Apostolicam Actuositatem

18 November 1965


1. In its desire to intensify the apostolic activity of the People of God[1] the Council now earnestly turns its thoughts to the Christian laity. Mention has already been made in other documents of the laity’s special and indispensable role in the mission of the Church.[2] Indeed, the Church can never be without the lay apostolate; it is something that derives from the layman’s very vocation as a Christian. Scripture clearly shows how spontaneous and fruitful was this activity in the Church’s early days (cf. Acts 11:19-21; 18:26; Rom. 16:1-16; Phil. 4:3).

No less fervent a zeal on the part of lay people is called for today; present circumstances, in fact demand from them an apostolate infinitely broader and more intense. For the constant increase in population, the progress in science and technology, the shrinking of the gaps that have kept men apart, have immensely enlarged the field of the lay apostolate, a field that is in great part open to the laity alone; they have in addition given rise to new problems which require from the laity and intelligent attention and examination. All the more urgent has this apostolate become, now that autonomy — as is only right — has been reached in numerous sectors of human life, sometimes with a certain relinquishing of moral and religious values, seriously jeopardizing the Christian life. Besides, in many regions where priests are very scarce or (as is sometimes the case) deprived of the freedom they need for their ministry, it is hard to see how the Church could make her presence and action felt without the help of the laity.

The need for this urgent and many-sided apostolate is shown by the manifest action of the Holy Spirit moving laymen today to a deeper and deeper awareness of their responsibility and urging them on everywhere to the service of Christ and the Church.[3]

The Council will explain in this Decree the nature of the lay apostolate, its character and the variety of its forms; it will state fundamental principles and give pastoral directives for its more effective exercise. These are all to serve as norms in the revision of Canon Law concerned with the lay apostolate.



2. The Church was founded to spread the kingdom of Christ over all the earth for the glory of God the Father, to make all men partakers in redemption and salvation,[4] and through them to establish the right relationship of the entire world to Christ.

Every activity of the Mystical Body with this in view goes by the mane of “apostolate”; the Church exercises it through all its members, though in various ways. In fact, the Christian vocation is, of its nature a vocation to the apostolate as well. In the organism of a living body no member plays a purely passive part, sharing in the life of the body it shares at the same time in its activity. The same is true for the Body of Christ, the Church: “the whole Body achieves full growth in dependence on the full functioning of each part” (Eph. 4:16). Between the members of this body there exists, further, such a unity and solidarity (cf. Eph. 4:16) that a member who does not work at the growth of the body to the extent of his possibilities must be con-sidered useless both to the Church and himself.

In the Church there is diversity of ministry but unity of mission. To the apostles and their successors Christ has entrusted the office of teaching, sanctifying and governing in his name and by his power. But the laity are made to share in the priestly, prophetical and kingly office of Christ; they have therefore, in the Church and in the world, their own assignment in the mission of the whole People of God.[5] In the concrete, their apostolate is exercised when they work at the evangelization and sanctification of men; it is exercised too when they endeavour to have the Gospel spirit permeate and improve the temporal order, going about it in a way that bears clear witness to Christ and helps forward the salvation of men.

The characteristic of the lay state being a life led in the midst of the world and of secular affairs, laymen are called by God to make of their apostolate, through the vigour of their Christian spirit, a leaven in the world.


3. From the fact of their union with Christ the head flows the laymen’s right and duty to be apostles. Inserted in the Mystical Body of Christ by baptism and strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit in confirmation, it is by the Lord himself that they are assigned to the apostolate. If they are consecrated a kingly priesthood and a holy nation (cf. 1 Pet. 2:4-10), it is in order that they may in all their actions offer spiritual sacrifices and bear witness to Christ all the world over. Charity, which is, as it were, the soul of the whole apostolate, is given to them and nourished in them by the sacraments, the Eucharist above all. [6]

The apostolate is lived in faith, hope and charity poured out by the Holy Spirit into the hearts of all the members of the Church. And the precept of charity, which is the Lord’s greatest commandment, urges all Christians to work for the glory of God through the coming of his kingdom and for the communication of eternal life to all men, that they may know the only true God and Jesus Christ whom he has sent (cf. Jn. 17:3).

On all Christians, accordingly, rests the noble obligation of working to bring all men throughout the whole world to hear and accept the divine message of salvation.

The Holy Spirit sanctifies the People of God through the ministry and the sacraments. However, for the exercise of the apostolate he gives the faithful special gifts besides (cf. 1 Cor. 12:7), “allotting them to each one as he wills” (1 Cor. 12:11), so that each and all, putting at the service of others the grace received may be “as good stewards of God’s varied gifts,” (1 Pet. 4:10), for the building up of the whole body in charity (cf. Eph. 4:16). From the reception of these charisms, even the most ordinary ones, there arises for each of the faithful the right and duty of exercising them in the Church and in the world for the good of men and the development of the Church, of exercising them in the freedom of the Holy Spirit who “breathes where he wills” (Jn. 3:8), and at the same time in communion with his brothers in Christ, and with his pastors especially. It is for the pastors to pass judgment on the authenticity and good use of these gifts, not certainly with a view to quenching the Spirit but to testing everything and keeping what is good (cf. 1 Th. 5:12, 19, 21).[7]


4. Christ, sent by the Father, is the source of the Church’s whole apostolate. Clearly then, the fruitfulness of the apostolate of lay people depends on their living union with Christ; as the Lord said himself: “Whoever dwells in me and I in him bears much fruit, for separated from me you can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5). This life of intimate union with Christ in the Church is maintained by the spiritual helps common to all the faithful, chiefly by active participation in the liturgy.[8] Laymen should make such a use of these helps that, while meeting their human obligations in the ordinary conditions of life, they do not separate their union with Christ from their ordinary life; but through the very performance of their tasks, which are God’s will for them, actually promote the growth of their union with him. This is the path along which laymen must advance, fervently, joyfully, overcoming difficulties with prudent patient efforts.[9] Family cares should not be foreign to their spirituality, nor any other temporal interest; in the words of the apostle: “Whatever you are doing, whether speaking or acting, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:17).

A life like this calls for a continuous exercise of faith, hope and charity.

Only the light of faith and meditation on the word of God can enable us to find everywhere and always the God “in whom we live and exist” (Acts 17:28); only thus can we seek his will in everything, see Christ in all men, acquaintance or stranger, make sound judgments on the true meaning and value of temporal realities both in themselves and in relation to man’s end.

Those with such a faith live in the hope of the revelation of the sons of God, keeping in mind the cross and resurrection of the Lord.

On life’s pilgrimage they are hidden with Christ in God, are free from the slavery of riches, are in search of the goods that last for ever. Generously they exert all their energies in extending God’s kingdom, in making the Christian spirit a vital energizing force in the temporal sphere. In life’s trials they draw courage from hope, “convinced that present sufferings are no measure of the future glory to be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18).

With the love that comes from God prompting them, they do good to all, especially to their brothers in the faith (cf. Gal. 6:10), putting aside “all ill will and deceit, all hypocrisy, envy and slander” (1 Pet. 2:1), in this way attracting men to Christ. Divine love, “poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom. 5:5), enables lay people to express concretely in their lives the spirit of the Beatitudes. Following in his poverty, Jesus, they feel no depression in want, no pride in plenty; imitating the humble Christ, they are not greedy for vain show (cf. Gal. 5:26). They strive instead to please God rather than men, always ready to abandon everything for Christ (cf. Lk. 14:26) and to endure persecution in the cause of right (cf. Mt. 5:10), having in mind the Lord’s saying: “If any man wants to come my way let him renounce self and take up his cross and follow me” (Mt. 16:24). Preserving a Christian friendship with one another, they afford mutual support in all needs.

This lay spirituality will take its particular character from the circumstances of one’s state in life (married and family life, celibacy, widowhood), from one’s state of health and from one’s professional and social activity. Whatever the circumstances, each one has received suitable talents and these should be cultivated, as should also the personal gifts he has from the Holy Spirit.

Similarly laymen who have followed their particular vocation and become members of any of the associations or institutions approved by the Church, aim sincerely at making their own the forms of spirituality proper to these bodies.

They should also hole in high esteem professional competence, family and civic sense, and the virtues related to social behaviour such as honesty, sense of justice, sincerity, courtesy, moral courage; without them there is now true Christian life.

Perfect model of this apostolic spiritual life is the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Apostles. While on earth her life was like that of any other, filled with labours and the cares of the home; always, however, she remained intimately united to her Son and cooperated in an entirely unique way in the Saviour’s work. And now, assumed into heaven, “her motherly love keeps her attentive to her son’s brothers, still on pilgrimage amid the dangers and difficulties of life, until they arrive at the happiness of the fatherland.”[10] Everyone should have a genuine devotion to her and entrust his life to her motherly care.



5. The work of Christ’s redemption concerns essentially the salvation of men; it takes in also, however, the renewal of the whole temporal order. The mission of the Church, consequently, is not only to bring men the message and grace of Christ but also too permeate and improve the whole range of the temporal. The laity, carrying out this mission of the Church, exercise their apostolate therefore in the world as well as in the Church, in the temporal order as well as in the spiritual. These orders are distinct; they are nevertheless so closely linked that God’s plan is, in Christ, to take the whole world up again and make of it a new creation, in an initial way here on earth, in full realization at the end of time. The layman, at one and the same time a believer and a citizen of the world, has only a single conscience, a Christian conscience; it is by this that he must be guided continually in both domains.


6. The Church’s mission is concerned with the salvation of men; and men win salvation through the grace of Christ and faith in him. The apostolate of the Church therefore, and of each of its members, aims primarily at announcing to the world by word and action the message of Christ and communicating to it the grace of Christ. The principal means of bringing this about is the ministry of the word and of the sacraments. Committed in a special way to the clergy, it leaves room however for a highly important part for the laity, the part namely of “helping on the cause of truth” (3 Jn. 8). It is in this sphere most of all that the lay apostolate and the pastoral ministry complete each other.

Laymen have countless opportunities for exercising the apostolate of evangelization and sanctification. The very witness of a Christian life, and good works done in a supernatural spirit, are effective in drawing men to the faith and to God; and that is what the Lord has said: “Your light must shine so brightly before men that they can see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Mat. 5:16).

This witness of life, however, is not the sole element in the apostolate; the true apostle is on the look-out for occasions of announcing Christ by word, either to unbelievers to draw them towards the faith, or to the faithful to instruct them, strengthen them, incite them to a more fervent life; “for Christ’s love urges us on” (2 Cor. 5:14), and in the hearts of all should the apostle’s words find echo: “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel” (1 Cor. 9:16).[1]

At a time when new questions are being put and when grave errors aiming at undermining religion, the moral order and human society at undermining religion, the moral order and human society itself are rampant, the Council earnestly exhorts the laity to take a more active part, each according to his talents and knowledge and in fidelity to the mind of the Church, in the explanation explanation and defense of Christian principles and in the correct application of them to the problems of our times.


7. That men, working in harmony, should renew the temporal order and make it increasingly more perfect: such is God’s design for the world.

All that goes to make up the temporal order: personal and family values, culture, economic interests, the trades and professions, institutions of the political community, international relations, and so on, as well as their gradual development — all these are not merely helps to man’s last end; they possess a value of their own, placed in them by God, whether considered individually or as parts of the integral temporal structure: “And God saw all that he had made and found it very good” (Gen. 1:31). This natural goodness of theirs receives an added dignity from their relation with the human person, for whose use they have been created. And then, too, God has willed to gather together all that was natural, all that was supernatural, into a single whole in Christ, “so that in everything he would have the primacy” (Col. 1:18). Far from depriving the temporal order of its autonomy, of its specific ends, of its own laws and resources, or its importance for human well-being, this design, on the contrary, increases its energy and excellence, raising it at the same time to the level of man’s integral vocation here below.

In the course of history the use of temporal things has been tarnished by serious defects. Under the influence of original sin men have often fallen into very many errors about the true God, human nature and the principles of morality. As a consequence human conduct and institutions became corrupted, the human person itself held in contempt. Again in our own days not a few, putting an immoderate trust in the conquests of science and technology, turn off into a kind of idolatry of the temporal; they become the slaves of it rather than the masters.

It is the work of the entire Church to fashion men able to establish the proper scale of values on the temporal order and direct it towards God through Christ. Pastors have the duty to set forth clearly the principles concerning the purpose of creation and the use to be made of the world, and to provide moral and spiritual helps for the renewal of the temporal order in Christ.

Laymen ought to take on themselves as their distinctive task this renewal of the temporal order. Guided by the light of the Gospel and the mind of the Church, prompted by Christian love, they should act in this domain in a direct way and in their own specific manner. As citizens among citizens they must bring to their cooperation with others their own special competence, and act on their own responsibility; everywhere and always they have to seek the justice of the kingdom of God. The temporal order is to be renewed in such a way that, while its own principles are fully respected, it is harmonized with the principles of the Christian life and adapted to the various conditions of times, places and peoples. Among the tasks of this apostolate Christian social action is preeminent. The Council desires to see it extended today to every sector of life, not forgetting the cultural sphere.[2]


8. While every activity of the apostolate should find in charity its origin and driving force, certain works are of their nature a most eloquent expression of this charity; and Christ has willed that these should be signs of his messianic mission (cf. Mt. 11:4-5).

The greatest commandment of the law is to love God with one’s whole heart and one’s neighbour as oneself (cf. Mt. 22:37- 40). Christ has made this love of the neighbour his personal commandment and has enriched it with a new meaning when he willed himself, along with his brothers, to be the object of this charity saying: “When you showed it to one of the least of my brothers here, you showed it to me” (Mt. 25:40). In assuming human nature he has united to himself all humanity in a supernatural solidarity which makes of it one single family. He has made charity the distinguishing mark of his disciples, in the words: “By this will all men know you for my disciples, by the love you bear one another” (Jn. 13:35).

In the early days the Church linked the “agape” to the eucharistic supper, and by so doing showed itself as one body around Christ united by the bond of charity. So too, in all ages, love is its characteristic mark. While rejoicing at initiatives taken else where, it claims charitable works as its own mission and right. That is why mercy to the poor and the sick, and charitable works and works of mutual aid for the alleviation of all kinds of human needs, are held in special honour in the Church.[3]

Today these activities and works of charity have become much more urgent and world-wide, now that means of communication are more rapid, distance between men has been more or less conquered, people in every part of the globe have become as members of a single family. Charitable action today can and should reach all men and all needs. Wherever men are to be found who are in want of food and drink, of clothing, housing, medicine, work, education, the means necessary for leading a truly human life, wherever there are men racked by misfortune or illness, men suffering exile or imprisonment, Christian charity should go in search of them and find them out, comfort them with devoted care and give them the helps that will relieve their needs. This obligation binds first and foremost the more affluent individuals and nations [4]

If this exercise of charity is to be above all criticism, and seen to be so, one should see in one’s neighbour the image of God to which he has been created, and Christ the Lord to whom is really offered all that is given to the needy. The liberty and dignity of the person helped must be respected with the greatest sensitivity.

Purity of intention should not be stained by any self-seeking or desire to dominate.[5] The demands of justice must first of all be satisfied; that which is already due in justice is not to be offered as a gift of charity. The cause of evils, and not merely their effects, ought to disappear. The aid contributed should be organized in such a way that beneficiaries are gradually freed from their dependence on others and become self- supporting.

The laity should therefore highly esteem, and support as far as they can, private or public works of charity and social assistance movements, including international schemes. By these channels effective help is brought to individuals and nations in need. They should collaborate in this with all men of good will.[6]



9. The lay apostolate, in all its many aspects, is exercised both in the Church and in the world. In either case different fields of apostolic action are open to the laity. We propose to mention here the chief among them: Church communities, the family, the young, the social environment, national and international spheres. Since in our days women are taking an increasingly active share in the whole life of society, it is very important that their participation in the various sectors of the Church’s apostolate should likewise develop.


10. Participators in the function of Christ, priest, prophet and king, the laity have an active part of their own in the life and action of the Church. Their action within the Church communities is so necessary that without it the apostolate of the pastors will frequently be unable to obtain its full effect. Following in the footsteps of the men and women who assisted Paul in the proclamation of the Gospel (cf. Acts 18:18-26; Rom. 16:3), lay persons of a genuinely apostolic spirit supply the needs of their brothers and are a source of consolation no less to the pastors than to the rest of the faithful (cf. 1 Cor. 16:17-18). Nourished by their active participation in the liturgical life of their community, they engage zealously in its apostolic works; they draw men towards the Church who had been perhaps very far away from it; they ardently cooperate in the spread of the Word of God, particularly by catechetical instruction; by their expert assistance they increase the efficacy of the care of souls as well as of the administration of the goods of the Church.

The parish offers an outstanding example of community apostolate, for it gathers into a unity all the human diversities that are found there and inserts them into the universality of the Church.[1] The laity should develop the habit of working in the parish in close union with their priests,[2] of bringing before the ecclesial community their own problems, world problems, and questions regarding man’s salvation, to examine them together and solve them by general discussion. According to their abilities the laity ought to cooperate in all the apostolic and missionary enterprises of their ecclesial family.

The laity will continuously cultivate the “feeling for the diocese,” of which the parish is a kind of cell; they will be always ready on the invitation of their bishop to make their own contribution to diocesan undertakings. Indeed, they will not confine their cooperation within the limits of the parish or diocese, but will endeavour in response to the needs of the towns and rural districts,[3] to extend it to interparochial, interdiocesan, national and interna-tional spheres. This widening of horizons is all the more necessary in the present situation, in which the increasing frequency of popula-tion shifts, the development of active solidarity and the ease of communications no longer allow any one part of society to live in isolation. The laity will therefore have concern for the needs of the People of God scattered throughout the world. Especially will they make missionary works their own by providing them with material means and even with personal service. It is for Christians a duty and an honour to give God back a portion of the goods they have received from him.


11. The Creator of all made the married state the beginning and foundation of human society; by his grace he has made of it too a great mystery in Christ and in the Church (cf. Eph. 5:32), and so the apostolate of married persons and of families has a special importance for both Church and civil society.

Christian couples are, for each other, for their children and for their relatives, cooperators of grace and witnesses of the faith. They are the first to pass on the faith to their children and to educate them in it. By word and example they form them to a Christian and apostolic life; they offer them wise guidance in the choice of vocation, and if they discover in them a sacred vocation they encourage it with all care.

Go give clear proof in their own lives of the indissolubility and holiness of the marriage bond; to assert with vigour the right and duty of parents and guardians to give their children a Christian upbringing; to defend the dignity and legitimate autonomy of the family: this has always been the duty of married persons; today, however, it has become the most important aspect of their apostolate.

They and all the faithful, therefore, should collaborate with men of good will in seeing that these rights are perfectly safeguarded in civil legislation; that in social administration consideration is given to the requirements of families in the matter of housing, education of children, working conditions, social security and taxes; and that in emigration regulations family life is perfectly safeguarded.[4]

The mission of being the primary vital cell of society has been given to the family by God himself. This mission will be accomplished if the family, by the mutual affection of its members and by family prayer, presents itself as a domestic sanctuary of the Church; if the whole family takes its part in the Church’s liturgical worship; if, finally, it offers active hospitality, and practices justice and other good works for the benefit of all its brothers suffering from want. Among the various works of the family apostolate the following may be listed: adopting abandoned children, showing a loving welcome to strangers, helping with the running of schools, supporting adolescents with advice and help, assisting engaged couples to make a better preparation for marriage, taking a share in catechism-teaching, supporting married people and families in a material or moral crisis, and in the case of the aged not only providing them with what is indispensable but also procuring for them a fair share of the fruits of economic progress.

Everywhere and always, but especially in regions where the first seeds of the Gospel are just being sown, or where the Church is still in its infancy or finds itself in a critical situation, Christian families bear a very valuable witness to Christ before the world when all their life they remain attached to the Gospel and hold up the example of Christian marriage[5]

To attain the ends of their apostolate more easily it can be of advantage for families to organize themselves into groups.[6]


12. Young people exert a very important influence in modern society.[7] The circumstances of their life, their habits of thought, their relations with their families, have been completely transformed. Often they enter too rapidly a new social and economic environment. While their social and even political importance is on the increase day by day, they seem unequal to the weight of these new respon-sibilities.

The growth of their social importance demands from them a corresponding apostolic activity; and indeed their natural character inclines them in this direction. Carried along by their natural ardour and exuberant energy, when awareness of their own personality ripens in them they shoulder responsibilities that are theirs and are eager to take their place in social and cultural life. If this enthusiasm is penetrated with the spirit of Christ, animated by a sense of obedience and love towards the pastors of the Church, a very rich harvest can be expected from it. The young should become the first apostles of the young, in direct contact with them, exercising the apostolate by themselves among themselves, taking account of their social environment.[8]

Adults should be anxious to enter into friendly dialogue with the young, where, despite the difference in age, they could get to know one another and share with one another their own personal riches. It is by example first of all and, on occasion, by sound advice and practical help that adults should persuade the young to undertake the apostolate. The young, on their side, will treat their elders with respect and confidence; and though by nature inclined to favour what is new, they will have due esteem for praiseworthy traditions.

Children too have an apostolate of their own. In their own measure they are true living witnesses of Christ among their companions.


13. The apostolate in one’s social environment endeavour to infuse the Christian spirit into the mentality and behaviour, laws and structures of the community in which one lives. To such a degree is it the special work and responsibility of lay people, that no one else can every properly supply for them. In this area laymen can conduct the apostolate of like towards like. there the witness of their life is completed by the witness of their word.[9] It is amid the surroundings of their work that they are best qualified to be of help to their brothers, in the surroundings of their profession, of their study, residence, leisure or local group.

The laity accomplish the Church’s mission in the world principally by that blending of conduct and faith which makes them the light of the world; by that uprightness in all their dealings which is for every man such an incentive to love the true and the good and which is capable of inducing him at last to go to Christ and the Church; by that fraternal charity that makes them share the living conditions and labours, the sufferings and yearnings of their brothers, and thereby prepare all hearts, gently, imperceptibly, for the action of saving grace; by that full awareness of their personal responsibility in the development of society, which drives them on to perform their family, social and professional duties with Christian generosity. In this way their conduct makes itself gradually felt in the surroundings where they live and work.

This apostolate should reach out to every single person in that environment; and it must not exclude any good, spiritual or temporal, that can be done for them. Genuine apostles are not content, however, with just this; they are earnest also about revealing Christ by word to those around them. It is a fact that many men cannot hear the Gospel and come to acknowledge Christ except through the laymen they associate with.


14. On the national and international planes the field of the apostolate is vast; and it is there that the laity more than others are the channels of Christian wisdom. In their patriotism and in their fidelity to their civic duties Catholics will feel themselves bound to promote the true common good; they will make the weight of their convictions so influential that as a result civil authority will be justly exercised and laws will accord with the moral precepts and the common good. Catholics versed in politics and, as should be the case, firm in the faith and Christian teaching, should not decline to enter public life; for by a worthy discharge of their functions, they can work for the common good and at the same time prepare the way for the Gospel.

Catholics are to be keen on collaborating with all men of good will in the promotion of all that is true, just, holy, all that is worthy of love (cf. Phil. 4:8). They are to enter into dialogue with them, approaching them with understanding and courtesy; and are to search for means of improving social and public institutions along the lines of the Gospel.

— 9. Cf. Pius XI, Encyclical Letter “Quadragesimo Anno”. 15 May 1931: AAS 23 (1931) pp. 225-226. —

Among the signs of our times, particularly worthy of note is the very growing and inescapable sense of the solidarity of all peoples. It is the task of the lay apostolate to take pains in developing this sense and transforming it into a really sincere desire for brotherly union. The laity should have an awareness also of the international sector, of the doctrinal and practical problems and solutions that are brought forward there, in particular those concerned with newly developing nations.[10]

Everyone who works in foreign nations or brings them aid must remember that relations among peoples should be a real fraternal interchange in which both parties give and at the same time receive. Those who travel abroad, for international activities, on business or on holiday, should keep in mind that no matter where they may be they are the travelling messengers of Christ, and should bear themselves really as such.

—- 10. Cf. John XXIII, Encyclical Letter “Mater et Magistra”, 15 May 1961: AAS 53 (1961) pp. 448- 450. —-



15. The laity can exercise their apostolic activity either singly or grouped in various communities or associations.


16. The apostolate to be exercised by the individual — which flows abundantly from a truly Christian life (cf. Jn. 4:11) — is the starting point and condition of all types of lay apostolate, including the organized apostolate; nothing can replace it.

The individual apostolate is everywhere and always in place; in certain circumstances it is the only one appropriate, the only one possible. Every lay person, whatever his condition is called to, is obliged to it, even if he has not the opportunity or possibility of collaborating in associations.

The apostolate, through which the laity build up the Church, sanctify the world and get it to live in Christ, can take on many forms.

A special form of the individual apostolate is the witness of a whole lay life issuing from faith, hope and charity; it is a sign very much in keeping with our times, and a manifestation of Christ living in his faithful. Then, by the apostolate of the word, which in certain circumstances is absolutely necessary, the laity proclaim Christ, explain and spread his teachings, each one according to his condition and competence, and profess those teachings with fidelity.

Moreover, cooperating as citizens of this world in all that has to do with constructing and conducting of the temporal order, the laity should, by the light of faith, try to find the higher motives that should govern their behaviour in the home and in professional, cultural and social life; they should too, given the opportunity, let these motives be seen by others, conscious that by so doing they become cooperators with God the creator, redeemer and sanctifier, and give him glory.

Finally, the laity should vitalize their lives with charity and, to the extent of the capability of each give concrete expression to it in works.

All should remember that by public worship and by prayer, by penance and the willing acceptance of the toil and hardships of life by which they resemble the suffering Christ (cf. 2 Cor. 4:10; Col. 1:24), they can reach all men and contribute to the salvation of the entire world.


17. There is an imperative need for the individual apostolate in those areas where the Church’s freedom is seriously hampered.

In such difficult circumstances the laity take over as far as possible the work of priests, jeopardizing their own freedom and sometimes their lives; they teach Christian doctrine to those around them, train them in a religious way of life and in Catholic attitudes, encourage them to receive the sacraments frequently and to cultivate piety, especially eucharistic piety.[1] The Council renders God most heartfelt thanks that even in our own times he is still raising up laymen with heroic courage in the midst of persecutions; the Council embraces them with gratitude and fatherly affection.

The individual apostolate has a special field in regions where Catholics are few and scattered. In such circumstances the laity who exercise only the personal apostolate — whether from the reasons mentioned above or from particular motives arising, among other things, from their professional activity — can gather for discussion into small groups with no rigid form of rules or organization.

This is particularly appropriate in the present instance, for it ensures the continual presence before the eyes of others of a sign of the Church’s community, a sign that will be seen as a genuine witness of love. Thus, by affording mutual spiritual aid by friendship and the exchange of personal experiences, they get the courage to surmount the difficulties of too isolated a life and activity and can increase the yield f their apostolate.


18. The faithful are called as individuals to exercise an apostolate in the various conditions of their life. They must, however, remember that man is social by nature and that it has been God’s pleasure to assemble those who believe in Christ and make of them the People of God (cf. 1 Pet. 2:5-10), a single body (cf. 1 Cor. 12:12). The group apostolate is in happy harmony therefore with a fundamental need in the faithful, a need that is both human and Christian. At the same time it offers a sign of the communion and unity of the Church in Christ, who said: “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there in the midst of them” (Mt. 18:20).

— 1. Cf. Pius XII, “Alloc. ad I Conventum ex Omnibus Gentibus Laicorum Apostolatui provehendo”, 15 Oct 1951: AAS 43 (1951) p. 788. —

For that reason Christians will exercise their apostolate in a spirit of concord.[2] They will be apostles both in their families and in the parishes and dioceses, which already are themselves expressions of the community character of the apostolate; apostles too in the free associations they will have decided to form among themselves.

The group apostolate is very important also for another reason: often, either in ecclesial communities or in various other environments, the apostolate calls for concerted action. Organizations created for group apostolate afford support to their members, train them for the apostolate, carefully assign and direct their apostolic activities; and as a result a much richer harvest can be hoped for from them than if each one were to act on his own.

In present circumstances it is supremely necessary that wherever the laity are at work the apostolate under its collective and organized form should be strengthened. In actual fact only a well- knit combination of efforts can completely attain all the aims of the modern apostolate and give its fruits good protection.[3] From this point of view it is particularly important for the apostolate to establish contact with the group attitudes and social conditions of the persons who are its object; otherwise these will often be in-capable of withstanding the pressure of public opinion or of social institutions.


119. Great variety is to be found in apostolic associations.[4] Some look to the general apostolic end of the Church; others aim specifically at evangelization and sanctification; others work for the permeation of the temporal order by the Christian spirit; and other engage in works of mercy and of charity as their special way of bearing witness to Christ.

First among these associations to be given consideration should be those which favour and promote a more intimate unity between the faith of the members and their everyday life. Associations are not ends in themselves; they are meant to be of service to the Church’s mission to the world. Their apostolic value depends on their conformity with the Church’s aims, as well as on the Christian witness

— 2. Cf. Pius XII, “Alloco. ad I conventum ex Omnibus Gentiubs laicorum Apostolatui provehendo”, 15 Oct. 1951: AAS 43 (1951) pp. 787-788. 3. Cf. Pius XII, Encyclical Letter “Le pelerinage de Lourdes”, 2 July 1957: AAS 49 (1957) p. 615 4. Cf. Pius XII, “Alloc. ad Consilium Foederationis internationalis virorum catholicorum”, 8 Dec. 1956: AAS 49 (1957) pp. 26-27. —

and evangelical spirit of each of their members and of the association as a whole.

As a consequence of the progress of institutions and the rapid evolution of modern society, the universal nature of the Church’s mission requires that the apostolic initiations of Catholics should more and more perfect the various types of international organizations. Catholic international organizations will the more surely gain their object, the more intimately the groups that compost them, as well as their members are united to them.

While preserving intact the necessary link with ecclesiastical authority[5] the laity have the right to establish and direct associations,[6] and to join existing ones. Dissipation of forces must, however, be avoided; this would happen if new associations and works were created without sufficient reason, if old ones now grown useless were held on to, if out-of-date methods continued to be employed. It will not always be a wise procedure, either, to transfer indiscriminately into some particular country forms that have arisen in another.[7]


20. Several decades ago lay people, dedicating themselves increasingly to the apostolate, in many countries formed themselves into various kinds of movements and societies which, in closer union with the hierarchy, have pursued and continue to pursue ends properly apostolic. Among these institutions, as indeed among other similar older ones, special mention must be made of those which, though using differing methods, have yielded abundant fruit for the kingdom of Christ. Deservedly praised and promoted by the popes and numerous bishops, they have received from them the name of Catholic Action, and have most often been described by them as a collaboration of the laity in the hierarchical apostolate.[8]

These types of apostolate, whether or not they go by the name of Catholic Action, are today doing a work of much value. They are constituted by the combination of all the following characteristics:

— 5. Cf. below, Chap. V, no. 24. 6. Cf. Decree of the Sacred Congregation of the Council, “Corrienten.”, 13 Nov. 1920: AAS 13 (1921) p. 139. 7. Cf. John XXIII, Encyclical Letter “Princeps Pastorum”, 10 Dec. 1959. AAS 51 (1959) p. 836. 8. Cf. Pius XI, Letter “Quae nobis”, to Cardinal Bertram”, 13 Nov. 1928: AAS 20 (1928) p. 385. Cf. also Pius XII, ” Alloc. ad A.C. Italicam”, 4 Sept. 1940: AAS 32 (1940) p. 362. —

(a) The immediate end of organizations of this class is the apostolic end of the Church; in other words: the evangelization and sanctification of men and the Christian formation of their conscience, so as to enable them to imbue with the Gospel spirit the various social groups and environments.

(b) The laity, cooperating in their own particular way with the hierarchy, contribute their experience and assume responsibility in the direction of these organizations, in the investigation of the conditions in which the Church’s pastoral work is to be carried on, in the elaboration and execution of their plan of action.

(c) The laity act in unison after the manner of an organic body, to display more strikingly the community aspect of the Church and to render the apostolate more productive.

(d) The laity, whether coming of their own accord or in response to an invitation to action and direct cooperation with the hierarchical apostolate, act under the superior direction of the hierarchy, which can authorize this cooperation, besides, with an explicit mandate.

Organization which, in the judgment of the hierarchy, combine all these elements should be regarded as Catholic Action, even if they have forms and names that vary according too the requirements of localities and peoples.

The council most earnestly commends those institutions which certainly meet the requirements of the Church’s apostolate in many countries; it invites the priests and laity working in them to develop more and more the characteristics mentioned above, and always to give brotherly cooperation in the Church to all other forms of the apostolate.


21. Proper esteem is to be shown to all associations of the apostolate; those, however, which the hierarchy has praised, com- mended, or decided to found as more urgent to meet the needs of times and places, should be valued most by priests, religious and lay people, and developed each in its own way. And among these organizations today especially must be numbered the international associations or societies of Catholics.

22. Worthy of special respect and praise in the Church are the laity, single or married, who, in a definitive way or for a period, put their person and their professional competence at the service of institutions and their activities. It is a great joy to the Church to see growing day by day the number of lay people who are offering their personal service to associations and works of the apostolate, whether within the confines of their own country, or in the international field, or, above all, in the Catholic communities of the missions and of the young Churches.

Pastors are to welcome these lay persons with joy and gratitude. They will see to it that their conditions of life satisfies as perfectly as possible the requirements of justice, equity and charity, chiefly in the matter of resources necessary for the maintenance of themselves and their families. They should too be provided with the necessary training and with spiritual comfort and encouragement.



23. The lay apostolate, individual or collective, must be set in its true place within the apostolate of the whole Church. Union with those whom the Holy Spirit has appointed to rule the Church of God (cf. Acts 20:28) is an essential element of the Christian apostolate. Not less necessary is collaboration among the different undertakings of the apostolate; it is the hierarchy’s place to put proper system into this collaboration.

Mutual esteem for all forms of the church’s apostolate, and good coordination, preserving nevertheless the character special to each, are in fact absolutely necessary for promoting that spirit of unity which will cause fraternal charity to shine out in the Church’s whole apostolate, common aims to be reached and ruinous rivalries avoided.[1]

This is appropriate most of all when some particular action in the Church calls for the agreement and apostolic cooperation of both classes of the clergy, of religious and of the laity.


234. The hierarchy’s duty is to favour the lay apostolate, furnish it with principles and spiritual assistance, direct the exercise of the apostolate to the common good of the Church, and see to it that doctrine and order are safeguarded.

Yet the lay apostolate allows of different kinds of relations with the hierarchy, depending on the various forms and objects of this apostolate.

In the Church are to be found, in fact, very many apostolic enterprises owing their origin to the free choice of the laity and run at their own discretion. Such enterprises enable the Church, in certain circumstances, to fulfil her mission more effectively; not seldom, therefore, are they praised and commended by the hierarchy.[2] But no enterprise must lay claim to the name “Catholic” if it has not the approval of legitimate ecclesiastical authority.

Certain types of the lay apostolate are explicitly recognized by the hierarchy though in different ways.

— 1. Cf. Pius XI, Encyclical Letter “Quamvis Nostra”, 30 April 1936: AAS 28 (1936) pp. 160-161. 2. Cf. Sacred Congregation of the Council, Resolution “Corrienten.”, 13 Nov. 1920: AAS 13 (1921) pp. 137-140. —

Ecclesiastical authority, looking to the needs of the common good of the Church, may also, from among apostolic associations and undertakings aiming immediately at a spiritual goal, pick out some which it will foster in a particular way; in these it assumes a special responsibility. And so, organizing the apostolate differently according to circumstances, the hierarchy brings into closer conjunction with its own apostolic functions such-and-such a form of apostolate, without, however, changing the specific nature of either or the distinction between the two, and consequently without depriving the laity of their rightful freedom to act on their own initiative. This act of the hierarchy has received the name of “mandate” in various ecclesiastical documents.

Finally, the hierarchy entrusts the laity with certain charges more closely connected with the duties of pastors: in the teaching of Christian doctrine, for example, in certain liturgical actions, in the care of souls. In virtue of this mission the laity are fully subject to superior ecclesiastical control in regard to the exercise of these charges.

As for works and institutions of the temporal order, the duty of the ecclesiastical hierarchy is the teaching and authentic interpretation of the moral principles to be followed in this domain. It is also in its province to judge, after mature reflection and with the help of qualified persons, of the conformity of such works or institutions with moral principles, and to pronounce in their regard concerning what is required for the safeguard and promotion of the values of the supernatural order.


25. Bishops, parish priests and other priests of the secular and regular clergy will remember that the right and duty of exercising the apostolate are common to all the faithful, whether clerics or lay; and that in the building up of the church the laity too have parts of their own to play.[3] for this reason they will work as brothers with the laity in the Church and for the Church, and will have a special concern for the laity in the apostolic activities of the latter.[4]

A careful choice will be made of priests with the ability and appropriate training for helping special forms of the lay apostolate.[5] Those who take part in this ministry in virtue of a mission

— 3. Cf. Pius XII, “Ad Il Conventum ex Omnibus Gentibus Laicorum Apostolatui provehendo”, 5 Oct. 1957: AAS 49 (1957) p. 927. 4. Cf. Dogmatic Constitution “De Ecclesia”, chap. IV, no. 37: AAS 57 (1965) pp. 42- 43. 5. Cf. Pius XII, Apostolic Exhortation “Menti Nostrae”, 32 Sept. 1950: AAS 42 (1950) p. 660. —

received from the hierarchy represent the hierarchy in this pastoral action of theirs. Ever faithfully attached to the spirit and teaching of the church they will promote good relations between laity and hierarchy, they will devote their energies to fostering the spiritual life and the apostolic sense of the Catholic associations confided to them; their wise advice will be there to help these along in their enterprises. In constant dialogue with the laity they will make painstaking search for methods capable of making apostolic action more fruitful; they will develop the spirit of unity within the association, and between it and others.

Lastly, religious Brothers and Sisters will hold lay apostolic works in high regard; and will gladly help in promoting them in accordance with the spirit and rules of their institute;[6] they will strive to support, assist and complete the ministrations of the priest.


26. In dioceses, as far as possible, councils should be set up to assist the Church’s apostolic work, whether in the field of evangelization and sanctification or in the fields of charity, social relations and the rest; the clergy and religious working with the laity in whatever way proves satisfactory. These councils can take care of the mutual coordinating of the various lay associations and undertakings, the autonomy and particular nature of each remaining untouched.[7]

Such councils should be found too, if possible, at parochial, interparochial, interdiocesan level, and also on the national and international plane.[8]

In addition, a special secretariat should be established at the Holy See for the service and promotion of the lay apostolate.

This secretariat will act as a center which, with the proper equipment, will supply information about the different apostolic initiatives of the laity. It will undertake research on the problems arising today in this domain; and with its advice will assist the hierarchy and laity in the field of apostolic activities. The various apostolic movements and institutes of the lay apostolate all over the world over should be represented in this secretariat. Clerics and religious should also be there to collaborate with the laity.


— 6. Cf. Decree “De Accomodata renovatione vitae religiosae”, no. 8. 7. Cf. Benedict XIV, “De Synodo Dioecesana”, book III, chap. IX, no. VII. 8. Cf. Pius XI, Encyclical Letter “Quamvis Nostra”, 30 April 1936: AAS 28 (1936) pp. 160-161. —

27. The common patrimony of the Gospel and the common duty resulting from it of bearing a Christian witness make it desirable, and often imperative, that Catholics cooperate with other Christians, either in activities or in societies; this collaboration is carried on by individuals and by ecclesial communities, and at national or international level.[9]

Not seldom also do human values common to all mankind require of Christians working for apostolic ends that they collaborate with those who do not profess Christianity but acknowledge these values.

Through this dynamic, yet prudent, cooperation,[10] which is of great importance in temporal activities, the laity bears witness to Christ the Saviour or the world, and to the unity of the human family

— 9. Cf. John XXIII, Encyclical Letter “Mater et Magistra”, 15 May 1961: AAS 53 (1961) pp. 456- 457; Cf. Decree ” De Oecumenismo”, chap. II, no. 12: AAS 57 (1965) pp. 99-100. 10. Cf. Decree “De Oecumenismo”, chap. II, no. 12: AAS 57 (1965) p. 100; cf. also Dogmatic Constitution “De Ecclesia”, chap. II, no 15: AAS 57 (1965) pp. 19-20. —




28. A training, at once many-sided and complete, is indispensable if the apostolate is to attain full efficacy. This is required, not only by the continuous spiritual and doctrinal progress of the layman himself, but also by the variety of circumstances, persons and duties to which he should adapt his activity. This education to the apostolate must rest on those foundations which the council has in other places set down and expounded.[1] Not a few types of apostolate require, besides the education common to all Christians, a specific and individual training, by reason of the diversity of persons and circumstances.


29. Since the laity participate in the Church’s mission in a way that is their own, their apostolic training acquires a special character precisely from the secularity proper to the lay state and from its particular type of spirituality.

Education for the apostolate presupposes an integral human education suited to each one’s abilities and conditions. for the layman ought to be, through an intimate knowledge of the contemporary world, a member well integrated into his own society and its culture.

But in the first place he should learn to accomplish the mission of Christ and the Church, living by faith in the divine mystery of creation and redemption, moved by the Holy Spirit who gives life to the People of God and urges all men to love God the Father, and in him to love the world of men. This education must be considered the foundation and condition of any fruitful apostolate.

Besides spiritual formation, solid grounding in doctrine is required: in theology, ethics and philosophy, at least, proportioned to the age, condition and abilities of each one. The importance too of a general culture linked with a practical and technical training is something which should by no means be overlooked.

If good human relations are to be cultivated, then it is necessary for genuine human values to stand at a premium, especially the art of living and working on friendly terms with others and entering into dialogue with them.

— 1. Cf. Dogmatic Constitution “De Ecclesia”, shaps. II, IV, V: AAS 57 (1965) pp. 12-21, 37-49; cf also Decree ” De Oecumenismo”, nos. 4, 6, 7, 12: AAS 57 (1965) pp. 94, 96, 97, 99, 100; cf. also above, no. 4. —-

Training for the apostolate cannot consist in theoretical teaching alone; on that account there is need, right from the start of training, to learn gradually and prudently to see all things in the light of faith, to judge and act always in its light, to improve and perfect oneself by working with others, and in this manner to enter actively into the service of the Church.[2] Inasmuch as the human person is continuously developing and new problems are forever arising, this education should be steadily perfected; it requires an ever more thorough knowledge and a continual adaptation of action. While meeting all its demands, concern for the unity and integrity of the human person must be kept always in the foreground, in order to preserve and intensify its harmony and equilibrium.

In this way the layman actively inserts himself deep into the very reality of the temporal order and takes his part competently in the work of the world. At the same time, as a living member and witness of the Church, he brings its presence and its action into the heart of the temporal sphere.[3]


30. Training for the apostolate should begin from the very start of a child’s education. But it is more particularly adolescents and youth who should be initiated into the apostolate and imbued with its spirit. This training should be continued all through life, to fit them to meet the demands of fresh duties. It is clear, then, that those with responsibility for Christian education have also the duty of attending to this apostolic education.

It rests with parents to prepare their children from an early age, within the family circle, to discern God’s love for all men; they will teach them little by little — and above all by their example — to have concern for their neighbours needs, material and spiritual. The whole family, accordingly, and its community life should become a kind of apprenticeship to the apostolate.

Children must be trained, besides, to go beyond the confines of the family and taken an interest in both ecclesial and temporal communities. Their integration into the local parish community should succeed in bring them the awareness of being living, active members of the People of God. Priests, for their part, should not lose sight of this question of training for the apostolate when catechizing, preaching and directing souls, and in other functions of the pastoral ministry.

— 2. Cf. Pius XII, “Ad I Conferentiam internationalem ‘boy-scouts'”, 6 June 1952: AAS 44 (1952) pp. 579-580; John XXIII Encyclical Letter “Mater et Magistra”, 15 May 1961: AAS 53 (1961) p. 456. 3. Cf. Dogmatic constitution “De Ecclesia”, chap. IV, no. 33: AAS 57 (1965) p. 39. —

Schools and colleges and other Catholic educational institutions should foster in the young a catholic outlook and apostolic action. If the young do not get this type of education, either because they do not attend these schools, or for some other reason, all the greater is the responsibility for it that devolves upon parents, pastoral and apostolic bodies. As for teachers and educators, who by their calling and position practice an outstanding form of lay apostolate, adequate learning and a thorough grasp of pedagogy is a prerequisite to any success in this branch of education.

The various lay groups and associations dedicated to the apostolate or to any other supernatural end should look after this education to the apostolate with care and constancy, in ways consistent with their objectives and limits.[4] Frequently they are the ordinary channel of adequate apostolic training; doctrinal, spiritual and practical. The members, gathered in small groups with their companions or friends, evaluate the methods and results of their apostolic action, and measure their everyday behaviour by the Gospel.

The training should ,be pursued in such a way as to take account of the entire range of the lay apostolate, an apostolate that is to be exercised in all circumstances and in every sector of life — in the professional and social sectors especially — and not confined within the precincts of the associations. In point of fact, every single lay person should himself actively undertake his own preparation for the apostolate. Especially for adults does this hold true; for as the years pass, self-awareness expands and so allows each one to get a clearer view of the talents with which God has enriched his life and to bring in better results from the exercise of the charisms given him by the Holy Spirit for the good of his brothers.


31. Different types of apostolate require their own appropriate method of training:

(a) the apostolate of evangelization and sanctification: the laity are to be specially trained for engaging in dialogue with others, believers or non-believers, their aim being to set the message of Christ before the eyes of all.[5] but as materialism under various guises is today spreading far and wide, even among Catholics, the laity should not make only a careful study of Catholic doctrine, especially points that are called into question, but should confront materialism of every type with the witness of evangelical life.

— 4. Cf. John XXIII, Encyclical letter “Mater et Magistra”, 15 May 1961: AAS 53 (1961) p. 455. 5. Cf. Pius XII, Encyclical Letter “Sertum laetitiae”, 1 Nov. 1939: AAS 31 (1939) pp. 635-644; cf. idem., “Ad ‘Laureati’ Act. Cath. It.”, 24 May 1953. —

(b) The Christian renewal of the temporal order: the laity are to be instructed in the true meaning and value of temporal goods, both in themselves and in their relation to all the aims of the human person. The laity should gain experience in the right use of goods and in the organization of institutions, paying heed always to the common good in the light of the principles of the Church’s moral and social teaching. They should acquire such a knowledge of social teaching especially, its principles and conclusions, as will fit them for contributing to the best of their ability to the progress of that teaching, and for making correct application of these same principles and conclusions in individual cases.[6]

(c) works of charity and mercy bear a most striking testimony to Christian life; therefore, an apostolic training which has as its object the performance of these works should enable the faithful to learn from very childhood to sympathize with their brothers, and help them generously when in need.[7]


32. Many aids are now at the disposal of the laity who devote themselves to the apostolate: namely, sessions, congresses, recollections, retreats, frequent meetings, conferences, books and periodicals; all these enable them to deepen their knowledge of holy scripture and Catholic doctrine, nourish the spiritual life, and become acquainted also with world conditions and discover and adopt suitable methods.[8]

These educational aids take into account the various types of apostolate exercised in this or that particular area.

With this end in view higher centres or institutes have been created; these have already given excellent results.

The Council rejoices at initiatives of this kind now flourishing in certain regions; it desires to see them take root in other places too, wherever the need for them makes itself felt.

Moreover, centres of documentation and research should be established, not only in theology but also in anthropology, psychology, sociology, methodology, for the benefit of all fields of the

— 6. Cf. Pius XII “Ad congressum Universalem Foederationis Juventutis Femininae Catholicae”, 18 April 1952: AAS 44 (1952) pp. 414-419; cf. idem., “Ad Associationem Christianam Operariorum Italiae” (A.C.L.I.), 1 May 1955: AAS 47 (1955) pp. 403-404. 7. Cf. Pius XII, “Ad Delegatos Conventus Sodalitatum Caritas”, 27 April 1952: AAS, pp. 470-471. 8. Cf. John XXIII, Encyclical Letter “Mater et Magistra”, 15 May 1961: AAS 53 (1961) p. 454. —

apostolate. The purpose of such centres is to create a more favourable atmosphere for developing the aptitudes of the laity, men and women, young and old.


33. The Council, then, makes to all the laity an earnest appeal in the Lord to give a willing, noble and enthusiastic response to the voice of Christ, who at this hour is summoning them more pressingly, and to the urging of the Holy Spirit. The younger generation should feel this call to be addressed in a special way to themselves; they should welcome it eagerly and generously.

It is the Lord himself, by this Council, who is once more inviting all the laity to unite themselves to him ever more intimately, to consider his interests as their own (cf. Phil. 2:5), and to join in his mission as Saviour. It is the Lord who is again sending them into every town and every place where he himself is to come (cf. Lk. 10:1). He sends them on the Church’s apostolate, an apostolate that is one yet has different forms and methods, and apostolate that must all the time be adapting itself to the needs of the moment; he sends them on a apostolate where they are to show themselves his cooperators doing their full share continually in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord their labour cannot be lost (cf. Cor. 15:58).