The final draft of the Constitutio de Apostolatu Laicorum or “Constitution on the lay apostolate” was completed in April 1962, less than eighteen months after the first full Commission meeting.
Later it would be regarded as one of the best of the pre-conciliar schemas, but Cardijn was not happy. As Mgr Achille Glorieux recognised: “it was Msgr Cardijn who insisted that we determined the specific role of lay people in accomplishing the mission of the Church.”
Several texts “attempted to define it, but in vain,” he noted, verifying Cardijn’s major critique.
The truth was that, from Cardijn’s perspective, the whole enterprise was compromised from the outset by the structuring of the three Sub-Commissions, which led to a very clerical, inward-looking schema, notes Stefan Gigacz.
Summary of the Schema Constitution de Apostolatu Laicorum
a) General Introduction
b) Part I: General Notions, divided into ten chapters including ‘Relations of the laity with the Hierarchy,’ ‘Lay people serving the Church in special positions’ and ‘The family as a subject of the apostolate,’ titles which clearly illuminated the thinking that still dominated the Commission.
c) Part II: The apostolate of the laity in the service of the direct promotion of the reign of Christ, drafted by the Sub-Commission in which Cardijn had participated, was divided into two ‘Titles’ dealing with ‘The forms of organised apostolate’ with a generally, strong ‘ecclesial’ focus and ‘The different forms and domains,’ including chapters on ‘The apostolate of the word’ and ‘The apostolate of the family.’ Nevertheless, some Jocist influence was evident in references to ‘the apostolate of youth,’ ‘the apostolate in one’s own professional and social milieu.’
d) Part III: The apostolate of the laity in charitable works presented in 36 articles ‘the nature and field of charitable works’ without neglecting to include a chapter on ‘justice and charitable works.’
e) Part IV: The apostolate of the laity in social action was divided into two ‘Titles’ opening with chapters on ‘lay action to direct and perfect the natural order’ alongside the inevitable chapter on ‘relations of the laity with the hierarchy.’ A chapter on ‘formation of the laity’ no
doubt pleased Cardijn while Title II added chapters on contemporary issues concerning the family, education, women at work and in society, economic and social life, science and art, civic life, state affairs and the international order.
Even though, according to Glorieux, the Commission had formally abandoned the distinction between ‘direct’ and ‘indirect’ forms of apostolate, it persisted in the structure of the document. Similarly, although Glorieux credited Cardijn’s insistence on the specifically lay apostolate as having inspired the schema’s ‘descriptive’ approach to the characterisation of the lay role, this too remained trapped within the structure of a ‘works’-dominated conception of lay action.
New wine but old wineskins
Despite its flaws, the draft Constitution was not a total loss, Stefan Gigacz observes.
The ‘General Introduction,’ for example, immediately began to characterise the Church as ‘the People of God,’ ‘a holy people’ and ‘royal priesthood’; only in second instance did it deal with ‘the Sacred Hierarchy’ (§2). There was a ‘greater awareness of the fact that the laity are the Church’ (§3). Moreover, the fields that ‘await the apostolate of the laity’ had been ‘immensely extended by scientific and technical progress’ and the Church’s mission here was ‘increasingly urgent.’
Paragraph 37 extolled the ‘Christian dignity of work’ and encouraged workers to ‘daily take Christ with them into their factories, fields, workshops and offices’ in words closely reflecting the traditional JOC prayer. Thus, ‘economic and social structures’ needed to be established to ‘ensure that the modes and forms of labour are compatible with the dignity of the sons of God,’ another passage echoing Cardijn’s concerns.
Similarly, §41 called for the faithful ‘to take an active part in public life,’ adding in §42 that laity ‘cooperate in the formation of a world community’ and penetrate it ‘with the healthful leaven of the Gospel.’
This in turn implied the need for Christian formation (§44) (based on the see-judge-act) in which:
[l]ay people should be made aware of the circumstances of the environment in which they are living and working, that they should learn to bring a Christian judgement to bear on these circumstances and to adopt in them a worthy behaviour.
Glorieux, too, recognised the significance of this section drafted by Cardijn’s Sub-Commission, which contained ‘very clear affirmations with respect to the duty of the apostolate.’ It exhorted lay people not to be ‘solely concerned with their own salvation’ but to ‘understand the duty of the apostolate.’ Moreover, it linked these perspectives to ‘the whole question of formation.’
From the beginning the PCLA also sought to clarify the meaning of the word ‘lay,’ Glorieux wrote. Seeking to go beyond a ‘wholly negative definition,’ it looked at the dignity of the baptised person within the people of God, the rights and duties of each person in the Church, the work of edification of the Mystical Body of Christ, in the ordinary conditions of family and social life.’
Thus, it edged towards clarifying ‘the role that pertains more specifically to lay people in the one apostolic mission of the Church,’ Glorieux noted.95 In the development of these points – baptismal basis of mission, formation, dignity of the person, people of God, specific role of lay people – Cardijn certainly played a key role.
Regarding the hot potato issue of Catholic Action, §53 listed four ‘marks’ by which it could be identified, which, as Glorieux noted with a sense of satisfaction, survived to be included largely unchanged in the final conciliar decree.
Perhaps the best section of the draft Constitution, however, was Part IV on social action, drafted under the leadership of Hengsbach and Pavan. This acknowledged that lay people have ‘a greater role in building up, for Christ’s glory, the temporal order (§84),’ even referring to this as ‘a specific task of lay people.’ Here again it referred to the need for formation ‘through action.’ Much of the content of Part IV would later be included in the future Gaudium et Spes.
In all, there were many excellent elements in the draft Constitution. Perhaps the real problem lay in the fact that, constrained by its terms of reference, the Commission struggled to contain new wine in old wineskins.
Stefan Gigacz, The Leaven in the Council, Chapter 6, Church, world and lay apostolate (Australian Cardijn Institute)