1960: The apostolate of lay people – 1

30 October 1960

2nd Ecumenical Council of the Vatican

Brief note




the Pontifical Commission Pontifical for the Lay Apostolate


Summary of the note.

1. This note considers the proper and irreplaceable apostolate of lay people. By lay people, we mean all those men and women who are not living in the priestly of religious state.

2. In order to better explain the apostolate of lay people, we summarise as follows:

  • the essential problems of the life of lay people and their present dimensions (Chap. I)
  • the apostolic and missionary bearing of these problems and their solution (Chap. II – 1)
  • the formation indispensable for their solution (Chap. II – 2)
  • the competence and the authority of the Church in this formation and this solution (Chap. II– 3)
  • Catholic Action, or the recognition by the Hierarchy of the mandated lay apostolate organisations (Chap. III)
  • the pious, charitable, social associations and their links with Catholic Action (Chap. IV)
  • the formation of priests, religious men and women for the formation of lay people for the apostolate (Chap. V)
  • several propositions and resolutions.

3. In two annexes, we also consider:

  • the creation of working groups including the participation of lay people;
  • the creation of a Roman Congregation or a Roman Secretariat for the apostolate of lay people.


1. All lay people face the same essential and primordial problems, which are inherent in their personhood and in their lay life. From time to time, it is necessary to list them down again. Evidently, since we are making an analysis, we are forced in our presentation to distinguish these problems one by one. This is also so when we wish to begin to analyse solutions and institutions. However, in the reality of our existence, these problems – like the solutions and institutions that respond to them – are nearly always united and inseparable.

These principal problems are:

  • Personal level: What is the goal of my life? Who is man and where does he come from? Who am I? What is my situation? How is it that I find myself among other people? What is my vocation, my mission? What are my needs, my aspirations, my personal responsibilities, etc?
  • Physical level (health and hygiene): Am I in good or ill health? Why? What are my nutritional needs and how to meet these? What about cleanliness and hygiene? How can I provide for my children? Are the people in my entourage concerned about this?
  • Family level: Who is my family? What relations do I have with my parents or with my children? And with my relatives? What are my duties and my needs? How should I prepare for the family of the future?
  • Immediate community and social level: Does my housing meet my desires and the needs of my family? Who lives with me? My neighbourhood, my street, what are they? What are our social needs and the organisations that are responsible for them?
  • Cultural level: Have I been to school and for how long? If I did not go to school, why? Did I receive an education that prepared me for the responsibilities of life? Outside school or after school age, how can I develop myself? What are my tastes and my relaxations: games, sports, reading, cinema, television? What do I usually do for my holidays? What influence do newspapers and magazines that I read have on me?
  • Professional level: Do I have a trade and how was I prepared for it? What are my present working conditions: security, salary, hygiene? What is the ambience of my work milieu: technological? Individualistic? Based on solidarity? Why should I join professional groups?
  • Civic and political level: To what extent do I know my own locality, my region, my country? Do I participate in their life? What should I think about the government under which I live? What institutions is it based on? On what political parties?
  • National and international level: What will happen as a result of the unexpected increase in population? How to respond to so many new needs in the world? Why are people not in solidarity? Where are all these scientific discoveries and technological progress leading us? Is war inevitable? How can we collaborate with other countries? Why are there so many religions and aren’t they all good? Among the battling ideologies, which is the one that will lead the world of the future? What do I think of communism?

2. All these problems, all the questions posed – as well as so many others – exert an increasing influence and take on growing dimensions:

  • as a result of the demographic growth among human beings who are affected by problems of health, food, habitat, teaching, security, professional system, social and political organisation;
  • as a result of the growing power of technology and its influence in breadth and depth on every aspect of life: means of production, advertising, information, culture and recreation; psychological methods that modify thought and behaviour; the materialist orientation that is emerging from the new civilisation; physical and psychological imbalances, youth delinquency, created by increasingly strong economic, social and ideological pressures;
  • as a result of the break up of the traditional way of daily life, which is no longer family-based but increasing extra-familial, inter-racial, inter-confessional and inter-religious, international, inter-ideological;
  • because of the multiplication and the growing power of governmental, non-governmental and inter-governmental institutions.

3. All these personal and collective problems form the very tissue of day to day lay life, in which lay people are immersed by the very nature of their vocation. Lay people must become conscious both of the problems and the solutions in which they are involved as a matter of course in order to be able to commit themselves as Christians, freely and with love, as a response to their mission and earthly responsibility.

They must desire the accomplishment of this mission, which will ensure their own happiness and that of the whole human community:

  • within a perspective that is increasingly vast: worldwide, inter-racial, ecumenical, cosmic;
  • by means of an increasingly precise knowledge of the problems of under-developed countries and continents;
  • inspired by an acute sense of mutual respect, justice, solidarity and collaboration between all.


1. The whole of lay life with all the problems that have been evoked and the solutions that respond to them have an essential, fundamental, primordial significance. They have a relationship with God, inserted as they are in God’s plan of love, in his work of creation and redemption. They have a relationship with Christ, God made man to save people, on earth as in heaven, in time and in eternity. They have a relationship with the Church, its mission, its doctrine, its Hierarchy, its worship.

The content of this relationship as well as its theological and pastoral implications need to be explained and explored so as to enlighten lay people on the significance of their ownmission in all lay fields and the way to realise it.

Because the consciousness of this essential relationship between all the problems of human lifeand their final goal which is the Kingdom of God inspires responsibility, mission and theapostolic sense of lay people: all people are on earth to establish and extend the reign of God, tocontinue the redemption of Christ and the work of the Church.

In religion as in the Church, worship, sacraments, liturgy, interior life, morals are inseparablefrom the apostolic mission of the whole Church, and of all its members and all people.

2. The consciousness of the apostolic and missionary significance of the whole of life and realisation of this apostolic mission of the lay person thus supposes a formation that is both human, divine and Christian. This formation forms an integral part of the lay person’s general formation in the religious and moral field. The whole of religious formation is essentially apostolic.

Apostolic formation thus commences in the family, in parish catechism and at school. It reaches its culminating and decisive point at the age that determines the orientation of personal life –between 14 and 25 years – when the young man or young woman become adults and are confronted with the problems of their own bodily and psychic transformation, their professional and family future, their human mission in the world of today and tomorrow.

To be effective, this apostolic formation must be both:

  • an apprenticeship in the discovery of human problems (knowledge, seeing, learning to understand) thanks to the observation of lay life itself and a conception of life in the light ofhuman destiny;
  • a search and an implementation of solutions that are needed to these problems (knowhow to judge in the light of a few principles) and from there, an action beginning with one’s immediate milieu;
  • an exercise in indispensable collaboration that will enable the organisation in common of tested solutions appropriate to the physiognomy of the present world.

The present and future dimensions of the task to accomplish by lay people demands that theformation that is given to them in view of their own proper and irreplaceable apostolate be moreand more realistic, deep and methodical.

In becoming conscious of the global dimension of human problems in which he is involved, the lay person must at the same time have a vision of the mission of the Church in which the whole apostolic, personal and collective mission will be profoundly embedded. Through this the lay person’s relationship with the Church will be clarified both in regard to the solution of these problems, in regard to the definition and scope of his or her lay apostolate, as well as in regard to the formation and the attitudes that the lay person must seek.

This relationship must be based on two essential poles:

a) the proper responsibility of the lay person in his or her terrestrial mission, in the solution to human problems;

b) the lay person’s filial, free and conscious, dependency on the authority of the Church as a Christian and as an apostolic chargé de mission.

The two aspects of this relationship – responsibility and dependency – will become clear according to the nature of the commitments that the lay person must face concretely:

  • problems at scientific, technological, financial, economic, social, cultural level, etc.
  • problems at doctrinal, spiritual, moral level, etc.

Far from derogating from the freedom of the lay person, his or her responsibility, his or her spirit of initiative in the lay field, his submission to the Church guarantees them and fulfils them in each person, in each family, in each human community.

And on the other hand, the lay person’s participation in the apostolic mission of the Church imposes on him or her a duty to assist the authority with the information and collaboration that only the lay person facing the problems that involve the whole person can give.

This relationship which closely unites the lay person with the Hierarchy supposes an openness and a positive action on the part of the latter based on confidence in the mission of lay people themselves.

« Ignoti nulla cupido ! » (“One cannot desire that which one does not know!”)

« Quomodo audient sine praedicante ? » (“How will they hear without a preacher?”)


1. Catholic Action has two essential characteristics:

  • it is the official participation in this aspect of the proper function of the Hierarchy,namely forming the faithful to share the apostolic mission of the Church in their own life and in the lay world;
  • it implies the responsibility of lay people both in the direction and in the action and organisation of the apostolic movements that have received a mandate.

This double character will be adapted to the practical and day to day applications in the field covered by the movement, to the age of those to whom Catholic Action is addressed as well as to the various functions that they exercise within the movement.

The guarantee for the respect of this double character will be measured by a double collaboration:

  • interior, which will be established at the very heart of the Catholic Action movement, between the chaplain and the lay leaders and at every level of the organisation;
  • exterior, which will be established between the lay leaders and the Hierarchy as well as with the whole clergy.

2. The range of lay organisations that comprise Catholic Action are the subject of a mandate from the Bishop who charges them with forming the apostolic conscience of Christians, of training them in apostolic action in daily life and in groups of the apostolate.

This mandate implies a relationship, a very close union between the Bishop and the whole Hierarchy and the movements of Catholic Action, a relationship that emphasises the place of the latter in the apostolic mission of the Church.

3. It is in the present world, with its countenance and concrete structures, that Catholic Action has a mission to fulfil, by forming lay people who will bear witness and exercise influence, not only among persons but also at the heart of milieux, structures and institutions. This is why it must be adapted – specialised – in every necessary measure:

  • to the importance and urgency of the great problems of life, action, milieu;
  • to the social milieux that dominate the present world: interracial relations; presence and action in neutral milieux and in official institutions; creation of new professional and economic structures, birth of regional and supranational political entities; orientation of cultural institutions, etc.
  • in interreligious and inter-ideological contacts: countries, institutions and milieux with a non-Catholic majority; ecumenical movement; Moral Rearmament, etc.

4. While Catholic Action must be increasingly adapted, specialised, in order to become more effective in every aspect, it should also promote everywhere at local, national and international level – a search for coordination, as operational as possible, among the whole of Catholic Action.

The coordination cannot, without detracting from the authenticity of various movements and their apostolic effectiveness, form a superstructure that places itself above the specialised movements on which the latter should depend, either from the financial point of view, or by imposing common programs of formation and action, or in unifying the leadership or the methods.

This coordination must first of all have the objective of ensuring mutual understanding, union,entente, solidarity and collaboration so as to increase the effectiveness of the whole and of each Catholic Action movement, as well as the penetration into every sector of life and the population. It must create and develop a unity of spirit and heart, a unity of will and impetus, in mutualappreciation and respect.

It will also express itself in common services and realisations, beginning from the concrete needs common to all members of Catholic Action or in view of reaching non-organised youth: public opinion campaigns, services for the support of those who are in the armed forces, penetration into places of leisure, etc.

Finally, this coordination will find its place in the direction of an overall pastoral program that should study and resolve the great apostolic problems – in the big cities sector as well as in rural areas – concerning the parish and the whole Christian community in order to build at the heart of a world in search of new structures.


1. Alongside the movements for the apostolate of lay people – whether specialised or not – which are mandated by the Hierarchy and constitute Catholic Action, there exist many other local and national, indeed international, associations created in view of a range of objectives:

  • for formation in piety: third orders, congregations of the Holy Virgin and others, fraternities, leagues of the Holy Sacrament or Sacred Heart…
  • for assistance to the clergy or the parish: Legion of Mary, auxiliaries of the clergy…
  • for the formation and support of a missionary laity: Ad Lucem, works of Propagation of the Faith, friends of the missions…
  • for charitable action: Caritas Catholica, Conferences of St Vincent de Paul, Ladies of Charity, Louise de Marillac; initiatives for the sick and handicapped, orphans, displaced people; initiatives to protect young girls; initiatives to raise abandoned or delinquent children…
  • for educational, cultural or leisure action: scouting and guiding, youth clubs for children and adolescents; scientific, artistic, musical and tourist groups; groups to promote Christian influence in the parish, on radio, television and in the cinema…
  • for professional and social action: trade unions, cooperatives, mutuals; groups promoting interracial brotherhood, Pax Christi…
  • for civic and political action: civic committees, international teams of Christian Democracy, groups of parliamentarians involved in European structures, etc…

2. The ecclesiastical Hierarchy from which the mandate given to Catholic Action emanates can evidently grant this to whichever association, as it sees fit. Independently of this mandate, each association has its own utility, and as such, its own apostolic value. Between all these associations, one should avoid the spirit of competition, as well any superiority or inferiority complex that derogates from the apostolic effectiveness and charitable witness. No association, whether it be Catholic Action or not has a monopoly that could exclude others.

3. It is moreover necessary:

a- that all associations of lay people (in the various fields of action cited above) collaborate with the movements of Catholic Action, both for the apostolic formation of their members as well as for the promotion of the affiliation and active participation of the latter in Catholic Action;

b- that the professional and social associations, while seeking and proposing technical solutions to the problems of the world of work and the social question, collaborate intensively with the movements of Catholic Action in view of diffusing the social doctrine of the Church, forming militants and leaders needed in all the professional milieux, as well as in the private and public institutions that play a decisive role in the installation of a new social order.

c- that the charitable action associations refuse to content themselves with a purely helping activity, but that they collaborate with the professional, social, civil and political associations to ensure the social uplifting of the victims of poverty, underdevelopment and the various social scourges.

4. Finally, it is necessary that the coordination, which has been mentioned previously, extends – with all the nuances of adaptation desired – to all lay associations of whatever kind in order that, not merely content to work in their own sector to ensure the religious progress of their members, they cooperate together in the building of a more human world, for a more just society, respectful of the poorest and humblest, and of thus giving a positive response to everything that threatens peace in the world and the extension of the Kingdom of God.


1. There will never be an authentic, effective and influential lay apostolate appropriate to the dimensions of the present and future world if the secular and regular clergy, if religious women and missionaries are not convinced that they must collaborate with lay people in view of the apostolate that the latter need to exercise.

In a more particular manner, this collaboration needs to positively ensure the formation of the faithful for their own apostolic mission. A childish or school-level formation is inadequate; anadult formation will always be more than necessary.

2. In the seminaries and novitiates, then later, during the exercise of the priestly and religious ministry, it is therefore essential, to develop a consciousness among all priests and men and women religious:

  • that the apostolate of lay people in the world of today is an imperious necessity for the realisation of the mission of the Church:
  • that it is indispensable to give lay people an adequate formation that will raise up,develop, support and develop their own apostolate both individually and in an organised way.

3. This formation which is necessary to all clergy as well as to all religious men and women must be intensified within the movements, based on appropriate means such as sessions for priestly study, specialised magazines on the apostolate of the laity, contact between priests in local or regional teams, etc.

However, it must also be made concrete and developed even more among the Catholic Action chaplains; it must become the object of special study days for priests who are at their beginnings in their parish ministry and continue in the footsteps of their elders who must confront their experiences and renew the spirit unceasingly.

4. This formation of priests, men and women religious must deal with the fundamental elements that should throw light on their own proper task, as for example:

  • the very conception of the apostolate of lay people, its importance, its necessity;
  • the methods of formation, action and organisation of this apostolate, particularly for the Catholic Action movements;
  • the role of clergy in general with respect to the individual and organised apostolate of lay people;
  • the specific task of chaplains (and by assimilation of religious advisers with respect to the members of Catholic Action and among their colleagues;
  • the task of chaplains and clergy with respect to particularly serious or urgent problems: the big cities, the world of work, the armed forces, displacements, etc.
  • the formation of lay apostles for the countries of youthful Christianity: welcome of foreigners, internships and exchanges, extension-workers, etc.


1. A systematic effort of great size must be made throughout the whole Church to promote understanding of the necessity and importance of the apostolate of lay people in view of a Christian solution to the increasingly urgent problems that the world is facing.

2. An effort must be made to explain the role of lay people and their responsibility in the Church and its mission. In particular, their own proper apostolate in their life and their milieu, and in the apostolic organisations that correspond to these milieux

3. This effort of thought and action should deal with:

  • the knowledge of essential problems that lay people must face and the search for solutions to to provide;
  • the formation of lay people for their own apostolate;
  • the organisation of lay people in view of their own apostolate;
  • the formation of priests, religious men and women in view of the formation and support for lay people engaged in the apostolate.



Could the Pontifical Commission propose to the Holy See the creation of a sub-commission and working groups that would include lay people? The latter could bring the fruit of their experience to the issues of formation and apostolic action proper to lay people, as for example:

1) links with non-Catholics and non-Christians in countries with a Catholic minority, in the milieux of work and life, in the international institutions and organisations (for the battle against the great scourges of hunger, sickness, illiteracy);

2) study of the methods appropriate for formation, both for young people and adults, young people of different races;

3) the study of certain issues: fulfilment of the family, mixed meetings and activities (young men and women); the apostolate in the big cities and in the army;

4) the study of certain trends that are becoming widespread: advertising, immorality, delinquency, leisure, vacations, tourism.


Given the growing importance of questions relating to the lay apostolate and the increasingly great effort made by non-Catholics (Ecumenical Movement, Moral Rearmament, etc.) and by the enemies of the Church and Religion, the Pontifical Commission could submit to the Holy See a suggestion for the creation of a Roman Congregation to study:

  • the problem of the lay apostolate;
  • the formation for the lay apostolate, both for lay people themselves as well as for clergy and religious orders;
  • the methods of formation and action;
  • the international organisations for the lay apostolate;
  • the problems of missionary laity and exchanges, internships or international formation centres.


30 October 1960


Joseph Cardijn, The apostolate of lay people, 30/10/1960 (Archives Cardijn, N° 1576 / 1) (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)