Vatican II and the laity: Vision, challenges and opportunities

Hunt, Anne The 1917 Code of Canon Law had only two general canons on the laity. It made a clear demarcation between the clergy and the laity. The clergy always have precedence over the laity. The laity cannot perform any act of jurisdiction or order. The Code reflects the ecclesiology of the post-Tridentine church, famously expressed by Pope Pius X who, in 1906, described the church as essentially an unequal society. That ecclesiology assumes a pyramidal model of church. The apostolate of the church is basically that of the hierarchy. Ministries pertain to the ordained. Custodianship of revelation resides with the hierarchy. Lay people effectively have the status of dependent children: it is for them to submit to and receive from the hierarchy. The theology of the church's mission was also limited, with the work of evangelization considered to be that of missionaries and basically directed outside the church. The laity, it seemed, had no mission. While necessarily reflecting the ecclesiological and historical circumstances of its era, it was nevertheless a deficient ecclesiology in a number of ways. Even the language to describe the unordained faithful remained undeveloped with the term 'lay' in common parlance connoting the inexpert and unqualified in contrast to those with professional competence and authority, and as such inadequate to the ecclesial reality of the laity
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