Thursday, September 20, 2018
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High hopes for the laity, too?

Beyond the Francis-mania, do the laity making up 99 percent of the Church hope to become more than followers and assistants of the hierarchy? Or are they content with the status quo? In our country, the answer is “yes” and “no.”

Our laity are a mixed bag. The great majority are urban masses and rural grassroots. It’s all the masses can do to keep body and soul together. The grassroots can be content with the satisfaction of simple needs. Throughout are unknown numbers of nominal Catholics who go to Mass as a matter of habit, keep an icon or two at home, pray to a favorite saint. Vatican II—what’s that? Lay empowerment—what’s that?


Another huge group is made up of spirit-filled charismatics moved by preacher-power like Bo Sanchez’s and Mike Velarde’s. It’s part of a staggering number of Pentecostals drawing all economic classes, in and apart from the Church.

Next are parish workers all over the country, legions who are shining examples of service, without whose assistance in the whole array of liturgy, charitable works, fund-raising, etc. the parish could collapse. What’s the beef over the “role and status” of the laity? They have it!

Then there is the right wing of the Church (reportedly not too happy with the new Pope), a very powerful minority that will brook no deviation from any Church teaching, eminent “defenders of the faith” who stand by any position the Church takes.

How have a serve-and-obey laity become typical? It may be a case of not missing what one never had.

In the early Church, the “ministries” were done by lay persons: preaching, teaching, baptizing, engaging in “lay confession,” anointing the sick, “breaking of bread,” picking their bishops, etc. The Church was “people of God” in household communities.

Then the hegemonic “Western civilization” swept Europe, including the Church. A now unspeakably wealthy and powerful ecclesiology replaced the community Church. Ministries were passed on or appropriated by the “ordained priesthood.” The laity were swept aside to serve and obey, to be seen but not heard.

Through Spain, such has been the religious culture we inherited. So pervasive are its effects that a lot of the laity still function by mindsets like: “Opo  (Yes), Father,” “Ako’y  makasalanan  (I’m sinful),” “The Church does not make mistakes,” “The clergy are higher than the layman,” “Don’t criticize the Church,” etc.

Then, surprising the establishment, Pope John XXIII announced Vatican II, to look back (resourcement) and to move forward and connect with the world (aggiornamento). The Plenary Council of the Philippines (PCP) followed with its blueprint for the country. The two councils name the laity as one of their top priorities. (How things have developed is another tale.)

Credit PCP II for recovering the early “people of God” communities, with the basic ecclesial community (BEC) as the structure of choice to revitalize the Church. Its spread is stymied or diluted by pre-Vatican II restorations. The real BECs  persevere without fanfare, hoping for a more liberal and vibrant ecclesiastical climate.


There is an even tinier minority which we’ll call “critical mass,” gathering formally or informally. Its members strive toward adult faith, studying the unadorned Church and unlearning “myths” taught them in their innocence. They have breached the formidable façade of the institution and see the crisis of the Church that they love.

Very seriously do they take the promising words of Vatican II for the laity: “empowerment,” “priesthood of the laity,” “co-responsible,” “of equal dignity,” which they mean to actualize.

Extremist perhaps for any status quo, here are some areas seeking tangible reforms and paradigm shifts:

• Governance: The laity (not handpicked echoes) must be part of planning and policy- or decision-making in boards or commissions with a vote—or what’s the use—on organization and structure, and money matters. Isn’t it absurd that an all-male 1 percent is running the universal Church?

• Theology: Accept that teaching and theology are no longer the domain of the clergy alone. There are excellent lay teachers and theologians, male and female, not seldom held at bay. Be willing to engage in dialogue-discussion-debate from positions of equality, or it’s the Inquisition all over again.

• Women: There’s a lot to learn about and from women. The Church is losing half of precious input and expertise by a selective marginalization.

• Sense of the faithful: Do not be afraid of  sensus  fidelium  (one norm of theological truth), from Church jokes the folk circulate to questions by critical laity. They all make statements.

What now? Will the clergy share and let go? Will the laity seize the empowerment? Is it progress inch by inch or the rock of Sisyphus? And where are the youth in this scenario? Until a clear signal comes from the new Pope to change gears, local hierarchies will continue the old way: The laity will take the cue from priests who will take the cue from bishops who will take the cue from previous papal policies.

Pope Francis recently issued one of his strongest and enigmatic statements yet: “I want a mess…. I want trouble in the dioceses! … I want to see the Church get closer to the people. I want to get rid of clericalism, the mundane, this closing ourselves off within yourselves…. Because these need to get out!”

What exactly did the Pope mean?

Asuncion David Maramba (marda_ph, fax 8284454) is a retired professor, book editor and occasional journalist.

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TAGS: Asuncion David Maramba, column, laity, Religion
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