Introduction to Christifideles Laici: On the Vocation and Mission of the Lay Faithful in the Church and in the World

This article was posted on: January 2, 2020

We all know what it’s like to be in a family; there are moments of joy and occasional misunderstandings. Some may feel they carry the majority of the load and some may feel they are not given a chance to share their skills. There can be times of estrangement buffered by joyous reunions that reinvigorate the bond. To ensure the health and wholeness of any family, everyone needs to understand the role and value they purport and to have those respected and appreciated by the other members. A strong, functional family is the ideal, but making that happen takes intentionality, an understanding of one’s purpose and the personal commitment of its members in making family dynamics work.

Recognizing the population of the Catholic Church is subject to these familial parameters, the bishops gathered in a synod in 1987 to clarify the importance the laity play in the healthy functioning of Christ’s Church. As a response to this synod, in December of 1988, Pope St. John Paul II published his apostolic exhortation Christifideles Laici (Christ’s Faithful People) to emphasize the familial bond the lay faithful have with their Catholic Faith.

Using the imagery provided by the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Mt 20:1-16), the pope reaffirmed that every person, male and female, ordained and lay, has a part in transforming the world (the vineyard) by taking “an active, conscientious and responsible part in the mission of the Church.” (3) Additionally, drawing on Johns Gospel commentary, “I am the vine, you are the branches,” (Jn 15:5) the pope reiterates that everyone provides a distinctive part of the vineyard (the branches). None of us are mere workers; everyone is an integral partner in achieving Christ’s mission in our world.

Christifideles Laici helps bring into focus the intrinsic value of every Catholic in promoting Christ in our world and eradicating negativity from His universal Church.

The exhortation readily acknowledges there are negative pulls within civilization and the concerns these can cause in effectively building the kingdom socially, economically, politically, ecclesially and culturally. Of particular concern are the areas pertaining to the innate human need for religion, the violated dignity of some and the strife of ever-present daily conflicts.

Focusing on the power the lay community possesses within its vocation, communion and mission, Christifideles Laici helps bring into focus the intrinsic value of every Catholic in promoting Christ in our world and eradicating negativity from His universal Church. Let us together explore how this papal document assists the understanding of our essential role as valued workers and partners in the vineyard.

For the complete document visit diolc.org/LayFaithful or Google search Christifideles Laici.

Rose Robertson is a writer and certified spiritual director. She holds a master’s degree in pastoral ministry.

Published December 2019 Catholic Life Issue

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