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What should come next? Print E-mail
By Bevil Bramwell, OMI   
Sunday, 07 April 2013

Fifty years ago the Vatican Council said about the laity: “Whoever they are, they are called upon, as living members, to expend all their energy for the growth of the Church and its continuous sanctification, since this very energy is a gift of the Creator and a blessing of the Redeemer.” Lay people were not presented as depending on the clergy for initiatives. Laity aren’t supposed to wait for a request from the episcopal palace. They have a task that is theirs from Baptism.

Done anything lately to make the Church grow?

What exactly is this task? “The laity are called in a special way to make the Church present and operative in those places and circumstances where only through them can it become the salt of the earth.” These places and circumstances involve schools, business, politics, medicine, science, international affairs, wars, the list is endless.

But in the American Church, many Catholics are waiting for the clergy when they ought to be doing things themselves. By Baptism and Confirmation, “every layman, in virtue of the very gifts bestowed upon him, is at the same time a witness and a living instrument of the mission of the Church itself ‘according to the measure of Christ's bestowal. . .’”

Lay people know a lot about the secular world. They typically do not bring to their work all the philosophical and theological analysis that academics and some clergy do. But lay people do have the raw data and lived experience many theologians lack. They are constantly exposed to and engaged with what is going on in the world.

The official Church has revelation through tradition and scripture and the work of the magisterium. The trouble often is that the people with ecclesiastical learning and the people with lay experience do not often pool what they know and definitely not on the subjects that really concern laypeople.

Here’s the thing: forget the historical question why this situation developed – that would fill volumes. But now, right now, as the American Church seems to be fading into national irrelevance, why don’t the laity seek out the necessary theological insight into the many fields of human life? Starting at the parish level: why can’t we have courses that inform people about what the Church really teaches? What are we spending money on that could be better spent on the Christian analysis of everyday life?


            Christ Preaching in the Temple by Guercino (Giovanni Francesco Barbieri), c. 1625

If “father” won’t organize it, hire people yourselves – reliable experts in the field – to do the teaching that is needed. Enough clergy and informed laity know that doctor X or father Y are not orthodox, but doctor Z would be good. He or she is authentically Catholic and learned and capable of communicating the content of the Faith to lay people who want to hear it.

To be sure, the much feared question about orthodoxy has to be posed. It is not just a question of whether people like professor so and so. The Church has far higher standards of truth and one of its attractions for many people – though this is little noticed – is that it is a truth-telling institution.

At the diocesan level, too: why aren’t dioceses training every single layperson? Maybe lay people should simply organize and get the job done, collect money, hire the teachers and the lecture halls. Let’s get Catholicism to where it is meant to be – which is as the operational knowledge in faith and morals for lay life. Lay people organize much better than many clergy. Get a few converts in the mix as well. Their passion is real because they appreciate what they have received.

Of course, one must not hire partisan propagandists for the Democrats or the Republicans, or people who merely pass on the fantasies of the popular culture about love and marriage and business. They are usually hostile to the culture of life and to promoting the humanity that Christ died for. There has to be some caution, too, about hiring people who teach what they think is in the teachings of the Council. There is a long history of Americans making stuff up, calling it Catholic, and strangely enough finding crowds of people to go along with it. Diocesan clergy do it. Religious do it. Lay people do it.

Fortunately, there are now enough knowledgeable men and women of faith who can teach and who genuinely understand Catholicism in all of its richness. Catholicism is too wonderful to be the possession of a privileged few, those who have done the study and who live the orthodox faith to the full.

A last word from the Council: “Christ loves the Church as His bride, having become the model of a man loving his wife as his body; the Church, indeed, is subject to its Head. ‘Because in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily,’ He fills the Church, which is His body and His fullness, with His divine gifts so that it may expand and reach all the fullness of God.”

Isn’t promoting this fullness worth a very substantial effort?

 
Fr. Bevil Bramwell is a member of Oblates of Mary Immaculate and is Undergraduate Dean at Catholic Distance University. He has published Laity: Beautiful, Good and True and The World of the Sacraments.
 
 
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Comments (13)Add Comment
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written by Manfred, April 07, 2013
Fr. Bramwell. This is a fine post and I will attempt to parse it. The FSSP chapel to which I belong has worked out an arrangemnt with our ordinary. At Eastertide for the last three years, our bishop has allowed us to "borrow" a large church (which has a pastor and congregation) so that our priests might celebrate the Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday) and accommodate the huge crowds which come to attend. Our Holy Saturday Mass begins at 10 PM and ends at 12:30 AM Easter Sunday. ALL the readings are done. We would not think of "trimming" the readings as Pope Francis just did. Our seminary has seventy-four seminarians and they are expanding the campus as the need is for more.
Some years ago I asked a bright,young FSSP priest how he knew he had a vocation to the "priesthood". He said he did not have a vocation to the "priesthood", but rather to serve as a priest in the Faith of the Ages. Expose enough religious and lay people to this Faith, Fr. Bramwell, and the problem will be solved.
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written by Fr. Bramwell, April 07, 2013
Interesting Manfred but attending liturgy as valuable as it is does not solve the intellectual issues that face lay people minute by minute. There has to be some learning, some discussion. This does not happen in a liturgy. The three Offices of Christ are teaching, sanctifying and governing. You got one of them.
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written by Chris in Maryland, April 07, 2013
Fr. Bramwell - this is an intriguing idea.

I would say that some sort of organizing apostolate would be essential, whether joining one that already exists that could support a strong and consistent effort, or forming a new one, so that resources could be focused, etc.
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written by Deacon Ed Peitler, April 07, 2013
Fr Bramwell: Thank God someone is saying this.

It is time for lay people to get going and take Christ's admonition to evangelize the world seriously. We need to have fewer courses, fewer lectures, fewer Bible studies and more hands on approaches because, as you quote the Vatican II documents, the laity: "are called upon, as living members, to expend all their energy for the growth of the Church."

Lest anyone think that I am saying that laity should not be well-formed in Biblical studies or the truths of Church teaching, I am NOT advocating ignorance. But what we have done is temporized and substituted perpetual parish educational programs in place of getting out into the secular world to proclaim Jesus Christ. Don't feel comfortable evangelizing? The parish should help prepare everyone to fulfill this obligation.

There are many lay people who have begun to take seriously the Church's mission to evangelize. To name two, I would say that FOCUS - The Fellowship of Catholic University Students - is doing a fantastic job with evangelizing on college campuses. The other is Alpha for Catholics which has achieved great success on a parish level as a program for introducing non-believers to the Catholic Church.

And yes, laity cannot wait for Father X or Bishop Y to come up with an initiative to discharge their baptismal obligation to evangelize. The days of 'waiting for permission' are over.

On judgement day, I think the question will be asked of all of us, "What did you do to grow my Church?"
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written by Fr. Bramwell, April 07, 2013
Thanks Deacon. It is so so important.
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written by Manfred, April 07, 2013
Fr. Bramwell: Thank you for your reply. Obviously the Triduum liturgy was never meant to stand on its own. I have commented here before that we receive an occasional caution from the pulpit from our priests which begins: The assumption in this chapel is that anyone who attends is determined to become a Saint. It is our responsibility to assist you, and ourselves, to achieve that goal. We will accomplish this by Mass, frequent Confession, the Rosary devotion, the Brown scapular, Third Orders that some priests here belong to, (etc.). We use the Latin Mass as this is the Mass which was used the last time Catholicism worked.

Deacon Ed. The only thing we have to accomplish when we stand before Christ is to be in the State of Grace, i.e., free from Mortal Sin. If we are not, we will be consigned to Hell. By the way, there are no permanent deacons in the Traditional Rite. Yet the Summorum Pontificum Church and the Novus Ordo Church continue to exist side-by-side and the schizophrenia continues.
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written by Fr. Bramwell, April 07, 2013
Yikes Manfred you make these unfounded statements as if you are an expert in the history of the Church. Catholicism works. The world is more complex than it has ever been and so it presents some challenges that we are slow getting to grips with chiefly because of the passivity of the nostalgia movements and the idea that enough pious exercises substitute for everything else that is involved in lay life. Vatican II's teaching is clear. Lay people do have to work in the world to bring Christ to it. Praying is well and good but getting truth out there is vital, getting love out there is vital and there are no substitutes.
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written by Deacon Ed Peitler, April 07, 2013
Manfred,
I have no idea what a "Summorum Pontificum" Church is, as opposed to a "Novus Ordo" Church. The Church is One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic.

As far a "Traditional Rite," one ought not confuse this with other "rites" within the one Catholic Church such as the Melkite, Ruthenian, Maronite, rites.

Lastly, I prefer not to use the term "permanent" diaconate. There is only one order of deacons in the Catholic Church. Some deacons (who are unmarried at the time of their ordination) are bound to celibacy, as I would be if my wife pre-deceases me. And, should the latter occasion arise and my bishop determines that I am called to the presbyterate order, I would no longer be "permanent" anything. I just think that the term "permanent deacon" is silly. (just a minor pet peeve)
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written by Jacob, April 07, 2013
We may die arguing with each other.

There are Catholics, young ones too, who hang around our churches for awhile and leave while people are arguing.
If we don't win new converts who will argue over this stuff in the future?

(I'm always eager to hear about any thriving orthodox Catholic community anywhere on the entire West Coast so keep me updated.. Is there a website or something?)
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written by debby, April 07, 2013
thank you, Fr.
today, as a mercy, i have refrained from commenting on the comments.
but you have handled them so very well.....peace AND MERCY!
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written by Fr. Bramwell, April 08, 2013
Jacob, this is a discussion site. As to your other issue of dining a local parish perhaps someone who sees your question can offer a suggestion. Good luck finding one.
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written by Louise, April 08, 2013
Great column, Fr. B, I think that our new pope is showing us how simple it can be to spread the faith and I suspect his example is going to be very fruitful:
See each person as someone loved greatly by God Who has put this person in your path so that you can show this person how much he or she is loved by God. Be patient, merciful, and invite, invite, invite!
I almost see these last three popes as part of a divine trilogy: Bl. JPII got the attention of our hearts, B16 organized and stabilized us and tried to remove barriers to unity, both internal and external, and Francis is mobilizing us. Onward Christian soldiers!
The basics of the faith are really pretty simple to learn about, and this can be accomplished even just by reading a good basic catechism so even if people can't get classes going in their parish all is not lost!
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written by Tara, April 09, 2013
I'm ready. When do we start and who's in?

The Dominican House of Studies is nearby.

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