The vocation and mission of the laity

Who are the “Laity” we speak about? 

Often Laity = recipients of clerical ministry 

or at Laity = key people with special ministries in the Church. 

But Vatican II challenge asked to think and talk about the mass of the Laity. The millions and millions of baptised people of God. For rise in Australia and therefore the Laity = 3-4 million and of Australian Catholic people. All of these are by baptism consecrated priests to the world. All have a vocation and mission in the Church and in the world. 

With what sorts of changes is has this challenged brought to life and action of the Laity in post Vatican Australia? 

The message of the Church

“The joys and the hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the people of this age especially those who are, or in any way affected-in the is other joys, hopes, griefs and anxieties of followers of Christ.” (Church in Modern World) 

“The God who has fatherly concern for everyone has willed that all people should constitute one family and treat one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” (Church in Modern World) 

“For the Church evangelising means of bringing the good news into all this cluster of humanity and through its influence transforming humanity from within and making new – not in a purely decorative way as it were by applying a thin veneer but in a vital way in depth and right to their very roots.” (Evangelisation in the Modern World) 

“The primary and immediate task of the Laity is not to establish and develop the Ecclesial community – this is the specific role of the pastors – but to put to use every Christian and evangelical possibility latent but already present and active in the affairs of the world.” (Evangelisation in the Modern World) 

“The Laity a called in a special way to make the Church present and active in those places and circumstances where only through then can she become the salt of the earth.” (Vatican II on the Church) 

The message of the Church is a message of the sacredness of creation, of the dignity of each person, of the importance of the joys, griefs, hopes, and anxieties of all and especially the poor, of the brother/sisterhood of all in one family, of the Church mission to penetrate the World transforming from within, of the special role of each lay person in the secular vocation within the world. 

The Message of the World 


YCW works with post school young people who are not students. About one-quarter of these the work with are unemployed. 

Everyone longs to participate in society – to enjoy the money, the role and the status that work gives. When they haven’t got the trouble starts. 

Rows at home, antique social behaviour: drinking, drugs, thieving, vandalism 

Suicide 3 in my parish and 12 months (please don’t mention the name of parish) 

Prostitution girl left her home in Bunbury moved to St. Kilda and became a prostitute 

Homelessness 2 guys in rubbish bin in Melbourne – 1 crushed by compactor – another guy in rubbish bin set alight the rubbish and died 

YCW has set up homes for homeless in five states 

St. Vincent de Paul homes used to house old alcoholics – now have young homeless – unemployed 

Despair – 8000 unemployed in Wollongong 

Boring Work – Repetitive Work 

To guys in Railway workshop – too little work to do – work means watching machines work. 

The girl and factory making ice-cream sticks – her job is to watch them pass and pick out the bad ones. 

Pressures at Work – technology and insecurity of employment 

Data processing operator does 20,000 strokes of her machine every hour. 

If you don’t work fast and do jobs asked even if they are not part of your work you are threatened with the sack. 

Pressure to work overtime – often unpaid. 

Casual Work and Outwork 

Girl and country Western Australia – casual work for big retail store – must sit at home waiting each day for store to ring or miss out on jobs because it she is regarded as unreliable. When holidays, her job goes to lesser paid students, when she gets older she is no longer required. 

Casual work means no sick pay, no holiday pay. 

Out Work – new and growing phenomena in Australia – often migrants working at jobs by day doing piece work stitching at night – paid the so much to peace means low pay per hour – jealousy and anger of unemployed. 

Relationships at Work 

  • Often no cooperation at at work – racial tensions 
  • One factory, 2 lunch rooms, 60 Vietnamese in one and 2 Australian in the other – racial tensions 
  • Safety of Work 
  • Pressure of work, insecurity of employment often results in unsafe working conditions. 

Guy at a foam factory – 40 people work there, among them there are seven missing fingers. Recently one person lost a finger. the foreman and (YCW person) rang the Department of Labour and Industry. They came out and numbered 1118 unsafe things. 76 have been rectified. management says they can afford to fix others. 

Why tell you all these things? They are not put forward as problems that must be solved asking you to suggest that solutions. rather they are put forward as examples of the world what is saying to people. What is the world gives as its message or answers to questions: was life about? What is my purpose in life? The answer of the world given in these examples is no vague message-it clearly tells people you are powerless, you have little worth, you are less important than the things like money and production, your commodity to be used in production, you don’t belong as a person. Often workers give employers are similar message by being unreliable, this honest, all produced shoddy work. Everybody is harmed by these things-by those giving and those receiving the message. Pope John Paul II has said that work and the capital/labour conflict is essential key to the whole social question. 

Pastoral Implications 

The church has an important message. It sometimes has difficulty in bridging the gap between Church teaching and the application in the workplace. We sometimes seemed to believe that if we are good people and have good liturgies select and good things happening in the Church scene these things will trickle down into the world of work. 

But this is not so. The message of the world of work is too loud and clear and separated from the Church. The two just do not meet, so one value for the Church and another value for the world of work. We need to build working class leaders who understand that they are vocation and mission is the workplace primarily and to transform that from within. 

Struggling for justice is a constitutive part of the work of evangelisation. The proper recently set as it aims for workers the values of Solidarity, Justice and Participation. We must preach these as the virtues of the workplace. Above all we need to help provide the formation lay people need to do this work, and this must be a formation suitable to achieve the end we have in view. Workers must meet to share what is happening in their lives, to question it and reflect on it, to challenge one another about the implications of this, to ask what Christ would do, to plan and organise to take action for change, to reflect on achievements, to get support from one another. 

They should meet as Catholics all Christians, in the name of the Church with a support and spiritual animation of the Church. We need to teach social doctrine, encyclical like “On Human Work” – to teach dignity, meaning and mission of work. These things will not be achieved by fine tuning of present methods of Church we need to radically face what the world is saying to people and work another way. Per groups etc. a good but on the on their alight praying for house to be built and not doing any building. It won’t work. People sometimes say the YCW is not prayerful enough must have balance. That YCW Ass where else in the Church is error body organised for action in the workplace and reviewing the action. There are not many other examples. And at the YCW is Christians in motivation etc. 

The YCW in Australia 

A movement which perhaps more than any of body in the Church has fought the battles and it remained most dedicated to what the movement calls the secular vocation of the laity. 

No movement can effectively take on the whole of Christian living. St. Vincent de Paul specifically works in Australia for material support of the poor. Legion of Mary specifically works to help spiritual needs of people in an Apostolic way. Prayer groups and specifically at teaching prior, organising community prayer and supporting one another in coping. 

The YCW specifically has the task of working with young workers in the secular vocation and especially with regard to vocation and mission in temporal affairs and temporal leadership in the workplace as Christians with and Apostolic aims. 

The YCW works in small groups. Its process of formation of reviewing action by the See Judge Act is long and arduous. It is not a movement of the quick results. It has not the advantage of a clean Church image for its work is far from mainstream Church action. It forever walks the line dividing “secularity” from” secularism”. It needs a support and cooperation of bishops, priests, parishes. If these are suspicious, accusing the YCW of being too political or not “religious” enough then the YCW and the Church will be both losers. 

The YCW went through hard times in the 70s. Some of this was caused by the environmental changes in society, some was inevitable result of taking seriously Vatican II’s challenge to radical insertion into lay life (especially given Australian Church history). Some was due to our immaturity in this field, some were mistakes, some was due to Church suspicion and noncooperation. By in 1977 the YCW was decimated to exist only in Adelaide was some movement in Melbourne. 

The YCW history of this period is important history. It exemplifies the Pastoral difficulties and problems of walking the past we have been challenged to walk by Vatican II 

Was the YCW of the 70s successful despite its troubles? 

Much formation and action for change. 

Chris Warnock now Diocesan Chaplain of Port Pirie YCW 

Jenny Lauritsen a Missionary Sister of Service is religious assistant, full-time worker and co-founder of the Sydney YCW. 

Michael and Lesley Campbell together with other ex YCW’s of that period are co-founders and members of the Christian Worker Movement in Adelaide. 

Stefan Gigacz work full-time in Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney and then for the National YCW and this year begins work for the International YCW in Asia/Pacific. 

Many out actively involved in the unions and other places of civic responsibility. 

Many unmarried, parents with families, members of parishes, involved in Church renewal programmes. 

The YCW Today 

Fragile-not enough trained leaders, little involvement of chaplains but hopeful. Due to the shortage of priests, the aims of the YCW are not well enough known and accepted. Some are suspicious of the secularity of the YCW. The movement has grown quickly and insecurity, cooperation and support there is need for support from ex YCW’s. The YCW feels a bit marginalised within the Church. But there is much hope. A lot of support from some of the Church and it is growing. We need a better image and clear that image. Everyone knows what St Vincent de Paul does and what the Legion of Mary do when they knock on doors. Few no what YCW is on about when it knocks at doors. We are not just they are to invite a young person to join a Church youth group-we are they are because we believe in young workers dignity and mission in secular life. That is what we are they are to talk about. We are not the youth movement but a lay apostolate movement. We relate primarily to other lay apostolate movements not other use movements. The YCW is much to support from the Church’s Social Teaching, Vatican Council, encyclicals and some support and encouragement of the Australian Bishops in the AEC. 

In “Human Redemption” the Pope said “the ultimate criteria of all renewal is whether people coming to understand their own vocation.” 

Hugh O’Sullivan

[Date unknown, venue unknown – 1988] 


Hugh O’Sullivan, The vocation and mission of the laity in the Church and the world (