Page 4, 21st August 1970

21st August 1970
Page 4
Page 4, 21st August 1970 — Helping laity to play an active role

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People: Kevin Muir, John


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Helping laity to play an active role

by Kevin Muir

THE member who fails to make his proper contribution to the development of the Church must be said to be useful neither to the Church nor to himself." says the Vatican H decree on the Apostolate of the Laity. What, precisely. does this mean, as far as lay people are concerned? What does, "make his proper contribution to the development of the Church" mean? The answer depends upon our understanding of the Church, and here we find differences. Some would say that the ordinary lay member of the Church makes his or her contribution by keeping the commandments of God and the Church — praying, attending Mass and receiving the sacraments regularly, contributing generously to the support of the clergy and the various collections and generally giving a good example.

They are content to be individual members of a parish, and don't want to be organised and have to attend meetings. They don't want to be bothered with earnest get-togethers, but they don't mind Communion Sundays, parish socials and the like.

Others would say that this was an inadequate and passive view of one's membership of the Church. They wish to play a much more active role, taking part in organisation and direction of the Church, putting forward their views and opinions about all matters concerning the Church — liturgy theology, doctrine, who does what, how the resources of money, manpower and buildings are used, and so on. They claim the right to be consulted about future plans and to be represented in the decisionmaking processes at parish, diocesan and national level.

Vatican H gives clear enough guidance on the role of the laity in the life and work of the Church. Its conclusions and directives show that there is much more to the role of the layman in the life and mission of the Church than is contained in the views expressed above. The difficulty is that most members of the Church have yet to find out what it did say.

A variety of


To help them in their work of applying the teaching and directives of the Second Vatican Council to the Church in England and Wales, the Bishops' Conference set up a number of advisory bodies, or Commissions, to help it. The Laity Commission is one of these. Its task is: 1 To examine the role, both

actual and potential, of the laity of England and Wales in the mission of the Church: le—To consider methods by 6°' which all members of the Church might be brought to an awareness of and competence in carrying out their responsibilities as participants in the mission of the Church, and to take approprate action within the authority delegated to it by the Bishops' Conference.

The Commission was set up provisionally for a period of five years from January, 1967. It actually started in September of that year. Its members are two bishops, eight lay people nominated by the co-ordinating councils of lay organisations, three priests appointed because of their experience of working with lay apostolate organisations and eight people co-opted because of their personal qualifications.

Most of the other Commis. sions have a fairly well-defined field to rover — liturgy, church music, theology, press, radio

and television, social welfare, international justice and peace, and so on. The Laity Cornmission's field is much wider and less precise — the role of the laity, as it is seen at present and as it should be seen, and the bringing of all members to an understanding and appreciation of their role and helping them to live it to the full, The mission of the Church, and therefore of all her members, is to bring the good news of Christ's redemption to all men, to unite them all with God and with each other, and to penetrate and perfect the whole of creation with God's grace.

There is only one mission but a variety of ministries, a variety of ways in which different members of the Church serve God, each other and all mankind. All, bishops, clergy and laity, though they have varying ways of serving. are to work together, to bring the fruits of the redemption to all men and to their activities.

There are a multitude of tasks to be accomplished. Some can be done by individuals. but some require community action. It is a simple enough thing to befriend an old neighbour, to give company and to help with shopping. It is a more complex task to ensure that pensioners get a fair share in an expanding economy.

We have to show our love and concern for individuals in difficulties, and also to work for the transformation of laws and customs which allow, or even cause. people to fall into difficulties. Some of us are best at giving personal service to individuals; some of us have the talent and capacity to take on the long-term job of humanising and Christianising the society in which we live. Both kinds of service are necessary. Each of us has tis particular talents, but these need to be pooled for effectiveness, and that requires organised collaboration between all of us.

The Laity Commission has looked at the present state of the Church in England and Wales and asked itself, "What are the key factors which will determine the renewal of the Church to enable her better to serve?" it came up with three such factors -the role of the priest and his relationship with lay people, the need for the formation of the laity so that they can play their part in the mission of the Church, and the development of representative bodies to make possible fruitful collaboration between all members of the Church.

The Role of the Priest and his relationship to the laity. It was decided-that this question should be discussed as widely as possible. As a first step, a programme of group discussions about it was drawn up and circulated through the lay organisations and diocesan pastoral councils. Fifteen thousand copies have gone out to a variety of groups. Their replies are now coming in and it is hoped that by the end of the year the reports will have been collated. This will then provide the basis of further discussions with priests and seminaries to work out with them how they should respond to the opinions and suggestions of the laity. The Formation of the Laity. St. Paul talks of "Christ formed in us" (Gal. 4,19), and this is what is meant by the term "formation". Christ presented his message of hope in terms of the lives of the people he moved among, the fishermen,

peasants, tax-collectors, Pharisees and scribes. In like manner, we are called to think and speak and act like Christ in our homes, neighbourhoods, places of work, leisure and social activities.

We learn to do this by reflecting on the experiences of our day-tod-day life, trying to react to them as Christ would, and through our reactions, giving a witness to the fact that Christ lives in us. Most of us would like to do this, but we do not find it easy, either to keep on trying, or even to know what acting like Christ is in this or that daily situation.

There is a method of doing this which has been worked out, and found effective, pioneered in this country by the Young Christian Workers and taken up by several other lay organisations. As Pope John explained. "It is not enough merely to formulate doctrine. it must be translated into reality". He explains how.

"First, one reviews the concrete situation; secondly, one forms a judgment on it in the light of the same (social) principles; thirdly, one decides what in the circumstances can and should be done to implement these principles. These are the three stages usually expressed in the three terms; see, judge, act". (Mater et Magistra. 226 and 236).

This formation is carried on among small groups of people having something in common, neighbourhood, age, occupation or state of life, which meet regularly and, with their priest work out their ways of thinking, speaking and acting like Christ. So far it has been carried on mainly among members of lay organisations.

The Laity Commission, with the encouragement of the Bishops' Conference, is carrying out a number of pilot projects to show that this method can be used in any parish by any kind of people. We believe that this kind of formation is necessary if lay people are to make their particular contribution to the development of the Church and to share in her mission.

Representative bodies. "An individual laymen . . . is permitted and sometimes even obliged to express his opinion on things which concern the good of the Church. When occasions arise, let this be done through agencies set up by the Church for this purpose."

"Let sacred pastors recognise and promote the dignity as well as the responsibility of the laymen in the Church. Let them willingly make use of his prudent advice. Let them confidently assign duties to him in the service of the Church allowing him freedom and room for action. Further, let them encourage the laymen so that he may undertake tasks on his own initiative." (Constitution on the Church, 37).

Because of the complexity of the task facing us, and because its successful pursuit requires the collaboration of all members of the Church, it is necessary to have the means of

pooling the knowledge, resources and talents of ail. For some aspects of the task, only a very simple organisation such as a neighbourhood group, meeting informally, is sufficient, Other aspects require the combined effort of a whole parish, or of all parishes in a town. Other aspects might require a national effort. So the appropriate levels of organisation have to be developed.

These bodies should be as representative as is consistent with efficiency. Some parishes are able to have open parish meetings attended by a majority of parishioners, but most have found it advisable to have a council of representatives. The Commission has published a booklet "Forming Parish Councils" (Living Parish Pamphlets, 3s.) which describes a variety of parish experiences, and which is a byproduct of meetings held with representatives of parish councils.

The task of these bodies is not just the administration of the Church. It is primarily the bringing about of the unity of all men with God and each other, renewing the fact of the earth so as to make this union and unity more possible. The Commission therefore watches the development of parish, deanery and diocesan pastoral councils and the work of the various Commissions, to learn from their practical experiences and to assist in their development as effective tools for the redemption of the world.

Church and World. So far, I have written mainly of the role of the layman within the Church as an organisation. But the particular contribution of the layman to the mission of the Church is in the world of family and neighbourhood, work and economic life, of politics and civic life, leisure, culture, the press, radio and television. So far the Cornmission has dealt in detail with only two aspects of this.

Political life survey

It is working with other Commissions on the question of race relations, but its main concern at the moment is an examination of the contribution being made by Catholics to local political and civil life. A survey of fifty local authorities of different sizes and different parts of the country showed that on average, there was less than half the number of Catholic aldermen and councillors that could be expected to come from the Catholic proportion of the population. The Commission is organising a series of meetings with councillors, aldermen and elected officers of political parties to discuss the situation with them and get their views on what should be done.

Since the Commission has only another year to go before its term of office finishes, it cannot go into a detailed study of the other aspects of the life of society. So it is asking experts in these fields to help in defining what are the key questions to which the Church should attempt to answer.

The Future. The life of this provisional Commission finishes at the end of 1971 and the Bishops' Conference will have to decide what the future of this and all the other Commissions will be. What have we achieved? We will have set many lay people talking about the priesthood and will have learned and reported their views, shown how the work of formation can be extended, and learnt what needs to be done to help more Catholics to be aware of their role in the secular field.

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