Laity bring light of Christ to the world Print
Thursday, Nov. 12, 2015 -- 12:00 AM

Although it dates me to admit it, I was a high school student during the Second Vatican Council.

In our daily religion classes at Aquinas High School in La Crosse (yes, we had daily classes all taught by priests at that time), we studied the documents of that council.

One of those documents had a special impact on me. It was the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church also known by its Latin title, Lumen Gentium.

This document — promulgated by Blessed Paul VI on November 21, 1964 — talks about the hierarchical structure of the Church, including the role of bishops, priests, deacons, and Religious. It also has a full chapter on the laity, which was especially interesting to me 51 years ago.

Role of the laity

Lumen Gentium says of the laity,  “these faithful are by Baptism made one body with Christ and are constituted among the People of God; they are in their own way made sharers in the priestly, prophetical, and kingly functions of Christ; and they carry out for their own part the mission of the whole Christian people in the Church and in the world.”

Although the document points out that those in holy orders and Religious Life can at times be engaged in secular activities, it is the laity who primarily live in the world, have jobs, and engage in family and social life.

Yet, in those daily activities, laity are called to “work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven.” The document adds, “In this way they may make Christ known to others, especially by the testimony of a life resplendent in faith, hope, and charity.”

Faith was separate from everyday life

What makes these words so significant? Up until the Second Vatican Council, I think many faithful Catholics attended Mass on Sunday. But they didn’t do much about their faith between Sundays, except attend some social events in their parish.

Their children attended Catholic schools, but the parents rarely got involved except to attend their children’s sporting events, plays, or musicals.

The adults didn’t talk about their faith in their businesses or in the public sphere. Their faith was often separate from their everyday life.

Bringing faith to the world

But Lumen Gentium encouraged lay people to take their faith into the world. It urged them to be involved in such things as protecting creation, bringing justice to the work place, and striving to build a peaceful world.

The document said, “The faithful, therefore, must learn the deepest meaning and the value of all creation, as well as its role in the harmonious praise of God.

“They must assist each other to live holier lives even in their daily occupations. In this way the world may be permeated by the spirit of Christ and it may more effectively fulfill its purpose in justice, charity, and peace.

“The laity have the principal role in the overall fulfillment of this duty. Therefore, by their competence in secular training and by their activity, elevated from within by the grace of Christ, let them vigorously contribute their effort, so that created goods may be perfected by human labor, technical skill, and civic culture for the benefit of all men according to the design of the Creator and the light of His Word.

“May the goods of this world be more equitably distributed among all men, and may they in their own way be conducive to universal progress in human and Christian freedom. In this manner, through the members of the Church, will Christ progressively illumine the whole of human society with His saving light.”

Inspired by Lumen Gentium, some Catholics got involved in efforts to protect human life and preserve our environment. Others ran for public office or became teachers or social workers. Some became active in their parishes and dioceses, serving on boards and committees.

For over 50 years, many lay Catholics have assisted our bishops, priests, and Religious in bringing the light of Christ to the world. We’ve still got a lot of work to do, but I believe that we have made a good start.

I encourage people to re-read or read for the first time Lumen Gentium and other documents of the Second Vatican Council. They are still available on the Vatican website at