From the July 14, 1962 issue of America, a prescient call for the laity to take a greater role in church life:
As Catholic school enrollment in the United States moves toward the six-million mark, and public school students in Confraternity of Christian Doctrine classes move toward a four-million record, we realize more keenly than ever how necessary it is to draw more of the laity into religious education.
Necessity imposed by numbers, however, is only approximate reason for turning to the laity. The command of our Lord—”Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19)—has always included the laity. St. Peter made that clear when he told the people: “You . . . are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a purchased people, that you may proclaim the perfections of Him who has called you out of darkness . . . ” (I Pet. 2:9).
From St. Peter to Pope John XXIII the teaching remains the same. And today Pope John has put it into very practical terminology. Cardinal Cicognani, papal legate to the Inter-American CCD Congress in Dallas, last year, revealed that the Pope had explicitly instructed him to urge increased participation of the laity in their Christ-given mission with this motto: “The Confraternity of Christian Doctrine in every parish.” The CCD, as its constitution declares, is essentially a work of the laity, and the motto that Pope John gave was, in fact, a reminder of a law that has been on the books for some time (ever since the codification of Canon Law in 1918)—in Canon 711, par. 2. Continue reading →
The close of the Peace Corps’ first year in operation found it enjoying almost universal praise. Most significant was a shift in Congressional outlook. Last year, Congress treated the whole idea quite cautiously. Lately, however, the Administration has had no difficulty in winning a sharp boost in appropriations for the coming year. To date, the record has been one of generous response by American youth, creditable performance in the field and mounting acceptance abroad.
Recently, the topic of relatively light Catholic participation in the Peace Corps drew comment from several quarters. Director R. Sargent Shriver stated that “recruiting is a difficult job among Catholic college graduates.” Several explanations of this apparent disinterest immediately suggested themselves.
Dr. John B. Tsu, Peace Corps coordinator at Seton Hall University, attributes it in part to disappointment over the Corps’ refusal to enlist the services of already existing lay volunteer organizations doing similar work. He also expressed the view that extension of area-study programs on Catholic campuses would stimulate student interest in the plan. Fr. Gerard F. Fagan, S.J., coordinator at Jersey City’s St. Peter’s College, pointed to the fact that Catholic students have been traditionally attracted by the higher purpose of the Church’s overseas activities in the technical-aid and missionary fields.
With the Catholic college population on the increase, every worthwhile program should win growing support among a larger number of idealistic volunteers.
The eminent American Catholic historian John Tracy Ellis, in evaluating the role of the laity on the eve of the Council, cautions against the dangers of anti-clericalism, which American Catholicism has so far avoided but which is increasingly likely unless the gifts of the laity are recognized.
By John Tracy Ellis
Each age in the long and eventful life of the Church has its distinguishing characteristics. When the history of this second half of the twentieth century is written there will, in all probability, be few more striking notes than the emergence of the laity into a strong and active role as collaborators with the clergy in the apostolate. So marked has been this development that there has even emerged a theology of the lay movement, a ne w tract, as it were, which theologians have been refining in recent years in a way that suggests the revival of the part once played in the early Church by the deacon who assisted the priests and bishops in advancing the word of God through the ancient pagan world.
In part this expanding concept of the layman’s place in the divine economy of salvation is an answer to a need. For every well-informed Catholic has for sometime been aware that the rate of increase of the faithful—to say nothing of the increase of potential converts among our separated brethren—has become so rapid that the supply of priests and religious for their spiritual care can in no way keep pace, with the result that the emphasis on the need for lay apostles is by no means confined to Latin America but has become virtually worldwide. Continue reading →
In recent months laymen have repeatedly been invited to voice their views and aspirations on the Ecumenical Council. Thus Francis Cardinal Koenig of Vienna, a member of the Central Preparatory Commission for the Council, said: “Do not wait for the Bishop or for a report from Rome, if you have something to say about the Council…. Urge, when you feel urging is necessary.”
In keeping with these invitations, The Commonweal is publishing a special series devoted to the layman’s hopes and desires in connection with the Council. Joseph E. Cunneen, author of this third article in the series, is managing editor of “Cross Currents.” —The Editors
By Joseph E. Cunneen
Let me strike a sour note at the outset, and suggest that the invitation for laymen to speak out on the coming Council first be considered in the dominant context of Catholic indifference and skepticism. It is true, of course, that in the last few years alumnae groups who wanted to be au courant have scheduled at least one speaker who could flavor his talk with words like “ecumenical” and “dialogue,” but any idea that the Council requires an involvement and commitment of the entire Church could hardly make much headway against our perennial absorption in building drives and rhetorical anti-Communism. To all outward appearances, the parish clergy and church-going laity possess a united response: the Council is a good idea, but no concern of ours.
And as for consulting laymen, what possibly can Cardinal Koenig, who voiced the explicit invitation, mean? Doubtless there are available amiable eccentrics who specialize in Byzantine liturgies or the history of canon law, but what response outside of downright hilarity would greet any wide-eyed “Catholic Actionist” who told the local Holy Name Society—to say nothing of that more representative group, the men who do not attend the meetings—that their views on the coming Council were being solicited? “I can’t get through to my pastor,” one might say, “on why I object to using envelopes in the collection, or why I want to keep my family together, and not ship the kids off to a separate children’s Mass; how can I have anything to say to theologians and cardinals?” Continue reading →
Laymen have repeatedly been invited to voice their views and aspirations on the Ecumenical Council. Thus Francis Cardinal Koenig of Vienna, a member of the Central Preparatory Commission for the Council, said: “Do not wait for the Bishop or for a report from Rome, if you have something to say about the Council… Urge, when you feel urging is necessary.”
In keeping with these invitations, The Commonweal last week began publication of a special series devoted to the layman’s hopes and desires in connection with the Council. Philip Scharper, author of this second article in the series, is chief editor of Sheed & Ward. —The Editors
By Philip Scharper
What every Catholic would hope for from the Council is that it succeed in realizing one of the major goals which Pope John set in convoking it: a renewal of the Church which will be so effective that the Church herself will become, by what she is, the most compelling argument for Christian unity.
But it would be a mistake to assume that such reform and renewal were important only to enable the Church to present a fairer face to our separated brothers. On point after point such reform is urgently needed to make the Catholic himself understand the Church more deeply, love her more devotedly, and live in her life more fully.
In what follows, I shall try to set forth what points of renewal seem to me most urgent. They may reflect a parochialism of experience and poverty of observation; but they have also whatever value may attach itself to the reflections of one who has no position to maintain and no interests to serve, except those of Christ in His Church. Continue reading →
As Catholics throughout the world expectantly await the opening of the Second Vatican Council, it has already become apparent that the preparation for the Council has, in itself, been a source of hope and vitality for the Church. For the layman, these preparations have been of special significance: they have been the source of considerable soul-searching on the part of laity and clergy alike concerning the role of the laity in the Church. Moreover, in many nations and in numerous dioceses, the laity have been invited to make known to the hierarchy their hopes, criticisms and aspirations.
The most specific call to the laity was, perhaps, that of Francis Cardinal Koenig of Vienna, a member of the Central Preparatory Commission for the Council. Speaking at a meeting of Austrian Catholic newsmen, Cardinal Koenig said: “Do not wait for the Bishop or for a report from Rome, if you have something to say about the Council. Sound a warning whenever you feel that you ought to. Urge, when you feel urging is necessary… Report everything that the people and the Catholics expect concerning the Council.”
With the coming Council in mind, The Commonweal begins in this issue a special series devoted to the layman’s hopes and desires in the contemporary Church. To begin the series, however, we have asked Father Robert Hovda of the Department of Religion at the Catholic University of America to comment, from the viewpoint of a theologian, on the theological problem of the layman’s role in the Church. In the weeks to come, a number of laymen will, in turn, address themselves to the question of the laity. It is our hope that their frank and open discussion will, in some measure, be a contribution to the work of those Bishops and theologians who will participate in the coming Ecumenical Council.
In this preview of the Second Vatican Council from May 6, 1961, Fr. Robert Graham excitedly announced that “the age of the lay apostolate is arriving”:
Without waiting for more developments, we can safely assert that the Second Vatican Council will mark a historic turning point in the apostolic life of the Church. The relatively untapped energies of the lay Catholic will be channeled at last into the main stream of the Church’s apostolate. Pope John XXIII indicated as much when receiving the Permanent Committee of the International Congresses for the Lay Apostolate on February 8. He said that this question would be “an object of vital concern and special study.” Later, in the annual official publication, Activities of the Holy See in 1960, the Central Preparatory Commission stated categorically that the nature, prerogatives and limitations of the lay apostolate would be studied in detail at the council, on the level of both theory and practice, with special reference to its relations with the hierarchy.
Such authoritative forecasts reflect the virtually unanimous wishes of the bishops of the whole world. The age of the lay apostolate is arriving. To speak more accurately, that day has already arrived. It remains only for the Fathers of the council to give it formal recognition. Continue reading →