By Baptism, every member of the Church participates in Christ’s role as priest, prophet, and king (which is understood in terms of being the shepherd of his people). The laity do this in the context of their lives within families, parish communities, civic communities, and the workplace. The everyday gift of themselves in love and care for others, often done at great personal cost, is a priestly offering that is joined to the sacrifice of Christ in the Eucharist. By words and deeds faithful to the Gospel, they evangelize others, thus fulfilling their prophetic role. By seeking to build the common good of society on the basis of moral principles, they strengthen civic communities and thus fulfill their kingly or shepherding role.
The laity are in the unique position of being able directly to infuse culture and society with the Gospel. But they also contribute to the vitality of the life of the Church through ministry as catechists and many other ministries. Most are volunteers, but some have been called to serve as salaried ministers. Working with their pastors, they enable the Church to witness to Christian faith and love before the world.
In the post-conciliar period, a distinctly new and different group of lay ministers has emerged in the Church in the United States. This group consists of lay women and men performing roles that entail varying degrees of pastoral leadership and administration in parishes, church agencies, and organizations, and at diocesan and national levels. They are doing so in a public, stable, recognized, and authorized manner. Furthermore, when these lay ministers speak of their responsibilities, they emphasize ministering in ways that are distinguished from, yet complementary to, the roles of ordained ministers. Many of them also express a deep sense of vocation that is part of their personal identity and that motivates what they are doing. Many have sought academic credentials and diocesan certification in order to prepare for their ministry. (USCCB Subcommittee on Lay Ministry, Lay Ecclesial Ministry: The State of the Questions [Washington, DC: USCCB, 1999], 9)
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