To grasp the importance of the lay faithful in the Church’s ongoing ministry, consider the image of the vine and the branches. Jesus says, “I am the vine, you are the branches.” (Jn 15:6) Often, the people of God are likened to the laborers in the vineyard. For this example, however, the lay faithful are not merely laborers in the vineyard, but rather part of the vineyard. It’s through their efforts that the lay faithful can effectively pass on the Faith.
The ministries of the Church are gifts of the Holy Spirit, given for the building up of the body of Christ and for its mission of salvation in the world. This begins with the primary ministerial position held by those ordained as ministers (the pope, cardinals, bishops, priests, deacons). They have been called to receive sacred authority and power to act in the person of Christ, the head, proclaiming the Gospel and administering sacraments. The lay faithful, through the sacraments, particularly baptism, confirmation and, for some, matrimony, along with the power of the Holy Spirit, come to participate in the mission in the Church.
Christifideles Laici tells us, “The ecclesial community (the lay faithful), while always having a universal dimension, finds its most immediate and visible expression in the parish. It is there that the Church is seen locally … living in the midst of the homes of her sons and daughters.” We also understand that “the parish is a community properly suited for celebrating the Eucharist, the living source for its upbuilding and the sacramental bond of its being in full communion with the whole Church.” This unifying celebration becomes the catalyst for being sent forth to carry Christ’s work further into our homes, our neighborhoods, our workplaces, etc.
The lay faithful find their most immediate and visible expression in the parish.”
Parishes offer ample opportunities for the lay faithful to use their gifts in collaboration with the pastor “in the work of the apostolate, in evangelization, sanctification and the Christian animation of temporal affairs, as well as their willingness to supply in situations of emergency and chronic necessity.” It is here that “Church communion, already present and at work in the activities of the individual, finds its specific expression in the lay faithful’s working together.” Here, referring to the local church, which includes service to the diocese, is where ministry begins.
Understanding the lay faithful’s part in the mission in the Church means honoring each person’s particular and unique charisms, given not for personal gain, but rather the benefit of all God’s people. “The Church is directed and guided by the Holy Spirit, who lavishes diverse hierarchical and charismatic gifts on all the baptized, calling them to be, each in an individual way, active and co-responsible.” As Christ’s family, being co-responsible begins in our local parish and diocese; these are the catalysts for fully living our Catholic Faith.
For the complete document, visit diolc.org/LayFaithful or Google search Christifideles Laici.
Rose Robertson is a writer and a certified spiritual director. She holds a master’s degree in pastoral ministry.