing all earthly resources

into the service of human life they can devote themselves to that future

when humanity itself will become an offering accepted by God. (GS 38)

  1. Secular Involvement is Specific to Laity

Secular duties and activities belong properly although not

exclusively to lay persons. Therefore acting as citizens in the

world, whether individually or socially they will keep the laws

proper to each discipline, and labor to equip themselves with

a genuine expertise in their various fields. They will gladly

work with men seeking the same goals. Acknowledging the

demands of faith and endowed with its force, they will

unhesitatingly devise new enterprises, where they are appropriate,


and put them into action. Laymen should also know that it is

generally the function of their well-formed Christian conscience

to see that the divine law is inscribed in the life of the earthly

city; from priests they may look for spiritual light and

nourishment. Let the layman not imagine that his pastors are

always such experts, that to every problem which arises,

however complicated, they can readily give him a concrete

solution, or even that such is their mission. Rather, enlightened

by Christian wisdom and giving close attention to the teaching

authority of the Church, let the layman take on his own

distinctive role.

Since they have an active role to play in the whole life of the Church,

laymen are not only bound to penetrate the world with a Christian

spirit, but are also called to be witnesses to Christ in all things in the

midst of human society. (GS 43)

  1. Secular Involvement, not an Option but Obligation

Far too many Catholics in India, living in the multi-religious

context as they are, think that religious faith is too private and

personal to involve it in the ‘worldly’ affairs. If one does it

means that they are not only insensitive to the secular dimension

of the modern Indian State but also that they displaya sort of

arrogance which decent people cannot tolerate. But Vat II

makes such a serious connection between the laity’s life as

Catholics in the world and their eternal destination that it

becomes an obligation to them.

This council exhorts Christians, as citizens of two cities, to strive to

discharge their earthly duties conscientiously and in response to the

Gospel spirit. They are mistaken who…think that they may therefore

shirk their earthly responsibilities. For they are forgetting that by the

faith itself they are more obliged than ever to measure up to these

duties, each according to his proper vocation. Nor, on the contrary, are

they any less wide of the mark who think that religion consists in acts

of worship alone and in the discharge of certain moral obligations, and

who imagine they can plunge themselves into earthly affairs in such a


way as to imply that these are altogether divorced from the religious

life. This split between the faith which many profess and their daily

lives deserves to be counted among the more serious errors of our

age. … Therefore, let there be no false opposition between professional

and social activities on the one part, and religious life on the other. The

Christian who neglects his temporal duties, neglects his duties toward

his neighbor and even God, and jeopardizes his eternal salvation.15

(GS 43)

From the above, it is quite clear that the Second Vatican Council

made the vocation and the mission of laity quite distinctly and


  • The laity who was formerly considered the lowest rung of the

ladder are brought by Vat. II to an equal footing with the

clergy. To put it differently, the laity that were at the periphery

of the Church, as a class, are now drawn into center of

Church’s life.

  • The laity who was considered as passive and voiceless are

liberated from their passivity and are given a full share in the

active mission of the Church now.

  • The laity who was merely at the receiving end at one time are

freed from dependence and are given basic equality in status

and mission.

In a word,

  • Vatican II has restored the ‘call to holiness’ of the laity within

the world, not separating it from it as it is done in the

monasteries. It has officially declared that the laity’s constitutive

relationship with the world permeates their participation in

the Church’s primary mission.

15 Emphasis added



This part of the paper tries to present the Church’s teachings

as found in the post-conciliar documents. The focus is on teachings

of St. Pope John Paul II and Pope Francis on Laity’s mission in

the Church. Thus there are two subsections in this part.

2.1 The Teachings of Christifideles Laici

A major document that came after the Vat II on Laity was

Christifideles Laici, issued by St Pope John Paul II, in 1988. It

is a post-Synodal document, emerging from the deliberations and

conclusions of the Synod of Bishops, held in Rome, 1-30 October

  1. The very theme of the Synod was on the Vocation and

Mission of the Laity in the Church and the World during the

Twenty Years after the Second Vatican Council. So the Synod

was meant to review the situation and suggest a greater participation

of the lay faithful, if needed. Actually many men and women were

invited to be in the Synod as representatives of the lay faithful

from all parts of the world, from different countries. Their views

helped the progress of the Synodal discussions. The bishops did

acknowledge that they were profited ‘from their experience, their

advice and the suggestions offered out of love for the common

cause’. In a sense, therefore, this document is fruit of the common

endeavour to understand the mission and work that we all have to


It is noteworthy that Christifideles Laici reiterated many of

the teachings by Lumen Gentium on laity. In addition to it, this

document laid a strong emphasis on the need for active

participation in the life of the Church and in its mission. Not just

being in the Church, sitting around and talking about things, but

Doing something. It clearly indicates the road of lay participation

in the mission of the Church and human society.” This Exhortation

intends to stir and promote a deeper awareness among all the


faithful of the gift and responsibility they share, both as a group

and as individuals, in the communion and mission of the Church.”16

The way it introduces the theme is itself typical. Taking clue

from the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Mt.20:1-20) the

Pope extends the invitation to the lay faithful who are apathetic to

their role in the Church: “he saw others standing idle in the market

place; and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too’”

(Mt 20:3-4). It is with the aim of invigorating the lay faithful that

this document brings out the theology of the lay faithful, explaining

the role of lay people in Church as members of one body.17 Here

below let me point out the salient aspects of laity’s participation at

various levels.

  1. i) At the Parish Level

The first and foremost of the fields of lay apostolate within

the Church is the Parish community. Christifideles Laici brings

together the many human differences within its boundaries and

merges them into unity. Already the Conciliar document

Actuositatem Apostolicam had declared that ‘the laity should

accustom themselves to work in close union with their priests,

bringing to the community their own problems regarding salvation

and the world-problems (AA 10), examining them together in

common, and solving them through “general discussion”. In line

with the same viewpoint, Christifdeles Laici reinstates the

importance of the Parish Pastoral Council (CL26). Through these

Parish Pastoral Councils, the present day lay faithful can and ought

to do very much towards the growth of an authentic ecclesial

communion. For in today’s context of social disintegration and

de-humanization where the individual is lost and disoriented, but

yearns for caring and personal relationships the parish, with the lay

16 Pope John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on The Vocation And The

Mission of The Lay Faithful

In The Church And In The World Christfideles Laici (1988), 2 (emphasis added)

17 Cf. CL, 9,11,12


faithful’s participation, can be a house of welcome to all and a

place of service to all, a “place” for the community of believers

to gather together as a “sign” and “instrument” of communion. This

what Pope John XXIII was fond of saying that the parish is to

be the “village fountain” to which all would have recourse in their

thirst (CL 27).

In this connection it is good to note that the parish is the

best illustration of the ‘communion theology’ proving to be an

authentic ecclesial communion. The parish is not principally a

structure, a territory, or a building. Rather it is “the family of God,

a fellowship afire with a unifying spirit”, “a familial and welcoming

home”, the “community of the faithful”. Plainly and simply, the

parish is founded on a theological reality, because it is a Eucharistic

community, the living source for its up-building and the sacramental

bond of its being in full communion with the whole Church, a

community of faith and an organic community that is, constituted

by the ordained ministers and the lay faithful, in which the pastor

is the hierarchical bond with the entire particular Church (CL 26).

Again it is parish that serves as the school for teaching the

salvific message of Christ and puts solidarity in practice and works

the humble charity of good and brotherly works”. Hence, in this

indispensable mission of parish, the lay faithful have a great

contribution to make. Given the diverse ministries and charism,

they all can be put to use in complementary way for the Church

to grow, each in its own way. They can bring together their many

human differences so as to contribute to the apostolate on the

community level draw them into the universality of the Church.

The lay faithful should learn to work in close union with their

priests in the parish. “Their activity within Church communities is

so necessary that without it the apostolate of the Pastors is

generally unable to achieve its full effectiveness (CL 26).

  1. ii) At the Diocesan Level

For an adequate participation in ecclesial life the lay faithful

must constantly foster a feeling for their own diocese (CL 25).


For, after all, the parish is just a kind of cell of the diocese. It is

the diocese which constitutes ‘the particular Church with its

primordial bond to the universal Church’. The particular Church

(diocese) is not really an administrative unit of Rome, or a kind of

fragmentation of the universal Church. Nor does the universal

Church a corporate organization made up of particular churches

by a simple amalgamation or a mere collection of all particular

Churches. But the local Church is a particular realization of the

universal Christic mystery totally in this locality. As such it has a

real, an essential and constant bond uniting each one of the

particular churches and this is why the universal Church exists and

is manifested in the particular Churches. (CL 25). For this reason

Second Vatican Council already said that the particular Churches

“are constituted after the model of the universal Church; it is in

and from these particular Churches that there come into being the

one and unique Catholic Church”(LG 23).

It is by belonging to the diocese, the particular Church that

the lay faithful actively live out their Christian fellowship with the

universal Church. So, they should be always ready at their

bishops’ invitation to participate in diocesan projects. By participating

in the Diocesan Pastoral Councils, the lay faithful they can express

their “collaboration, dialogue, and discernment” and can certainly

broaden resources in consultation. In certain instances their

participation in the Diocesan Council can contribute to the process

of decision-making too (CL 25).

(iii) At the level of Family

The most important field of lay apostolate is the Family. It

is obvious that the family basic expression of the social dimension

of the person, and first cell of society, the cradle of life and love,

the place in which the individual “is born” and “grows”. So, it is

the duty of the lay faithful in the apostolate to make the family

aware of its identity as the primary social nucleus, and its basic

role in society, so that it might itself become always a more


active and responsible place for proper growth and a primary

place of “humanization” for the person and society.

Above all, the apostolate of laity lies in making his family as

domestic Church. The parents fulfilling their duty to the best of

their ability a faith-based should lead the way by example and

family prayer, will pave a readier path to not only human maturity

but also to salvation and holiness imparting religious education

forming the children as faithful children of the Church. They in

turn, as living members of the family, contribute in their own way

to making their parents holy. Not only by responding to the

kindness of their parents with sentiments of gratitude, with love

and trust, but also standing by them as children should when

hardships overtake their parents and old age brings its loneliness..,

contribute in their in their own way to the sanctification of their

parents (GS 48) The Christian family, as the “domestic Church”,

also makes up a natural and fundamental school for formation in

the faith (CL 62).

2.2. Kinds of Lay Participation in Church’s Mission

The lay faithful may play their role in the Church either

because they are asked by the clergy and commissioned by the

bishop or because they realize their own responsibility and try out

their role on their own individually, or in groups. Thus, there are

three main kinds of lay apostolate: (i) Extraordinary or Commissioned

(ii) Voluntary and Individual lay apostolate (iii) Group Lay Apostolate

  1. i) The Commissioned Lay Apostolate

When there is particular need and when the bishop finds

some lay persons to be experts to fulfill that need, he may entrust

to them certain offices and roles that are connected to the

required pastoral ministry (CL 23), although there is no clerical

order attached to their office. They are commissioned to do that

ministry by the local bishop ’to devote themselves exclusively to

apostolic labours’(LG 41). But these are exceptional cases.


  1. ii) The Voluntary & Individual Lay Apostolate

Not all the lay faithful need to wait for such a call or special

appointment from the Bishop. The real lay apostolate lies in the

voluntary role the lay faithful are ready to take. The proper lay

apostolate consists in the lay faithful carrying out their ordinary life

and daily work with a spirit of making the Church present and

active in situations where they alone can be and act. The very fact

that they are made one with Christ they get their mission. The

sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation give them the call to be

involved in mission. One can cite illustrious examples of such

ordinary apostolate. To mention a few examples of such apostolate,

  • Sir Thomas More (1478–1535) an English lawyer, social

philosopher, statesman and an important councillor to King

Henry VIII.

  • Jacques Maritain (1882–1973), French philosopher and

political thinker, an influential interpreter of the philosophy of

Thomas Aquinas in the twentieth century.

  • Gilbert Keith Chesterton, (1874 -1936) an English writer, a

political thinker, dramatist, journalist, orator, literary and art

critic, lay theologian and Christian apologist.

  • Bl. Devasahayam Pillai originally called Neelakandapillai

(1712-1752) married man, a learned man, well versed in

Malayalam, Tamil and Sanskrit, an expert in the ancient Indian

martial arts. While working in Padmanabapuram palace under

King MarthandaVarma, he got converted to Christianity. It led

him to face the anger of the Hindu priests and the king. He was

imprisoned, scourged, put into starvation and thirst. He accepted

every suffering for Christ. To him everything was for Christ.

Finally was sentenced to death, which he accepted willingly.

  • Prof. Peter Paradhesi (1895-1958), born in a village in

Madurai District, served a Professor in St. Xavier’s College –

Palayamkottai. Immediately after the last hour of the college he

would go to villages and spend the all the evenings in preaching

the villagers. He begged his food and would spend the night


in a commonplace of village, along with other baggers. He had

deep faith in Eucharist and love for our Lady of Assumption.

He Joined in Franciscan 3rd order in the Year 1944 and

became a full time evangelizer in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka,

Andhra Pradesh for about 14 Years. He strictly followed

St. Francis of Assisi in the code-dressing, food, and in all

respects of worldly life. All the assets of his life were Bible &

Begger’s Bowl in his hand bag. His case is also taken up for

canonization. He is now ‘Servant of God’.

  • Thattipathri Gnanamma, a young widow. was so sensitive

to the inner longing of the girls for liberation in Kilacheri

village, near Chennai, in the state of Tamil Nadu, India that in

the 1860’s she made few attempts to empower a handful of

girls in that village in the beginning. That small beginning has

now blossomed into the Society of Sisters of St. Anne-

Chennai. In 1979 it was raised to Pontifical Congregation. The

core identity of the Congregation is sensitivity to the cry of the

poor and creative response to the signs of the times and the

empowerment of the powerless, especially women and girls,

resulting in a powerful drive the to engage themselves in

liberative, empowering and life-giving mission for the marginalized

iii) Group Lay Apostolate

There are many lay faithful who have been empowered by

the Holy Spirit to be involved in their lay apostolate through

“formation of groups of the lay faithful for spiritual purposes or for

apostolic associations, groups, communities, movements”. The rise

of such group activity has been so amazing that the Apostolic

Exhortation on Laity says “We can speak of a new era of group

endeavours of the lay faithful” (CL 29). Alongside the traditional

Pious associations like the Marian Sodality or the Franciscan Third

Order, and at times coming from their very roots, there have

sprouted as many as 150 associations, each with a specific feature

and purpose, the capacity of initiative and the generosity of our lay

people”. So much so that the Pontifical Council for Laity has


officially recognized over 150 groups of lay apostolate, under the

name “Ecclesial Movements.” They are “very diverse from one

another in various aspects, in their external structures, in their

procedures and training methods, and in the fields in which they

work. However, they all come together in an all-inclusive and

profound convergence when viewed from the perspective of their

common purpose, that is, the responsible participation of all of

them in the Church’s mission of carrying forth the Gospel of

Christ, the source of hope for humanity and the renewal of

society” (CL 29).

From the view point of the specific mission of the lay

faithful, to be involved in the world and to play an active role in

organizing the temporal affairs in the light of the Gospel and in the

spirit of the Lord, Christifideles Laici spells out a wide variety of

scope for the lay faithful to play their missionary role in the world.

They may arise either as a manifestation ‘diverse charisms’ of the

Holy Spirit or as a response to the varied needs of the Church

in history (CL 24). It is up to each one of the lay faithful to

discern their charism and respond to the needs actively and

creatively. Accordingly the field of their mission in the world would

be different.

The areas of the lay involvement were broadly grouped

under two main divisions (1) at the individual and (2) at the level

of society as a whole.

(a) At the Individual Level

The lay involvement may be concerned with (i) safeguarding

personal dignity, (ii) right to life and (iii) religious freedom

  1. i) Promoting the dignity of person

The value of the person transcends the entire material world

(Mt 8:36). Value comes not from what person “has” as much from

what the person “is” (CL 37). The person is created by God in

his image and redeemed by Christ’s blood is called to be a “child

in the Son” and a “living temple of the Spirit,” and destined for


eternal life. Equality of all people is thus built upon the foundation

called the dignity of human person. So, each discrimination

constitutes an injustice, a dishonor, inflicted on the dignity of the

person (CL 37). The dignity of the person makes each one a

unique and unrepeatable and hence not to be crushed or annihilated

into anonymity coming from collectivity (CL 37).

  1. ii) Respecting the inviolable right to life

In the context of all offence against the very life of a human

person (murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, suicide), all violations

of the integrity of the human person (mutilation, physical and

mental torture, and undue psychological pressure), all offences

against human dignity, subhuman living conditions, arbitrary

imprisonment, slavery, prostitution), degrading working conditions,

treatment of human beings as mere tool for profit etc., it becomes

the special responsibility of some lay faithful like parents, teachers,

health-workers and those who hold economic and political power

to acknowledge the personal dignity of every human being and to

defend the right to life (CL 38).

Specially in the face of the enormous development of the

biological and medical sciences, gigantic strides accomplished by

new technology, endangering the very biological essence of the

human species, it is of utmost importance that lay faithful realize

their responsibility to take up the task of calling culture back to

the principles of an authentic humanism, giving a dynamic and sure

foundation to the promotion and defense of the rights of the

human being in one’s very essence (CL 38).

iii) Defense of Right to Religious Freedom

Implied in the dignity of the human person is the defense

and promotion of human rights, including the right to freedom.

Gratefully acknowledging the martyr’s example and gift, the

Document recalls the many brothers and sisters who do not enjoy

the right of religious freedom, and who have to face difficulties,


marginalization, suffering persecution and often times death, because

of professing faith.

Proclamation of the Gospel and Christian testimony given in

a life of suffering and martyrdom make up the summit of the

apostolic life among Christ’s disciples, just as the love for the

Lord Jesus even to the giving of one’s life constitutes a source of

extraordinary fruitfulness for the building up of the Church

(CL 39).

(b) Mission at the societal level

Human individual grows and develops only in the fabric of

society. The very purpose of the whole society is geared to the

human person. So, the Christian responsibility to serve human

being is intimately connected with a responsibility to serve society.

The areas in which the lay faithful are called to play their specific

role are the following.

(i) Family

The lay Faithfull’s duty to society begins primarily in marriage

and in family. It is through partnership of man and woman that

God created the first form of communion between persons. Jesus

restored integral dignity to the married couple by not giving room

for divorce (Mt 19:3-9). St. Paul’s esteem of marriage was so

great as to connect it with the mystery of Christ and the Church

(cf. Eph 5:22-6:4; Col 3:18-21; 1 Pt 3:1-7). So, the lay faithful’s

duty to society begins primarily with conviction of the unique and

irreplaceable value that the family has in the development of the


Sociologically also, family is the basic cell of society, cradle

of life and love, the primary place of humanization for the person

and society. Hence the family is the primary social nucleus. As

such then it has so basic a role in society that it has more active

and responsible place for proper growth and proper participation

in social life. Evidently it is above all the lay faithful’s duty in the

apostolate (CL 40).


(ii) Social Service

Charity towards one’s neighbor, shown through the various

forms of spiritual and corporal works of mercy leads to the

Christian animation of the temporal order (CL 41). For, charity is

the highest gift offered by the Spirit for the building up of the

Church (1 Cor 13:13) and it gives life and sustains the works of

solidarity that look to the total needs of the human being.

Volunteer work done in various forms of services and

activities, when impartially given to the most in need and forgotten

by the social services of society itself, becomes an important

expression of the apostolate in which lay men and women have a

primary role (CL 41).

(iii) Politics

Since the nineteenth century there has been a greater

awareness growing in society with regard to the structural injustice

and the urgency of building a just social order in which all receive

their share of the world’s goods justly. As early as 4th century the

great Saint Augustine once said, a “State which is not governed

according to justice would be just a bunch of thieves”. 18At the

same time the Church cannot and must not take upon herself the

political battle to bring about the most just society possible. She

cannot and must not replace the State. Nor can she can remain

on the sidelines in the fight for justice. She has to play her part.

She will awaken the conscience of people through rational argument.

She has to reawaken the spiritual energy of people, because

establishment of justice always demands sacrifice. Unless people

are reawakened with the spiritual power a just ordering of society

cannot prevail and prosper. Though therefore a just society is the

achievement of politics, not of the Church, yet the Church will be

deeply concerned with the promotion of justice through efforts to

bring about openness of mind and will to the demands of the

18as quoted by Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est (2005) 28


common good. In this connection the observation made by Pope

Benedict XVI made in his Encyclical is pertinent:

The direct duty to work for a just ordering of society, on the other

hand, is proper to the lay faithful. As citizens of the State, they

are called to take part in public life in a personal capacity. So they

cannot relinquish their participation “in the many different economic,

social, legislative, administrative and cultural areas, which are

intended to promote organically and institutionally the common

good.” The mission of the lay faithful is therefore to configure

social life correctly, respecting its legitimate autonomy and

cooperating with other citizens according to their respective

competences and fulfilling their own responsibility. (DC No 29)

Thus the lay faithful need to be empowered through

participation of the people in determining direction, policies, and

projects of the government; be even encouraged to stand for

election and become MPs or MLAs, of course with due acquisition

of the standards of competence, credibility and commitment.

The basic principles that should govern the Christian’s

involvement in politics are the following:

1) The pursuit of the common good, or the good of every one

and the good of each person taken as a whole ought to be

the basic standard.

2) Defense and promotion of justice has to be the continuous line

of action.

3) The spirit of service should be the inspiring and guiding

principle for participation in politics. No less important are the

necessary competence and efficiency.

4) Though the Church is not identical with any political community,

nor is tied down by any political system, it bears witness to

those human and Gospel values that are intimately connected

with political activity itself, such as liberty and justice, solidarity,

faithful and unselfish dedication for the good of all, a simple

life-style and a preferential option for the poor and the last.

This demands that the lay faithful always be more animated by


a real participation in the life of the Church and enlightened by

her social doctrines (CL 42).

5) The Church must always exercise its prophetic role even in

political matters. And it is competent to pass moral judgment

in political matters

6) When moral and gospel values are at stake both clergy and

laity must be involved in politics. However, the role of the

clergy should be non-partisan, giving merely guidelines and

explaining moral principles on political matters. On the other

hand, the lay faithful must actively and directly participate in

politics, including partisan politics.

(iv) Socio-Economic Life

The process of globalization and other transformations that

have taken place is all a matter of great of concern in the world

of economics and work. In this context the lay faithful have a

special responsibility to work out a solution especially to such

serious problem of unemployment and organizational injustice. They

should try to make the work place become a community of

persons respected in their uniqueness. They are expected to

develop a new solidarity among those who participate in a

common work (CL 43).

(v) Ecological Concerns

Related to the socio-economic life and work is the ecological

concerns. Certainly humanity has received from God the task of

“dominating” the created world. But this dominion is not absolute

power. No one can speak of a freedom to “use and misuse” or

to “dispose of things as one pleases.” The limitation imposed

from the beginning by the Creator himself and expressed

symbolically by the prohibition “not to eat of the fruit of the tree”

(Gen 2:16-17) shows that when we come to the natural world we

are subject to biological laws and moral areas. “A true concept of

development cannot ignore the use of things of nature, the

renewability of resources and the consequences of haphazard


industrialization” (CL 44). Moreover, the Genesis text that talks

about the domineering power of human beings (Gen. 1:26), if

taken along with another text that speaks of God’s command to

‘take care’ of the earth (Gen. 2: 15), then one will understand the

ecological responsibility is inbuilt in the creation story of the Bible.

(vi) Evangelizing culture

Culture, understood as all the factors which go to the

refining and developing of humanity’s diverse spiritual and physical

endowments, humanization of social life through improvement of

customs and institutions and expression of the great spiritual

experiences and aspirations, is to be held as the common good of

every people, the expression of its dignity, liberty and creativity,

and the testimony of its course through history. So Christian faith,

which works for the common good, becomes a part of history and

the creator of history only from within and through culture

(CL 44).

Pastoral urgency, therefore, calls for an absolutely special

concern for culture in those circumstances where the development

of a culture becomes dissociated not only from Christian faith but

even from human values, and in those institutions where science

and technology are powerless in giving an adequate response to

the pressing questions of truth and well-being that burn in people’s

hearts (CL 48). Hence the lay faithful are called upon to be

present and act in the privileged places of culture like schools and

universities, centers of scientific and technological research, areas

of artistic creativity. Their presence is destined for the recognition

and purification of the elements that critically burden existing

culture and also for the elevation of these cultures through the

Gospel values and Christian riches (CL 48). Recalling the memorable

words of Evangelii Nutiandi: “the split between the Gospel and

culture is without a doubt the drama of our time,” the document

says that “every effort must be made to ensure a full evangelization

of culture, or more correctly of cultures” (CL 48).


vii) The field of social communication forms a special field of

concern in today’s culture. So as a part of cultural responsibility

of the lay faithful’s mission today they need to be aware of a

special responsibility in this field. Today the means of social

communication have become not only powerful instrument for the

creation and transmission of culture but also are undergoing a

rapid and innovative development. This development has an extensive

worldwide influence on the formation of mentality and customs.

This is all the more the reason for us to consider the world of the

mass media as a new frontier for the mission of the Church. As

professionals the Christian faithful they must nurture recognition of

all its values. This must be sustained by more adequate resource

materials, both intellectual and pastoral. It implies a work of

educating people in a ‘critical sense’. It is animated by a passion

for the truth, and inspires one to work of defense of liberty,

respect for the dignity of individuals, rejecting every form of

monopoly and manipulation. Thus an authentic culture is uplifted

(CL 44)

viii) In a multi-religious Context

Ever since Vat. II the Church has been following a positive

approach towards other religions. This involved a deep fellowship

and collaboration with people of all religions, treating them as

partners in dialogue. Religious believers are all co-pilgrims who

share intimate spiritual experiences and reflections with one another

with concern and compassion with genuine openness to truth and

freedom of spiritual search. Similarly there arose the need to

dialogue with diverse cultures. For each culture not only provides

us with a new approach to the human but also opens up new

avenues for understanding the Gospel and its riches. Thus there

arose the desire on the part of the Church to meet and to

collaborate with all people of good will, walking together on the

path of dialogue with other religions as well as other cultures, all

in a common effort to transform the world into an abode of


justice, peace and unity and establish the Reign of God. This new

relationship to the world in general and other religions as well as

cultures in particular is what is called ‘Dialogue’ in the Church. In

this over-all context of dialogue it becomes a duty of the lay

faithful to know some of the key principles with which the Church

has taken up the new approach and put them in their daily life.

If these various aspects and levels are kept in mind then,

surely the lay faithful would have certainly responded to ‘their

proper and irreplaceable call’ to be involved in the world. Thereby

they will have played their role in transforming the world into the

Kingdom of God.

Rightly therefore the Synod of Bishops-Special Assembly for

Asia (1998) in Rome, in their Final Message, declared it in these

words described as the “Age of the Laity.” To quote their exact


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 coming millennium, which could be

called the Age of the Laity. Some signs are: their commitment to

evangelization, their involvement in ecclesial life, and their active

and enthusiastic participation in small Christian communities.19

2.2. Pope Francis on Laity

First of all, it is important to note that Pope Francis is

painfully aware of the sad fact that the present image of the

Church is that of a ‘deformed Church’ because it is self-referent,

self-complacent, self-glorifying and clerical-centered. Next, he is

determined to change it into an authentic spouse of the Master,

concerned with recovering of the original Christ-experience and

reflecting his light to the world, enthusiastic about sharing that joy

with all, especially the existential peripheries, respecting decentralized

structures, diversity of cultural forms so that she would be really



a fruitful mother who gains life from joy of evangelizing Church.20

By the term ‘existential peripheries’ he means the poor, the

suffering, and the oppressed, the women and young, and even


Thus Pope Francis projects an ‘inclusive vision’ of the

Church. The very fact that he envisions a Church to be reaching

out to the ‘existential peripheries’ indicates a significant and

anirreplaceable role of the laity in the Church. The laity who have

been treated as the lowest of the rungor the bottom of the

pyramid will never be considered so in his vision.21 From the very

fact that Pope Francis envisions a Church to be reaching out to

the ‘existential peripheries’ it is clear that the laity who have been

treated as the lowest of the rung or the bottom of the pyramid will

never be considered so in his vision.

Moreover, it is remarkably significant that Pope Francis in

his Apostolic Exhortation, defines laity as the focal point of the

hierarchy’s service: “Lay people are, put simply, the vast majority

of the people of God. The minority — ordained ministers —are

at their service” (EG 102).

Even the Second Vatican Council had defined the laity

negatively in the sense that their identity is described in contrast

with that of the priests and religious (LG 31). The CCC also

follows the same formula (Cf. 897). This negative sort of definition

gives an impression that the priests and the religious are the

primary members of the Church, in reference to whom the laity

are to be understood as non-ordained and non-consecrated.

Conceptually then the laity are to be assumed as second class

20 A. Pushparajan, “Embracing the Laity: The Vision of Pope Francis” in Kuruvilla

Pandikattu, Pope Francis: His Impact on and Relevance for the Church and

Society (Pune : Jnana Deepa Vidyapeeth & Christian World Imprints, 1918),


21 A. Pushparajan, “Embracing the Laity: The Vision of Pope Francis” in Kuruvilla

Pandikattu, op.cit ., 125


members in the Church. Their role is mainly toserve the hierarchy

who really constitute the Church. It is on account of such negative

way of understanding the laity, real ‘vocation’ in the Church was

understood in the past to mean only to clerical or religious life.

And it was implied thereby that the clergy and religious alone have

a real mission in the Church and that the laity merely as helpers

to the clergy and religious.

All these mistaken and misguided understandings of the laity

are washed off by Pope Francis’s definition of laity, mentioned in

EG 102. In this description laity is made the focal point of

Church’s very existence the priests and religious are called to

serve them. Here, Pope Francis is making a Copernican revolution

in the understanding of the Church as against the erstwhile

understanding of the Church mainly from the standpoint of the

hierarchy, and the laity being defined in terms of the hierarchy.

Pope Francis emphasizes that laity form the pivotal point at whose

service the call of hierarchy is destined to be.

The Pope reiterates the same idea much more pointedly in

a letter to the President of the Pontifical Commission for Latin

America.22 First, he asserts sympathetically that “lay people are

immersed in those struggles, with their families, trying, not only to

survive, but whom, in the midst of contradictions and injustices,

seek the Lord and want to witness this”. Then he tells the pastors

that their task “should be that of seeking a way to be able to

encourage, accompany and stimulate all their attempts and efforts

to keep hope and faith alive in a world full of contradictions

especially for the poorest, especially with the poorest”. He further

explicates that, they “as Pastors must be committed in the midst

of our people and, with our people, sustain their faith and their

hope – opening doors, working with them, dreaming with them,

22 The Letter, dated 16 March 20116, is released in L’Osservatore Romano,

NUMBER 17, (2444), 29 April 2016, with the title: “The Hour of the Laity

has Come” p.4. Column 1


reflecting and especially praying with them.”23 Moreover He invites

the pastors to continually “to look at, protect, accompany, support

and serve the laity.”

In fact, the very identity of the clergy is defined by Pope

Francis only as correlative to that of the laity, rather than identifying

laity with reference to the hierarchy. He explains the correlative

relationship through a simple but telling illustration. A father is not

understood on his own without his children. He might be a very

good worker, professional, husband, and a friend. But it is only his

children that make him a father. So also, Francis conceives of the

priest’s identity only in relation the laity’s. To put it in his own


A Pastor is not conceived without a flock, which he is called to

serve. The Pastor is Pastor of a people, and the people are served

from within. Often one goes forward indicating the path, at other

times behind so that no one is left behind, and not infrequently

one is in the middle to hear well the people’s palpitation.24

“It is only when the Pastors feel themselves an integral

part of the laity that they are positioned as pastors in life,”

Francis says.25 That alone gives them a proper perspective to

address the problems of laity in a different way. Otherwise, there

is a danger of the hierarchy falling “into reflections that can be

very good in themselves but that end up by functionalizing the life

of laity or theorizing somuch that speculation ends by killing

action.” In fact Francis believes that the pastors of the Church

have already fallen into this danger.

No doubt, Vat. II affirms the specific call of the laity as well

as their special role in society (LG 30) “What specifically

characterizes the laity is their secular nature… their very vocation,

seeks the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by

23 L’Osservatore Romano, NUMBER 17,(2444), 29 April 2016, with the title:

“The Hour of the Laity has Come” p.4. Column 4

24 Ibid, p.4. Colum 1.

25 Ibid


ordering them according to the plan of God. They live in the

world, that is, in each and in all of the secular professions and

occupations…. They are called thereby God that by exercising

their proper function and led by the spirit of the Gospel they may

work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven

(LG 31). Likewise CCC says: “By reason of their special vocation

it belongs to the laity to seek the kingdom of God by engaging in

temporal affairs and directing them according to God’s will. . . .

It pertains to them in a special way so to illuminate and order all

temporal things.” (CCC 898). However, they all remain in paper.

The laity, according to Pope Francis, is not given the

necessary autonomy to play their role effectively. It is all because

of the ‘clericalism’ that is still dominant in the Church. He is so

anxious to remove this ‘deformity’. Hence, his open denouncement

of clericalism:

Clericalism leads to the functionalization of the laity, treating them

as “messengers,” restricts different initiatives and efforts and I

even dare to say the necessary boldness to be able to take the

Good News of the Gospel to all the ambits of the social and

especially political endeavor. Far from stimulating the different

contributions, proposals, little by little clericalism extinguishes the

prophetic fire that the Church is called to witness in the heart of

her peoples. Clericalism forgets that the visibility and sacramentality

of the Church belongs to the whole People of God (cf. LG 9-14),

and not just to a few chosen and enlightened.26

Obviously, therefore, Francis warns the clergy and bishop of

identifying the ‘Church as an elite of priests, of the consecrated,

of the Bishops’. Identifying himself as one belonging to the

pastor’s community he tells his fellow-pastors: “it is good to

remember… we all form part of the Holy People faithful of God.

To forget this brings in its train various risks and deformations

both in our own personal as well as in communal living of the

ministry that the Church has entrusted to us”.27

26 Ibid, p. 4. Colum 2-3

27 Ibid


Further, quoting Lumen Gentium, the Pope reminds the

clergy that the Church is “the People of God, whose identity is the

dignity and the freedom of the children of God, in whose hearts

dwells the Holy Spirit as in a temple” (LG 9). From this then

draws out his point that the faithful, Holy People of God is

anointed with the grace of the Holy Spirit’ and thus, as we

(the clergy) reflect, think, evaluate, discern, we must be very

attentive to this anointing.”28

As against the pastors, clergy and the bishops, who assume

that they alone are consecrated people, Francis urges them to see

baptism as the primary sacrament on account of which the whole

church has been consecrated as the People of God. Thus, it is

good for the pastors ‘to look to the faithful, Holy People of God,

and to feel themselves an integral part of the same’, Pope says.29

That alone positions them in life and, therefore, in the themes they

treat in a different way. ‘Looking continually at the People of

God’, this alone would save the pastors from merely declaring

some slogans that are fine and beautiful phrases but are unable to

sustain the life of the laity. One such phrase is, as remembered by

Pope is this: “The hour of the laity has come” But, Francis plainly

acknowledges that “it seems that the clock has stopped.”30

This sad situation has arisen because clericalism was playing

a dominant role, making the laity ‘totally clergy-dependent’ and

treating them merely as ‘the extended arm of hierarchy’. So, the

role of laity cannot be discussed ignoring one of the greatest

distortions of the Church:

This approach (clericalism) not only nullifies the character of

Christians, but also tends to diminish and undervalue the Baptismal

grace that the Holy Spirit put in the heart of our people. Clericalism

leads to the homologization (functionalization) of the laity, treating

the laity as “representatives”, restricts different initiatives and

efforts and I even dare to say the necessary boldness to be able

28 Ibid

29 Ibid, p. 4. Colum 1, at the bottom

30 Ibid, p. 4. Colum 2, at the top


to take the Good News of the Gospel to all the areas of the social

and above all political sphere. Clericalism, far from giving impetus

to the diverse initiatives, efforts, little by little extinguishes the

prophetic flame that the entire Church is called to witness in the

heart of her peoples. Clericalism forgets the visibility and

sacramentality of the Church belongs to the whole People of God

(cf. LG 9 -14), and not only to the few chosen and enlightened.31

As opposed to it, then, Pope Francis asserts that in virtue

of their baptism, the laity “are protagonists in the work of

evangelization and human promotion …. Incorporated in the Church,

each member of the People of God is inseparably a disciple and

a missionary. Lay movements in their dynamism are a resource for

the Church?”32 The same view is expressed by the Pope in his

Apostolic Exhortation GE much more emphatically.

At one time missionary activity was seen as work of some

professionals in the Church. The missionaries’ life-long work was

to proclaim the Gospel to other nations and convert the people

into our Church. As against it, Pope Francis affirms:

In virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God

have become missionary disciples (cf. Mt 28:19). All the baptized,

whatever their position in the Church or their level of instruction

in the faith, are agents of evangelization. It would be insufficient

to envisage a plan of evangelization to be carried out by

professionals while the rest of the faithful would simply be passive

recipients. The new evangelization calls for personal involvement

on the part of each of the baptized. Every Christian is challenged,

here and now, to be actively engaged in evangelization; indeed,

anyone who has truly experienced God’s saving love does not

need much time or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that

love. Every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she

has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus: we no longer say

that we are “disciples” and “missionaries”, but rather that we are

always “missionary disciples (EG120).

31 Ibid, page 4, Column 3

32 Pope Francis, “Message to the participants at a conference on the laity in

Rome” (March 7-8, 2014), held at the Pontifical Lateran University organized

under the theme, “The Mission of Lay Christians in the City”


The Pope, further, corroborates his view by citing the first

disciples who, after experiencing Jesus’ encounter, went forth to

proclaim him joyfully. Philip immediately after encountering the gaze

of Jesus exclaimed to Nathanael: “We have found the Messiah!”

(Jn 1:41). The Samaritan woman became a missionary immediately

after speaking with Jesus and many Samaritans come to believe in

him “because of the woman’s testimony” (Jn 4:39). So too, Saint

Paul, after his encounter with Jesus Christ, “immediately proclaimed

Jesus” (Acts 9:20; cf. 22:6-21).

Here what the Pope emphasizes two points: (a) It is the real

experience of having encountered Christ that should be the real

source of our joy which spontaneously exudes in anything one

does or speaks. This is precisely what should be the real method

of evangelizing, rather than devising an organized plan to be

carried out by professionals. 33(b) Each and every one of the

baptized is to be involved in evangelization, by way of expressing

one’s joy of having experienced the joy of salvation from Jesus.

Thus, the role of the laity has now become much more intense and

gravely responsible. New-evangelization can be taken up at any

time or anywhere, by anybody, provided that one is ready to bring

the love of Jesus to others. This can happen unexpectedly and in

any place: on the street, in a city square, during work, on a journey

(EG127). One can always be respectful and gentle to others, one

can enter into personal dialogue, when the other person speaks and

shares his or her joys, hopes and concerns for loved ones, or so

many other heartfelt needs. Later, if possible one can bring up

God’s word, perhaps by reading a Bible verse or relating a story,

but always keeping in mind the fundamental message: the personal

love of God who became man, who gave himself up for us, who

is living and who offers us his salvation and his friendship. Of

course, this message has to be shared humbly as a testimony on

the part of one who is always willing to learn, in the awareness

33 If at all some professionals pursue oral proclamation, they should always be

respectful of the other, prayerful in their approach and humble in their attitude

to the other.


that the message is so rich and so deep that it always exceeds our

grasp. At times the message can be presented directly, at times by

way of a personal witness or gesture, or in a way which the Holy

Spirit may suggest in that particular situation. If it seems prudent

and if the circumstances are right, this fraternal and missionary

encounter could end with a brief prayer related to the concerns

which the person may have expressed. In this way they will have

an experience of being listened to and understood; they will know

that their particular situation has been placed before God, and that

God’s word really speaks to their lives. (EG128) No doubt, the

Pope admonishes that the laity “must also maintain a vital link to

the diocese and to parishes, so as not to develop a partial reading

of the Gospel or to uproot themselves from the Church”.

Pope Francis wants the laity to play an active role in the

world, with its complex social and political issues. In a message to

the participants of a conference for laity the Pope, citing the

teaching of the Second Vatican Council and underscored that the

lay faithful, in virtue of their baptism, “are protagonists in the work

of evangelization and human promotion”.34Particularly, he urges the

laity to work for the ‘social inclusion’ of the poor, maintaining

always priority-attention to religious and spiritual needs. In so

doing, they are “to use regularly the Compendium of the Social

Doctrine of the Church, which he called a “complete and precious


Still another significant perception of Pope Francis is the

genius of women. Already at the beginning of his papacy, Francis

remarked:”Women are asking deep questions that must be

addressed. The church cannot be herself without the woman and

her role. … We must therefore investigate further the role of

34 Conference, held at the Pontifical Lateran University, was organized under the

theme, “The Mission of Lay Christians in the City”, March 7-8, 2014, Cf.

Vatican Radio, 2014-03-07, “Pope Francis: laity are ‘protagonists’ in Church’s


church, accessed 5.5.2017.

35 Vatican Radio, 2014-03-07, op. cit. above in foot no 33


women in the church. We have to work harder to develop a

profound theology of the woman. Only by making this step will it

be possible to better reflect on their function within the church.

The feminine genius is needed wherever we make important

decisions.36 Of course, while he gave a due recognition to the

necessity of broadening the opportunities for a stronger presence

of women in the church, he was quite clear about the extreme

position: “I am wary of a solution that can be reduced to a kind

of ‘female machismo,’ because a woman has a different make-up

than a man. But what I hear about the role of women is often

inspired by an ideology of machismo”.37

Pope Francis, during his visit to Philadelphia, in March

2014, talked about the special role for women. Referring to the

call given to Saint Katharine Drexel, the patroness of the local

parish church at Pope esteemed the immense work she had

realized, even when she was a young girl. He recalled the

particular instance in which she was challenged to do her part to

which, of course, she responded positively.38

In that connection Pope raised the following pertinent questions

regarding the upbringing of the young with challenges.

How many young people in our parishes and schools have the

same high ideals, generosity of spirit, and love for Christ and the

Church! Do we challenge them? Do we make space for them and

help them to do their part? To find ways of sharing their enthusiasm

and gifts with our communities, above all in works of mercy and

concern for others?Do we share our own joy and enthusiasm in

serving the Lord?39

36 Antonio Spadaro, S.J, “A Big Heart Open to God” in Thinking Faith, the online

journal of the Jesuits in Britain 19th September 2013,

articles/20130919_1.htm accessed 10.11.2016.

37 Antonio Spadaro, S.J, Ibid

38 Tom McGRATH, “In Homily, Pope Francis Calls for Greater Role for Laity …

and Women?”

qRcdocpWMcwK7ySE.99 September 26, 2015, accessed


39 Ibid


Pope Francis is convinced of the transformative power of

the laity who are animated by sincere faith because of their

genuine experience of the mercy of the Lord. In his address to the

Pontifical Council for Laity he publicly stated thus: “The Church

should always value the transformative power of faith-filled laity

who are willing to serve the Gospel. … We need well-formed lay

people, animated by a sincere and clear faith, whose life has been

touched by the personal and merciful love of Christ Jesus”40. No

doubt, the Pope equally emphasizes on the daring propensity

required of the laity: “We need lay people who take risks, who

get their hands dirty, who are not afraid of making mistakes, who

go forward. We need lay people with a vision of the future, not

confined to the little things of life.” Above all, he said that the

“Church needs lay people who “dare to dream.”

In sum, Pope Francis’s teachings on laity springs from his

plain acceptance of the fact that the Church has failed to shine

owing to its self-referent and self-glorifying and clergy-centred

approach. As a corrective to it, Pope Francis envisions a new

Church in which the role of the laity, including the women and the

young, will decisively be the central and focal subject.

In this vision, the laity’s call and mission, arising out of the

baptismal vocation, determines even the role of the hierarchy. So

the need of the hour is a double pronged change of mind-set,

required of both clergy and the laity. On the one hand there is

urgency to evoke among the laity realization of their vocation and

mission to be carried out on their own, and get them immersed in

40 Pope Francis, Address in Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council of the

Laity, on June 17, 2016.Cf. “For Pope Francis, the Catholic Laity can transform

the World”, Catholic News Agency, Vatican City, Jun 18, 2016 http:// the-catholic-laity-cantransform-

the-world-86987/ accessed 4.6.2017


the struggle of transforming the world into the reign of God in the

light of the Gospels. On the other hand the clergy ought to

accompany the laity, encourage them and work in their midst, far

from separating themselves from the laity, and reflecting on the

laity’s problems independently of involvement in laity’s struggles,

still worse ‘using them’ for their own designs and according to

their abstract reflections which are often cut off from their actual


Now, by way of summing up the consideration made in this Part,

  • From the rapid survey it is clear that the teachings of the post

conciliar popes have made a tremendous progress from the

opening made by Vatican II.

o While the pre-Conciliar understanding held the laity as the

passive and second grade members of the Church, the

Vatican II conferred on them the basic equality and dignity

to the laity,

o The later documents of the Church expanded the

implications. Thus the Apostolic exhortation by Pope John

Paul II spelt out the variety of the active doings the laity

could/should carry out in the Church and the world.

o Pope Francis has actually made a Copernican revolution in

the understanding of the laity’s place and role in the

Church. He views the laity as the focal point of the

Church, in reference to whom the vocation of clergy and

religious and their ministry is to be defined.

  • What is the impact of these revolutionary teachings on the

actual profile of the laity in the Church? This is investigated in

the next Part.




From the foregoing it is patent that Vat. II and the later

documents have given the assurance that the laity shares in the

same dignity as clergy and religious and that they share in the

triple mission of Jesus Christ, in their own way, equally as the

hierarchy. How far has this assurance been realized? This can be

assessed only by looking at the reality. It is a matter of gratitude

that many attempts have been made to study the existing status of

the laity in the Indian Church. It is also matter of appreciation that

the Indian hierarchy have taken initiatives to evaluate how much

progress the church here has made on lines with the Vat. II.

 As early as in 1986 the CBCI Laity Commission made a

scientific Study Aid for the Bishops Synod.41

 Nearly after a decade, CBCI brought out an Evaluation

Report of the Indian Church (1995), a section of which

devoted to “Lay Participation and Leadership”42 and another

section on “Action Plan” with reference to lay leadership.43

 Again, on the occasion of the Great Jubilee year 2000, Krista

Jayanti National Committee got Survey made by an Evaluation

Committee, which also contains quite a lot of material on the

existing position of the laity.

 Further, the Laity Commission of the CCBI has made a

research-based study on The Vocation of the Laity in the

Life and Mission of the Church in view of the CCBI Plenary

Assembly at Alwaye (Jan. 2007).44

41 Stella Faria, The Laity’s Perception of Their own Status in the Church in India,

(Bangalore: WINA, 1986)

42 CBCI Evaluation Report, (New Delhi: CBCI Evaluation Committee, 1995)87-95

43 CBCI Evaluation Report, (New Delhi: CBCI Evaluation Committee 1995)208-212

44 The Vocation of the Laity in the Life and Mission of the Church (Bengalore: CCBI

Laity Commission) 2007


 Apart from these official data, I undertook a research with the

help of my students of theology both at the M.Th. and B.Th.

levels.45 This research was based upon the Scientific Observation

in reference to the role of the Laity across the country.

Here below is given first a summary account of the findings of my

Observation-Based Study. Next an attempt is made to cull the

principal points of the CBCI Over-all Evaluation and finally of The

Krista Jayanti Survey Study

3.1 Observation-based Study:

Given the pluriformic nature of the Indian Church, I deemed

it proper make the study region-wise to find out the actual

position of the laity in their respective contexts. The observers

were divided into six zonal groups:

(1) All those who were born in Syro Malabar and Malankara

rites were grouped as South West Zone.

(2) Those who were born and brought up mostly in Tamil Nadu

and Andhra Pradesh were grouped under South Zone.

(3) Those who were born and brought up in Goa and Mumbai

were grouped as Western Zone.

(4) Those who were working in and around the region of West

Bengal were grouped as Eastern Zone.

(5) Those who were born and brought up or who had been

working in the North Eastern States were separately grouped

as North Eastern Zone.

(6) Those who are working in the rest of India were grouped as

North Zone.

45 A. Pushparajan, unpublished paper on “The Laity in the Local Church”,

presented in XV Colloquium of Bishops and Theologians (July 8 – 10, 2010),

on “Office and Charism within the Understanding of the Church as Participatory

Communion” organized by the Doctrinal Commission of the CBCI, at NBCLC


All the groups were served with the following ten questions:

  1. What is your impression in general, regarding the participatory role

of the laity in the Church structures in your region?

  1. Describe specifically the laity’s participation in Liturgy?
  2. Do the laity in your region have any role to play in the policymaking

and decision-taking?

  1. What is the role that the laity play in financial matters of the


  1. What is laity’s participation in the administration of the parish?
  2. Do the laity involve themselves in justice and peace work?
  3. What role do the laity play in civil / social issues?
  4. What part do they take in cultural matters?
  5. What is the stand of the laity with regard to the socio-economic

issues of the nation today?

  1. What is the laity’s involvement in politics?

All the groups were to discuss the answers to each of the

questions on the basis of their direct observation /involvement in

the field or/and firsthand knowledge acquired in their respective

region. After collecting the data from each of the members of the

group, and a thorough discussion of the same was had in the

group itself so as to arrive at a group report. The findings of the

group reports were finally tabulated. For our purpose, here, it is

sufficient to just to hint at some of the most important points,

culled from the consolidated report.

(a) Positive Features

It is indeed laudable that there are many positive

developments in the Indian Church contributing to the realization of

the promises of Vat. II regarding the laity’s role.

  1. Liturgically, there is certainly dramatic change in laity’s role.

Thanks to the efforts the Indian hierarchy taken immediately after

the Council, altars were changed and priests began celebrating the

Holy Eucharist facing the assembly. The laity could feel that they

are part of the celebration. Similarly steps were taken in all the


regions to use the vernacular rather than the Latin. Local music

and even dance began to be used according to the local culture.

The active participation of the laity is more visible in the Sunday

liturgy. People of the different SCCs are involved in planning,

carrying out and evaluating the various liturgical activities of each


  1. Participatory structures: The Laity commission of the CBCI,

already since the 1980s has been keen on keen on promoting

participatory structures in parishes, especially through formation of

Small Christian Communities (SCC). They play a major role in the

making of PPC and also in making Sunday liturgy more vibrant.

Even those that were traditionally known as Pious Associations of

the laity (meant to promote personal piety and devotion) have

been successfully incorporated into the PPC structure and which in

turn promote to certain extent lay participation in policy- making

and decision-taking processes of the parish. It is heartening that

the Diocesan Pastoral Council (DPCs) have been created almost

in all the dioceses of the South West, South, West and North

East, and the lay participation is clearly visible in those structures.

  1. In the general administration of the parish lay leadership of

the laity is widespread in the South West, West and North East

regions. Lay participation is on the increase in most of dioceses in

the South where such structures like SCC s, Parish Pastoral

Council (PPC) have been implemented.

  1. Lay Movements: Over the years the laity in India have

acquired a greater awareness that the Church is not constituted by

just the clergy and the hierarchy, but that it is of all the baptized

believers in the Church. As a result there is a significant growth in

ecclesial movements like The Charismatic, The Neo Catechumenate

Way, Evangelization Groups, Couples for Christ, Jesus Youth

Movement. There has been an extraordinary evidence of laity’s

thirst for Word of God, and a deep craving for living the Divine


Life among the lay faithful, so much so that many are even

tempted to join other Fellowship Movements of the Pentecostal

type, where they don’t find enough ‘pastures’ in their parishambience.

  1. Justice Movements: There is more and more awareness

among the laity that the church’s ministry requires social action and

even direct action for justice and equality. The mushrooming of

thousands of action groups all over the country is a good sign.

Other people’s movements like the Dalit liberation movements

have been actively promoting a social and liberative consciousness

among the laity

  1. Salvation-Consciousness: Again the laity are trained to think

that that salvation is available to all, not by simply being Catholics.

Formerly we used to think and pray for the conversion of the

Protestants, Muslims and Hindus, pagans. Now that practice is no

more there publicly.

(b) Areas of Concerns

The lay participation in the Church’s renewal process that

was gleaned from the profile above has not been a mainstream

process. The so called laity’s participation in Church’s life and

mission has been restricted to a committed minority within the

local Church. The vast majority of laity still remains passive and

inactive.46 Like this, there are many points of concern. They may

be categorized into three groups: (i) Those that are related to the

attitude of laity (ii) Those that are related to their formation

(iii) Those that pertain to the clergy and hierarchy

(i) Attitude-related Concerns

  1. Ignorance and illiteracy may be the main reason for the lack

of awareness regarding the outlook of the Vat II on their

identity and mission. Most of the laity in the north are illiterate.

46 L. Doohan, The Lay-Centered Church Theology and Spirituality, (Minneapolis:

Winston Press, 1984) 26-61


  1. Indifference and apathy of the vast majority of the laity could

also be a reason for the lack of lay participation. Many of the

laity simply want to be left alone. They want to remain

unchanged. They just want the status quo, allowing the priest

to take all responsibilities of the parish. They don’t want to

assume any active leadership role.

  1. Insecurity in the sort of changes wrought by Vat. II may be

the reason for others to take up active role. They feel safe in

the pre-Vatican liturgy, old devotional practice. It may be

owing to lack of proper education or lack of understanding of

the need

(ii) Formation-related Concerns

  1. The implication of all the three points mentioned above is just

that there is obviously lack of proper faith education and

training of the laity.

  1. The Formation Programmes that are already taken up are too

academic and information-packed. They lack a pointed focus

on spirituality and leadership techniques which can prepare lay

people to assume responsible roles in PPCs and other decision

making bodies in the Church and in society.

  1. Given the multi-religious as the living context of laity in India,

do the formation programmes of the laity take this aspect into

account? Are they helped to enter into dialogue with others

without any compromise to our core of the Faith? Are they

taught to what extent one can appreciate the traditional, cultural

and spiritual values of other religions and incorporate their

ways and wisdom in the process of living in harmony with


47 Final Message of BILA 6: “Second in the Series of BILA’s on Formation in

Ed. Franz-Josef Eilers, For All Peoples of Asia, FABC Documents from 19920-

1996 Vol.2, (Manila: Claretian Publications 1997)81-85


  1. The Formation programmes attempted in various regions as

well as in most of the dioceses do not seem to challenge the

laity to make option for justice part of their faith? They don’t

seem to include a thorough knowledge of the social teachings

of the Church so as to be enabled to make the social

teachings of the Church part of their daily decisions at their

home, workplaces, and streets, contributing to the world a

socio-economic development, that serves the people, promote

life and protect the environment.48

(iii) Clergy/Hierarchy Related Concerns

  1. Lay formators and animators, if any, are not given a follow up

support by the clergy. Most often training is given at a

formation centre either in the regional or at the national level.

But when they get back to their parishes, the parish priests

never consider their training seriously, leave alone giving them

the encouragement they need. They are not given scope by the

local parish priest to put their training into practice?

  1. It is not merely a grave matter of concern that Church in India

is over-institutionalized but also that its structures are manned

exclusively by the clergy. It has disappointed laity who took

seriously the new understanding of the Church, proposed by

Vat. II. In some places it has created a conflict between the

parish priests and the ‘enlightened’ laity.

  1. Many others have been alienated by certain crises like the

divisive approaches of the hierarchy/ the religious on the basis

of caste, or feel a undernourishment for their spiritual life in the

Church and so show their protest by leaving the Church and

joining the new Pentecostal groups that allow spontaneous

religious sharing or faith sharing groups or in some Fellowship

Meetings or Assembly of God Churches

48 The Message of the Fourth East Asian Regional Laity Meeting, Thailand, See

Ed. Franz-Josef Eilers, For All Peoples of Asia, FABC Documents from 19920-

1996 Vol. 2,(Manila: Claretian Publications 1997) 133-135


  1. The so called lay participatory structures like the PPC and

DCP have been smothered by the hierarchy, either by

outnumbering the laity by nominated members who are either

religious sisters or brothers or lay people who are too docile

and passive to raise a voice, or by the veto power on the

ground that it is only a consultative body. Such an unholy

practice of the hierarchy frustrates the well-meaning laity who

spent hours of their precious time in discussing the issues


  1. Lack of recognition and respect by the clergy is another

reason for the laity to shun all active participation. Some lay

persons who are most experienced and competent, and who

serve as top executives in corporate managements, are most

often cowed down sometimes by the ‘authority’ of a newly

ordained man who may not be any older than their own sons,

and who may even be much less competent and knowledgeable.

People are legitimate in raising questions like this:

“Administration, policy decision, educational techniques, goal

planning, financial management, are they part of the grace of

the Sacrament of Holy Orders? Do priests have any protection

against serious mistakes in these areas?” 49

3.2. CBCI Research Committee’s Evaluation

The findings of CBCI Evaluation Committee50 corroborate

the findings of the observation study given above.

Today the Church in India, as a body, is fairly strong with

tits various structures, institutions, influence etc., the report says.

However, this strength and power is primarily in the hands of the

clergy and various Religious Congregations of both men and

women. The role of the laity in the life of the Church is negligible

49 Leonard Doohan, op. cit. 33

50 CBCI Evaluation Report (New Delhi: CBCI Evaluation Committee, 1995) 208


and they are hardly involved as they have been kept out of the

mainstream. Some of the discriminations suffered by the laity are:

o Most of the Church resources are spent for the formation

of the clergy and the religious;

o CBCI organizes seminars and meetings to foster lay

leadership mostly at the national level but not at the

regional level and as a result the ordinary people are

unable to benefit by these programmes;

o The laity are not involved in the administrative and decision

making processes of the Church at different levels;

o The laity are not given an adequate role in the secular

sphere which is proper to them according to the Second

Vatican Council;

o Serious efforts have not been made to train lay leaders

and the laity are not encouraged sufficiently. 51

There is a strong feeling among the laity even today that

they are meant to pray, pay and obey, and nothing more. In other

words, they have the feeling that they are the voiceless and

passive members of the Church and not participants in moulding

its life or in promoting the Kingdom. They are still at the receiving

end and are only beneficiaries rather than partners in the life of the


The respondents, ranging from a near majority to an absolute

majority agree that the CBCI should offer lay persons: (a) different

positions like Secretaries of Commissions, Directors of different

units, etc. (b) opportunities to be actively involved in the decision

–making processes of the dioceses and parishes; (c) definite roles

in the administrative work of the Church.52

51 CBCI Evaluation Report (New Delhi: CBCI Evaluation Committee 1995), 208

52 CBCI Evaluation Report, 209


The laity today is destined to pray, pay and obey. This

should be changed by involving them in the administration of the

Church at all levels.53

Many of the dioceses are run by Bishops, priests and the

religious and the laity is kept away from the active functions of the

Church. Many of the laity don’t know about the actual functions

of the Church at present. In such a situation they become passive

towards the Church.54

3.3. The Survey by The Jubilee Committee

On the occasion of the Great Jubilee Year 2000, a national

survey was conducted on the impact of Vat. II on the Church in

India, by the National Committee of Yesu Krista Jayanti. It was

carried out during Sep.1999 – July 2000. A total of 1892

respondents from 52 dioceses were covered in the survey. It may

be relevant to take into account the findings of this survey, too.

As regards the familiarity with the teachings of Vat. II

by laity, just a handful of the respondents have given an affirmative

answer that is familiar.55 Nearly two thirds of the respondents have

also said that only a small percentage is familiar. About one fourth

of them have said that some of them are familiar.

As regards faith education, only less than half of the

respondents have said that it is being organized well, while almost

an equal number give a negative answer. The rest of them

acknowledge that they do not know about it. Of these are

included some priest-respondents and some sister respondents.

Very strange indeed.56

53 CBCI Evaluation Report, 89

54 CBCI Evaluation Report ,90

55 Sebasti Raj, “Our Journey from Vatican II to the Great Jubilee 2000”, in Paul

Puthenangady Ed. Yesu Krista Jayanti 2000 Towards a New Society, (Bangalore:

National Committee)149

56 Sebasti Raj, 149


As regards the running of the institutions (schools colleges,

hospitals etc.) owned and run by the dioceses or the religious

congregations, only about one third of the respondents say that the

lay people have a definite say in. But more than two-third of them

say that they do not have a definite say in running these institutions.57

As regards the participatory structures, a little more than

half of the respondents say that there is a parish council in their

respective parish. But one third of them say they do not have a

parish council. It is surprising to note that the rest of the respondents

including some priests and nuns do not even know whether there

is a parish council or not in their own respective parish.58

As regards finance committee only about one fourth of the

respondents say that there is a finance committee in their respective

parish. A little more half of them say that there is no finance

committee in their respective parish. One fifth of all the participants

are not even aware. Here also are included some priests and


About functioning of parish councils, only less than half of

the respondents expressed satisfaction. A little more one fourth

says that to some extent they function well. Only a handful of the

respondents agree that they function satisfactorily.60

Regarding the life of the Laity, less than half of the

respondents view that the lay people have a positive approach to

other religions: tolerant, respectful, understanding their worship etc.

One fourth would agree to this view to some extent. Almost one

third of them acknowledge that they do not have a positive

approach to other religions. 61

57 Sebasti Raj, 150-151

58 Sebasti Raj, 151

59 Sebasti Raj, 151

60 Sebasti Raj, 151

61 Sebasti Raj, 144


As for the consumerist life style, a vast majority from all

categories agree that the consumerist values are swallowing up the

Gospel values. Exactly half the respondents say that only a small

percentage of lay people are able to resist the consumerist values

of the market such as power, prestige, comfort, unhealthy

competition, excessive profit mindedness, self-centered approach

etc. A little more than one third agree with this view to some

extent. Only a small number of respondents say that majority of

Catholics are able to resist.62

In fine,

Studies of the actual profile of the laity in India suggest that

there is clearly a setback in the realization of the original vision of

the laity presented in Vat. II. The lived reality of the laity in the

Indian Church is not up to the mark. It may even be said that the

existing profile of the laity is even far away from the vision of

Vat. II, and that promises given by Vat. II have gone woefully


62 Sebasti Raj, 149


The foregoing assessment clearly establishes that although

there are many laudable attempts made in the Indian Church to

encourage the laity to play their role yet the laity is still farther

away from the ideal set by Vat. II. So it is necessary to probe

into the challenges that have caused this crisis.

4.1. Outdated Ecclesiology in Practice

A real major challenge is that the medieval ecclesiology still

operative in practice. Specially the ecclesiology was articulated by

St. Robert Belllarmine and accepted by the Church as a whole


63 No. 8. Emphasis added. The translation here is that the Holy See as found

on the Vatican Internet website:


maintained that the Church is the perfect society on earth, reflecting

the hierarchical society of heaven in earth. Just as in heaven God,

angels and saints are all arranged in a pyramidal structure, so too

the Church is organized with Pope at the top with fullness of

power and shared by the bishops, presbyters and deacons in

decreasing degrees. The laity are at the lowest rung, having no

power whatsoever. Even a saintly Pope Pius X re-affirmed the

medieval views of the Church as an “unequal society” comprising

of two ranks: the clergy and the laity. His encyclical letter

Vehementer Nos 1906 affirms:

It follows that the Church is essentially an unequal society, that

is, a society comprising two categories of her sons, the Pastors

and the flock, those who occupy a rank in the different degrees

of the hierarchy and the multitude of the faithful. So distinct are

these categories that with the pastoral body only rests the necessary

right and authority for promoting the end of the society and

directing all its members towards that end; the one duty of the

multitude (laity) is to allow themselves to be led, and, like a docile

flock, to follow the Pastors.63

From this sort of thinking there was some improvement with

Popes Pius XI and XII. But a complete reversion to the traditional

thinking was made by only Vat. II. Since then the former

ecclesiology has been given up in theory. In this respect, it is

indeed a big success. However, in practice, the former thinking is

continued even today. There is clearly a discrimination of the laity

by the clergy in all their dealings, behavior and treatment of laity

and in management of the institutions and administration of parish.

In other words, the pre-Vatican II ecclesiology is in effect in the

actual functioning of Church in India. This is particularly visible in

the South, and South West regions.


64 D. Alphonse, “Identity and Mission of Laity in India Today”, in The Vocation

of the Laity in the Life and Mission of the Church, (Bangalore: CCBI Laity

Commission 2007)50-52

65 The Code of Canon Law, No 213. Emphasis added

4.2. Exaggerated Emphasis on Ministerial Priesthood

Another challenge is that the pre-Vatican II theology of the

Holy Orders is still dominant among all the faithful in Indian

Church. Accordingly, the recipient of the Holy Orders64 is supposed

to become ontologically one with Jesus the High priest so much

that he is become ‘another Christ’ really. Such a standpoint

obviously implies an essential difference between the clergy and

the laity. Further it is considered that this sacrament gives the

priest sacred power to perform the threefold ministry of Christ:

sanctifying (through administering the sacraments), teaching (through

the preaching the Word of God) and governing his people (be it

at the parish level or otherwise). In other words, laity are

supposed to be just beneficiaries of the bishops, priests and

deacons. The laity are denied of any sacred power. Even the

present Canon Law stipulates that “the Christian faithful have the

right to receive assistance from the sacred pastors out of the

spiritual goods of the Church, especially the word of God and

the sacraments.”65 A clear division is implied in these words.

It is against this sort of two tier system of the Church of the

medieval ecclesiology that Vat. II re-discovered the original

perspective that Baptism enables the sharing of all the faithful in

the priesthood of Christ and the Church’s mission as a common

call given to all and that the mission was collaborative task,

involving co-responsibility of both clergy and the laity.

4.3. Ambivalence in Vat. II

No doubt, there is certain ambivalence in the theological

stand of the documents of Vat. II. On the one hand LG chapter


2 speaks of the Church as an active presence of Christians in the

world and for the world with the consequences it involves for the

priesthood and the religious life. On the other hand chapter 4 of

Lumen Gentium and the whole of the Apostolicam Actuositatem

also upholds a clerical approach in which the laity is once again

considered as a subordinate, a kind of subject to the hierarchy,

despite its attempt to reinstate the original unity, dignity and

equality of the laity.

Such an ambivalence of positions is understandable in a

Council in which 2600-2800 bishops participated. Given their

variety of backgrounds, varied theological outlooks and training of

such a vast number of council fathers, the documents also are

bound to reflect the different strands of theological positions:

conservative as well as progressive. But this is not a problem at

all. For the main task of the Council was not meant to create a

theological treatise in which many schools of theology will be

evaluated to arrive at a correct position. In fact certain pluralism

of theological position may be welcome too.

4.4. The New promises in Old structures

But the real problem lies in this that while Vat. II promised

to lay people new roles and a new identity, they were not pursued

consistently in the Church, with corresponding models to support

the new promises. Nor was there any attempt to create such

structures as to implement the new roles assigned to the laity by

Vat. II. To put it one word: New roles were promised in an

old-structured church. With old theological models still prevailing in

the Church there has not been any scope for laity to play their

roles meaningfully. No new arrangements have been made to

uphold the new ideas. Nor new theological models encouraged.

Rather the voices of new and valid theological voices seem to

have been stifled. Even reactionary responses are cropping up

almost with a view restoration of the pre-Vatican II status.


66 Michael Paulson, “Citing Vatican II, Laity seeks change” Boston Globe on 10/


3.5. Abuse of Power in the Hierarchy

Still worse problem is that some of the hierarchy have even dared

abuse their special rank, status power and position to inflict

wrongs in the Church. The most patent example is the Child-abuse

cases of North American Church. This concern is very well

corroborated by the following words from the by people related

to Laity movement over there:

These [bishops] were people we trusted, as if they were practically

God, and they were allowing our children to be raped,” said

Anthony T. Massimini, who as a young priest from Philadelphia

served as a page during the first session of Vatican II, and now,

decades after he left the priesthood and married, is one of many

thinkers advising Voice of the Faithful. “We still have no sense of

talking to a bishop on an adult-to-adult basis. But something is

going to change, because they’re losing the people.”

The bishops, however, are increasingly reasserting their authority

as the church’s official teachers, reminding their flock that the

church is not a democracy. The most visible evidence is the

increasing frequency with which bishops bar Voice of the Faithful

from meeting in dioceses in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut,

and in parishes in Maine and Massachusetts.66

In the Indian Church the abuse of authority may not be as glaring

as it is in the West. However, no one can say with certainty that

the abuse is not there. But a day may come when it boomerang

into a big fiasco. If the Roman proverb “Caesar’s wife should be

above suspicion” is applicable to any person who holds a public

office, and much more appropriate in ecclesiastical office.


4.6. Clericalism

The Catechism of the Catholic Church of the states:

In the ecclesial service of the ordained minister, it is Christ himself who is present to his Church as Head of his Body, Shepherd of his flock, high priest of the redemptive sacrifice, Teacher of Truth.

This is what the Church means by saying that the priest, by virtue of the sacrament of Holy Orders, acts in persona Christi Capitis:

It is the same priest, Christ Jesus, whose sacred person his minister truly represents. Now the minister, by reason of the sacerdotal consecration which he has received, is truly made like to the high priest and possesses the authority to act in the power and place of the person of Christ himself (virtute ac persona ipsius Christi).

Christ is the source of all priesthood: the priest of the old law was a figure of Christ, and the priest of the new law acts in the person of Christ. (Art. 1548)

Now, granted that “the minister … is truly made like to the high priest and possesses the authority to act in the power and place of the person of Christ himself, it could be difficult for the laity to question, criticize or hold a priest to some accountability. In fact, when on committees, people defer to the priest because he is a priest — even when others at the table have more expertise in the matter at hand. And also it happens when experts in education and child development are overruled in parish schools by the pastor, for the simple reason that he is a ‘priest’. Not that this kind of undue special treatment causes all priests to become “clerical.” There are many priests who are humble, grounded and generous good men. But if someone already has a penchant for power and privilege, this treatment could lead to corruption. And the many cases of ‘child abuse’ have been made under this pretext.

This is made worse by the fact that even now many parishes and dioceses have not set up Pastoral councils and finance committees and that the parish priest or bishop acts as the final authority in all matters — business, financial, pastoral. Still more it becomes saddened that there is no accountability for the ordained men who live alone without community how their time is spent and whether or not they are healthy — in every aspect. If he insists that whatever he dictates on the laity is to be taken as a ‘word of God’ by them, and still if he has no support, assistance or someone to act as a check and balance, how are we accept him as a healthy authority specially if he has inadequate psychological screening. 67

We can say that the discourse shaping the Roman Church— theology, spirituality, liturgy and law—is of the clergy, by the clergy, for the clergy, and answerable to the clergy. If some of the priests and bishops are guilty of serious misbehaviour and still getaway easily, it is because the good lay  people have accepted the awe and aura with which the clergy have successfully surrounded them.68 This is indeed cancer of clericalism to be cut and thrown from the Church.

4.7. Laity to be blamed for Apathy and Ignorance

Most of the time the laity themselves could be blameworthy for the dismal situation of today. The vast majority of the laity in the Indian Church may actually want to remain unchanged according to the expectations of Vat. II. Many of the laity simply prefers to be left alone. They don’t want to assume any active leadership role in the Church. They feel so safe in the pre-Vatican II vision that they are led to a sense of insecurity in the sort of changes wrought by Vat. II. They are so satisfied with old devotional practices that they are not at all interested in the challenging roles to play in the new structures, if implemented according to the Vat. II.

4.8. Major share of the Blame by the Hierarchy

However these attitudes of apathy on the part of laity could be traced to lack of proper faith education or sheer ignorance of the need for change. But, given the existing situation in the Church where all power and knowledge and position has been in the hands of the clergy it was principally their responsibility and even duty to have dispersed the knowledge to the laity. At least, the teachings of the Vat. II must have been brought to the notice of the vast majority of the rank and file. There has not been there been tangible attempts made on the part of the hierarchy to have propagated the teachings on their role and call. There have been some silver lines as the voice of Bishop Bosco Penha. If the laity are a passive and lifeless, if they have no sense of their role/ mission in the Church and in the world, who takes responsibility for this situation? Is it not the leaders of the Church? Unless bishops and priests accept responsibility for the situation and move swiftly and effectively, on a priority basis, to alter this situation, nothing will change.69 Thus failure to impart the knowledge of Vat. II to the laity the hierarchy the Indian Church and lack tangible expression in the style of its functioning 70 could be said to be the most basic cause of the gloomy scenario.



In the light of the foregoing sections, this final part attempts at proposing some remedial measures so that the Church in India will be able to realize the ideal vision of Vat. II more concretely and empower the laity to play their role more authentically.

  1. Take appropriate steps to ensure that the participatory structures like the PPC and DPC are formed in every diocese.71
  1. As against the exaggerated view of ministerial priesthood, the mystery of missionary communion as hinted at by Vat. II72 and elaborated by Christifideles Laici73 must be put into practice, in such a way that “a member of the lay faithful …must live in a continual interaction with others with a lively sense of fellowship, rejoicing in an equal dignity and common commitment to bring to fruition the immense treasure that each has inherited” 74
  1. Encouragement must be given to new theological attempts so that the ambiguity that existed understandably in Vat. II might have resolved by now. It is gratifying to note that that in the Indian Church colloquium of bishops and theologians has been regularly convened once in two years. But in such meetings laity’s participation must be encouraged.
  1. It is high time that at least after fifty years new structures and new practices were set up on a top priority basis so that pre-Conciliar ideas, perspectives and old attitudes will cease to persist in the Church. Otherwise they will not only be in conflict with the vision of Vat. II but also will thwart the vision itself. Shall we not take seriously the warning of our Lord “not to pour new wine into old wine skins? If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined (Mt.9:16-18).
  1. In all that the hierarchy do with regard to the Church affairs, let them take the laity into confidence. Otherwise the two water-tight compartments in the Church will continue in the same way. 75 All the posts in the Church which can be held by non-clerics can be thrown open to the laity. A national policy may be evolved so as to facilitate more responsibilities for lay Catholics in Catholic institutions. The administrative work of the Church may be handed over gradually to the laity at all levels: parish, diocesan, developmental, constructional, and educational.
  1. The laity will have to take responsibility for the roles the Vat. II has granted them. The identity of the laity, according to the Council, consists in being Christians but characterized by “secular nature.” It means that they should not want to get into the ladder of clericalization. Rather they should be involved in the ordinary tasks of everyday life as an important part of their Christian vocation. So they have to live out the ordinary tasks of everyday life with extraordinary love for God and love of others, thus establishing a unity or coherence between the faith and the world, between Gospel and culture. For instance the family people need to train their children with due consideration for altruism, sharing and sacrifice, spending even the leisure time activities with due reference to God and others, not being succumbed to a ferocious consumerism, but always being concerned for the neediest. Professionals and politicians need to direct their service to the common good; businessmen need to be involved in trade with a sense of social justice, the media persons will have to be not selling themselves to that which sells the most, but to be keen on spreading what is valuable before God and the needy.
  1. If the mission of the Church as envisioned by Vat. II were to  be carried out faithfully, then it is laity who will have to take God into temporal realities such as the family, work, culture, the communication media, politics, sports, technology, etc. They are called to do this from within society, in and for the ordinary realities that make up their lives. This mission they may carry out, personally or along with others. Those others with whom we cooperate may or may not be believers. But we will be cautious to establish coherence between our faith and our lives, with an attitude of dialogue, in search of love and justice, participating in cultural and political life, and with special attention to the neediest people.
  1. Let us remember that today we are living in an age of faith crisis. This is the result of many factors: secularist culture spreading fast, social fabric changing into amorphous on account of migration and urbanization, globalized economy, purely a scientific technological approach to life, excessive and often improper influence of media, politicized religious movements becoming militant fundamentalism.76 If there is any hope for the Church to meet this crisis successfully, it is the laity who have a greater role to play.
  1. For this, the laity need to be trained not only in matters connected with faith, spirituality, theology, social analysis but also in leadership skills, administration techniques. In this connection the CBCI Evaluation Committee also has proposed that “one of the first priorities of the common National Body should be the formation of the laity and the promotion of their active role in the life of the Church at all levels”.77 There is need to progressively increase the volume of the budget provisions of the common National Body like the NBCLC for training of the laity.


It is fact that the Second Vatican Council gave way for a Paradigm Shift in the understanding of both its mission and its mystery. Especially the conciliar’s new self-discovery of the Church as ‘People of God’ and ‘Communion’ gave the laity their due equal status both in terms of vocation and mission. Besides the Council, by openly and extensively speaking out the Laity’s role, has clearly emphasized that the laity are in no way less in dignity or responsibility than the clergy to carry out the saving mission of the Lord Jesus. This is the vision of the laity projected by the Council

Now it is the duty of the hierarchy to acknowledge the laity’s due dignity and equality. At least they must visibly show their due recognition of Laity’s dignity and equality. It is their obligation to confide in the competence of the laity and give them concrete opportunities to exercise their roles and promote lay participation wherever it is possible.

On the part of the laity it is their responsibility to realize the call of the Second Vatican Council and shed all their diffidence, fear, apathy and indifference and take the ball thrown to them by the Council and begin to play their role actively in in the mission of the Church towards the world.

Thus there is the mutual need of both the clergy and laity to work together in an atmosphere of co-responsibility and collaboration.

Certainly in the Indian Church much has been done, but much more could be done to bring about such change that the Council’s vision of the laity’s role gets realized. Definitely, this is no excuse for being stagnant or indifferent. A time bound programme with concrete measures and steps must be chalked out as per the ideal. A monitoring committee must be set up to assess the ‘action taken’ and ascertain new ways of realizing the ideal properly and in time.

Above all, serious efforts must be taken to disseminate the knowledge to all the laity extensively. The vision of the Church by Vat.II with all its implications for laity’s role must be kept glowing. Complementarity of laity and the clergy must be encouraged for realization of God’s Reign through the Church. May I end my humble reflections with the memorable words of our Holy Father: “To evoke the faithful, holy people of God is to evoke the horizon to which they are invited to look and from whence to reflect.”78 If these reflections of mine have awakened you to evoke the horizon to which we, the people of God are invited to look and from whence to reflect, I would deem it a success to have taken the trouble of addressing you. The end result should be realization of the Francis’ vision of correlative, cooperative, collaborative, collegial, and co-inclusive People of God with its task of ‘mystery of moon,” and ‘really radiating the light of her Master, outgoing and evangelizing the world’. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your rapt attention and active listening.

Dr. A. Pushparajan79


1 A. Pushparajan, The Second Vatican Council on Dialogue, (Bengaluru: SFS Publication, 2009) 18-19


67 Nicole Trahan, “Evils of Clericalism”, horizons/evil-clericalism-55340,

68 Myron Pereira, “A Cancer in the Body: The Culture of Clericalism”, in Indian Currents, 13-19 March 2017,

69 Bosco Penha, “The Church, Today and Tomorrow: Empowering the Laity- Problems and Possibilities”, unpublished paper presented to the CBCI Commission for Laity and Family, 31.3.1989 pp. 5-6

70 CBCI Evaluation Report, 209-210

71 CBCI Evaluation Report, 211

72 Lumen Gentium, Nos. 4, 6

73 John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation on the Vocation and Mission of the Lay

Faithful in the Church and in the World, Christifideles Laici,1988, Nos. 19-22

74 Cristifideles Laici, No. 20

75 CBCI Evaluation Report, 90

76 Instrumentum Laboris, Synod of Bishops, Xiii Ordinary General Assembly on The New Evangelization For The Transmission of The Christian Faith. Nos. 51-67

77 CBCI Evaluation Report, p.211

78 L’Osservatore NUMBER 17, (2444, 29 April 2016), p. 4 Column1.

79 Arulsamy Pushparajan, Professor and HOD, retired from Department of  Interreligious Relations, Madurai Kamaraj University, Madurai. With three Master’s degree in Philosophy (1971), History (1976) and Gandhian Thought (1985) and a Doctorate (1981), has been deeply involved in research in the fields of Theology of Religious Plurality, Interreligious Relations, Mission Theology, Gandhian Spirituality, Eco-Spirituality, Theology of Laity, Family- Spirituality. Has published 34 books, over 350 articles in professional journals, and presented over 450 papers in Conferences, Seminars and Symposia, both at the national and international levels. Awardee of UGC Teacher Fellowship, Awardee of Charles Wallace India Fellowship, Theology and Religious Studies Department, University of Bristol, UN Invitee to Millennium Peace Summit of Religious and Spiritual Leaders. Consulter to the Pontifical Council for Culture (1993-98), and to several Commissions of the CBCI, besides being member of the Governing Board of National Biblical Catechetical and Liturgical Centre.