Pope Paul VI

General Audience

To the many thousands of faithful gathered in St. Peter's Basilica on Wednesday April 23rd, Paul VI delivered the following address:

Beloved Sons and Daughters!

Let us speak again of the Council. We will have to speak of it for a long time still. Our age is marked by this event. May you not be bored by Our frequent recourse to it, for it is pervading the life of the Church. Take, for example, the new language it has brought into honour in the teaching of Christian doctrine. New expressions, even if their existence is prior to the Council and if they can be found in the traditional literature, have entered into everyday use and have taken on characteristic meanings, important both for theological thought and for ordinary conversation between us believers.

The "consecratio mundi"

One of these expression is "consecratio mundi", the consecration of the world. These words have distant roots, but the merit of having made them particularly expressive in connection with the apostolate of the laity rests with Pius XII of venerated memory. We find them in the address that great Pope delivered on the occasion of the second world Congress of the Lay Apostolate (see: Discorsi, XIX, p. 459, and A.A.S. 1957, p. 427); but he had referred to them also on other occasions (cfr. Discorsi III, p. 460; XIII, 295; XV, 590, etc.,); more explicitly, then, on 5th October 1957, he affirmed that the "consecratio mundi" is essentially the work of the Laymen..." who have taken their place at the heart of economic and social life". We Ourself used this expression in Our pastoral of 1962, to the archdiocese of Milan (cfr. Rivista Dioc. 1962, p. 263). And the expression passed (another proof of the coherent continuity of ecclesiastical teaching) into the documents of the Council: "... The laity consecrate the world itself to God", the dogmatic Constitution on the Church says ("Lumen Gentium", n. 34; and cfr. also 31, 35, 36; Apost. actuos. n. 7; etc.).

To evaluate this expression we should analyse the meaning of three terms: consecration, world, the laity; terms that are rich in content, and not always used in a univocal sense. Let it suffice here to recall that by consecration we mean, not the separation of a thing from what is profane in order to reserve it exclusively, or particularly, for the Divinity, but, in a wider sense, the re-establishment of a thing's relationship to God according to its own order, according to the exigency of the nature of the thing itself, in the plan willed by God (cfr. Lazzati, in "Studium", 1959, p. 791-805; Congar, "Jésus Christ", p. 215 ss.).

By world we mean the set of natural, positive values, which are in the temporal order, or, as the Council says in this sense ("Gaudium et Spes", n. 2): "the whole human family along with the sum of those realities in the midst of which that family lives".

And what do we mean by the term "the laity"? There have been great discussions to specify the, ecclesial meaning of this word, arriving at this descriptive definition: A layman is one of the faithful, belonging to the People of God, distinct from the Hierarchy which is separated from temporal activities (cfr. Acts 6, 4) and presides over the community dispensing "God's mysteries" to it (cfr. I Cor. 4, 1; II Cor. 6, 4), while the layman has a given, temporal relationship with the secular world (cfr. "La Chiesa del Vat. II", E. Schillebeeckx, p. 960, ss.).

A difficulty may seem to arise from the mere consideration of these terms. How is it possible to think of a "consecratio mundi" today, when the Church has recognized the autonomy of the temporal order, that is, the world as independent, with its own purposes, its own laws, its own means (cfr. Apost. act. n. 7; "Gaudium et Spes" n. 42; etc.)? Everyone knows now the new position taken up by the Church with regard to earthly realities. The latter have a nature that enjoys an order, having an end of its own, in the framework of creation, even though it is subordinate to the order of the scheme of redemption. The world is in itself secular. It has broken away from the unitarian conception of mediaeval Christianity. It is supreme in its own field, a field that covers the whole human world. How is it possible to think of its consecration? Is not this a return to a sacral, clerical conception of the world?

Autonomy of the temporal order

Here is the answer; and here is the new concept, of great importance in the practical field, the Church agrees to recognize the world as such, that is, free, autonomous, sovereign, and in a certain sense, self-sufficient. She does not try to make it an instrument for her religious purposes, far less for power of the temporal order. The Church also admits a certain emancipation for her faithful of the Catholic laity, when they act in the domain of temporal reality. She attributes to them freedom of action and a responsibility of their own, and she trusts them.

Pius XII also spoke of a "legitimate secularity of the State" (A.A.S., 1958, p. 220). The Council recommends Pastors to recognize and promote "the dignity as well as the responsibility of the layman" ("Lumen Gentium", n. 37), but adds, precisely when speaking of laymen and to laymen that "by its very nature the Christian vocation is also a vocation to the apostolate" (Apost. actuos. n. 2), and while it permits them, in fact urges them, to act in the secular world with perfect observance of the duties it entails; it charges them to bring three things into this world (We are speaking very empirically). These are: the order corresponding to the natural values, characteristic of the secular world (cultural, professional, technical, political values, etc.), honesty and skill, we might say, competence and devotion, the art of duly developing and implementing these same values.

Even in this connection alone, the Catholic layman should be perfect citizen of the world, a positive and constructive element, a man worthy of esteem and trust, a person who loves society and his country. We hope that it will always be possible to hold this opinion of him; and We trust that he will not give in to the conformism of so many disturbing movements that are passing through the modern world, in various ways, today. Many of those who claim to be active by virtue of their membership of the Catholic laity, would do well to meditate deeply upon the 1 Epistle of the Apostle Peter, and certain pages of those of St. Paul (e.g. Rom. 13).

The inspiration of Christian principles

The other influence that the Church, and not only the laity, can exert in the secular world, leaving it such and at the same time honouring it with a "consecration" such as the Council teaches us, is the inspiration (Apost. actuos. n. 7; Gaudium et Spes, n. 42) of Christian principles. In their vertical meaning, that is referred to the supreme and ultimate term of mankind, these principles are religious and supernatural, but in their efficiency, which today is said to be horizontal, that is earthly, they are supremely human. They are the interpretation, the inexhaustible vitality, the sublimation of human life as such. The Council says, in this connection, that "the earthly and the heavenly city penetrate each other... (in order to) contribute toward making the family of man and its history more human" ("Gaudium et Spes", n. 40). It reminds laymen "that they have an active part to play in the whole life of the Church," that they must not only "perfect the temporal sphere of things through the spirit of the Gospel" but also "openly bear witness to Christ" in every circumstance, in the midst of human society" ("Gaudium et Spes", n. 43; "Apost. actuos." n. 2).

And it is in this sense that the Church, and especially the Catholic laity, confer a new degree of consecration upon the world, not by bringing specifically sacred and religious signs (although in certain forms and circumstances the latter are also desirable), but by coordinating it to the kingdom of God by carrying on the apostolate through faith, hope and charity (cfr. Apost. actuos. n. 3). "Qui sic ministrat, Christo ministrat"; he who serves his neighbour in this way, serves Christ, St. Augustine says in one of his noble pages (In Jo. tract. 51, n. 12; P.L. 35, 1768). It is holiness, that spreads its light over the world and in the world. This is, or rather may this be, the vocation of our times, of all of us, beloved Sons, with Our Apostolic Blessing.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
1 May 1969, page 4

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