Laity In religious organizations, the laity comprises all lay persons collectively. This can mean either any person who is not a member of the clergy or of any monastic order or, within such an order, a monastic who is not a priest (c.f., lay brother). The Roman Catholic Church during its Second Vatican Council defined the laity as those members of the Church whose role is to sanctify worldly realities. In recent centuries, the term is often used more generally, in the context of any specialized profession, to refer to those who are not members of that profession.

The word lay derives from the Anglo-French lai (from Late Latin laicus, from the Greek λαϊκός, laikos, of the people, from λαός, laos, the people at large).

Christian laityEdit

Episcopal ChurchEdit

In the Episcopal Church the laity can have say in legislation. At General Convention up to four lay persons from each diocese are elected to represent the diocese in the House of Deputies, one of the two governmental houses in the Episcopal Church. On the local parish level, lay persons are elected to a church council called a vestry.

The term laity can also refer to people who serve at the church and who are not ordained clergy. Vergers, acolytes, Lay Readers, Pastoral Leaders, Lay Preachers, Lay Eucharistic Ministers, and Catechists are considered lay people.

In many parishes, a verger is appointed by the rector.

Acolytes are often appointed only through the authority of the Acolyte Master rather than the rector. The Acolyte Master is typically appointed by the rector of the church. Acolyte positions include torch bearer (carries the torches), crucifer (carries the cross), thurifer (carries the brass thurible with coals and incense), boat boy or boat girl (carries the extra incense), server (assists clergy during communion), and subdeacon (assist clergy at the altar).

Lay Readers, Pastoral Leaders, Lay Preachers, Lay Eucharistic Ministers, and Catechists in the Episcopal Church are licensed by rector of the church. These licenses have expiration dates and are revocable by the rector of the church and by the bishop of that diocese.

Roman CatholicismEdit

In previous years the laity had a much smaller role in the work of the Catholic Church. In the past, Church leaders felt that the role of the laity was little more than to "Pray, Pay, and Obey." The old Code of Canon Law defined them negatively: they are not clerics.

Second Vatican Council was a big step forward when it taught that the laity's specific character is secularity, i.e. as Christians who live the life of Christ in the world, their role is to sanctify the created world by directing it to become more Christian in its structures and systems: "It belongs to the laity to seek the kingdom of God by engaging in the affairs of the world and directing them according to God's will," stated the Council in "Lumen Gentium." The laity are full members of the Church, who fully share in Church's purpose of sanctification, of "inner union of men with God," (CCC 775) acting with freedom and personal responsibility and not as mere agents of the hierarchy. Due to their baptism, they are members of God's family, the Church, and they grow in intimate union with God, "in" and "by means" of the world. It is not a matter of departing from the world as the monks and the nuns do that they sanctify themselves; it is precisely through the material world sanctified by the coming of the God made flesh, i.e. made material, that they reach God. Doctors, mothers of a family, farmers, bank tellers, drivers, by doing their jobs in the world with a Christian spirit are already extending the Kingdom of God. According to the repeated statements of Popes and lay Catholic leaders, the laity should say "we are the Church," in the same way that the saints said that "Christ lives in me."

The role of the laity in the Church was also expanded to include lay ministers of various kinds. Also, as a result of the priest shortage, members of the laity have had to take on some of the roles previously performed by priests.

A more traditional view of lay involvement was through participation in unions of prayer and confraternaties as well as through parishes. See Unions of Prayer from the Catholic Encyclopedia.

The Lay Preacher in the Wesleyan / Methodist traditionEdit

A very early tradition of preaching in the Wesleyan / Methodist churches was for a Lay Preacher to be appointed to lead services of worship and preach in a group (called a 'circuit') of meeting places or churches. The lay preacher walked or rode on horseback in a prescribed circuit of the preaching places according to an agreed pattern and timing, and people came to the meetings. After the appointment of ministers and pastors, this lay preaching tradition continued with these people being appointed by individual churches, and in turn approved and invited by nearby churches, as an adjunct to the minister or during their planned absences.

In the Uniting Church in Australia, that was constitued in part from the Methodist Church, persons can be appointed:

  • by the congregation as a Lay Preacher; and/or
  • by the regional Presbytery to conduct Communion.

Arguably the most famous Wesleyan Lay Preacher currently active is King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV of Tonga.

The comparable term in the Anglican / Episcopal churches is "Lay Reader".

See alsoEdit

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