Pius XI on Catholic Action

Pope Pius XI

Maritain’s summary of Catholic Action according to Pope Pius XI account is as follows:

What is new is the insistence with which Pius XI has clarified the nature of Catholic action, precisely stated its meaning and made its applications explicit, the central, essential importance which he attaches to Catholic action, his affirmed will to develop it everywhere, the solicitude with which he watches over it. Has he not said that it is as dear to him as the apple of his eye? Has he not written of Catholic action that it is that which the “supreme Head of religion is known to prize and cherish most?” And recently he said yet again: “Whoever strikes Catholic action, strikes the Pope.” (And he added: “Whoever strikes the Pope, dies.”) He himself has given, and with especial solemnity, the definition, which has now become classic, of Catholic action: “participation by the laity in the hierarchical apostolate,” and again: “Catholic action in sum is nothing other than the apostolate of the faithful, who, under the guidance of their bishops, put themselves at the service of the Church and assist her in the integral fulfillment of her pastoral ministry.” These words, which should be retained and carefully weighed, show how far, in the thought of the Pope, Catholic action is a thing of the Church and has the same finalities as the Church’s pastoral ministry itself: laymen are called to assist the Church in the integral fulfillment of her pastoral office; they are called to the apostolate, to that same apostolate with which Christ has charged the Twelve and their successors; and they receive for this an explicit mission. I have always insist that all souls are called in some degree to the contemplation of the saints, which, because it is a contemplation of love, abounds in action. But now, and as corresponding to this call of God deep in our hearts, we are to meditate on another call, the call to action, apostolic action, which the Church addresses in some degree to all the faithful.

“Catholic Action and Political Action: On the Three Levels of Action”
Scholasticism and Politics, (1939)

Yves Congar explains that since the French Revolution the idea and practice of Catholic Action has been underway as a way to confront “aggressive and widespread unbelief, the disappearance of props to the faith provided by political power.” The structures of the world are separated from Christ by “hostilility or indifference”, full of new forces, unknown values, heedless, often ignorant of Catholic faith. Lay People in the Church, (1956) p. 359

Congar continues: With Pius XI Catholic Action took on a new tone and meaning, along three lines: “i. the insistence on the properly apostolic nature of Catholic Action; ii. the generalized character of the appeal and the wide scope of the movement; iii. the pronounced aspect of a lay task, corresponding to the Christian’s engagement in the more clearly recognized secular field.” p. 362

Vatican II outlined this concept and task with great precision and depth; Pope John Paul II perfected the account with his stirring call for lay apostolate in Christfideles laici (1988). Again we see confirmation of Benedict’s Hermeneutic of Continuity in this development by way of deepening..

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