| Year 2002 Canonical Studies pp. 56-79
(Prof. Augustine Mendonca)
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Probably most of us have grown up with an image of the Catholic Church as a perfect society organized or structured in the form of a pyramid. The pyramidal structure with the Pope at the top and all others sloping down in a hierarchic order toward the laity at the bottom has been a familiar view of a “perfect society.” The natural consequence of this conception has been the belief that even one’s right to be involved in the Church’s mission had to be handed down from the head. This was exactly what was implied in the famous encyclical Non abbiamo bisogno of Pius XI on Catholic Action, where he said: “We have repeatedly and solemnly affirmed and protested that Catholic Action, both from its very nature and essence [consists in] the participation and collaboration of the laity with the apostolic hierarchy.”1

The implication of the above statement was that for the laity to participate in the apostolic life of the Church a mandate from the hierarchy was necessary. In the words of Father L. Orsy, “[…] the life of the Church was nourished and governed through an overwhelming dynamics from above apart from the sacraments (which are always direct gifts from God) most good things concerning the life of the community (virtually all that concerns governing, teaching, and apostolic work) descended on God’s people, grade by grade, level by level: from God to the people, to the bishops, to the presbyters, and finally to the lay person.”2

The Second Vatican Council radically changed all this. Although the Catholic Church is still hierarchic in its constitutional structure, the mission of the people of God is no longer viewed in terms of a flowing down imagery. In its dogmatic constitution of the Church, the Council begins its reflections on the nature of the Church a communion of the faithful animated by the Holy Spirit.3 All baptized persons share in the mission of the Church. At the deepest level of the Church, here is radical equality between all members of the faithful; there is no distinction between the ordained and not ordained, between the clergy and laity. The gift of new life in the Spirit given through the sacraments of initiation do not discriminate; they are given to all irrespective of one’s position in the hierarchic structure. All Christian faithful naturally share in the responsibility of bringing the message of salvation to all members of the human family.4 In other words, all the faithful in virtue of their baptism have a right to be involved in the mission of the Church, without doubt under the supervision and direction of legitimate ecclesiastical authority.

1. Pius XI, Encyclical Non abbiamo bisogno, 29 June 1931, in Acta Apostolicae Sedis (=AAS), 23 (1931), PP. 285-312, here at P. 294.

2. Ladislas Örsy, “The Future of Canon Law: Portents of New Structures and Norms,” Paper presented at the annual convention of the Canadian Canon Law Society, 18 October 2001, Quebec City, Canada, p. 9.

3. SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen gentium (=LG), 21 November 1964, in AAS, 57 (1965), pp. 5-71, here at p. 11; English translation in Austin FLANNERY (gen. ed.), Vatican Council II Vol. 1: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, New Revised Edition (=FLANNERY I), Northport, NY, Costello Publishing Company; Dublin, Ireland, Dominican Publications, 1996, pp. 350-426, here at p. 357.

4. These theological concepts and principles are developed in articles 10-15 of LG; in FLANNERY I, pp. 360-367; also see Örsy, “The Future of Canon Law,” pp. 10-11.

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