| Year 2000 Canonical Studies pp. 123-160
RIGHTS OF THE LAITY AND THEIR LIMITATIONS
(Fr. George Nedungatt, S.J.)
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“The third millennium will be of the laypeople,” has said Pope John Paul II. That is an implicit admission that the second millennium has not been. Of course the Pope did not mean to state that there will be no pope or bishops or priests in the Church of the third millennium but only laypeople. Rather the laity have yet to come to their own in the Church, and the clergy has to make room for it. This is a burning issue in the Church at the beginning of the third millennium.

In discussing this topic it is not our purpose to present even summarily a full theology of the laity. Nor shall we outline the canonical figure of the laity with a detailed account of all their rights and obligations. We shall only sketch the teaching of the Catholic Church on the laity highlighting certain points of the doctrine as it is expounded in the documents of the Second Vatican Council: Lumen Gentium (Constitution on the Church chapter four, “On the Laity”) and Apostolicam Actuositatem (decree On the Laity). The theological and canonical status of the laity was studied more closely in the years following the Council. The positive results of these studies were collated in the Roan Synod of Bishops “On the Laity” (1987) and systematically expressed in the post-synodal apostolic exhortation of Pope John Paul II Christifideles Laici of 30 December 1988, in which the Holy Father states prophetically that the third millennium is of the lay – people. Drawing on these sources we shall focus more narrowly on the question if there is a theological link between the laity and the administration of the temporal goods of the Church. Given their specific “secular” vocation, have not the laity a special call or charism to administer the temporal goods of the Church?

1. Theological Status of the Laity

At the very outset, it is remarkable how even some professional theologians have slipped on the true meaning of the term “Laity.” Here is n example: “The concept of the ‘laity’ is itself theologically untenable…… Any positive definition given to the term laity or lay person would also have to include the clergy in so far as they are also baptized and chrismated members of the Laos of God.” This writer like many others, including the earlier Yves Congar, has linked the Greek adjective LAIKOS (laico’s) directly to laos tou theou (People of God) and concluded that all members of the Church are laypeople, so that there is no warrant for any distinction between the clergy and the laity. Research into Greek philology has, however, shown that this is too simplistic and wrong. Since even in recent theological and canonical writings philology is often neglected causing confusion and error, we have to linger in a somewhat detailed manner on terminology.

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