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