In 1987, nearly quarter of a century after Vatican II there was a synod on the laity held in Rome. The synod wanted to revisit the teaching of the Council and represent it for a new generation who are also called by God. The following year Pope John Paul II wrote the document “ON THE VOCATION AND THE MISSION OF THE LAY FAITHFUL IN THE CHURCH AND IN THE WORLD” Christifideles Laici (‘The Lay Members of Christ’s Faithful’).
At the heart of Pope John Paul II’s words is the symbol of the vine and the vineyard, and the he offered a way to prayerfully reflect on the relationship between the vine (Christ) and the branches (us).
The Pope wanted the Church to rediscover a sense of communion and find new ways to embody this in a mission of re-evangelizing especially in the countries and places where faith had previously been taken for granted, but were now being put under pressure by secularization. Even though this was written some time ago, it hinted at a ‘new evangelization’ which has become so important for us today.
Although Christifideles Laici was a blend of the previous Council’s teachings it added an emphasis on some aspects of the lay mission which had become important. For example, the role of women in the Church and the appearance of so-called ‘new movements’.
Individual and pair logo
The pope gave these words on the feast of the Holy Family in 1988.
On your own, or with a partner, re-read the English title of the document: “ON THE VOCATION AND THE MISSION OF THE LAY FAITHFUL IN THE CHURCH AND IN THE WORLD”
What do you think are the important words within this title?
Reflect upon what each of these words mean to you.
Do you think that it is important that it was given on the Feast of the Holy Family? If so, why?
The Pope gave this document to the Church over 25 years ago. Why was it important that he specifically talked about the role of women?
The Role of Women (and men) in the Church
Questions for reflection:
How many women are on your parish council?
Where, when and in what roles do women ‘transmit the faith’ and ‘offer service in the life of the Church’?
In your experience, are women involved in the preparing of documents from the Church?
Is there a role that women play in family, professional and civil life that men cannot?
The Pope was clearly aware that statements of “policy” do not always lead to changes in practices ‘on the ground’ so he gave concrete ways in which women should be involved in decision making processes in the Church.
An example comes to mind in the participation of women on diocesan and parochial Pastoral Councils as well as Diocesan Synods and particular Councils. In this regard the Synod Fathers have written: "Without discrimination women should be participants in the life of the Church, and also in consultation and the process of coming to decisions". And again: "Women, who already hold places of great importance in transmitting the faith and offering every kind of service in the life of the Church, ought to be associated in the preparation of pastoral and missionary documents and ought to be recognized as cooperators in the mission of the church in the family, in professional life and in the civil community". [CL 51]
Questions for reflection:
Do you think that by emphasising the role that women should play, there is a possibility that men feel these roles are no longer theirs?
In your experience, who passes on the faith to their children within the home?
Do you think that there are more women than men who take on roles within the parish these days? If so, why?
How can we ensure that men and women both feel able to be active in their apostolates?
Although the gifts of women are to be employed in the service of the Church, the Synod was also at pains to point out that lay men should not be overlooked.
Many voices were raised in the Synod Hall expressing the fear that excessive insistence given to the status and role of women would lead to an unacceptable omission, that, in point, regarding men. In reality, various sectors in the Church must lament the absence or the scarcity of the presence of men, some of whom abdicate their proper Church responsibilities, allowing them to be fulfilled only by women. Such instances are participation in the liturgical prayer of the Church, education and, in particular, catechesis of their own sons and daughters and other children, presence at religious and cultural meetings, and collaboration in charitable and missionary initiatives. [CL 52]
This is perhaps something we too have come to recognise in many of our parish communities where women far outnumber men in attending Mass and undertaking various duties in and around the parish.
“so great is the capacity of initiative and the generosity of our lay people" (Pope John Paul II, Angelus 23/08/87).
There are many groups and organisations that serve the Church through various apostolates. You will have seen them in your Church or heard about them through the work that they do in the parish community. They include: the Legion of Mary, SSVP, UCM, Knights of St Columba, the Catenians, Cenacolo etc.
In recent years these have been added to, complemented and strengthened by the growth of what is known as the ‘New Movements’ within our Church.
Individual or pair tasks:
Do you know of any ‘new movements’ within your Parish, Deanery or Diocese? Who are they and what do they do?
What do you think the Pope means by “responsible participation in the Church’s Mission”?
Do you feel responsible for the Church’s Mission, or do you think that lies with others?
Research one of these ‘New Movements’,. Again think back to the title of the Pope’s document and highlight their particular Vocation and Mission. Outline what is specific about their contribution to the Church and the World.
Over the past couple of years some of these groups have come to make their home in Scotland and some exciting lay-led initiatives are beginning to bear fruit here in our own Diocese.
“Oftentimes these lay groups show themselves to be very diverse from one another in various aspects, in their external structures, in their procedures and training methods, and in the fields in which they work. However, they all come together in an all-inclusive and profound convergence when viewed from the perspective of their common purpose, that is, the responsible participation of all of them in the Church's mission of carrying forth the Gospel of Christ, the source of hope for humanity and the renewal of society.” [CL 29]
Feedback for the Synod
In the first section we looked at the Church teaching on the laity, the Church and their role (apostolate) within it. We have now considered what apostolate women bring to the Church and reflected upon the important role that men continue to play.
We have also researched or read about the New Movements and how these can complement and strengthen the existing, traditional organisations within the Church.
Look back over your reflections and thoughts from the last section.
As a group or individual consider the following questions.
Please record and send your reflections and responses to these questions to the Synod preparatory commission through your nominated representative. (contact details can be found on the Synod website or from your parish bulletin)
How are the gifts of women brought to bear on the life of your parish?
Do we take sufficient account of ‘male spirituality’?
Which lay associations and apostolates are present in your parish? How do they operate and recruit new members? How easy is it to find out about them and join them?
Have you any other comments or questions in response to this section?
And what about Scotland?
In Scotland we have been blessed to be visited by two successive Popes, St John Paul II and Benedict XVI: both have celebrated large open-air Masses in Bellahouston Park and brought words of real encouragement to us.