The Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity

The first document in the history of ecumenical councils to address itself to anyone other than the Church’s own clergy was the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity (in Latin, Apostolicam Actuositatem, “The apostolic activity”). Remember, because it is a decree, it has less influence than the four Constitutions, but its importance has been in the direction it has set for the entire Church ever since its promulgation.

The Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity is a long document. In its original form, it was much longer, but some of that material was transferred to the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, the Decree on the Church’s Missionary Activity, and other documents.

Specifically, it declares that lay people have a ministry by virtue of their baptisms, not merely a sharing in the ministry of the ordained. Although the decree situates the lay apostolate firmly in the temporal sphere, namely, the family, culture, economics, the arts and professions, politics, and international relations, it doesn’t exclude the laity from direct participation in the internal life of the Church. The decree concludes by detailing how the apostolic work of the laity is to proceed, how lay people are to be prepared for it, and the importance of each person’s role in the establishment of the Reign of God. It was approved by the Council Fathers on Nov. 18, 1965, by a vote of 2,305 to 2.

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