The Church and the Laity (excerpts)

Michael Bossy

It has been said that one of the more revolutionary teachings of Vatican Council II is that every one of God's people, whether he belong to the hierarchy in its various forms, to the religious or to the lay state, is called to the one holiness of Christ. The Council Fathers were unanimous in this universal vocation of all christians to holiness, a call which derives from their baptism. Karl Rahner has gone so far as to describe this unanimity as 'a prodigious event in the history of the Church'. Though students of spirituality will regard statements such as these with tile suspicion which generalizations and over-simplifications arouse in the historical mind, it is a fact that the evangelical call to all who are 'baptized in Christ' to his own holiness is a truth that has been lost sight of for several centuries in
the western Church.

Beginning, then, from the strong and clear re-affirmation in its conciliar documents, that holiness is the basic vocation of all the members of Christ's body, we wish to deal here with the specific vocation of the layman in the Church, and to ask what the Council has said of the lay state as distinct from that of the cleric and the religious.

... It is in the temporal order that the laity exercise their mission of sanctifying, teaching and governing: the mission of Christ himself as priest, prophet and king.... Christ is lord over all things; and the laity share in this lordship in three ways : first, by establishing Christ's rule over their own lives, freely submitting themselves to him by prayer, self-denial and a holy life; secondly, by bringing others to acknowledge his own reign; thirdly, by bringing all created values, the world and the temporal order, into subjection to Christ'. To further this mission, the layman must attain genuine competence in his own field of secular activity, and must learn to respect the values of the created order; he must refuse to substitute what he considers to be directly religious values for professional skill and competence.

... Despite its own autonomy, the temporal order cannot reach its own fulfilment except in relation to Christ. Without Christ and the Spirit of love that he sends forth into our hearts, the kingdom of truth, justice and love cannot be founded. And so, though the grace of Christ and the life of the Church is primarily to direct man towards God, the temporal order itself is renewed and reaches its own natural fulfilment only in Christ: that is to say through the Church and in particular through the lay christian.

... It is for the laity themselves to accept the theological task which the Church, through the documents of Vatican II, has declared unhesitatingly to be theirs, and to study the principles particularly as set out in Lumen Gentium, Gaudium et Spes and Apostolicam Actuositatem. They may be stated simply as follows:

1) The created order, simply because it is created by God, is good:

2) God has given us a command to gain mastery over nature: it is in gaining this mastery that man manifests his likeness to God and grows closer to him.

3) Sin has led to the natural order tyrannizing over man, revealing itself in the fragmentation of human society, culminating in decay and death.

4) Christ became true man. He entered fully and completely, without reservation or make-believe, into the temporal, secular order....

5) This regeneration of human life is completed in Christ. In the rest of humanity it is, however, only inaugurated; it will not be completed until the end of time, when Christ returns and hands over the ldngdom to his Father.

6) This leaves christians with a task: the task of receiving God's spirit more and more fully into their lives, of conforming themselves more and more to the death and resurrection of Christ
through God's sons in Christ.

... Man must be enabled to see, in the Church and in every christian, that the created order is good; that commitment to its values is a sign of Christ's incarnation. At the same time, man must be brought to understand that the values of the world are values only in so far as they are under the sign of death and the cross which are the essential prerequisites of the new creation, whose source is the
risen Christ and his Spirit.

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