New book examines role of Church's emerging lay movements

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The Canadian Diocese of St. Catharines in Ontario has published a new book that examines the status and role of lay movements in the Catholic Church, showing how they can compliment more traditional structures such as dioceses and religious orders.

“A better understanding of these groups will assist bishops, priests, those in consecrated life and the laity in their efforts to interact with them,” said Germain McKenzie, editor of “Lay Associations and Ecclesial Movements: Criteria” and director of evangelization for St. Catharines.

“For the Church hierarchy, this would mean helping these new associations and movements to reach their full potential,” McKenzie explained.

“This improved understanding would also enable members of these organizations to clarify their identity and mission in the Church – which, in turn, would allow them to fit more easily into local dioceses and parishes.”

More than two dozen recognized lay movements – such as Communion and Liberation, Focolare, and the Neocatechumenal Way – have established themselves in the Church since they first received official recognition in the 1983 Code of Canon Law. They typically involve laypersons in a program of meetings, prayer, formation, and outreach within the Church or to the broader community.

The new book puts the recent development of lay associations and movements in perspective through reference to the Second Vatican Council, which heavily emphasized the role of the lay faithful in the life of the Church. It also explains the status of lay movements in canon law, and compiles the teachings of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI on their role in the Church.

Difficulties have arisen within some lay associations and movements, and in their relationship with parishes and other traditional structures. But McKenzie considers the associations and movements to be a positive development on the whole – especially in their contributions to evangelization, community life, youth ministry, and vocational discernment.

In fact, he also believes such movements may be more deeply “traditional” than some observers realize. He describes them in the book as “an old, and at the same time, new reality.”

“The existence of communities of lay people, of diverse shape, goes back to the early Church,” he writes in the foreword. “It can be said that during these times, the spread of the Gospel was an endeavor carried on mostly by non-ordained Christians, in their ordinary lives, either alone or in groups.”

“Lay associations and lay apostolate have continued to be a part of the People of God throughout the centuries,” McKenzie explains in the book. “They have become, and are becoming, ever more relevant in the task of new evangelization.”

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