The 50th Anniversary of Apostolicam Actuositatem

Today, November 18, 2015, we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Decree on the Apostolate of the Lay People, Apostolicam Actuositatem. Along with this decree, we also celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Dei Verbum, the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation. See my article on Dei Verbum at CatholicExchange.com.

This document like all the documents from the Second Vatican Council, take their name from the first words of the document itself. The first words – Apostolicam Actuositatem reflect the first sentence of the document, which says, “in its desire to intensify the apostolic activity of the People of God the Council now earnestly turns its thoughts to the Christian laity” [italics mine].

At first, the Council Fathers could not decide what name to give this decree, although many were suggested, they settled on the Apostolate of the Laity, even though many Fathers disagreed on the word apostolate because it was a word that was associated mainly with the priesthood in the 20th century. The primary purpose of this document was to examine how the laity of the Church, while remaining united to the hierarchy of the Church, could assist in bringing the Catholic Church to the modern world.

To conclude today’s blog post, I give you 10 quotes from this document. There are other gems of theological insight in Apostolicam Actuositatem, but these are the ones that out for me –

1. “The Church was founded for the purpose of spreading the kingdom of Christ throughout the earth for the glory of God the Father, to enable all men to share in His saving redemption, and that through them the whole world might enter into a relationship with Christ. All activity of the Mystical Body directed to the attainment of this goal is called the apostolate, which the Church carries on in various ways through all her members”(#2).

2. “The laity derive the right and duty to the apostolate from their union with Christ the head; incorporated into Christ’s Mystical Body through Baptism and strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit through Confirmation, they are assigned to the apostolate by the Lord Himself”(#3).

3. Since Christ, sent by the Father, is the source and origin of the whole apostolate of the Church, the success of the lay apostolate depends upon the laity’s living union with Christ…”(#4).

4. “Strengthened by active participation in the liturgical life of their community, they are eager to do their share of the apostolic works of that community. They bring to the Church people who perhaps are far removed from it, earnestly cooperate in presenting the word of God especially by means of catechetical instruction, and offer their special skills to make the care of souls and the administration of the temporalities of the Church more efficient and effective…The laity should accustom themselves to working in the parish in union with their priests, bringing to the Church community their own and the world’s problems as well as questions concerning human salvation, all of which they should examine and resolve by deliberating in common” (#10).

Laity Vatican II cover

5. “Since the Creator of all things has established conjugal society as the beginning and basis of human society and, by His grace, has made it a great mystery in Christ and the Church (cf. Eph. 5:32), the apostolate of married persons and families is of unique importance for the Church and civil society. Christian husbands and wives are cooperators in grace and witnesses of faith for each other, their children, and all others in their household. They are the first to communicate the faith to their children and to educate them by word and example for the Christian and apostolic life. They prudently help them in the choice of their vocation and carefully promote any sacred vocation which they may discern in them” (#11).

6. “In loyalty to their country and in faithful fulfillment of their civic obligations, Catholics should feel themselves obliged to promote the true common good. Thus they should make the weight of their opinion felt in order that the civil authority may act with justice and that legislation may conform to moral precepts and the common good. Catholics skilled in public affairs and adequately enlightened in faith and Christian doctrine should not refuse to administer pubic affairs since by doing this in a worthy manner they can both further the common good and at the same time prepare the way for the Gospel” (#14).

7. “Bishops, pastors of parishes, and other priests of both branches of the clergy should keep in mind that the right and duty to exercise this apostolate is common to all the faithful, both clergy and laity, and that the laity also have their own roles in building up the Church. For this reason they should work fraternally with the laity in and for the Church and take special care of the lay persons in these apostolic works” (#25).

8. “The training for the apostolate should start with the children’s earliest education. In a special way, however, adolescents and young persons should be initiated into the apostolate and imbued with its spirit. This formation must be perfected throughout their whole life in keeping with the demands of new responsibilities. It is evident, therefore, that those who have the obligation to provide a Christian education also have the duty of providing formation for the apostolate” (#30).

9. “Schools, colleges, and other Catholic educational institutions also have the duty to develop a Catholic sense and apostolic activity in young persons. If young people lack this formation either because they do not attend these schools or because of any other reason, all the more should parents, pastors of souls, and apostolic organizations attend to it. Teachers and educators on the other hand, who carry on a distinguished form of the apostolate of the laity by their vocation and office, should be equipped with that learning and pedagogical skill that are needed for imparting such education effectively” (#30).

10. “The most holy council, then, earnestly entreats all the laity in the Lord to answer gladly, nobly, and promptly the more urgent invitation of Christ in this hour and the impulse of the Holy Spirit. Younger persons should feel that this call has been directed to them especially and they should respond to it eagerly and generously. Through this holy synod, the Lord renews His invitation to all the laity to come closer to Him every day, recognizing that what is His is also their own (Phil. 2:5), to associate themselves with Him in His saving mission” (#33).

If you have never read any of the documents from the Second Vatican Council, I suggest you read them. Far too many individuals misquote these documents simply because they have never read them. Along with this document on the laity, I would encourage you to also read Christifideles Laici, the Apostolic Exhortation promulgated by Pope St. John Paul II on December 30, 1988. With the help of the Synod Fathers, the Polish Saint picks up where Apostolicam Actuositatem concluded.

This blog post is dedicated to Fr. Daniel Pattee, TOR, Associate Professor of Theology; Director of Mission and Franciscan Charism at Franciscan University of Steubenville. He was the first who illuminated my mind to these documents. 

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