The 2006 document by the U.S. Catholic bishops Coworkers in the Vineyard of the Lord states the origins of Lay Ministry simply: “God calls. We respond.” This reality takes on a special characteristic for all Christian disciples and a unique response for the Catholic lay faithful. As the bishops write:
The basic call is the same for all the followers of Christ, namely “that all Christians in whatever state or walk of life are called to the fullness of christian lifeand to the perfection of charity, and this holiness is conducive to a more humanway of living even in society here on earth.” …Lay men and women hear and answer the universal call to holiness primarily anduniquely in the secular realm. They are found “in each and every one of the world’soccupations and callings and in the ordinary circumstances of social and family life which, as it were, form the context of their existence. There they are called by God to contribute to the sanctification of the world from within, like leaven, in the spirit of the Gospel, by fulfilling their own particular duties.”
A number of the lay faithful responding to their baptismal call to participate in the Church’s mission feel a desire to serve in a full-time professional manner as representatives of the Church. Co-Workers affirms that their ecclesial service is characterized by:
• Authorization of the hierarchy to serve publicly in the local church
• Leadership in a particular area of ministry
• Close mutual collaboration with the pastoral ministry of bishops, priests,and deacons
• Preparation and formation appropriate to the level of responsibilities that are assigned to them.
Co-Workers adds the term reflects certain key realities. The ministry is lay because it is service done by lay persons. The sacramental basis is the Sacraments of Initiation, not the Sacrament of Ordination. The ministry is ecclesial because it has a place within the community of the Church, whose communion and mission it serves, and because it is submitted to the discernment, authorization, and supervision of the hierarchy. Finally, it is ministry because it is a participation in the threefold ministry of Christ, who is priest, prophet, and king. “In this original sense the term ministry (servitium) expresses only the work by which the Church’s members continue the mission and ministry of Christ within her and the whole world.”
As is the case with others serving in the Church, lay ecclesial ministers must be adequately formed so that they will be prepared for their task. Co-Workers states:
The four areas of formation—human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral—that provide a framework for the formation of deacons and priests provide a framework for lay ecclesial ministers as well. Lay ecclesial ministers need:
• Human qualities critical to form wholesome relationships and necessary to be apt instruments of God’s love and compassion;
• A spirituality and practice of prayer that root them in God’s Trinitarian life, grounding and animating all they do in ministry;
• Adequate knowledge in theological and pastoral studies, along with the intellectual skill to use it among the people and cultures of our country;
• The practical pastoral abilities called for in their particular ministry.
The diocese of Charlotte understands this reality and, as a result, provides various opportunities for formation. The diocesan Lay Ministry Formation Program is a two-year formation program for those wishing to deepen their response to actively participate in the Church’s mission. In addition, it is a pre-requisite for the permanent diaconate. In addition, the diocese offers information on Continuing Education programs.
For more information contact Frank Villaronga at 704-370-3274.