Laypeople are 99.999% of the Church

“If laypeople don’t love their Catholic faith enough to struggle for it in the public square, nothing the bishops do will finally matter.” -Archbishop Charles Chaput

A reader comments:

AMEN. A lot of our brethren need to spend less time worrying about what the bishops are doing/saying and more time speaking up publicly (while it’s still legal to do so). Our opponents are far less concerned with winning the debate than they are with silencing us and prevening our view from even being heard.

This is partly why I have such a burning lack of interest in liturgy wars. I regard them as a form of clericalism. Laypeople wasting time minding the priest’s business about minutiae instead of doing what is properly lay. Our work is out in to the world bringing the gospel to the marketplace, not endlessly infighting about whether the priest’s stole was the correct shade of green in ordinary time.

We have to be lay apostles. And to be an apostle we have to recover a sense of discipleship to Jesus Christ, not mere membership in an institution. If you’ve not done it yet, I urge you to read Forming Intentional Disciples by Sherry Weddell. One of the most important books of the decade.

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  • tiffyb

    Totally agree, on the macro level. I respectfully disagree on a few points, though. We stood in the Alaskan cold at last year’s Rally for Religious Freedom. school children and all —- with nary a diocesan priest in attendance. The Byzantine Catholic priest came, and those rash, wonderful Dominicans of the Western Province organized the whole shindig. Archbishop was invited, as were at least a dozen priests, and for whatever reason — hey, not everyone’s an activist, fair enough — it was unpalatable or impossible for them to be there. I spoke, with my tiny son on my hip, and three older but young) children in attendance. Among my remarks I quoted newly appointed Cardinal Dolan’s “we will fight you in the streets.” And we will. We also know we’re there in the service of Christ, his truth, and his church. Not our priests. They have our prayers and we have our role. Their absence was and is notable, though.

    To your other point, George Weigel says that sloppy liturgy leads to sloppy theology. Perhaps a chicken/egg comparison, but hard to dispute a connection!

  • A.P. Hill

    I understand your point about liturgical matters, Mark, but given that poor liturgy and catechesis got us into this mess in the first place, I think we are entitled to voice our opinions. Plus, from a practical side, the Holy Mass is the only exposure that many Catholics have to the faith, so how can we not press our priests and others involved in the liturgy to do what the Church teaches?

  • David G.

    I get the point. But I think it might be overstated. I try to remind myself that the Catholic faith is a house of cards, not a solitaire deck. I can’t just pick my favorite stack and focus there. Or at least I can’t assume I have the right focus on the right cards and they don’t. The Catholic Faith is marvelously interconnected; it does things because things mean things. I can have my focus, of course. But others have theirs, and it’s all part of the big picture.

  • vox borealis

    Laypeople wasting time minding the priest’s business about minutiae instead of doing what is properly lay.

    Right. Except for that bit in canon law that guarantees the laity have the right to liturgy celebrated in accordance with the approved rubric with no funny business. And the apparatus set up for the laity to try to fix problems when priests don’t follow the rubrics. Which indicate that such “minutiae” is not the “priest’s business” but instead are a matter for the whole Church, including the laity.

    Also, the reality is that our Church is fundamentally hierarchical. The clergy, especially the Bishops, play a disproportionate role in the public square. Yes the laity needs to do more. But it is fundamentally the job of the Bishops to take the lead. It seems to me that a proper strategy for the laity is to implore the Bishops to man up and be active in the public square.

    • Andy

      I agree – it is time for the bishops – the entire hierarchy to “man up”. The putative leaders of the church the bishops et al. have done little to promote a Catholic way of American life. The strongest focus seems to be on the pelvic issues and not much else. They must lead by doing – not saying. I think that is what Francis is calling for – bishops et al. to be leaders, to be those who the laity look for as models or exemplars to the greatest degree possible of how Christ would want us to live. The bishops are the leaders, they are the ones with the loudest voices, it they elect not use their voices then to ask the laity to do so is wrong.

  • Matthew

    I agree to a degree. It is also true that the army is mostly soldiers and few generals and yet if the generals are uncertain in their plans, uneven in their enforcement of discipline and unclear in their loyalties what is a soldier to do? Forty years of uncertain trumpets are now coming home to roost. ( To further mix my metaphors)

  • ivan_the_mad

    Right on. You always hear a lot about what our bishops aren’t doing from the commenterati. I imagine, like most of our priests, that they’re overworked men who manage, with buckets of grace and vim in spades, to do their jobs. Unsung heroes, to a degree. It might make some neat pieces for NCR, “A Day in the Life of a Bishop: Why You Should Love Your Shepherd”, and “Twenty Ways You Can Ease Your Bishop’s Burden”.

  • Michael in ArchDen

    Fair enough. Is it too much to ask that they not undermine us when we try to fight the battles they call us to fight? I love my bishop, my former bishop (now in Philidelphia) and Cardinal Dolan as president of the USCCB, but does anyone think that they won’t quickly fold on the HHS mandate? It appears that the Archdiocese of NY did years ago! “Our” hospitals are run by non-Catholic executives, staffed by non-Catholic employees and are not significantly Catholic in any sense of the word. Heck, due to mergers and acquisitions, one of the “Catholic” hospitals in my area is “Lutheran Medical Center”
    Most of this is our (as the laity) fault, not the bishops. But we’re not going to fix it without leadership. Frankly, if the bishops won’t lead, the culture will–and not in a direction we want to go.

  • Stu

    When the Bishops lead, their priests and laypeople will follow then anywhere. Orthodoxy, solid liturgy and strong resolve will provide ample vocations and a charged laity.

  • Ben Govero

    It seems to me that cynicism and negativity are extremely pervasive in our society, especially when it comes to the good things of God. We carry this worldly attitude into the Church and do all sorts of complaining about how everything is broken and everyone is behaving the wrong way.

    While we may not be technically wrong, what good does complaining about the behavior of others really do? Does complaining about our priests and bishops do anything to encourage them towards the holy work they’re called to do? Or is it the devil secretly working through us to pit the members of the Church against each other?

    Jesus didn’t call us to focus on the behavior of other people, but on our own behavior. When we allow Christ to correct our faults and place himself at the center of our lives only then can we be a blessing and encouragement to others.

  • Jared B.

    Well, so far we do seem to have a pope who spot-on shares Mark Shea’s priorities, with discipleship and living the Gospel first, preaching and articulating the Gospel second (the Franciscan “use words when necessary”) and liturgy awful far down the list (he is a Jesuit afterall ;)) I find much to admire in that approach but I honestly cannot wrap my brain around Mark’s reasoning. If the liturgy, in particular the Mass, is “the source and summit of the Christian life” as Vatican II says, then it isn’t a clerical thing or a lay thing, it is a Catholic thing in every sense of the word.

    Yes we do need to go about bringing the Gospel to the marketplace…therefore we’d better make sure we have it right first. We can’t give what we don’t have. And if the liturgy is such an unimportant part of the laity “having it”, to the point that it’s a distraction at best and clericalism at worst, when why bother with it? Why are we Catholics at all, why aren’t we all just Evangelicals with a few extra books in our Bible and more fully developed doctrine? I’m not trying to be cute I really am confused and dubious of the veracity of a vision of Catholicism that one the one hand doesn’t openly contradict Vatican II’s source-and-summit bit, but on the other hand relegates the liturgy as none of the laity’s business.

  • Pavel Chichikov

    Brother Max, a Franciscan, was going through a painful siege of kidney stones.

    He said to us: I’d complain, but it never does any good.

    He gives off an aura of entirely unpretentious goodness.

  • contrarian

    Good liturgy is the Catholic version of the Broken Windows theory of fighting crime.

  • It’s odd, to say the least, to be critical of “clericalism” while in the very same breath declaring that the liturgy is solely “the priest’s business”.

    In my parish, I’m involved as a lector and a cantor, and work closely with laypeople who serve as music directors, acolytes, and members of the liturgy committee. Is it your position, then, that what we are doing is not “properly lay”? (I think that’s a defensible position–this is not a “don’t you dare tell me I’m doing it wrong” sort of argument; I freely acknowledge I do it wrong all the time–but it’s certainly not the position I would have expected you to take.) Should we walk away from these functions? Or perhaps you’d have us keep doing them, but only so long as we keep any and all opinions about liturgical choices to ourselves?

    Other parishes may well differ; but at mine, being an engaged disciple, with the faith at the center of one’s life, very frequently goes along with taking an active role in a ministry that has a direct effect on the character of those liturgical actions that are the source and summit of parish life. Orthodoxy in faith and morals and commitment to living and spreading the Faith also tend to go along with caring deeply about getting these liturgical actions right. Again, it may differ at other places; I realize I’m arguing from anecdote as much as anything here. I had always presumed, though, that these correlations also made strong logical sense.

    • Kathleen Lundquist

      Good on you for your service to our Lord in your parish, BG. I too am a cantor and church musician, and I’m very familiar with the issues you and Stu describe. However, I think the point Mark’s trying to make is not that your ministry’s illegitimate in some way; rather, that what Vatican II actually teaches (and what Sherry W. and the Catherine of Siena Institute are trying to help Catholic understand) is that lay ministry, i.e. the priesthood of the baptized, is meant primarily to be exercised in the world outside the four walls of the church. Lay ministry isn’t actually a delegation of power/authority/jurisdiction from the priest; it doesn’t ‘pass down’ the way the ordained priesthood does. Our baptismal priesthood is conferred on us sacramentally, and its power and configuration in our lives comes directly from Christ. The ordained priest is attached to his parish; the priesthood of the baptized is designed to go _everywhere_. We bring the Presence of Christ everywhere we go. That’s the nature of our priesthood.

      And it’s meant to function in collaboration with the ordained priesthood, not in competition with it. Parish ministry is a good and valid lay ministry, but that’s not the only form it takes. _Every_ baptized and confirmed Christian has been given a priesthood, a calling, a mission. Mark can correct me if I’m wrong, but from our past conversations, my guess is he’s reacting to the (clericalist) idea that if something’s wrong, it’s the priest’s job to fix it – if ‘ministry’ needs to happen, it’s the priest’s job or the staff’s job – etc. We tend to get shoe-gazy, and we need to get our focus on the life-and-death needs Out There.

      (Sorry – might have strayed off topic, but this is my soapbox too.)

  • Stu

    I don’t understand why there has to be a dichotomy between good liturgy and living the Gospel. Saint Jean Vianney certainly embraced poverty, served his community but when it came to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, no expense was to be spared for Christ. I think his results and life certainly speak to the effectiveness of that formula.

    There is no doubt that as Catholics we need to do more to evangelize and embrace those among us who are less fortunate or live on the fringe. But dumbing down the liturgy or ignoring the rubrics isn’t going to help in that regard for a few reasons. First, it takes away from the strength we get from the Mass. Yes, of course the Eucharist still nourishes us but how we worship is also important. We are a people created with senses, and to immerse them all in worship that is transcendent helps to focus us on it all and remind us of the encounter we are having with God. Second, don’t the poor among us deserve such beauty as well? Don’t they deserve to be able to enter into beautiful Churches in which to pray and find their strength as well? Don’t they also need to experience rich worship to God? And lastly, from a practical point of view, we don’t somehow evangelize better or aid the poor more effectively because we allow liturgical abuse or approach liturgy in a sloppy manner.

    I think Pope Benedict set the example for the Liturgy. Pope Francis is setting the example with service and evangelization. I look for the two one day to be united again.

    Saint Jean Vianney, please pray for us.

    • Well said. We are a both/and people; just as there is no need to pit Benedict and Francis against each other, there is no need to pit liturgy and discipleship against each other.

    • Athelstane

      I don’t understand why there has to be a dichotomy between good liturgy and living the Gospel.

      Perfectly said, Stu. Lex credendi, lex orandi.

      I get that liturgy just isn’t a big battle that Mark wants to fight. Fair enough. Everyone has their role to play. But a lot of the damage that’s been done to spiritual life in the Church has been through the liturgy – not all of it, by any means, but a lot of it. And how could it be otherwise? Not everyone is well enough formed in the faith to be impervious to liturgical abuses, heterodox homiletics, and prayers that really distort the faith.

      It’s the primary role of the laity to witness out there, in the world. That’s our role, not the clergy’s. But we can also demand, and should demand, sound, reverent, and orthodox worship.

      • TomD

        “Go forth, the Mass is ended.”
        “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord.”
        “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.”

        R: Thanks be to God.

        Lex credendi, lex orandi indeed.

  • Elmwood

    S.C. of the 2nd Vatican Council says “.. the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows.”

    We shouldn’t say it’s all about works, or it’s all about a proper liturgy, it’s both and. VII has given the laypeople a voice when it comes to the liturgy and we have the “right” to a liturgy in conformity with norms laid out by the church. We can always contact our Bishop and even Rome if not.

    The church has gone so far as to offer the Roman rite in two forms for those attached to the pre-VII liturgical practices. Then of course there are the wonderful byzantine liturgies which were mostly unaffected by post-VII liturgical experiments thanks to the orthodox churches.

  • Andy, Bad Person

    According to Vatican figures, there are about 413,000 priests in the world. Out of 1.2 billion Catholics, that means that ONLY 97% OF THE CHURCH IS LAY.

    NICE HYPERBOLE. Q-E-freakin’-D, SHEA-HITLER!!!!!11!!!one!

    • chezami

      Curses! Caught!

    • Stu

      He is an English major.

    • John Russell

      And that’s still leaving out the deacons.

    • FT

      Check your decimal point. 3% of 1.2 billion is 120 million, not 413 thousand. Peace out

      • FT

        I mean 360 Million.

        • FY

          Let us start over. 10% of 1.2Billion is 120 Million. 1 % is 12 Million. 3% is 36 Million. If only 97% is Lay, then 3% is clergy. But priests do not total 36 Million, but 413 Thousand. Now that I’ve got MY decimal Points right…

          • Andy, Bad Person

            It’s been a while since I’ve done ratios, but percentages like this mean:

            413,000 / 1,200,000,000 = x / 100

            413,000 / 12,000,000 = x

            0.0344 = x

            So 99.9656% is lay. Perhaps Shea isn’t Hilter. We’ll settle for Nero for now. Thanks for the fact check on the fact check. As Deacon Russell said, though, that leaves out the deacons. I’d do that math, but I just don’t care anymore. Thanks for ruining the Godwin Party, FT.

  • Brennan

    Why is it that so often when I read an apologist write about the liturgy I tend only to come to the conclusion that apologists shouldn’t be writing anything about the liturgy?

    It’s not just that They’re wrong, but it’s as if they simply don’t understand the argument. This is understandable, since they have probably probably not read authors like Von Hildebrand Or Martin Mosebach. They’re not interested. Fine. To reiterate what others Have said, However, the liturgy is the primary shaper and former of Catholics. And As father George Rutler has noted, Liturgy is the primary means of evangelization. Thus a beautiful, transcendent and strong liturgy is not just for Catholics. It’s also for a world that is drowning in superficiality and mediocrity And needs to be shown That there is more to life than mere consumerism. And this really has nothing to do with the color of the stole or even The minutia of liturgical abuse. It has to do with the liturgy as a whole, The prayers, and what They represent.

    • TomD

      “. . . the liturgy is the primary shaper and former of Catholics.”

      Well said. And why this subject, and reverence and respect for the liturgy, is so important to us all.

      Post-Vatican II it is as if many Catholics came to believe that we are formed and shaped “in the world,” at the local soup kitchen or volunteer agency. While these are important, they are not our core.

      Perhaps this is why our liturgy is so often seems misdirected, we’ve literally lost our bearings and our center point post-Vatican II.

  • kirthigdon

    Mark’s closer than Andy is, if Andy’s underlying figures are correct. Laity are more than 99.9% of the Church.
    Kirt Higdon

    • Andy, Bad Person

      What is this, Pile on Andy Day? I went to school for music; the most I ever have to count to is 4.

    • Stu

      He is a music major.