The Lord’s prediction that his followers would accomplish greater things than he did came true with the coming of the Holy Spirit in conversions of 3,000 and growing to 5,000 with the cure of the crippled man.
The continued growth of the Jerusalem Community soon created new problems for the Apostles. Jerusalem had long been the site of two distinct Jewish groups. The native, who spoke Aramaic, and the Greek-speaking Jews from the diaspora. Christian converts came from both groups. The majority, a better organized group of Aramaic speakers, took good care of widows and other needy members, but were not reaching out to the Greek-speaking widows and providing them with food. Complaints reached the Apostles.
As a result 7 leaders from the Greek-speaking Christian Community were deputed to take care of the problem.
It became clear that leadership and service needed to be broadly distributed. Stephen and Philip proved to be eloquent preachers and gifted with the grace of healing. This may be the original instance of the need for and the function of collaborative ministry in the Church.
It became a patter across the world. Paul recruits Timothy, he has Aquila and Prisca. Chloe in Corinth. Epaphras and Onesimus in Colossae have been slaves, but they were also lay ministers for Christ. At the conclusion of his Letter to the Romans, Paul mentions 25 coworkers!
So it definitely was not something new and strange that the Fathers in the Vatican II Council issued many statements on the calling of the laity to be about the work of Christ in our time!
No special imposition of hands is required. Lay people’s right and duty to be apostles derives from their union with Christ their head by Baptism and Confirmation. (Cf. Apostolicam Actuositatem, 3)
In the two millennia the Church has functioned, the world has gone through many stages. The Church was there to meet many a crisis. We live in the most advanced and complex civilization that ever demanded attention. The Council insisted the baptized Christian has many duties toward the secular world and these are Christian duties, moral duties. God and the Church are concerned about human welfare, human freedom. This area belongs more to the laity than to priests and bishops. The laity are needed to do more than make sure all its widows are provided with food. Christian Politicians, Christian leaders in business and human affairs are needed.
Lay missionaries, living their vocation in service to the Church, have given their lives for justice and are true martyrs. Such heroism is not demanded of all.
The need for lay help was clear in Jerusalem in the year 35. The needs of God’s Church in the 21st century are much more evident.
It was only after the Polish laity rallied to the presence of Pope John Paul II by the millions, did the power of Communism shatter and crumble, even in Russia. The Pope could lead but without the following laity nothing good would have happened.
Christ is still with his Church and he is certainly with his laity.
Fr. Fred Sucher, C.P. is retired and lives in the Passionist community in Louisville, Kentucky. For many years he taught philosophy to Passionist seminarians.