Laity, religious education, and catechetical leadership: A documentary analysis

Catherine Anne Bilquin, Fordham University


Numerically, the laity comprise the largest group (98%) within the Roman Catholic Church. Yet up until the Second Vatican Council, the laity had no official status within the Church proper (ordained, male hierarchy) and remained on the periphery, at best. After some 400 years of exclusion, the Second Vatican Council opened the doors to the laity, welcoming them, including them, and calling for their active participation. This, in turn, inaugurated the laity's participation in Church ministry. The purpose of this work is to trace the development of the laity and their emergence in catechetical leadership through an analysis of selected documents of the Roman Catholic Church. Situated against an historical backdrop, this work examines official Church documents where a theology of the laity is first recognized. Thus, the laity are messianic people and they, too, carry out the threefold mission of Christ, as priest, prophet, and king. One of the most definitive ways in which the laity exercise the messianic mission is found in the realm of education. The framework of parents/family, schools/teachers, and catechists/evangelizers is maintained in the examination of the documents, tracing the development of the laity and their emergence in catechetical leadership. A selection of pertinent Conciliar, postconciliar, and United States documents is employed for this analysis; each chapter concludes with a brief summary. Chapter IV looks at the theory as found in the documents and the lived reality of that theory as experienced by both laity and clergy alike. Translating the rhetoric of the documents and transforming those principles and guidelines into practice has not been without its tensions and is still being realized. The latter part of the chapter looks at clergy/laity tensions; special attention is given to leaders/leadership. Hence, this chapter raises issues and concerns that the documents do not address or do not address fully. Considering the complex, multifaceted nature of the catechetical ministry, this work examines only one facet, and that is the laity, the laity who emerge as catechetical leaders. The fullest expression of the laity exercising the threefold mission of Christ is undeniably found in the catechetical ministry.

Subject Area

Religion|Religious education|School administration

Recommended Citation

Bilquin, Catherine Anne, "Laity, religious education, and catechetical leadership: A documentary analysis" (2002). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3040392.