Summary of Schema on the Lay Apostolate

This is the text of the summary of the schema on the lay apostolate released by the council press office.


After recalling that the dogmatic Constitution De Ecclesia treats of the place of the laity in the Church, the introduction points out that the schema aims to recall the value and the necessity of their apostolic activity, enunciate the principles governing it, and provide pastoral directives which can make this apostolate more effective.

The apostolate of the laity has always existed in the Church, but the need for it is being increasingly felt in our own day and age. Scientific and technical progress, the increase in population, as well as increased relationships among men of all nations widen the field of the apostolate and pose new problems. It is not merely the scarcity of priests, but it is especially the fact that numerous sectors of human activity have become foreign to religion and morality, which makes this apostolate more necessary. The action of the Holy Spirit is visible in the manner in which the laity are responding to this need.

The schema is made up of five sections, divided into paragraphs:


The apostolic vocation of the laity

Share of the laity in the mission of the Church

Apostolic tasks are the duty of each and every one

Training for the apostolate


Communities and situations

The fields for the apostolate

In the family

In ecclesial communities

In different milieu

In groups with open membership


The aims to be achieved


The conversion of men and their progress toward God

The Christian restoration of the temporal order

The exercise of charity toward one’s neighbor



Importance of the organized apostolate

Multiple forms of the organized apostolate

Juridical recognition

Catholic Action

The esteem accorded to associations


Sound organization

Relationships with the hierarchy

Pastors and the apostolate of the laity

Mutual cooperation

Cooperation with other Christians and with non-Christians

Final exhortation

  1. The Apostolic Vocation of the Laity

All the members of the Church must cooperate actively, each in his own manner, in the mission of the Church, which is to continue the work of Christ on earth. The term “apostolate” indicates the action of announcing the Gospel and impregnating the life of men with its spirit. The exercise of this apostolate is both a right and a duty which flows from union with Christ in the sacraments. The apostolate of the laity is as vast as the mission of the Church, and thus takes in the whole of the temporal order. The only activities excluded from the apostolate of the laity are those which require the powers of either Holy Orders or of jurisdiction.

Cooperating in the salvation of all men is the honor and the duty of each and every member of the Church. This cooperation, whose fruitfulness will be measured by the holiness of each individual member, is first exercised in prayer (especially participation in the liturgy), by the way in which one bears up under the burdens and the sufferings of life, and by acts of sacrifice offered for others. But the apostolic spirit must animate the whole of human activity, and it is by their lives that Christians are to witness to the presence of Christ within them. In a special manner, their attitude toward the poor is an especial symbol for our times. In this way there must be created in society conditions which will make human life possible and easy. Lastly, apostolic zeal will make men seize opportunities to speak of Christ, to make known the doctrine of the Church. This apostolate of the laity is essential for the witness of the Church.

Training for the, apostolate must necessarily form part of all Christian education. It comprises both spiritual and doctrinal elements, as also a knowledge of the social sciences according to individual capacities. This training must be provided not only through education but likewise through practical experience. This training must last a lifetime. The first ones responsible for it are parents, priests, catechists, teachers, and also associations. Educational institutions must do their part. The priest must have an interest in it in his apostolic and pastoral activities. Lastly, each individual must be aware of his responsibility for his own formation. In addition, the schema expresses the hope that specialized centers will be organized for more advanced training of the laity.

  1. Communities and Situations

The second section considers the different fields of the apostolate: the family, ecclesial communities (parish, diocese, Universal Church), situations proper to the laity. It then studies, in particular, activities within groups or associations within which the lay Catholic finds himself along with non-Catholic Christians or with non-Christians.

The family is not merely a field for the apostolate (for relatives among themselves, for parents toward their children). The family, as such, exercises an apostolate through the radiating of its example. Family circles, in addition, can be useful in preparing for marriage or in bringing assistance to families in spiritual or material distress. Lastly, family groups can aid in the defense of family rights, and make it possible for families to assist one another in their apostolic activity.

The next paragraph shows how the apostolate of the laity contributes to parochial and diocesan life, in close collaboration with priests and in close union with the bishop, the head of the diocese. At the same time the text stresses the necessity of interparochial cooperation, in order to meet the pastoral needs of large cities and rural areas. Then it points out that, like clerics, the laity must accomplish their mission with a deep consciousness of belonging to the Universal Church. This sense of “belonging” must be accompanied with concern for the needs of the entire Church, interest in whatever may promote the unity of the human race in justice and charity, and in the union of Christians, of all those who believe in God and of all men of good will. Those living outside their own country must remember that among men there must be a brotherly exchange in which each one gives and receives.

The Christian must promote “whatever is true, just and holy.” This phrase of St. Paul must guide the laity engaged in associations with open membership. Catholics engaged in such groups would do well to organize in view of mutual enlightenment and assistance in this apostolate.

III. The Aims to Be Achieved


The schema first calls attention to the distinction between the evangelization and sanctification of men and the Christian inspiration of the temporal order, and observes that it is one and the same Christian conscience which inspires the Christian toward the attainment of this twofold goal.

To work for the conversion of men to lead them to God, the Church has never been without the assistance of the laity, acting as laymen filially united with the hierarchy. Today the laity assists the Church in reaching those who are far away. Their experience and their assistance permits the Church to fulfill more effectively the mission entrusted to her in the complex circumstances of present-day life. The laity are invited to reflect on their potentialities in this regard and to reply generously to the appeals of the popes and the bishops. Their activity must be the expression of their interior life, of their sense of the Church, and they must show forth humility and charity and be on their guard against any spirit of human domination. The Christian impregnation of the temporal order achieves the goal of creation, which must be in its entirety recapitulated in Christ for the glory of God. This penetration is carried out without modifying the nature of the temporal order, through the observance of the moral law dictated by charity. The schema remarks that modern progress makes men more capable of corresponding to their vocation while at the same time it increases the danger of losing sight of the genuine nature and meaning of the temporal order. The text emphasizes the necessity of Revelation for a clearer and surer understanding of human values and their relationship with the supernatural order and the grace of God. The Christian restoration of the temporal order is the concern of the entire Church. But inasmuch as the action of the hierarchy does not reach this temporal order directly, the laity have a special role to play and must act on their own responsibility. Forms and methods of action vary according to circumstances. The schema insists on the necessity of knowing and observing the laws proper to the temporal order. It insists likewise on the importance of those human qualities which are demanded by Christian love and the effectiveness of the apostolate (probity, sincerity, courage, prudence, kindliness, competence, civic sense).

Lastly, the schema considers the works of mercy and charity toward one’s neighbor performed in the spirit reflected in the words of Christ: “What you have done to the least of mine, it is to me that you have done it.” Activities organized for the relief of all kinds of needs are a powerful contribution to the efficacy of the two above-mentioned forms of the apostolate. The text points out that such works receive their apostolic effectiveness in the degree in which they respect the dignity of the human person, freedom of conscience and the image of God and Christ imprinted in each one. Charity must rule out all appearance of domination, must promote justice, contribute to bettering living conditions and reach all men.

  1. Associations


The schema stresses the importance of the organized apostolate. The individual apostolate is undoubtedly effective, and in certain cases it is the only one possible. But in our modern world, the existence of organized activity in every sector of lay activity is absolutely necessary. Only a closely-knit union of forces can make it possible to attain the goals of the apostolate today.

There are actually in existence varied forms of organized apostolate. The laity remain free to organize associations and to become members of associations. Still, it is important to avoid a dispersal of forces. The universality of the mission of the Church and the evolution of modern society make it imperative to develop associations on an international level. Nevertheless, when a determined form of lay activity has been tried in one country, it is not always advisable to want to apply it to another country.

Canon law recognizes and regulates the existence of a certain number of associations which do not all have an end which is immediately apostolic. Bishops and other authorities shall take care to instill into their members a genuinely apostolic spirit and to coordinate their activities. The council asks the Commission for the Revision of Canon Law to provide a juridical basis for the apostolate of the laity and to adapt existing legislation on associations to the needs of the modern apostolate.

For several years now associations have been set up with an apostolic goal, and to them both popes and bishops have given the name “Catholic Action.” Structures and names differ according to countries, but they are all characterized by the presence of the following notes, all of which must be verified simultaneously in order for a movement to be called “Catholic Action,” which title must be received from the hierarchy:

  1. a) Their immediate aim is the very apostolate of the Church, namely, the evangelization and the sanctification of men, and the formation of their conscience so that they can impregnate their milieu with the spirit of the Gospel.
  1. b) Cooperating in their own proper fashion, the laity assume the responsibility for the organization of the group, the evaluation of the situations in which their activity is to be exercised, and for the drawing up and the execution of their programs.
  1. c) In these associations the laity act as an organized group. This is a clearer manifestation of the ecclesial community and renders the apostolate more effective.
  1. d) They act under the higher direction of the hierarchy itself, which can sanction this collaboration by means of an explicit mandate.
  1. Principles of Organization

Relations between the hierarchy and the lay apostolate take on different forms. In every case, the hierarchy must encourage this apostolate, formulate its principles, provide spiritual assistance, issue eventual directives and exercise a role of vigilance. When there is a question of temporal activity, the role of the hierarchy is to formulate moral principles. It will also pertain to the hierarchy, if such be the case, to decide if a particular undertaking is in keeping with the principles of the organization, or if a particular project can produce useful results from the supernatural viewpoint.

The schema takes up four different types of relationship:

  1. a) Certain movements are organized by the laity on their own initiative and under their own responsibility. The hierarchy sometimes praises or recommends them. They cannot be called “Catholic” without the implicit or explicit agreement of the hierarchy.
  1. b) Other movements are recognized by canon law.
  1. c) In other cases, the hierarchy assumes the responsibility for apostolic activity by the laity by associating this activity closely with its own proper apostolate, without changing its nature and without taking initiative out of the hands of the laity. This act of the hierarchy is called the “mandate.”
  1. d) Lastly, the hierarchy can turn over to the laity certain duties normally performed by clerics (in the liturgy, in preaching, and in pastoral activity, as also catechists in the missions). In such cases the laity participate in the apostolate proper to the hierarchy and are completely subjected to ecclesiastical authority. This status is known as the “canonical mission.”

The schema exhorts pastors, bishops and priests, to recognize the place which belongs to the laity, to be interested in cooperation with them, and to show an interest particularly in those actively engaged in such activity. It recommends special care in the appointment of chaplains, who represent the hierarchy before these organizations and assure collaboration with it. These chaplains are for the laity spiritual inspirers, counselors in activity, collaborators in seeking out the most effective means for the attainment of the goal desired. They must help to develop unity of spirit in each association and also the spirit of teamwork with other groups. Religious men and women who are not priests should also cooperate. There is special mention in the text of those members of the laity who dedicate themselves entirely to the apostolate and are entitled to special spiritual assistance as also to a normal material life and a precise juridical status.

Then the schema emphasizes the necessity of the overall coordination of apostolic efforts. Different activities and projects should be collaborating in diocesan councils, and these councils can be helpful on the parochial, interparochial, interdiocesan, national or international level. The schema provides for organizing a secretariat in Rome to function as a consultative organ and a center of research at the service of the hierarchy and the laity, with the collaboration of clerics, religious and lay persons, both men and women.

Lastly, the schema recommends collaboration with others, Christians and non-Christians alike, to stress the value of the common patrimony, which is either the Gospels or human values.

A final exhortation invites all the laity to carry out actively their role in the Church and to work also with Christ for the salvation of the world.

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