Chapter 1 of The Layperson's Distinctive Role
When our beloved Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was inaugurating the Kingdom of God, he called people to come after him. ‘‘Follow me’’ is the invitation he gave to his first disciples (Mt 4:19; Mk 1:17; Lk 5:27; Jn 1:43) . After the death and Resurrection of Christ, the new religion was called the ‘‘Way’’ (Acts 9:2) . It was later in Antioch that ‘‘the disciples were for the first time called Christians’’ (Acts 11:26) . After the first disciples had followed Jesus for some time, he sent not only the twelve Apostles to preach (Mt 10:1) but also the seventy-two disciples. Of these latter, the evangelist Luke says that Jesus ‘‘sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to come. And he said to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest’ ’’ (Lk 10:1–2) . In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus was speaking to all his followers when he likened them to salt and light: ‘‘You are the salt of the earth. . . . You are the light of the world. . . . Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven’’ (Mt 5:13, 14, 16).
Saint Paul tells the Corinthians that the Holy Spirit gives different gifts to various people in the Church for the common good: ‘‘There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord. . . . To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good’’ (1 Cor 12:4–5, 7).
Just before Jesus went back to heaven, he sent the Apostles, and through them the whole Church, to evangelize: ‘‘You shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth’’ (Acts 1:8). And in case anyone suspects that the call to witness to Christ is really directed to the clerics and not so much to the laity, Jesus had earlier declared: ‘‘Every one who acknowledges me before men, the Son of man also will acknowledge before the angels of God; but he who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God’’ (Lk 12:8–9). The Church has therefore always understood the call to follow Christ by faith and Baptism as a call to the apostolate.
By apostolate, we mean the mission of the Church, the motive of Christ in founding his Church. It is to spread the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ, so that all men and women may know the one true God and Jesus Christ whom he has sent and, by knowing him, believe in him, live the new life he has won for all mankind and find eternal salvation in his name. This mission, declares the Second Vatican Council, the Church carries out through all her members.
‘‘For by its very nature the Christian vocation is also a vocation to the apostolate. No part of the structure of a living body is merely passive but each has a share in the functions as well as in the life of the body. . . . Indeed, so intimately are the parts linked and interrelated in this body (cf. Eph. 4:16) that the member who fails to make his proper contribution to the development of the Church must be said to be useful neither to the Church nor to himself.’’ There are no spectators in the Church. The apostolate is not like soccer, where twenty-two people are playing and twenty-two million are watching, cheering, yelling or booing! Everyone in the Church has a role to play.
Everyone in the Church shares in the Church’s mission according to each person’s vocation. There are three major categories of vocations in the Church. Those who have received Holy Orders—bishops, priests and deacons—are called to gather the people ofGod together for public worship and to sanctify them by preaching the word ofGod and administering the sacraments. Consecrated people are called to live by the three evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience and thus to show that the Kingdom of God and its ultimate necessities are superior to all earthly considerations.
The lay faithful, the vast majority of the members of the Church—indeed, 99.9 percent of her members — are called by Baptism to witness to Christ in the secular sphere of life, that is, in the family; in work and leisure; in science and culture; in politics and government; in trade and mass media; and in national and international relations. Their specific apostolate is the main concern of this book.
 Vatican II, Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity Apostolicam Actuositatem, 2. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations from Vatican II documents are from The Documents ofVatican II, ed. Walter M. Abbott, S.J. (America Press, 1966), and all other Church documents are quoted from the Vatican website.
 According to the March 2012 Statistical Yearbook of the Church, there were 1,195,671,000 Catholics in the world on June 30, 2010. On December 31, 2010, there were a total of 1,196,000,000 Catholics, of whom bishops numbered 5,104, priests 412,236, religious women 721,935, and religious men (not priests) 54,665. Therefore, the lay faithful numbered 1,194,806,060, or 99.9 percent of the whole Catholic Church. See Statistical Yearbook of the Church, March 2012, pp. 17, 77; also Avvenire, 11/3/2012, p. 24.
by Francis Cardinal Arinze
This important book by the highly regarded African prelate, Cardinal Arinze, describes in positive and simple terms who the lay person is, his distinctive role in the Church, and how the lay apostolate distinguishes the lay faithful from the clergy and the religious.
The call of lay people to be witnesses of Christ in the ordinary areas of secular life, such as family, work, recreation, politics and government, shows how demanding the apostolate of the lay people is. The book draws from the dynamic teachings of the Second Vatican Council, the riches of the 1987 Synod of Bishops on the Lay Faithful, and the emphasis on the lay apostolate by recent Popes, to present to lay people an attractive and demanding call to witness to Christ in society.
Leaders and participants of various lay groups and movements will find this book liberating and encouraging. Clerics and religious will find these considerations by Cardinal Arinze of great help, both in appreciating the limits of their own apostolates and of seeing how to put before the lay faithful the demands of their calling.
Cardinal Francis Arinze grew up in Nigeria, became the youngest Bishop in the world, and the first African Cardinal to head a Vatican office. He was the head of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. His biography, God's Invisible Hand, was published by Ignatius Press as well as Celebrating the Holy Eucharist.