Reflections on Lumen Gentium, Part XXXVII

37. The laity have the right, as do all Christians, to receive in abundance from their spiritual shepherds the spiritual goods of the Church, especially the assistance of the word of God and of the sacraments (6*). They should openly reveal to them their needs and desires with that freedom and confidence which is fitting for children of God and brothers in Christ. They are, by reason of the knowledge, competence or outstanding ability which they may enjoy, permitted and sometimes even obliged to express their opinion on those things which concern the good of the Church (7*). When occasions arise, let this be done through the organs erected by the Church for this purpose. Let it always be done in truth, in courage and in prudence, with reverence and charity toward those who by reason of their sacred office represent the person of Christ.

The laity should, as all Christians, promptly accept in Christian obedience decisions of their spiritual shepherds, since they are representatives of Christ as well as teachers and rulers in the Church. Let them follow the example of Christ, who by His obedience even unto death, opened to all men the blessed way of the liberty of the children of God. Nor should they omit to pray for those placed over them, for they keep watch as having to render an account of their souls, so that they may do this with joy and not with grief.(211)

Let the spiritual shepherds recognize and promote the dignity as well as the responsibility of the laity in the Church. Let them willingly employ their prudent advice. Let them confidently assign duties to them in the service of the Church, allowing them freedom and room for action. Further, let them encourage lay people so that they may undertake tasks on their own initiative. Attentively in Christ, let them consider with fatherly love the projects, suggestions and desires proposed by the laity.(8*) However, let the shepherds respectfully acknowledge that just freedom which belongs to everyone in this earthly city

A great many wonderful things are to be hoped for from this familiar dialogue between the laity and their spiritual leaders: in the laity a strengthened sense of personal responsibility; a renewed enthusiasm; a more ready application of their talents to the projects of their spiritual leaders. The latter, on the other hand, aided by the experience of the laity, can more clearly and more incisively come to decisions regarding both spiritual and temporal matters. In this way, the whole Church, strengthened by each one of its members, may more effectively fulfill its mission for the life of the world.

211 Cf. Heb. 13:17.

(6) Cfr. S. Thomas, Sumtna Theol. III, q. 62, a. 5, ad 1.

(7) Cfr. Pius XII, Litt. Encycl Mystici Corporis, 29 iun. 1943 AAS 35 (1943), p. 208.

(8) Cfr. Leo XIII, Epist. Encycl Divinum illud, 9 maii 1897: AAS 29 (1896-97) p. 6S0. Pius XII, Litt Encyl. Mystici Corporis, 1. c., pp 219-220; Denz. 2288 (3808).S. Augustinus, Serm. 268, 2: PL 38 232, ct alibi. S. Io. Chrysostomus n Eph. Hom. 9, 3: PG 62, 72. idymus Alex., Trin. 2, 1: PG 39 49 s. S. Thomas, In Col. 1, 18 cet. 5 ed. Marietti, II, n. 46-Sieut constituitur unum eorpus ex nitate animae, ita Ecelesia ex unil atc Spiritus…..

(9) Leo XIII, Litt. Encycl. Sapientiae christianae, 10 ian. 1890 AAS 22 (1889-90) p. 392. Id., Epist. Encycl. Satis cognitium, 29 iun. 1896; AAS 28 (1895-96) pp. 710 ct 724 ss. Pius XII, Litt. Eneyel. Mystici Corporis, 1. c., pp. 199-200.

Laity are not simply the recipients of the faith and of the sacraments from bishops, priests, and deacons. They are to be active members of the Church, with their own responsibilities as members of the Body of Christ. The responsibility and gift of the laity is to live the faith in the midst of the world, to be the presence of Jesus Christ in the ordinary places of society: the workplace, the grocery store, the doctor’s office, the post office, the school, the civic centers, etc … This responsibility and gift is not necessarily lived out with a forceful proclamation of the gospel in the face of others, but in the witness of a lifestyle lived for others and lived in joy. 1 Peter 3:15 recommends that the Christian always be ready to respond with gentleness when others inquire about the joy that is in him. That implies the joy of the gospel ought to be so transparent in the Christian that others will see it and be curious.

The laity have a right to the sacraments and the Word of God, and to all the means of grace available to them through the Church. They should not be shy in expressing their desire for such graces. As well, they ought to be willing to say their piece when it comes to how the Church in the modern world is carrying out her mission. If they see something that works, they should make note and communicate that to their pastors. At the same time, if the see something that isn’t working, they should take note and communicate that to their pastors. There should be an open line of communication between pastors and people, and pastors, including bishops, ought to encourage and sustain this line of communication. However, when it comes to a final decision, that is the responsibility of the bishop or pastor, and the laity ought to humbly accept in obedience that decision, after making every contribution they can to the process. If the decision of the pastor, or even the bishop, remains concerning (ie: seems to be contrary to Church teaching or discipline), there are higher authorities that can be appealed to. But it is not the proper role of the laity to openly oppose the bishop or pastor when other channels are available to them.

This section is recommending a working relationship between clergy and laity that takes into consideration the proper contribution of all according to their role in the Church and their gifts as individual Christians. Pastors ought to seek out the expertise of lay persons, especially on the practical concerns of running a parish, a school, or a particular ministry of the Church. The unique perspective of the laity working to live the faith while living in the world can offer to the pastor invaluable insight into how best to approach various matters of parish life, and even how best to communicate the mysteries of the faith. There are laity, too, who are educated in areas of theology, spirituality, canon law, etc, … that can provide especially pertinent thoughts in these fields.

The last paragraph of this section summarizes beautifully what can be achieved with pastors and laity working together to fulfill the mission of the Church. We all have our gifts. It is not the “gift” of the laity to simply be recipients of grace through the ministry of the pastor. It is the gift of the laity to be involved in the mission of the Church in a concrete, formal way, taking full responsibility for their place in the Body of Christ and benefiting all by the offering of their time, talent, and treasure.

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.

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