THE LAYMAN'S ROLE TODAY
By Dom CHRISTOPHER DELANEY
EXPRESSIONS like "lay apostolate" and "lay spirituality" are bandied about without, one suspects, any thought given to their meaning.
Take, for example, the phrase "lay spirituality." Are we to conclude from this that there are two separate types of spirituality in the Church, one for the clergy and one for the laity?
No-one who has considered the question would agree with this classification; there are not two separate types of spirituality, one for the upper ten (the clergy) and another for the masses (the laity). There is only one spirituality, but the conditions governing its application are different for the clergy and the laity.
NOT all are called to be priests and religious. Nevertheless, the life of the layman in the world is just as much a vocation as the call to the priesthood. Both are called; but to different states and to work under different conditions.
Although the roles and vocations of the priest and the layman are distinct, their work within the Church and for the Church do not oppose each other. Furthermore, because there is this difference in vocation, a difference in ways of living and working. there must needs be a distinct spirituality for the layman.
A distinct spirituality is not the same as a separate spirituality; we speak, for instance, of a distinction of persons in the Trinity but not of separate persons. Similarly, although we speak of a spirituality of the laity as distinct from that of the clergy, they are not two separate entities; the laity and clergy each have their own sphere of activity in the body of Christ.
IN practice, in what IL does the rale of the laity consist? How can the layman lead a life in the world and yet at the same time play his part in the life of the Church?
The layman must avoid the danger of limiting his role to that of promoting a spiritual life merely within the Church. There are many Catholic societies, admirable in themselves, which have for their object to be beneficial to Catholics of different classes, professions, and interests; they amount to mutual benefit societies and as such do a great deal to keep the Catholic faith alive amongst their members.
Whilst these societies are good in themselves and necessary to Catholic life, they fall short of promoting the proper role of the laity.
THE role of the laity is not simply to keep the Catholic faith alive within the Church but to promote the spiritual life of the Church in the world: for the role of the layman is to act as a link between the priest and the world.
He is responsible for bridging the gap between the Church and the State.
He must not regard himself or act as if he were the shadow of the priest or a priest in plain clothes who, as somebody remarked, can he distinguished from the clergy only by the fact that he does not say Mass. Nor must the layman be content to allow the priest to do all the evangelical work.
THERE are other pitfalls, too, which a layman can fall into. He can. for instance, regard the priest as being simply a sacramental machine and the sacraments themselves as machines which, automatically and without difficulty, without any effort on his part, store up for him
a definite quantity of grace.
The layman, moreover, must not think that he is doing the maximum demanded of him by the Church when he frequents the sacraments and when he attends Sunday Mass. The mission of the layman is not simply that of a regular churchgoer but a missioner to an increasingly secular world. In his recent book "Laity, Church and World" Pere Yves Congas, 0.P., says (p.55): "It is the Christian's duty to be where he is. If he chooses to live cosily rubbing shoulders in Catholic circles, he is then shutting himself up in a sort of ghetto. In addition to the fact that to do so would be repugnant to him as a human being, for he will want to do his bit in the world,
he would in that case cease to be a witness to Christ."
IF the layman is to be an effective witness he cannot do without the guidance of the clergy. The clergy must train the laity for their role, and this can he done from the pulpit in sermons which meet their need— practical sermons based on the much neglected Bible and sound theology.
One would like to see, for instance, more emphasis given to the Church as a society of the faithful rather than the Church as a hierarchical organisation.
Furthermore, study circles, discussion groups, and, more important still, talks and meetings by and with non-Catholics all help to turn the layman into an effective witness to Christ.
ALL this shows the need for a close cooperation between the clergy and the laity. Unless the priest. recognises the layman to be a link between himself and the world, and unless the layman recognises himself to he such, misunderstandings and dissentions can easily arise.
"At bottom, forgetfulness of the true role of lay people leads both