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.
- Published in World