Summary of Apostolicam Actuositatem
The Church cannot be without the laity and, for their part, the laity derive their vocation from Christ. In modern times, the lay apostolate is in especial demand and should be “broadened and intensified.” (AA, 1) The Churche’s mission is to bring all to Christ and “the Christian vocation by its very nature is also a vocation to the apostolate.” (AA, 2) As such, the laity are an essential part of the Body of Christ and participate in His work in their own unique way.
Predominately, the laity serve their vocation by acting towards evangelization and sanctification of men. (AA, 2) This is a “preeminent responsibility” for all Christians (AA, 3) and should be done in conjunction with their pastors. As always, the “success of the lay apostolate depends upon the laity’s living union with Christ” (AA, 4) in keeping with John 15:5.
The unique role of the lay apostolate is its existence in both the Church and the secular world. The laity are both men of God and citizens of the world, and, as such, “there are innumerable opportunities open to the laity for the exercise of their apostolate of evangelization and sanctification.”(AA, 6) They are called to not only live their faith in the action of their everyday lives, but to proclaim Jesus Christ to those they encounter, both believers and non-believers.
It is from the community of the parish that the laity come together for the work of mission. And, within parishes, there is found the “first and vital cell of society” (AA, 11) the family. The family is, by the very nature of the conjugal union of husband and wife, “of unique importance for the Church and civil society.” (AA, 11) It is from the family that children first learn the faith and witness a life of faith. Husbands and wives, especially in this age, must remember that “it is the greatest part of their apostolate to manifest and prove by their own way of life the indissolubility and sacredness of the marriage bond, strenuously to affirm the right and duty of parents and guardians to educate children in a Christian manner, and to defend the dignity and lawful autonomy of the family.” (AA, 11) By doing this, families give witness not only to children, not only to believers, but to all the world.
The lay apostolate has various forms. All are called to the life of the individual apostolate and “should all remember that they can reach all men and contribute to the salvation of the whole world by public worship and prayer as well as by penance and voluntary acceptance of the labors and hardships of life whereby they become life the suffering Christ.” (AA, 16) Uniting with their fellow faithful, individuals should rightly witness to their family, community, parish, and diocese. Working together is of the utmost importance for “the apostolate must often be performed by way of common activity.” (AA, 18)
All actions of the lay apostolate must be in union with rightful authorities, specifically priests and bishops. This does not take away from the autonomy of lay apostolates, but confirms its “Catholic” or universality. The formation of laity is of special importance since they are so often the voice that shares the Good News with others seeking to evangelize and sanctify all men. Therefore, “in regard to the apostolate for evangelizing and sanctifying men, the laity must be specially formed to engage in conversation with others, believers, or non-believers, in order to manifest Christ’s message to all men.” (AA, 31) Part of this formation rightly includes study of Sacred Scripture, “nourishment of spiritual life”, and all else that is necessary for the lay apostolate to “associate themselves with Him in His saving mission.” (AA, 33)