The apostolate of Catholic laity is constantly expanding and deepening as lay Catholics take on more and more responsibility for spreading the word of God, assisting in their parishes, and bringing their Christian faith into their secular communities. Recognizing the necessity of the lay apostolate, the Vatican II Fathers wrote Apostolicam Actuositatem, or the Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People, to encourage and guide lay people in their Christian service.
Here are a few of the topics and ideas you'll find in the first three chapters of Apostolicam Actuositatem.
* The lay apostolate is necessary in the Church's mission. It derives from the Christian vocation of every lay person and is guided by the Holy Spirit.
* This lay apostolate has expanded greatly in recent years, and lay people can often bring the Christian message into areas of the temporal sphere that would otherwise not receive it.
Chapter I – The Vocation of Lay People to the Apostolate
Participation of Laity in the Church's Mission
* The Church's mission is to spread Christ's kingdom all over the earth, lead all people to salvation, and bring the entire world into relationship with Jesus. All activities that forward this mission fall under the title “apostolate.”
* All members of the Church must participate in the apostolate according to their state of life and abilities. All members function in the unity of the Body of Christ, each performing their own roles.
* Lay people have a very important part in the apostolate. They work to evangelize and sanctify the world and “endeavor to have the Gospel spirit permeate and improve the temporal order” as they give witness to Christ. They are “a leaven in the world.”
Foundations of the Lay Apostolate
* The lay apostolate is founded first and foremost on union with Christ. Lay people share in their own way in Christ's kingship, priesthood, and prophetic office.
* Their apostolate flows from the sacraments, from the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love, and from the power of the Holy Spirit.
* The Holy Spirit gives lay people charisms that they use to help build up the whole Church. All spiritual gifts are to be used for the good of all people and for the “development of the Church.” They must be exercised in the freedom of the Spirit and in communion with the whole Church.
The Spirituality of Lay People
* Spiritual life is founded on “living union with Christ.”
* Christian spirituality must permeate all of life. In this way, Christians will grow closer to God through their daily duties.
* The spiritual life grows through meditation on God's Word, seeking God's will, and seeing God in all aspects of life by the light of faith.
* Lay people are on a pilgrimage through life and are “hidden with Christ in God.” “Generously they exert all their energies in extending God's kingdom, in making the Christian spirit a vital energizing force in the temporal sphere.”
* Christian love expressed through actions enhances the good of all people and attracts them to Christ.
* Jesus must be first in the life of all Christians, who seek to live out His teachings and “please God rather than men.”
* Lay people should use their talents and gifts to practice the apostolate in their state of life.
* The Blessed Virgin Mary is a perfect model for the lay apostolate in the temporal order
Chapter II – Objectives
* The lay apostolate seeks to “bring men the message and grace of Christ” and to “permeate and improve the whole range of the temporal.”
* Lay people must consistently follow their Christian conscience in all situations of life.
The Apostolate of Evangelization and Sanctification
* Lay people announce the Christian message to the world in word and action. They witness to Christ through the actions of their Christian lives and also by their words of truth.
* Lay people are also called to help combat the errors that have taken root in the world.
The Renewal of the Temporal Order
* The temporal order and all its dimensions have their own value, given to them by God. Lay people work to renew the temporal order so that it matches God's design.
* The temporal order has been corrupted by human beings and even turned into an idol at times. Therefore, it must be renewed and immersed wholly in Christ.
* Lay people who live in the world seek to guide the world by the values of Christ and “direct it towards God through Christ.”
Charitable Works and Social Aid
* Charity is the “origin and driving force” of all aspects of the apostolate, but particular works of charity are special signs of Christ's “messianic mission.”
* Love is a mark of Christian discipleship, for the Incarnate Christ has united all people into one single family.
* Love is also the “characteristic mark” of the Church, which “claims charitable works as its own mission and right.”
* Charity must reach all around the world to meet the needs of all people.
* Christians should practice charitable works with justice and pure intentions and with special consideration for the dignity of those they are helping.
Chapter III – The Various Fields of the Apostolate
* Lay people practice their apostolate “both in the Church and in the world.”
* Women are urged to participate actively in the lay apostolate.
* Lay people “have an active part of their own in the life and action of the Church.” Their action is necessary.
* The liturgy especially nourishes lay people and strengthens them to participate in the life of the Church, bringing others to the Church, spreading the Word of God, teaching the faith, assisting in the care of souls, and administering the Church's goods.
* The laity work in close cooperation with their pastors, with each other, with the diocese, and with the whole Church. They seek to develop a universal outlook and “concern for the needs of the People of God scattered throughout the world.”
* Married life is the “beginning and foundation of human society.”
* Christian married couples pass on the faith to their children through word and example. They also defend the rights and dignity of the family in the world.
* With their children, they form a domestic Church that strives to worship God and spread justice, charity, and hospitality.
* The family practices a special apostolate in the world, and it witnesses in a special way to Christ.
* Young people have a greater influence than ever before in society, but sometimes this can prove troublesome and even detrimental for them.
* Young people are called to participate actively in the apostolate, especially by witnessing their Christian faith to other youth and animating their environments with the spirit of Christ.
* Adults should dialogue with young people, lead them by example, and offer “sound advice and practical help.” Young people in turn must treat their elders with respect and appreciate traditions even as they enjoy what is new and fresh.
Apostolate of Like Towards Like
* Lay people should “infuse the Christian spirit into the mentality and behavior, laws and structures of the community” in which they live. They witness to the world around them and to the people around them in all the circumstances of their lives.
* In caring out the apostolate, lay people live their faith, becoming lights to the world. They draw others to Christ and help develop strong moral values in society.
* Lay people must reach out to “every single person” in their environment, doing spiritual and temporal good for each.
The National and International Levels
* The apostolate has a vast field on national and international levels. Lay people should be aware of the problems on these levels that they might help find solutions.
* Lay people strive toward the common good and “prepare the way for the Gospel.” Those with the talent and inclination should enter public life but must not set aside or compartmentalize their faith.
* Catholic laity often work with non-Catholic Christians and even non-Christians to promote the common good and carry out works of charity.
* No matter where they are in the world, lay people are “the traveling messengers of Christ.”
The full text of Apostolicam Actuositatem is available online at the Vatican website.