1964: Address to Vatican II



Your Eminences and Most Reverend Fathers of the Council,

In the name of the lay Auditors, men and women, present in Rome, I thank the Cardinal Moderators for the honour and opportunity of addressing this great Assembly, I would assure you, Venerable Fathers, that we are very conscious of our responsibility at this historic moment to try, however inadequately, to voice the sentiments of the faithful laity throughout the world.

We have welcomed most warmly the Chapter of the document on the Church dealing with the Laity, giving us a new vision of our active participation in the whole mission of the Church. We have welcomed also the Constitution on the Liturgy which has vitalised our share in the public worship of the Church.

We offer the assurance of our loyal cooperation in fulfilling the noble aims of the document on Christian Unity. And now we have been following with the greatest attention your debate on the Lay Apostolate.

This schema marks for us a point of fulfilment in the historical development of the Lay Apostolate. We sincerely hope that it marks also the beginning of a whole new stage of development.

The schema is the natural outcome of the Church’s new awareness of Herself. It is also the result of the progressive discovery by men and women of their responsibility and role within the whole apostolate of the Church. All those who work in the different fields of the apostolate will welcome the present debate as a powerful recognition of their efforts. The very existence of the document under discussion is proof that the apostolate of the laity is no luxury nor passing fashion. It means that this apostolate is incorporated into the new dynamism of the Church, seeking new ways to implement the message of the Gospel, seeking new means better adapted to the different social, economic and cultural situations of modern man.

No document could have provided a codification of all that is being done in the different fields of the apostolate. Nor would one have wished that it should. This schema leaves the field open for further developments and at the same time points to the common ground in apostolic endeavour. Because circumstances and needs will differ, precise forms and structures cannot be universally imposed.

In the general report on the scheme, we heard with great interest of the Commission’s intention to link this scheme with other Conciliar documents which directly effect the laity with, for example, the Chapter on the laity in “De Ecclesia” with the Decree on Means of Communication. In particular, we anxiously await the debate on the Church in the Modern World. All this will have immense implications for the responsible activity of the laity both in the spiritual and in the temporal orders.

It is clear that an apostolic lay action must be rooted in the actual situation and needs of the world, And, as we all know, these needs, both spiritual and temporal, are very great.

Yet, whilst it is true that all Christians are called through baptism and confirmation to the apostolate, we must face the fact that few answer that call.

How are the vast majority of Catholics to be made aware of their apostolic responsibility to bear witness in their daily life, as members of a family, as members of the community of the Church and of the whole community? This is the challenge for all those who bear responsibility for Christian formation – for parents, teachers, priests and for leaders of Catholic groups and organisations. It is here that we see the first role of our organisations. It is clear that association provides the most favourable conditions for Christian formation and for sustaining the individual in the development of his creative potential and in the witness he must bear to the world. The establishment and development of organised groupings should therefore be strongly encouraged.

To help us to fulfil our role, Venerable Fathers, may we presume to appeal through you for priests to give us their indispensable help. It is the priest who brings Christ to us through the Sacraments and the Gospels. It is the priest who equips us spiritually to “consecrate the world”. Those of us especially who work in lay movements know how much we owe to our brotherly cooperation with our chaplains.

The lay apostolate cannot be an isolated entity in the Church, It reaches its fullness in close collaboration with all the other members of the Church. By its very nature it demands a constant and regular exchange between the Hierarchy and the laity. It is for us as lay people to bring to our Pastors our experience of the needs of the world in which we live, and to seek from them guidance in our endeavour to respond to these needs. In simple terms, there must be the “family dialogue” of which our Holy Father, Pope Paul, has spoken so frequently and emphasised in his recent Letter “Ecclesiam Suam”.

His Eminence Cardinal Cento, to whom our thanks as to all members of his Commission are due, told us in his introduction to this debate that there is, by wish of her Divine Founder, a distinction within the Church between the Hierarchy and the Laity. But this distinction implies no distance. This debate in the Council has done much to bind us together inseparably in the single mission of the Church.

Patrick Keegan


Archives de la JOC Internationale

Patrick Keegan, in Council Daybook, Vatican II, Session 3, National Catholic Welfare Conference, Washington DC, 1965, 368p.