The role of laity, liturgy and charisms


This may be a stupid question, as I have no practical experience with the Catholic Church at all.

However, it would seem to me, that when one person in the church has the role of priest (concentrating a lot of offices in one person), there is no place for the charismatic gifts. Also, with the liturgy being rather — firmly established, I don’t see when and how the gifts could be practiced.

Yet as I read the Scriptures (fallible as I am), and according to what I see in other churches practically everyone has something to contribute with to the service. A Catholic would not be able to deliver a prophetic word at chruch, would he?

My impression is, that going to church for a Catholic is mainly about the Eucharist, so I understand that this will be the main focus. But is there any other time, when gifts can be excercised for the edification of the Body?

But is there room for “charismatic” laity in the Roman Church? Is there room for the gifts of the Spirit - even when they are not found with the one person who is appointed priest?

  • CB


Yes! Yes! And even more Yes! There is definitely room for a charismatic laity in the Catholic Church. As John Paul II said, “the hierarchical and the charismatic dimensions of the Church are co-essential.”

However, there are some important distinctions to be made. By the grace of baptism, we are not only adopted by God as sons daughters, united to the Body of Christ, but we also share in Christ’s priestly, prophetic, and royal office. This means that every baptized man and woman (laypeople) bears a personal responsibility for the mission of the Church.

Unlike the ordained, whose office is configured for service to the People of God (to teach, sanctify, and govern), the office of the laity is configured for service to the world. It has, as the Church teaches, a uniquely secular character and we are called to live that office particularly through our lives in the world. Every baptized layperson, therefore, is sent out by Christ in to the world. This is why the Church speaks of the lay apostolate. Lay men and women are apostles of Christ for the world. We are called, as JPII wrote in Christifidelis Laici, “to transform the structures of the world . . .and restore to creation all of its original dignity.”

One of the things to remember is that the edification (building up) of the Body doesn’t just mean the care and nurturing of the Christian community–but it also means the growth of the Body (evangelizing people and social structures with the reality of Christ’s love for them). That’s why the Church proclaimed in Apostolicam Actuositatem (The Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity) at the Second Vatican Council that "a member who doesn’t work toward the growth of the Body to the degree which he is able, must be considered useless both to himself and the Church!

That’s how important living out our mission to the world is.

We do this by growing more rooted to Christ (who is our Head) through our life in the world, and also by living out our faith (in word and deed), applying the gospel to every human encounter and siuation. The charisms are amazing ways in which God has equipped lay men and women to be His hands and feet in the world. They are a powerful, supernatural means by which His love and provision will reach others. In that way, they are integral to the laity as we live out our vocation in the world.

All that being said, the charisms are also important for the care, nurturing, and spiritual growth of the Christian community. While it is true that the Eucharist (Christ’s sacramental Presence) is the source and summit of our faith, and that the Celebration of the Mass is not an appropriate time to utilize charisms like prophecy, the reality is that all of the Church’s spiritual life and power flows from the Eucharist (that is, Christ). Therefore, the charisms are very powerful (and very appropriate) when used in other non-Liturgical settings (such as retreats, small faith community gatherings, prayer groups, and one-on-one prayer and counseling, for example).

So, charisms are very important to the lay vocation. In a very real sense, all Catholics are charismatic. Some people are uncomfortable with charisms, however, because they have an experience or an opinion of the Charismatic Renewal (a particular movement within the modern Church that began in the late 60’s). What I have discussed here is not connected to any particular movement within the Church but is part of established Church teaching.

If you are interested in exploring this more, I would suggest:

*]The Catechism (particularly the areas about the nature of the Church)
*]The Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity (Vat II)
*]Christifidelis Laici (JPII Apostolic Exhortation)
*]The Catherine of Siena Institute ([/LIST]God bless!



there is all kinds of room for the charismatic gifts, but during Mass, which is the public worship of the Church, and has a prescribed rite, prayers and actions, is not the time for most of them, although in some charismatic parishes, there may be time for subdued praying in tongues (the least of the gifts, according to Paul).

There is plenty of room in the Church for laypersons as prophets, teachers, administrators for instance, in fact, apologetics is now almost entirely a lay apostolate, (see CA homepage for instance), supported I might add by donations of the laity, as is pro-life work and witness, social justice initiatives and so forth. Catechetics and evangelization while directed by the bishop and his priests is carried out in the field almost entirely by laypersons. These are the most important and most influential of the charistmatic gifts, and a simple look at the organization chart of most Catholic dioceses will show that the administrators are largely lay people.

There are also flourishing healing ministries, assisted by lay people.

I think we have to re-read Corninthians and the other places where Paul describes the Body of Christ and the gifts in action, and look at the Church as she really lives, breathes and works today.

every Catholic has access to the gifts of the Holy Spirit, both the Isaiahan gifts (to build up the person) and the Corinthian gifts (to build up the Church) by virtue of his baptism and confirmation and is OBLIGED, not merely permitted, to exercise them. The primary field for this is in the family, community and workplace, where the layperson encounters those waiting for the message of the gospel.


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