Cardinal Arinze on the role of the laity

Cardinal Francis Arinze grew up in Nigeria, and in 1965 became the youngest bishop in the world at the age of 32. He was the first African cardinal to head a Vatican office and served as prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments from 2002 to 2008. He is the author of several books, including the autobiographical God’s Invisible HandCelebrating the Holy Eucharist , and Meeting Jesus and Following Him, all published by Ignatius Press.

Cardinal Arinze’s newest book is The Layperson’s Distinctive Role (Ignatius Press), and he recently, via e-mail, answered questions from Catholic World Report about that book.

CWR: How did the Second Vatican Council, and then Bl. John Paul II, seek to address the role of the laity? What was distinctive about that approach compared to the pre-conciliar era?

Cardinal Arinze: The Second Vatican Council addressed the role of the laity by teaching that this role is based on Baptism by which the laity “are made one body in Christ and are established among the People of God” (Lumen Gentium, 31). The principal passage on this is LG 31. This teaching is discussed in greater detail in LG 32-37 and also in Gaudium et Spes 43 and in Apostolicam Actuositatem 2-7.

Blessed John Paul II, particularly in his postsynodal apostolic exhortation Christifideles Laici, bases the lay apostolate on the mystery of the Church. “I am the vine and you are the branches” (Jn 15:5; CL 20). The lay people are sharers in the priestly, prophetic, and kingly mission of Jesus Christ (CL 29). A secular character is peculiar to the laity. So this great Pope states: “Thus for the lay faithful, to be present and active in the world is not only an anthropological and sociological reality, but in a specific way, a theological and ecclesiological reality as well” (CL 15).

Distinctive about both approaches is that both Vatican II and Bl. John Paul II consider the lay faithful primarily as called to evangelize the secular order. Before Vatican II many in the Church defined the lay apostolate as a participation in the apostolate of the hierarchy (i.e. of the clergy). Continue reading


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