1935: A worker laity


Let us never lose sight of the TEN NOTES of Catholic Action, fundamental, first andimmediate:

  1. An apostolate proper to the laity.
  2. An apostolate that is DIFFERENT from the priestly apostolate.
  3. An apostolate that is COMPLEMENTARY to the priestly apostolate.
  4. An apostolate that is ADAPTED to lay life and environment.
  5. An apostolate that is IRREPLACEABLE for the conquest of lay life, milieu and mass.
  6. An apostolate that is ESSENTIAL, belonging to the very essence of the Church.
  7. An apostolate NECESSARY for the flourishing of the life of the mystical body.
  8. An apostolate ORGANIZED for transformation
  9. Anapostolate that is HIERARCHISED and dependent on the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy and endowed with a lay hierarchy.
  10. A MANDATED apostolate charged by the Religious Authority with an official mandate.

Each and all of these notes must be applied to WORKING LAITY in order to understand their incredible importance for the Church and for the Society. The Catholic solution of the working-class question and in large part of the social question – is there. When we reflect on the place that the WORKING CLASS occupies in the general population, with these hundreds of millions of salaried workers and working families – one is left bewildered by the magnitude of the task facing the lay workers. One cannot understand “QUADRAGESIMO ANNO” as long as one has not realized what the lay workers can give. This is, moreover, the only way to pose the whole working-class problem in the light of Catholic truth.

We can group the objective of WORKING LAITY in three conquests:

1) The transformation of LIFE.

2) The  transformation of the working environment.

3) The  transformation of the workers’ MASS.

Three inseparable  transformation together provide the Catholic solution to the workers’ problem.


The worker, the working family, the working class are the necessary collaborators of God, of Christ and of the Church in the work of creation and redemption. Such is the order of Providence. ALL working life – everywhere and always – has apostolic significance.

PROFESSIONAL LIFE: without work, no host, no wine, no altar, no mass. Professional life is a prayer, a sacrifice, an extended Mass, a vocation, an apostolate.

The worker is a missionary, a catechist by and in his working life.

Work is not a chastisement, a curse, a slavery, but a collaboration with the Creator and the Redeemer. The worker, in his place, at his work, is the Prime Minister, the immediate and intimate collaborator of the good Lord!

What a new conception of working life! what transformation, what revolution, of this professional life, the most humble, the most painful.

But also what professional, social and economic applications of this mystique of work! What professional morality, what labor code, what professional reorganization to be deduced from such a conception! Like all transformations born only of competition, violence, interest, hatred or passion are condemned forever! As any atheist, neutral or materialist doctrine is in opposition to such a Catholic doctrine which, far from copying the socialist doctrine, is always distinguished by it by all the parties which have attracted to it the working crowds.

THE FAMILY LIFE of the humblest workers must be seen as apostolic life. To give to the Church and to the nation, the priests, the missionaries, the apostles, which they need; to multiply the number of elected officials; to help the expansion of the Church is the ideal indispensable to any working family. What generosity, what devotion, what renouncements is it not capable of inspiring?

Now, from this conception, deduce the practical conclusions on the family salary, on family housing, on the work of married women, and understand how the entire organization of production must be oriented towards the development of family life, of ALL working families, is this not the only salutary attitude against liberalism and individualism on the one hand, and against all statism, all collectivism and all materialist nationalism on the other?

To make this apostolic conception of family life the lever of the sentimental, recreational and moral education of young people, is this not to give to dating, betrothal and marriage that supernatural significance which alone is capable of reacting against all neo-pagan doctrines and mores.

But then also to understand that this daily and ordinary WORKER LIFE, in the most profane aspects, cannot be separated from the RELIGIOUS LIFE, and to give religion a notion, an understanding and an application which embraces the whole working life! Any religious institution and practice – sacraments, prayers, mass, communion, liturgy, religious ceremonies – are only sources, beginnings, channels of divine life which must transform and deify all aspects and all manifestations of working life.

What a conquest, this conquest of working-class life! And ONLY WORKERS CAN MAKE IT. “By them, between them. for them. Others can and should help them. But they alone live there, with its struggles, its temptations, its difficulties, its burdens. What a Stations of the Cross, but also what a resurrection and what an ascension! The worker, the working family who understood this would no longer want to change their condition; do they not continue their working life, the mission of Christ the Worker? Is not their working life necessary for the redemption of the world?


We know the complaint of Pius XI in “QUADRAGESIMO ANNO”: “Inert matter comes out of the workshop ennobled, while men are corrupted and degraded there. “And a few lines above he had written:” One is frightened when one thinks of the great dangers that run in modern workshops, the morality of workers, especially the youngest, the modesty of women and young girls; when one thinks of the obstacles that the current work regime often presents and especially the deplorable living conditions that bring cohesion and intimacy to family life. The working environment – family, professional and social – corrupted by doctrines, customs and the current regime has in turn become corrupting for all those who work and live there. In vain will we create artificial environments – schools, patronages, circles – and try to influence the workers there, as long as the educational action stops at these artificial environments, we will not save the working class. What is needed is to save her in her daily, usual environment, her own environment. Teach him and help him to act there, to transform his own environment. Teach him and help him to act there, to transform his own environment, to conquer it, to make it conform to the providential plan. However, this conquest can only be carried out from within, BY THOSE WHO LIVE AND WORK THERE, and who, like a native clergy, pursue missionary action there. Any remote action, outside, is inoperative, if it does not initiate and feed AN ACTION INSIDE.

The working environment itself – family, professional and social – must once again acquire an educational, productive and sanctifying value. The family, the workshop, the office, the factory, the working-class neighborhood, the train, the bus, must once again become a temple, a sanctuary, a school of virtue, of holiness, of honor, of moral greatness. The table, the house, the workbench, the lathe must once again become the altar on which the working class offers the sacrifice of its work and its fatigue, uniting it with the Eucharistic sacrifice of Christ the Worker.

What a transformation and even what a revolution! This is the most exposed sector, but also the most important of the Catholic Action front. The fight is incessant there, it is worse than a fight in the trenches with grenades and asphyxiating gases. Souls are even more exposed to it than bodies. A defensive attitude is insufficient there, it is absolutely necessary to go on the offensive. It is not enough to replace the crucifixes on the walls, it is necessary to bring Christ into the manners, the habits as well as in the very organization and the conception of the work environment and the family environment.

And again, we must not stop at purely spiritual applications, we must face the material applications. The problem of housing, hygiene, safety, the school problem, the problem of vocational guidance, the problem of rationalization, must be considered in this light. It is not for the Church to propose and impose technical solutions, it is for the Church to inspire them, to encourage them and to guide them for a Christian development of the environment with a view to a Christian life in the future. flourish in and through these environments. Let us reread the encyclicals on marriage and on education in this spirit.


think about it enough? Do we have enough obsession with it? Do we see enough in our imagination this innumerable crowd of whom Christ had compassion and for whom He died? Are we not blinded by certain crowded churches and certain crowds at specific religious ceremonies? Certainly the masses are still baptized for the most part, their funerals are still religious, but their life? His daily life? What ignorance, what indifference, not to say what unconsciousness! If we are not careful, the mass becomes areligious.

And again, this mass can only be effectively reached by militants of the mass, by catechists of the mass, living of its life and its environment. The leaven and the ferment IN the dough. The whole problem of the elite and the masses is there. Elite for all walks of life and for all living conditions. The pastor for the flock and not the flock for the pastor. What an orientation for the apostolate! When we have succeeded in provoking the dread of the masses, we instill the true Catholic spirit. The mystical body of Christ is there.

But then also we must have the courage to think of the TRUE mass processes. The bookish, purely intellectual means are certainly inoperative, but on the other hand, do not let yourself be blinded by mass DEMONSTRATIONS either and do not stop at a superficial external action, whether one calls on the radio, on the press or the cinema, or whether we are thinking of political or social movements. Without neglecting these collective means, we must know how to overcome them through more penetrating, more individual, more personal contacts, which are only possible in humble and daily life, in the usual environment of the working class, in the family, at work, in all current relations between workers. The rest is fireworks, a football game that may well draw the big crowd at certain times and under certain circumstances, but whatever you do, the life of the masses is not there. And yet it is this immense mass that must LIVE the life of Christ and collaborate in his Redemption.


is the immediate and primary apostolate of the lay workers. Laity ORGANISED with a view to these three conquests, laity CHARGE of these three conquests. IRREPLACEABLE laity for these three conquests. This is the indispensable complement of the priestly apostolate. Therein lies the solution of the Church’s reconquest of the working class.

Catholic Action IN the working class, NEAR the working class, ON the working class must be understood like this: it is Catholic Action BY the working class organized for this reconquest, it is Catholic Action BY the lay workers.

We can, we must help from the outside. We cannot replace it, it would be ersatz. “The first apostles, the immediate apostles of the workers, are the workers”.

And this IN VIEW of the transformation of working life into Christian and apostolic life.

IN VIEW of the transformation of the working class into a Christian and apostolic environment;

IN VIEW of the transformation of the working mass into a Christian mass.

Then, but only then, will the working class be a Christian working mass.

That this organization cannot be any organization, that it must be ADAPTED to its purpose, that it must be armed against all the difficulties inherent in this conquest, no one disputes it. A difficult, heroic conquest, of course; but possible conquest. Not to believe it would not be Christian. After the results of the last few years, it would be unforgivable. That there needs to be more discipline here, more unity than for any other conquest, who could doubt it?

When will the Children of Light be as trendy as the Children of Darkness?


Theworker, this Catholic Action organized by the working class itself, will not be born of a spontaneous generation. It is up to the clergy to awaken and support him. This preoccupation of the lay workers, this support of the lay workers must be an integral part of pastoral care. TO HELP THE MILITANTS of the workers’ laity in their formation, in their spiritual life, in their apostolic mission; this will be the essential role of the chaplain of Action Catholique Ouvrière. This help, to be effective and fruitful, cannot be done in an arbitrary and capricious way, it will have to recognize the organization, the methodology, the discipline of the workers’ laity. No separate training from action and organization. What results of conquest cannot we hope for when all the dogmatic, scriptural, moral and liturgical training of the clergy will inspire the laity powerfully organized for the conquest of working life, of the working environment and of the working mass. For the restoration of a Christian society in the face of threatening neo-paganism, is not this the very path indicated by the Pope himself? This will require a certain adaptation on the part of the clergy, a whole period of trial and error, but also what guarantee against this regrettable hiatus which has only existed for too long between RELIGIOUS LIFE AND PROFANE LIFE, as if the latter should not to be completely transformed, supernaturalized and deified by it. When the pastor fully understands all the problems posed by the life of his flock, when he shares all his worries, what confidence does he not inspire in him? Cognosco oves meas and cognoscunt me meae. What an indestructible bond between the head and the limbs! Bonus pastor vitam dat pro ovibus suis! Fiet unum ovile et unus pastor! Talis populus, talis sacerdos!

What a guarantee of unity, holiness and apostolicity!


This living and realistic conception of the workers’ laity is the only one that can respond to all the fears of separation and division in Catholic Action. The unity of the mystical body of Christ, far from being undermined by such a laity, is only more alive and more fruitful. Any other unity resulting from uniformity either in leadership or in formation is a deceptive unity, which is often only death and the germ of death. The Church, the Bride of Christ, in order to develop to the maximum all her power of apostolate must possess powerful organs capable of forming and assisting all her children in all conditions and in all circles. for all conquests. For the construction of these organs, it is useless to let oneself be guided by an artificial, aprioristic plan, certainly easier in appearance; you have to have the courage to let yourself be guided by the very plan of Providence, and to start from real life, indestructible and so fruitful. Christ must be everywhere in his members who must live it and radiate it in their life, in their environment, on the mass of those around them. For this, the members of Christ must be supervised, formed and supported for this life, for this environment, for this mass. Thus CATHOLIC ACTION AT THE SAME TIME AS IT IS A CONQUEST IS EDUCATION. Learning to study Christ everywhere, to make him reign everywhere, to serve him everywhere, what a prospect for education. “What you will have done to the least of my brothers, you will have done it to me, I was hungry, I was cold … I was unemployed … I was living in a slum .. .I was working at the bottom of the mine. What a vision of the mystical Christ and like all social, economic and political problems, acquire a religious and apostolic significance in this light. There is no point in adopting an ostrich policy and not seeing the vital problems under the pretext of Catholic unity. It would be a fictitious unit. Only a true unit will be a conquering unit. This alone will engender a constructive charity, soul and life of the mystical body.


We keep repeating that the YCW is the school, the service, the representative body of Catholic Action for young workers.

SCHOOL of learning, with active and penetrating methods, awakening and activating the liveliest resources of young workers. Its motto: “by them, between them, for them” develops this spirit of initiation, of bravery, this esprit de corps which fundamentally transforms young workers and trains “proud, pure, joyful and conquering” Jocists. are the coaches of their working brothers.

SERVICE responding to all the needs of young workers, pulling them out of their abandonment and isolation and helping them to conquer themselves, their comrades and their environment, adapted to the providential conditions of their life, and supporting them in the pursuit of their temporal and eternal destiny.

REPRESENTATIVE BODY, proclaiming in its newspapers, in its congresses, as in all its individual and collective campaigns, the ideal of conquering the Christian workers’ youth.

ORGANIZATION, EDUCATION, ACTION, the YCW constantly strives to perfect these three constitutive elements of true Catholic action.

This is how the YCW is preparing the lay workers who tomorrow will allow the Church to reconquer the entire working class. It is not only the fate of the working class that is at stake. It is the fate of all of human society.

The struggle of classes and nations must be replaced by the collaboration of classes and nations. The great human family must come together under the leadership of its only savior, Christ Jesus.

Beyond material and temporal interests, it is spiritual and eternal interests which must guide the rising generation.

A NEW YOUTH FOR A NEW WORLD where the Kingship of Christ will establish the peace of Christ.

In the Catholic laity, encompassing all classes and all nations, the workers’ laity has its mission, its providential role.

It is not a narrow and particular horizon that limits the gaze of the YCW.The latter wants to serve the Church and all of society, at the call of the Pope and the Bishops, humbly submissive to the Church, His Mother, counting only on the assistance of the good Lord. It is with supernatural optimism that the YCW looks to the future with confidence and courage.

Between totalitarian atheism, which is the extremist expression of modern secularism, and the Catholic laity, which must develop all the living forces of the militant Church, a gigantic duel is brewing.

May the YCW succeed in endowing the Church with its most loyal and dedicated militia. The workers’ laity will then be an elite body in the great army of the Catholic laity.

The Jocist chaplains will dedicate the best of their priestly apostolate to it. The victory of the Church and the salvation of the working class will be the greatest reward for their difficult but fruitful efforts.



Notes de Pastorale Jociste, Bulletin des aumôniers de la JOC et de la JOCF, Volume IV No. 5 – June 1935


Joseph Cardijn, A worker laity (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)