The Many Layers of the Laity: Liberating Lay Empowerment from Ecclesial Elitism
Rhoderick John Abellanosa
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Lay empowerment has become integral in the life of the postconciliar Church. Vatican II’s Decree on Lay Apostolate provides the theological and pastoral basis for the laity’s “indispensable role in the mission of the Church” who derive their “right and duty to the apostolate from their union with Christ the head.”1 The Council further speaks of the laity’s incorporation “into Christ's Mystical Body through Baptism and strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit through Confirmation.”2 Also emphasized is the universal priesthood of the laity and their call to universal holiness. Every baptized individual, according to the Council, has a charism to share in the Church’s role and mission.3 This mission and role are special obligations that must be directed at the renewal of the temporal order.4 Without question, the Council has provided a theological foundation for the dignity of the laity in the Church, one that has been reverberated by theologians (e.g. Congar, Harring, and McBrien) and post-Conciliar magisterial texts.5 However, much has changed in the way lay empowerment has been conceptualized, lived, and operationalized in different pastoral arenas since the end of the Council.6 Pope Francis no less warns us of the dangers of empowerment and representation as sources or causes of exclusivism within the Church. He does not mince words in his admission that “[w]ithout realizing it, we have generated a lay elite, believing that committed lay people are only those who work in the matters “of priests”, and we have forgotten, overlooked, the believers who very often burn out their hope in the daily struggle to live the faith.”7

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