1960: Priests and lay people in the apostolate

Reflections for the Pontifical Commission for the Lay Apostolate.


The apostolate is the essential mission of the Church and of all the faithful in the Church; and through the Church, the whole of humanity. This fact demands more and more study, attention and vigilance, because of all the problems that the apostolate needs to helps solve both humanly and in a Christian manner, and the solution of which will largely determine the salvation of humanity, the restoration of the Kingdom of God and its Son of Love.

These problems have now reached a previously unknown depth, extent, and rate of increase.

Demographic, scientific, technical, economic, social, cultural, political, international problems: All these issues involve multiple aspects and provoke a variety of human, moral and religious responses; all these issues underlie all the various tensions between developed peoples and underdeveloped peoples, between races, between colonising countries and colonised countries, between social classes; all these issues are subject to the pressure of opposing ideological aspirations and propaganda, in a world that is increasingly unified and inseparable.

All of these problems have an essential human, moral and religious aspect that determines the value of their solution. Depending on whether these essential aspects are respected or not, solutions will be effective or ineffective for the authentic progress of humanity and therefore for the establishment of the Reign of God and of Christ in the world which is being built.

All these problems of life and organisation of the world are the domain of the laity; they fall into the areas of lay institutions and responsibility. It is lay people who need to provide human and Christian solutions which alone will be able to establish the Reign of God and peace among men.

This is why lay people who are responsible for seeking and implementing this solution need to have an apostolic and missionary conception of their life and their mission in the world. This is the primordial role of the lay apostolate, whether it is organised or carried out on an individual basis.

As a result of this, the apostolate of the laity is becoming increasingly important. This is now impossible unless lay people receive training and animation that is adequate for this purpose. This training and animation can only result from collaboration with priests who are ordained and consecrated for this purpose: this formation and this animation needs to transform the life and mission of the laity into an apostolic life and mission, which is inseparable from the priestly apostolate. The whole of the apostolate is an indissoluble whole.

It is this vision of the importance and the worldwide necessity of the apostolate, in particular of the lay apostolate, which inspires:

  • the following reflections on “Priests and lay people in the apostolate”;
  • the proposal of formulas to be inserted into the Acts of the Council.



One single apostolate.

1. There is only one apostolate, the source and purpose of which are common to all who are called to it and who exercise it. But the exercise and applications of this apostolate are diverse – albeit inseparable – depending on the roles of those who are called and consecrated with a view to the common goal.

2. There is only one divine Apostle, sent by the Father: Christ, Jesus, God-Man, who calls and sends all the other apostles as his Father sent him:

a) to restore the Kingdom of God, on earth as in heaven, in time as in eternity;

b) to call and consecrate all his collaborators, at all times and among all peoples, for the roles and services required for the restoration of this Kingdom (the Church: mystical body of Christ).

3. The establishment and restoration of God needs to reach people first, each person in particular and all people together as well as all of their religious needs; these also need to reach and modify temporal structures themselves so that they are not an obstacle but on the contrary a support for the life of this Kingdom.

To establish and restore the life of the kingdom of God are roles entrusted to the Church and which the latter exercises through its members.

a) Either they have received the sacrament of Holy Orders

  • Are called and consecrated by Christ himself, the twelve with Peter at their head, henceforth equipped with the powers of Christ, for their successors the Pope and the Bishops united in a hierarchical college;
  • or priests who have received the sacrament of Holy Orders and are the immediate collaborators of the Hierarchy in their priestly ministry; these priests may be either directly or indirectly (religious-priests) under diocesan authority;

b) Or they have been baptised and confirmed.

In effect, these people are both in the Church and in the world and exercise their own and irreplaceable apostolate in the whole of their lives. This is an increasingly urgent apostolate, owing to the importance, influence and extent of the problems arising in the new world in which they live and in which they must, as members of the Church, spread the Reign of Christ.

4. The apostolate of the faithful does not remain confined within the Church. It becomes increasingly missionary, extending to non-members of the Church, whether Christians or non-Christians; by collaborating with them, Christians will assist them to rediscover and realise the human and divine mission for which they were created by God and redeemed by Christ.

The apostolate of the laity is not limited to the transformation of minds and hearts, but tends to the transformation of secular environments and institutions which, from the local level to the international level, need to enable people, families and societies to create a social human order which which will promote the development of the human race and the universal restoration of the Reign of God: “Instaurare omnia in Christo”.

Strictly speaking,the vows and promises that cause the faithful to enter a new state do not give them a role within the Church: it is by virtue of the sacrament of Holy Orders or by virtue of the sacraments of baptism and confirmation that they have received, that religious and consecrated persons become apostles in the Church.

Distinct but inseparable roles.

5. Without the priestly apostolate there is no lay apostolate, no apostolic transformation of the life of lay people. Without the apostolate of the laity, the apostolate is powerless for the human and Christian transformation of the world. Union and collaboration between priests and lay people is therefore essential to the unity of the Church and of her mission, to the development of the whole apostolate and in particular of the lay apostolate.

This collaboration is essential, whatever the immediate objective of the lay apostolate:

a) ecclesial objective: catechesis, liturgy, sacraments – parish, diocesan or supra-diocesan life – etc.

b) temporal, secular objectiveProperly lay life in all its aspects, in which they must discover and realise its divine, apostolic and missionary value (family, work, leisure, economic security, cooperation in the city, national and international relations, etc. .)

Regarding the first objective, it can be said that lay people are collaborators in the priestly apostolate.

Regarding the second, priests are the sacerdotal collaborators in the apostolate of lay people. They have an eminently priestly role there: not only do they represent the Hierarchy and provide official approval or mandate, but above all they form, help, support and advise the laity in taking up their own responsibility, in all aspects and dimensions of their work and apostolate.

6. It is the priest who needs to enable lay people to discover the apostolic scope of their daily lives and their work in the organisation of the world: he is the one who prepares and encourages them to take up the active role that belongs to them in the apostolic activities of the Church (as members, leaders and militants, representatives or delegates of apostolic movements, from the local and parish to the international level); it is through the priest that they learn to unite their whole apostolate with the apostolate of the whole Church; it is the priest who invites them to make use of all the sacramental sources to nourish and develop their apostolate and ensure that it develops.

In addition, priestly collaboration in the apostolate of lay people – whether it be individual or organised will become increasingly necessary in the world and the apostolate of the future, while giving and allowing lay people themselves to take full responsibility for the direction, initiative and organisation of their action.

Formation of priests for their proper role.

7. But in order that it provides enrichment for all lay people and the whole Church, such collaboration necessitates formation for all priests in their role as educators, animators and counsellors of lay apostles. Whether these priests are diocesan or religious, the necessary formation should form part of their whole preparation for the priesthood whether at the seminary or in a scholasticate. It will need to become clearer and more intensive as they approach their priestly ordination and the exercise of their ministry. And it will necessarily include a serious study of the problems that the laity need to solve in the modern world, in order to deduce from them the priestly way of helping them to carry out their own apostolate at the very heart of the events and institutions of this secular world. And it will necessarily include a serious study of the problems that lay people need to resolve amid the modern world in order to work out the priestly way to assist them to realise their own apostolate at the very heart of events and institutions in this secular world.

8. Necessary for all priests, this formation needs to be more in-depth and more appropriate when it comes to those who are called to be chaplains and ecclesiastical assistants of lay apostolate organisations. This applies not only to chaplains who are freed completely for a role at regional, national or international level, but also to those chaplains who as parish clergy take on the primordial task of the initial formation of grassroots leaders.

More appropriate training can be taken further according to particular needs, specialisations by milieux, specific methods and techniques based on age or sex, etc.

9. It will undoubtedly be good to take the necessary precautions not to divide the clergy into Catholic Action clergy, who specialise in working with lay people who belong to apostolate organisations and on the other hand the ensemble of the parish or teaching clergy. The whole clergy need to be formed to work with the lay apostolate, because it needs to be increasingly regarded by all as an apostolate of the Church, formin an integral and inalienable part of the whole of the Church’s very mission. The Church would not be able to fulfil this mission without the apostolate of lay people.

Religious Sisters and Brothers

10. Sisters, too, will increasingly be called to a role of collaborating with the apostolate of lay people, some in educational institutions, others in medical or charitable work, parish activities, etc. Some will also be called to take on a counselling role with women’s apostolate groups the development of which it is increasingly necessary to ensure, particulary in countries where for various reasons the priest cannot effectively fulfil the role of chaplain, formator, animator and collaborator of lay apostles. Religious brothers can also play a role similar to that of religious sisters.

By collaborating with lay people with a view to their apostolic presence with respect to temporal issues, or establishing contacts with male, female or mixed groups, Brothers and Sisters will themselves need a complement to their own formation, and will simultaneously contribute to making the whole apostolate of the Church more effective. Moreover, both religious and lay teachers in Catholic educational institutions at all levels, teachers, will increasingly need to prepare students for an apostolic conception of their whole life and for an authentic apostolic commitment following their studies.

Nevertheless, religious brothers and sisters acting as advisers or assistants in the apostolate of lay people, will never replace the chaplain-priest. Rather they will act as auxiliaries and collaborators. A fortiori, they will need to be careful never to replace leaders and militants in the role which is proper to them, but they must assist all the members of the organisations in question to discover their own apostolic mission, both in ordinary life as well as in the organisation itself.

11. In this regard, would it not be necessary for the Holy See or the Congregation for Religious to provide clear guidelines to all Superiors General of the Congregations of Brothers and of Religious in order for major and local superiors to be able to provide encouragement and support to men and women religious in a spirit of distant or close collaboration with lay people for the flourishing of their daily apostolate in the world?

Finally, could it not also be suggested that a study be undertaken in order to determine how the whole of Catholic education – whether directed by religious, by diocesan priests or by lay people – could be provide from a perspective that guides young people towards their present and future apostolate? A holistic apostolic conception would thus enter students’ lives through the teaching provided, as well as through education and specific preparation for their futures. The distressing problems of young people will only be positively solved in this way.


1. The importance and the necessity of the apostolate of lay people will continue to increase in the world of the future. A Christian solution to the complex problems of secular life depends on it: demographic, scientific, technical, economic, social, cultural, political, national and international problems. A world that is increasingly unified and inseparable, and yet beset by divisions and tensions between races, countries and classes, given over to ideological divergences and oppositions, needs a laity – an organisation of the apostolate of lay people – that is appropriate to the size and complexity of these problems.

The Ecumenical Council requests the whole Hierarchy, and through it all priests and lay people, to promote all the measures, initiatives and institutions which will make it possible to ensure the active presence of an authentic laity that is united and universal everywhere and among al people.

These lay people will have a missionary spirit: they will not limit their action to members of the Church or a determined class, nor within the borders of a country, race or continent. Open to the needs of the whole world, they will collaborate with all governmental and non-governmental institutions for the effective and peaceful solution of all needs of humanity.

2. A laity organised in this way on the scale of the world and its needs, requires an apostolic formation and organisation at local level, in the parish or in a local setting that is within the constant reach of parish clergy. This is the root, the basic cell of any authentic lay apostolate. An initial grouping like this will not remain isolated; rather it needs to join with others and participate in the life of apostolic organisations as a whole, at diocesan, regional, national and international levels.

3. Forming and organising the laity for the apostolate is an essential part of the priestly ministry.

This formation and this organisation, appropriate to the life and to the problems of the life of the laity, needs to assist them

a) to discover and realise the apostolic value of their life and of their mission;

b) to use all the spiritual sources necessary for the development of their apostolic life;

c) to get involved practically in the apostolate, by learning Christian action and witness among those around them and their comrades, in daily life as well as in their apostolic organisation;

d) to unite them with all their brothers and sisters from other regions, countries and the world in vast apostolic organisations, with a spirit of belonging and fidelity to the Mystical Body of Christ, as an enthusiastic participation in human development and the eternal salvation of all their brothers and sisters.

The specific role of the priest is to animate the will of the apostolate of lay people, to form them for their own role and encourage them to persevere. Accomplishing such a mission is only possible by means of a positive collaboration between priests and lay people, respcting each other’s mission, with an awareness of an indispensable complementarity, and with a view to the same and unique ultimate goal: the establishment of the Kingdom of God.

4. All secular and religious priests need to be concretely prepared, during the years of the seminary and the scholasticate, to collaborate habitually with lay people, with a view to the formation and apostolic animation of these young people and adults. For this purpose, future priests will seek to understand the problems that lay people need to solve in their life and in the present world; above all, they will learn to appreciate the appropriate and effective methods that will enable them to train the laity for the apostolic action that corresponds to these problems. By thus preparing themselves to work actively for the development of the lay apostolate, they will provide a positive and effective response to the most urgent need of the Church and of the world in our time.

5. Religious brothers and sisters will also become increasingly committed to  habitually collaborating in the formation and apostolic organisation of lay people: either within the works taken up by their Congregation (e.g. as teachers, nurses, social workers, etc.) or as counselors to apostolic groups of lay people, or where the priest has a need for such auxiliaries. Like future priests, they will receive an adequate formation to achieve this.

May the Holy Spirit bless and enlighten this collaboration of the priesthood and the laity and, by increasing the apostolic and missionary dynamism of the Church, multiply both priestly and religious vocations as well as the number of lay people and truly apostolic families for the salvation of the world and the glory of God!


Lomé, December 1960



1.  Necessitas apostolatus laicalis euisque momentum semper crescent annis venturis. Inde pendet solutio christiana plurimis ac multimedia problematibus vitae profanae danda qualicumque sint: demographia, scientifica, technica, oeconomica, socialia, culturalis, politica, nationalis et internationalis. Mundum enim actualis magis ac magis unum est ac tetum aliquod efficit inseparabile; subjicitur autem divisionibus et conflictis variis sive stirpium aut nationum sive classium civium, necnon differentiis profundis imo et contrariis sub respectu ideologico. Haec rerum conditio laicatum, i.e. Apostolatus laicorum organisatum, appellat qui dimensionibus ac complexitati talium problematum adaptetur.

Concilium Oecumenicum totam Hierarchiam, atque per illam sacerdotes omnes et universos laicos, instanter regat ut promoventur omnes rationes et initiativas et institutiones quibus ubique provideatur praesentia et efficacia laicatus authentici, setie amitatis atque universalitatis vers signati.

Huius laicatui sensum missionarium ??? oportet: actionem suam ad sola membra Ecclesia aut alicutus classis fidelium bene determinatae non reservabit, nec finibus alicuius nationis, stirpis aut terrae continentis limitabitur. Ad totius universi necessitatus conversus, cum omnibus institutionibus collaborabit, sive a guberniis emanent sive a privatis, ut solutis pacifica et efficax omniu, necessitatum numerarum quaeratur et inveniatur.

2. Laicatus, ita per relationem ad ipsum universus eiusque necessitates defnitus, postulat ut non formatur nec ordinetur nisi in ipsa paroccia aut saltem in ambitu locali qui proximus sit cleri parcialis. Ibi enim eat radix et fundamentum totius apostolatus laicalis autentici. Attamen talis sectio localis nequit sejuncta manere ab aliia nec scorsum vivere: a contra debet cum aliis relationes ac vincula institutuere atque cum illia vitae institutionum apostoicarum participare tam diocesanarum aut regionalium quam nationalium et internationalium.

3. Formatio et ordinatio laicorum in ordine ad apostolatum pars essentialis est ministerii sacerdotalis.

Durante ac mediante formatione et ordinatione laicorum si vitae hodiernae atque problematibus vitae laicalis ben optantur poterunt laici:

  1. Perspicere ac percipere valorem apostolicum vitae suae propriae suaeque missionis;
  2. Omnes divitias spirituales enquirere et in usum convertere quae natae sint vitam suam apostolicam perficere,
  3. Sego ad apostolatum praeparare, tirecinium quoddam actionis ac testimonii christiani exercendo ergo socios suos, in vita quotidiane sicut et in propria sectione apostolica;
  4. Cum omnibus fratribus ac sororibus aliarum regionum et nationum, imo et ubique terrarum, amicitias componere et ita vestas organisationes apostolicas constituere, spiritu ??? et fidelitatis Corpori Christi mystico vivides, restaurationi humanae et redemptoni aeternae fratrum suorum generare intentes.

Missio specifica sacerdotis in eo residet quod molum apostolicum laicorum animet, quod eos in ordine ad eorum munus proprium formet, quod in perseverantia eos sustinent. Talis missio non est possibilis nisi per collaborationem positivem sacerdotem inter et ut ???, in servande missioni aliorus et aliorum indolem suam propriam, in conscientiam habeno quod necessaria sunt ad invisem complementarii, in prosequando in… unum, eumdemque finem, scilicet Regnum Dei instaurandum.

4. Sacerdotes omnes, tam regulares quam saeculares, decurau ??? seminarii ?? ecclesiasticus, preparationem practicam recipere debent ad aliquam collaborationem habitualem cum laicis, ut postea possint formationem et animationem spiritualem illis praebere sive iuvenibus sive adultis. Ad hoc candidati ad sacerdotium conabantur problemata discernere quae laici solvere debent in vita sua propria et in mundo actuali, praessertim methodum aptam et efficacem studicae quarent qua apud laicos suscitare possint actionem apostolicam supradictio problematibus selvandis respondentes. Sciant autem quod, ? aliter agende, promotionem apostolatus laicalis praeparant et sic responsum afferunt quam positivue atque efficax urgentissimis neessitatibus Ecclesiae hodiernes, imo et totius mundi.

5. Religiosi ac religiosae debent et ipsi magis ac magis eo venire ut habitualiter collaborent formationi et ordinationi apostolicae laicatus: sive in operibus Congregationi suas propriis (sic v.g. ut moderatores scholarum, ut infirmis ministrantes vel auxiliares sociales…) sive in animando sectiones apostolicas si clerus talibus auxiliis indiget. Ad hoc et ipsi formationem adequatem recipient, sicut de sacerdotibus dictum est.

Faxit Deus ut benedicatur et a Sancto Spiritu illuceatur haec inter sacerdotium et laicatum collaboratio, atque, dynamismo apostolico et missionario Ecclesiae sic feliciter peraucto, multiplicetur et numerus vocationum sacerdotalium ac religiosarum et numerus laicorum familiarumque vere apostolicorum, in salutem generis nostri et ad laudes Dei!

Dec. 1960

Second Vatican Ecumenical Council.



Archives Cardijn, N° 1576/4


Joseph Cardijn, Priests and lay people in the apostolate (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)