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Year of Mercy: Jubilee celebration to honor role of laity

On Jan. 17, 2016, only one month into the beginning of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, the diocese will celebrate a special Jubilee for Lay Ministers. During this liturgical event at St. Joseph Co-Cathedral, representatives from Vermont's parishes who are involved specifically in lay ministry as lectors, extraordinary ministers of holy Communion and others, will be recognized for their collaboration with pastors in building up the kingdom of God in the local parish. (Teachers, musicians and religious will be recognized at other Jubilees throughout the year.)

When Pope Francis announced the Extraordinary Year of Mercy, he planned its début to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council. In no other council in the history of the Church has the role of laymen and women received so much attention. Nearly every document promulgated by this ecumenical council touches on the role of the laity; and in fact, an entire document is dedicated to understanding their role. The Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity ("Apostolicam Actuositatem") was promulgated on Nov. 18, 1965. The document speaks about the diversification of ministries within the Church since apostolic times as well as the complementary relationship between the clerical and lay states: "In the Church, there is diversity of service but unity of purpose. Christ conferred on the apostles and their successors the duty of teaching, sanctifying, and ruling in His name and power. But the laity, too . . . exercise a genuine apostolate by their activity on behalf of bringing the gospel and holiness to men, and on behalf of penetrating and perfecting the temporal sphere of things through the spirit of the gospel." (AA,2)

In our own parishes throughout Vermont, we experience that harmonious collaboration – especially in the case of priests burdened with managing multiple parishes. There are some very visible lay ministries assisting the pastor every weekend at Mass, such as lectors, extraordinary ministers of holy Communion and ushers, but there are also many indispensible lay ministries who thrive behind the scenes that make parishes vibrant. For example, the parishioners who provide funeral receptions, those who decorate churches and wash linens, those who serve on various advisory committees to the pastor, those who teach religious education for children and adults, those involved in the media, those with financial expertise, and so forth. (See Lay Ministry story on page 16.)

Our very own Bishop Robert F. Joyce, who was one of the Council Fathers at the time of Vatican II, told Vermonters as far back as 1962:

"Our laymen and women have been very active for a number of years and have displayed excellent qualities of leadership and zeal promoting the work of the Church. I feel very strongly their role should be much further extended as was the case in the early Apostolic times." (Vermont Catholic Tribune article 10/26/62)

The role of the laity has indeed been extended in our modern era in ways that Bishop Joyce could not have foreseen. During this Year of Mercy, the Diocese of Burlington appeals to God the Father, whose "mercy endures forever," that the zeal which marked the first century lay disciples of Christ may be rekindled in the 21st century with increased fervor and unity of purpose to show the world that we truly are Christians by our love.

Father Lance W. Harlow, pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary in Williston and Our Lady of the Rosary in Richmond, is the diocesan chair of the Ad Hoc Committee for the Year of Faith. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 
  • Published in World

Renewed hope in role of laity in Church

The Catholic Church needs laypeople who look to the future, take risks and aren't afraid to get their hands dirty, Pope Francis said.

While laypeople must be "well-formed, animated by a straightforward and clear faith" and have lives truly touched by Christ's merciful love, they also need to be able to go out and play a major role in the life and mission of the Church, he said.

The pope met recently with members, consultors and employees and their family members of the Pontifical Council for the Laity

Established by Blessed Paul VI after the Second Vatican Council, the office was meant to encourage and support laypeople's involvement in the life and mission of the church, Pope Francis said, underlining the Italian word "incitare," meaning to spur, urge or encourage.

"The mandate you received from the council was exactly that of 'pushing' the lay faithful to get ever more and better involved in the evangelizing mission of the church," he said.

Lay involvement was in no way meant to be a "proxy" of the hierarchy, he said, but to participate in the saving mission of the church as baptized members.

People enter into the church and its mission, through the "door" of baptism, he said, not through priestly or episcopal ordination. "You come in through baptism and we have all come in through the same door," he added.

Through baptism, every Christian becomes "a missionary disciple of the Lord, salt of the earth, light of the world, leaven that transforms reality from within."

Thanking the pontifical council for all that it accomplished over the decades, Pope Francis said it was time to look to the future with hope and "to plan a renewed presence at the service of the laity," which is always "in ferment" and marked by new problems.

The council for the laity will be merged with two other dicasteries – creating a new Vatican office for laity, family and life, which will begin functioning Sept. 1.

Much more needs to be done, he said, to open up new horizons and tackle new challenges.

"From this stems the project of reform of the Curia," he said. The creation of a new office for laity, family and life, he said, is a sign of how much their work is valued and esteemed and of renewed faith in the role of laypeople in the life of the Church.

The pope asked the outgoing council members and staff to keep as their point of reference the image of a Church and a laity "on the move" and reaching for the peripheries.

"Lift up your gaze and look 'outside,' look toward the many people who are 'far' from our world, to the many families in difficulty and needing mercy," he said.

Many laypeople, the pope said, would generously and gladly dedicate their effort, talents and time to serving the Gospel "if they were included, valued and accompanied with affection and dedication" by priests and church institutions.

After underlining the importance of well-formed laypeople, the pope spoke off-the-cuff, saying, "We need laypeople who take risks, who get their hands dirty, who are not afraid of making mistakes, who go forward. We need laypeople with a vision of the future, not closed up in the trivial things in life."

Young people need lay adults, especially the elderly, who can offer them their experience, wisdom and dreams, he said. The young "need the dreams of the elderly," who – instead of being disposed of – should be "pushed" and encouraged to revitalize their dreams and "give us the power of new apostolic points of view," he said. (CNS)

  • Published in Vatican
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