A Question About the Laity, Thanks to EPG

We’re becoming awfully bookish here at YIM Catholic: CS Lewis, JD Salinger, DF Wallace. Let’s come back to reality, people! What’s your calling, and mine? More particularly, what are we called to do as Catholic laypeople? This question was raised this week by EPG, an Anglican brother who has been hanging around with us Catholics at YIMC and bringing lots of good questions and answers with him.

Here EPG’s question, in particular, and my preliminary response:

“ . . . the priest must administer the sacraments—no one else can fill that role. So, what I’d like to know is, Are there functions in which laity step in to ‘fill the gaps?’ I think of the men’s group that Webster has described so eloquently—not clergy driven . . . ”

Let me broaden EPG’s kernel of a very good question: What are our particular roles and obligations as Catholic laity?

I gather that in the two decades after Vatican II, Katie did not bar the door, and the lunatics took over the asylum—Catholic lay people thinking (some of them) that they were taking over the Church. My revered and beloved pastor, Father Barnes, pointed out in a homily that, no, we do not have an open invitation to take over for the priesthood, but that yes, we do have an obligation: to evangelize.

Is that correct? If so, what does it mean to you? Or do you see a broader role for the laity, male and/or female? How do you fulfill your role—completely, usefully, happily—as a Catholic lay person?

On a personal note, I do different stuff in our parish: lector, serve at the altar, teach CCD. But I have also considered the possibility of becoming a permanent deacon. I thought of this again today, courtesy of a comment from Deacon Scott Dodge, who is a contributor to some very interesting blogs. You can find them all listed here.

And while mulling the diaconate thought over the past months, I have found, quite to my surprise, that this blog, sometimes quite in spite of myself, is fulfilling an evangelical function. And that maybe the Spirit is inviting me to explore this direction, not that one.

Your thoughts? What do you see as the proper role of the laity, and how do you fulfill that role?

"Vaya con Dios, Leonard; Rest in Peace."

Leonard Nimoy Explains The Origin Of ..."
"Thank you for sharing"

To Break My Fast from Being ..."
"I've seen Matt Maher live four times...twice since this song was released. I absolutely love ..."

WYD Flashback With Matt Maher, And ..."
"Yes, and Dolan should have corrected the scandalous and wrong decison of his predecessor when ..."

Archdiocese of New York Health Plan ..."

Browse Our Archives

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Funny you should bring this up. I was just thinking about blogging something about the importance of the laity being a unified community of believers. I recently joined a Mom’s group at my new parish. Like other Mom’s groups I’ve belonged to, I was expecting it to consist of young moms with busy lives wanting to connect with other moms that have children about the same age. This Mom’s group is a little different. They are busy moms, but they also understand the importance of connecting with the community at large. These moms marched through D.C for the March for Life, frequently volunteer at the Shelter for Homeless mothers, and stand outside of abortion centers to pray. These moms understand that being a part of the Church means being an active member of a community of believers. Without us believers forming groups within the church and using these groups to reach out to the larger community, there is no working Body of Christ. WE are called to be His hands, and feet. yet, the majority of us go to Mass once a week and don't even know more than a handful of other parishioners. How do we expect people who may not have the catholic conviction as we do, to keep coming to our "dull and uniting services" as they see them? What's to keep them from going to the hip and fun and WELCOMING evangelical church down the road? They first need friendship with us believers. That's the first step to evangelization. The second step is fortifying that friendship by welcoming them into a greater commitment through community- i.e. special groups within the church. then the third comes naturally- their eventual acceptance of the truths of the Catholic Church. Those churches that have many small groups within their parish got it right. I think this is the key to new evangilization in the 21st century.

  • Worm

    From Vatican II:But the laity, by their very vocation, seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God. They live in the world, that is, in each and in all of the secular professions and occupations. They live in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life, from which the very web of their existence is woven. They are called there by God that by exercising their proper function and led by the spirit of the Gospel they may work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven. In this way they may make Christ known to others, especially by the testimony of a life resplendent in faith, hope and charity. Therefore, since they are tightly bound up in all types of temporal affairs it is their special task to order and to throw light upon these affairs in such a way that they may come into being and then continually increase according to Christ to the praise of the Creator and the Redeemer. (LG 31)

  • @ Webster:I believe YOU can do both!! Be a 'blogger' for the Catholic community as a venue of evangelization; consider studying for the Diaconate as well! The two roles could dovetail nicely.@Sarah Harkins:Excellent comment. I would like to hear more about how the Catholics of the "JPII Generation" see yourselves in your roles as laity. I agree, that often merely going to Mass and walking out of church could allow people to 'head down the road' to the local Evangelical Church for the fellowship that ALL of us human beings yearn for. While I think that acting as Altar Server, Lay Reader, Women's Auxilliary etc. is important — it is really not sufficient in terms of fellowship or evangelization. These lay roles are critical, but again (as I driveled on in my comments earlier in the week), they can be 'solo' charisms, that can be rather lonely. (and NO, Mary P., I'm NOT looking for a boyfriend!!) My point is that the role of the laity has to be expanded beyond the traditional roles — hence the call this very week by pope BXVI for even priests to BLOG, as a means of evangelization!I would like to hear from other YIMC readers and from Frank and Webster about their work and charisms as Catholic laity.Pax Christi.

  • Jan

    Ideally, I believe the role of the laity is to: serve and worship God by attending Mass and receiving the sacraments often; fill in where there is the need in providing music for Mass and religious education for children and any adults who need it; to serve on the parish council either by election or volunteering, to see to the support of the church, and most important, to serve, nourish, and edify each other by love and example to stay strong and true to the Faith.Doesn't usually work out this way, though.

  • Warren Jewell

    I have lost enough mobility and stability on my feet to fail any qualifications for lector (which I have done) or teach CCD (which I have also done). However, everyone of God’s children is called to the obligation and the privilege of evangelization, in any case. I would hope that EPG realizes that his pointed comments and questions help (‘evangelizes’) those of us who are Catholics to examine our consciences about how we appear to EPG and other observers. Then again, if I now can only crawl with any assurance of not falling – what can Warren do? I mean, besides contaminating comm-boxes 🙂 I have swatted good old C.S.Lewis around about Christocentricity, and that Jesus Christ just does not show up enough in CSL’s book on, after all, Christianity. But, Christocentricity to me is the way every Catholic and every Christ-follower of every vocation and avocation and activity brings himself witnessing toward, in this case, evangelization. In fact, to grow in Christocentricity – having Christ as one’s constant Companion in prayers and conscience, in ritual and Sacrament – is to have one’s very holiness, as we are called to seek to have and zealously possess and lovingly own and joyfully relish, on evermore open display for everyone to see. Though, oddly, but of the usual divine paradox, the possessor himself does not quite ever see his Christocentric holiness in his mirror. He most likely has gotten past beating himself over his sins, but he does believe that “I have to get better at making my Companion feel at home with me.”And, do notice that being Catholic is the greatest aid, due to the Mass and the Sacraments. However, any who hears Christ’s call to repent and to “Follow Me” to accept holiness is becoming Christocentric without knowing it. A person does not so much find Christ as Christ finds him. He may not even know it is Christ Who called and Whom he answered. Still, he cannot but witness to the Lord in witnessing to goodness.That one is Christocentric brings great illumination to all the ways Christ is Present, and I capitalize purposefully, here, among His Father’s children in every aspect in their lives, including nearly tucking us in at night. It is to live as a gift of grace from our loving Companion to oneself and those around him. I am not saying that it is easy to be so intimately close to Christ, and I have a long, L-O-N-G way to go myself. I am still laboring to get past the ‘beating myself over my sins’ stage. But, on our pilgrimage to Home, it is the one sure way to stick to the narrow track of the Way. It is as if we no longer need to perceive the path because the very dear Friend Who made it is always along to guide us. Can I push the Jesus Prayer here? “Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Put it to your lips every time you find yourself not putting anything else in or out of your mouth.

  • @ Warren Jewell: I LOVE your final line about the Jesus Prayer! You are so correct. St. Paul calls us to 'sweeten our tongues..' in our words with one another. I often need a reminder in that camp… Might I add that, while I have never met you, I consider you a 'virtual friend' whose wisdom and faith evangelize me daily. Thank you.

  • Webster Bull

    Beautiful comments so far. @Mujerlatina, thanks for encouraging me to consider the diaconate. If called, I will do my best to serve, but so far I feel called to other things. Regarding which, I agree with the essence of several comments above that the key is friendship. Building it within the parish, extending it beyond. I think that lectoring, serving at altar (as Deacon or just server), serving on parish council, even teaching CCD are all good things to do, but they also pass quickly into the realm of power and taking over. I prefer serving at the altar to reading, and probably singing in the choir (invisible at the back of the church) to both. Why? Because though I've got a lot of theater in me, I find the greatest spiritual value in being less visible, but still supportive. I am not on our parish council, but I think that too can lead folks to think they are running things.The priest runs things. And we follow the dictates of Vatican II as provided above by "Worm":We "work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven. In this way [we] may make Christ known to others, especially by the testimony of a life resplendent in faith, hope and charity." This has been another drum beat of Father Barnes's: We do not win friends for Christ by debate, by criticism of non-Catholics, by wars of apologetics. We win friends by being friends, through "a life resplendent in faith, hope and charity."Keep those comments coming!

  • Ferde

    Mujerlatina, Webster wanted to start studying for the diaconate about ten minutes after being accepted into the Church. It was suggested to him he wait a few years to see if he's serious. He's busy right now, but he'll be a deacon some day.As to evangelization, Warren has it right. "However, any who hears Christ’s call to repent and to “Follow Me” to accept holiness is becoming Christocentric without knowing it. A person does not so much find Christ as Christ finds him. He may not even know it is Christ Who called and Whom he answered." The trick there is to shun every idea the thought may be yours and dismiss it. When we hear a call, we are to assume it's from the Lord and follow. A few years ago a Men's Group was formed in our parish. We began with half a dozen members, added a few more, some left, added more and today, if we had 100% attendance, there'd be over 30 guys there. Today we had another added to the list. There are several Protestants in the group. That's the work of the Holy Spirit. We just need to get out of the way and let the Spirit work. Evangelization is an active process that requires faith and trust. And love, of course. That's how they'll know we are His followers and they will follow.

  • Jan

    Yes, the priest runs things, but he needs his parishioners to do the work! A parish can only be 'taken over' by laity if the pastor lets it happen.

  • The laity go where priests can't or don't go (workplaces, schools, civic organizations, sports venues, etc.). They bring a witness of self-giving love and encourage others to find the meaning of life: communion with God through Jesus and his Church in the power of the Holy Spirit.

  • Walt and Worm (lots of W's around here) have it right. Our work is to go out into all the world and tell the good news. Our primary mission field is our home, and then our workplace, our school, the playground where we take our kids, the grocery store, etc. So, the blogosphere is a great place to witness.The diaconate isn't a lay apostolate, btw. I mean, you probably know this, but it sounds like there may be a bit of confusion about that.AMDG

  • Maria

    The Call of Christians to the (Lay) ApostolateJohn Hardon SJ"…the pursuit of holiness is primary to every vocation. God would not call anyone to any state of life except, obviously, to call the individual to holiness and the life of sanctity. Let’s be clear, we cannot over emphasize the importance of holiness in every state of life. However, the true Christian is not to become holy, and hear it and don’t forget, no Christian is ever to become holy just for himself. Jesus Christ was the all holy Son of God, we wouldn’t dare say that God became man to become more holy, that would be blasphemy. But we must say God became man in order that as man, He might proclaim the Gospel and leave the foundations of the apostolate. In other words, Christianity is not, as my notes tell me to say, it is not narcissistic, it is to remain Christianity. Christianity is not to be withdrawn into itself. It must have an outreach which it somehow serves beyond itself. If there is one thing I’ve learned from my father in God, St. Ignatius, it is none of us, none of us, is meant just for ourselves alone. In other words, the very holiness that we are to attain is itself to be a means to a further purpose which is, to save and sanctify others".

  • Warren Jewell

    Mujerlatina, and others of this delightful club of friends under the YIMC banner, I will repeat that I wait upon the Spirit to give me the words He wants out of me.Let me, off-topic, give you an idea of how the Spirit can grab me. Before a given Mass for lectoring, I would of course read it through over and over, including reading it aloud to my beloved Sharon. Sometimes, the words would so sink into me that they would get beyond my mind and heart, and past my spirit all the way down into my emotions. And, I could not read it again aloud without my voice cracking, my being flooding with humility that I am so privileged to read this part of God's love letter for His children aloud at His Mass in His Church. At Mass, and it was a rare Sunday I was not scheduled, favored as I was for my preparation and powerful voice, my wife and our daughter, Helena, would sit right under the lectern, not twenty feet from me. I would begin to read and my wife would just know that I was not going to hold steady voice in the face of the powers of the Word. And, even as she grinned in anticipation, her eyes would fill with tears, companions to my own misty eyes. Finally, I would have my voice break, and I would work to regain equilibrium over my emotional response. I was never embarrassed that I could be so touched, and I think that my closer and closer relationship with the Spirit began at that lectern, proclaiming the Word of God.

  • EPG

    Splendid stuff, folks. Thank you very much. Thanks to you as well, Webster, for throwing the question out.

  • Wow Webster, I think you must have peered inside my head before you wrote this post. I too have been pondering upon a call to the diaconite, but the more I pray and ponder I also wonder if I'm called to be a layperson on fire for Christ. I used to say that I was uncomfortable with public witness. Now I have a blog and podcast called the Catholic Roundup. Somewhere in the past year I picked up on the language that we are all called to serve Christ according to our station in life. For me as a married man with a family, that means I am called first to strive for holiness (to make my life 'Christocentric' as Warren stated. Then my first call to service is to my wife and my daughter. Then my first call to service is to the people I serve in my career/calling as a teacher. After that my first call is to be present to, serve and be a part of my parish community and my larger community (town). The past year I have been working to be more involved at the parish level with Knights of Columbus, the choir and some informal visiting of the sick.I also feel a call to be involved in a larger but more diffuse online community. Even there I have felt my role is to serve. Last fall I found it quite liberating to draft a 'mission statement' for my online evangelizing activities– 'To support and encourage Catholics who are endeavoring to use new media tools to spread the Good News'.Pope Benedict XVIs letters for World Communications Day from last year and this year have been very helpful for me in understanding how the laity are called to evangelize at every opportunity, and especially online. I continue to be open to hearing the call to the diaconate. In fact I am watching one of the men in my parish very closely as he embarks upon the formal formation process for the diaconate. But for the time being I've been trying to get ever closer to Christ and go deeping into the wonderful, mundane, ordinary, mystery of the vocation of a layman.Pax,Sean

  • Webster Bull

    Funny that Ferde posted a comment immediately after mine above. I commented that I thought our obligation to evangelize as laypersons boils down to "friendship," and as soon as I posted my comment, I thought, I should have mentioned Ferde. For this reason: I understand the power of friendship in the work of evangelization not because I have done such a great job of it, but because I was on the receiving end (and continue to be) from Ferde first and foremost. When I was in RCIA and showing up at Mass every day without receiving communion, he reached out to me in a way that was joy-filled and totally convincing. I felt, if this is what it is to be a Catholic guy, then it works for me. It is the communion of saints right here on Main Street.

  • Webster Bull

    @Warren,I am lectoring at 8.15 Mass this morning. Your wonderful account will be in my thoughts, just as you and "this delightful club of friends under the YIMC banner" will be in my prayers.@Sean,Thanks for sharing your thoughts about the diaconate. I know you are considerably younger than I, and I'm sure your discernment will work itself out in plenty of time. I turn 59 this summer, am not sure what the precise age requirement is in our archdiocese, but know that I'm pushing it! My situation might be summed up as, pray or get off the prie dieu.

  • Deacon Bill Schroeder mentioned ACT Retreats in a comment on the post on the Desert Fathers & Mothers. I found this link explaining the program,ACTS Retreats

  • Ceile De

    I have the privilege of writing this from the Vatican where I have spent an unexpected 4 days. I have attended Mass in St. Peter's basilica each day and if I may pe permitted to comment on my take on the role of the laity I would suggest as follows:1 Bless yourself with holy water on your way and and out of the Church2 Genuflect entering and leaving the pew and each, yes, each time you pass the Tabernacle3 Stand, kneel and sit at the prescribed times4 If funds permit, put something in the collection plate5 Do not go to Communion if you have not received Confession and are in a state of mortal sin6 Consider kneeling for Communion and receiving on the tongue7 Kneel after Communion8 If you are an EMHC ask yourself if there really are so many laity present or so few priests present that your services are truly required at this Mass – otherwise you should not be serving – this is the priest's call but do not let him tell you not to worry about it9 Respectfuuly ask for their restoration if sanctus bells have been discontinued in your parish10 Offer to help at RCIA classes11 Join one of the parish groups such as Legion of Mary or Soceity of St Vincent de Paul12 Pray the rosary13 Avoid meat on Fridays where possibleThe above suggestions are very simple, and should be considered 'basic' for any half way literate Catholic, yet I am shocked that so many, clergy included, ignore them.

  • Ferde

    Ceile De, What you have itemized are part of Catholic Culture, a visceral part of what it used to mean to be a Catholic. Sadly, our bishops have gotten rid of our culture in the name of ecumenism and modernity and we can see the result. Let's demand it back. Write to your bishop. Tell him you want to be a Catholic!

  • Ceile De

    FerdeThank you. What prompted me to set out the above was precisely because I thought it was so basic. No need to talk about ministries and evangelisation until we understand the basics – kneel, genuflect, etc. I have finally achieved what I understand to be active participation attending the EF. I was shocked that even at Mass at the Vatican so many did not genuflect.I have no objection (why should I presume!) to those who wish to attend the OF but I am surprised that there are those who would insist I attend an OF or No F! An orthodox OF is fine, if rare enough, but the EF is my bulwark against liturgical abuse. I would write to my bishop but I live in Los Angeles and to write to him would be a waste of time. However, I understand that by next year, I may not need to write!We are fortunate that in our parish we have an orthodox parish priest who, while offering the OF himself, has described the period since Vatican II as a biblical 40 years in the wilderness now coming to an end. He sure takes His time but thank God for sending us Pope Benedict!

  • James

    I'm in agreement with Ferde and would add one more to the list: Attend Mass each Sunday and Holy Day Of Obligation unless physically unable. I follow all the suggestions on Ceile De's list excepting #11 and help with CCD instead of RCIA. Within the past year I've taken to receiving Communion on the tongue (though not kneeling) and abstaining from meat on Fridays. These are hardly great sacrifices and really serve as a touchstone of the Faith for me. Perhaps its generational but I find these small gestures serve to remind me of what is of primary importance and I'm a guy who needs frequent nudges. I haven't written the Bishop or approached any clergy as Ferde suggests but unless I'm mistaken there's no sanction against any of the above items and I'm reasonably certain that the Diocese would affirm and encourage all of these practices. I'm not nearly the deep thinker or man of action that so many of the wonderful writers that grace the pages of this blog are but adherence to these basics are what help to bind me to the Catholic Church. Without them I'm adrift.

  • I would say that the #1 role of the laity is quite simple: Be Christian, be Christlike. I believe that there is no better Evangelization than Christians actually behaving like actual Christians.

  • Webster Bull

    Thank you, Wine in the Water. Nuf said.

  • Well, maybe I misunderstand the question, but it seems to me that most of things on Ceile de's list, and things like going to Mass, and receiving the Sacraments, do not answer the question "What is our calling as Catholic laypeople?" or "What do Catholic laypeople do?" For one thing, it's not just laypeople that do these things–all Catholics, lay or ordained do these things. And they are more who we are, or how we are nourished than any sort of particular calling. It's like somebody asks you, "What are you going to do when you grow up?" and you answer, "Well, I'm going to eat and sleep and breathe." Yes, many of those things are the basics and extremely important, but we are sent out.CCD and RCIA are, I think, two of the most important things laypeople can do. If one has a talent for teaching and knows the Truths of the Faith, there is a crying need in religious education.AMDG

  • I'm coming in late on this…But so often we layfolk think about ministry in terms of ministry *at* church. And yet, our real strength as ministers of God's love and apostles of the Gospel is to those who are *not* at church: those we meet in our daily rounds, who can't remember the last time they met a priest or deacon.The World–that's our arena as layfolk.

  • Allison

    I don't think it's either/or. I think we are obliged to offer our time and talent to ministries at the parish level AND to be Christ's messenger in our daily lives. I don't proclaim my faith in words, but I strive to make my behavior something to please God. I fail every day, but I do strive to be a good messenger for Him and his Church.

  • Webster Bull

    I tried to summarize this post, these comments, and my conclusions in a more recent post, For Friendship.