Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Laity According to Congar

On the occasion of the 27th anniversary of the Apostolic Vicariate of San Jose last Wednesday, Bishop Antonio P. Palang, SVD,DD officially declared July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2011 as Year of the Laity. The circular letter was read by our Chancellor, Msgr. Mario Ronquillo during our Mass held that day.

The term “laity” is understood to mean ALL the faithful except those in Holy Orders and those who belong to a religious state approved by the Catholic Church. That is, the faithful who by Baptism are incorporated into Christ, and are placed in the People of God, and their own way share the priestly, prophetic and kingly office of Christ, and to the best of their ability, carry on the mission of the whole Christian people in the Church and in the world (Lumen Gentium, 31).

Therefore, everyone,- man or woman, sinner or saint, young or old, here or abroad,- by virtue of baptism, has a mission to accomplish and a service to fulfill within the Church : humble service to others remembering that the whole life of Christ was such a ministering to others. Our every action is an act of evangelization.

Paul VI, the pope during my childhood years, said it beautifully : “Evangelization, specially in the wide and complex arena of politics, sociology and economics as well as other fields such as human love …the practice of various professions and relief of human suffering … are areas where the laity are called to build up the Kingdom of God and to bring salvation in Jesus Christ.” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 70)

This reminded me of another great mind from France named Yves- Marie Congar. Cardinal Congar published an impressive number of theological books and his contributions influenced the drafts of two main social documents of the Church, Lumen Gentium and Gaudium et Spes. We consider these teachings as two hidden springs of knowledge and inspiration to us workers of the social action arm of our local Church.

Congar foresaw, years before Vatican II, the importance of the laity in Church’s mission. In his classic work published in France in 1953 entitled “Lay People in the Church” he wrote : “Lay people are not solely the object of hierarchal ministry; they have each according to his state, an active function of bringing the world of History to God in Christ.” Congar, by the way, wrote this during the time when lay participation and cooperation are considered by some conservative sectors as “intrusion” if not “invasion” to offices and functions “exclusive” to the clergy. Today in almost all of the Churches in the world these became a big shift from clerical dominance to active involvement of the laity in the apostolic and pastoral works of the Church.

The final point which I wish to recall regarding the prophetic insights of Congar is his view of community where members united and at peace with each, other aside from sharing our life and mediating on the affairs of society. Here’s Congar again : “When the Church is no longer considered as formed by the faithful but is seen chiefly as a mediating institution, then the mission and the motherhood of the Church find their locus in external legal acts, instead of being drawn from her Christian existence of love and prayer by which her members live” (Theological Burning Points : Volume II).

I just would like to emphasize that both the clergy and the laity are called NOT to compete but to complement each other. We the laity need to be constantly and religiously inspired and spiritually nourished by our pastors in order for us to share the one Priesthood of Christ according to our distinct identity and role in the Church and society (cf. PCP-II; 418). Keeping in mind our limitations, when our priests are busy, the laity must have the initiative to take charge. And let us not forget that mediocre following of Jesus is out of the picture!

If I were only to draw two major themes for the Year of the Priest in our Vicariate, the two words are DEDICATION and CONVERSION. In our work and career, we are motivated by our desire to constantly advance our profession through personal skills-enhancing trainings, placing ourselves under processes for promotion, hard work, honesty, etc. Are we as lay ministers, catechists, lectors, parish officers, leaders of religious organizations, pastoral workers, community leaders and members, altar servers, commentators, choir members, Catholic school teachers, sacristans, etc.,- are also that serious in building a Christian community in Occidental Mindoro united in worship, in service and in witness of Christ? Are we that dedicated?

And I do not want to speak of conversion anymore for this kind of topic or theme and conversion itself is best reserved for priests! Seriously, my most simple and direct definition of conversion can be summed up into three words : conversion refers to a moral change, turning or returning to God and avoidance of sin. I just do not know if Congar would agree with me on this if he is still alive.

Therefore, I, Norman A. Novio, do solemnly swear to do my duty of rendering a specific service done on a sufficiently stable basis (though being compensated in accordance to the existing minimum wage ordinance of the Labor Department of the Philippines) and do my best for this work and vocation, in working in the name of our local Church and the pursuit of her mission. So help me out…

(Photo of Congar from Google)


  1. Norman,
    By virtue of baptism, every one receives the same dignity and identity as Christians. Theologically, too, the holy orders does not impute another and/or better or higher dignity on the deacons, priests and bishops. What they receive from the sacrament of holy orders is an added responsibility, though, viz. the body of the Christians or the Church. Thus, less than effecting the distance by the ordained from the laity, the holy orders is defining their proximity to the faithful as their role and duty before them and for them are made even more clearly delineated.
    The recipients of the holy orders are called PRIESTS, and they perform the MINISTRY OF THE PRIESTHOOD. They however primarily belong to the PRIESTLY PEOPLE, who are given a mission to practice what is called PRIESTLY LIFE.
    May I also put forward an unsolicited correction in your post. The religious (except when they are religious priests, such as the SVD's, the Jesuits, the MJ's) are still part of the laity, as they do not receive the sacrament of holy orders.
    Too, may also give an unsolicited suggestion that Peter Fink, SJ's article The Priesthood of Jesus Christ in the Ministry and Life of the Ordained is a very rewarding read on this issue.
    Thanks (MS).

  2. @MS : Sir, thank you for the correction. Tama, sabi nga ng isang madre sa akin kahapon, layko din daw sila. Thanks for suggesting a reading on the issue.

    Salamat uli at sana ay may maitulong ang mga kaisipang ito sa Taon ng Layko sa Bikaryato...