The Vicar of Christ Speaks
INTRODUCTION: In this "Lay Person's Guide to the Pope's Encyclicals" we catch a synopsis of the Holy Father's wisdom adroitly capsulized by Dr. Joseph Bagiackas, Ph.D. In his Papal Exhortation "Christifideles Laici", the Holy Father exhorts the laity to faithfulness. It is appropriate we follow-up November's pertinent document from the Holy See on Instructions to the Laity and Priests on abuses, by reinforcing the Pope's teachings with this Apostolic Exhortation imparted ten years ago. Now ten years later, after the "ten year period of grace" Our Blessed Mother spoke of to Father Don Stefano Gobbi back in 1988, we revisit this important letter from the supreme pontiff and, through the expert analysis of Dr. Bagiackas his holiness' words will be clearer and more simple to understand and most meaningful in these times when there are so many who, rather than pulling together for God's Will, are pulling apart within the laity. The eminent prelate from New York John Cardinal O'Connor has said of Dr. Bagiackas' work: "These summations will draw the reader closer to knowing God and will encourage broader readership of the writings of this remarkable Pope." BELOW: the seventh installment of Christifideles Laici: Chapter Two: 6. Definition of the Church, 7. Chruch Ministries open to the Laity
A Lay Person's Guide to Pope John Paul II's Teaching on the Laity
To read the entire Apostolic Letter click on Christifideles Laici
Chapter Two: Definition of the Church and ministries open to the Laity
The Church was defined in many ways at Vatican II. In a statement that confused the laity, Pope Paul VI used to say, "The Church is a mystery." By "mystery," he did not mean something human impossible to understand, such as how God is Three in One. Neither did he mean some puzzle that could be solved, like a murder mystery. Instead, in his statement, the word mystery refers to something that can be described in many ways that are all true, but there is always more that can be said. The nature of the Church is "always open to greater exploration," said Pope Paul VI.
This was how Vatican II discussed the nature of the Church. The Church was called a "sacrament," "the People of God," "the Body of Christ," and "a communion." Other Scriptural images were used by the council, such as bride, household, vine, and temple. All of these descriptions assumed the traditional institutional definition of the Church - the community which believes the same faith, is joined in the same sacraments, and is under the same pastors, especially the Pope.
In Christifideles Laici, Pope John Paul II highlighted the council's idea of the Church as "communion." Communion, meaning close spiritual community, refers to the Church as a communion with God, and also a communion with other Catholics. Communion is a good word to describe the Church because all of the other ways the Church was described at Vatican II - sacrament, body, People of God, vine, bride, temple, and so on - can be united in this notion.
The Church, says the Pope, is an "organic communion." Thus, like any community, different members have different functions, each complementing the others. It is the Holy Spirit Who unifies the various members into one body.
Within the body of Christ, there are various ministries. The sacrament of Holy Orders confers an office which is of a different quality than ministries which can be performed by lay persons. However, there are many ministries and offices which pastors can confer on the laity, based on the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation. Among these are lector, acolyte, extraordinary minister of the Holy Eucharist, and other liturgical functions. In addition, laity perform teaching functions and have pastoral care in cases of need.
Next week: Chapter Two: The Lay Apostolate, Charisms, Parish and Free Associations in the Church.
Text Visitors to date in 1998.