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Theologian Sandy Prather says 'Vatican II opened the way for us to become an adult church.'
The responsibilities and rights of the laity to participate in the work and mission of the Church are based on Scripture and tradition, formulated in Church teachings – especially those from the Second Vatican Council – and codified in canon law.
In the view of Sandy Prather, a local theologian, Vatican II's Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity recognizes the fundamental equality and dignity that arises from Baptism.
"It restored us to a total ecclesiology; which means that the Church is the people of God, not just the hierarchy," she said.
Instead of counting the laity as a separate entity within the Church, "it says the Church is actually the baptized and that's the common thing that we all share."
Prather said when we talk about mission in the Church, when we talk about the gifts of the Spirit within the Church, or when we talk about roles in the Church, "we need to start with the idea that is it the whole Church."
Prior to Vatican II, the Church was seen as an institution centred around the hierarchy. "Vatican II went back to the sources and understood the Church as the community of the believers."
Prather spoke about Vatican II's Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity at the Catholic Pastoral Centre Nov. 7. Her talk is the fourth of seven talks on Vatican II.
In an interview, she described the decree as a positive development. "I think Vatican II opened the way for us to be an adult Church."
When the Second Vatican Council came, there was a struggle between a majority and a minority movement that still saw the Church as needing to safeguard the role of the hierarchy.
But the majority movement won the day with the idea that the Church is a community of believers and that the role of the laity needed to be spoken about and unpacked, Prather explained.
Arising out of that idea that we are all part of the community of believers, Blessed Pope John XXIII said the Church had to be opened to the world and it had to support the world.
It no longer saw the world as a profane place separate from the sacred but as God's creation where we had a role.
As a result, today the laity is involved in almost every aspect of both the Church and the world.
"Our mission, and the documents would say that, is to build the Church of Christ but also to renew the temporal order," Prather said. "(As laity) we are called to work within the world to bring about Gospel values."
The Church before Vatican II had a monastic spirituality that required withdrawal from the world.
"Vatican II flipped that on its head. That's the universal call to holiness and that's huge, and that is something we have embraced. Living your holiness as a wife and mother in the world is not a bad thing; I don't have to have a withdrawal from the world."
Prather said the teachings of Vatican II are the basis for the New Evangelization.
"We wouldn't have the New Evangelization if we hadn't had Vatican II."
One challenge that still exists 50 years after Vatican II is "we still don't have a positive identity for the laity because laity are defined by being the non-ordained," Prather lamented.
"That's a negative definition; it is to define something by what is not. It's sort of saying I'm not a butterfly; I'm not a dragon. And what are you? I'm a laity."
Thus, the laity are still set apart from the hierarchy, she said. "We still haven't really quite got it yet that that the Church really is this community of believers."
Prather said after Vatican II, there was an explosion of lay people serving in the Church, especially as liturgical ministries. "So we had Eucharistic ministers, we had readers; we had all of these liturgical ministries. It began to seem that this was the ideal thing for lay people to do."
If lay people weren't involved in liturgy or something, it seemed they weren't doing ministry.
WORK IN THE WORLD
"But the decree says that the laity are called to work both in the Church and in the world and our mission is to bring Gospel values, justice, equality, dignity and sanctity of life."
What we need to do is to find a balance of how some will be called to work in the Church in liturgical ministries, in retreat centres and in chancery offices, while others will be called to live out their ministry as moms and dads and parents and doctors and lawyers and factory workers, Prather said.
"Unfortunately, many haven't heard the message yet fully. Still too many of us are content to go to that one hour to Sunday Mass and we don't know how to evangelize; we don't really live our call to be carrying the Gospel values to the world."
That's where the New Evangelization has great opportunity to continue what Vatican II started. "To sort of say to the laity, 'You are the baptized, you are the Church, you carry the Church wherever you go. It's a living Church.' "