Associations of the faithful
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Associations of the faithful are groups of Catholics, clerics or laity or both together, who according to the Code of Canon Law jointly foster a more perfect life or promote public worship or Christian teaching, or who devote themselves to other works of the apostolate. They are not necessarily established or even praised or recommended by the Church authorities.
A 20th-century resurgence of interest in lay societies culminated in the Second Vatican Council, but lay ecclesial societies have long existed in forms such as sodalities (defined in the 1917 Code of Canon Law as associations of the faithful constituted as an organic body), confraternities (similarly defined as sodalities established for the promotion of public worship), medieval communes, and guilds.
Pope John Paul II's apostolic exhortation Christifideles laici of 30 December 1988 spoke of "the flourishing of groups, associations and spiritual movements as well as a lay commitment in the life of the Church" in the years following the Second Vatican Council, "resulting in the birth and spread of a multiplicity of group forms: associations, groups, communities, movements".
A Pastoral Note of the Italian Episcopal Conference issued on 29 April 1993 defined three of these terms as follows:
- Associations. Those whose structure is organic and institutional with regard to composition of governing bodies and membership.
- Movements. Those united not so much by institutional structure as by adherence in way of life to certain dynamic ideas and by a shared spirit.
- Groups. Those with a certain spontaneity in the way of joining them, wide freedom in self-structuring, and somewhat limited size, giving rise to more homogeneous membership.
However, it added that these terms are often applied quite loosely. As an example, the Community of Sant'Egidio, which calls itself a community, is also described as a movement, and is listed as an association in the Directory of International Associations of the Faithful.
Ecclesiastical approval 
For a list of the officially approved associations of the faithful that exist on an international level, see Directory of International Associations of the Faithful. Approval for those that exist on a national level can be obtained from the country's episcopal conference, while it is for the local bishop to grant approval to those that exist only at diocesan level.
Relationship with institutes of consecrated life and the like 
A group of people who intend to become a recognized religious institute, secular institute or society of apostolic life will normally come together at first as an association of the faithful, while awaiting the decision of the bishop, after consulting the Holy See, to establish them in the desired form.
- Canon 298 §1
- Cf. canon 298 §2
- Canon 707 §1 of the 1917 Code of Canon Law
- Canon 707 §2 of the 1917 Code of Canon Law
- Christifideles laici, 1 and 29
- Le aggregazioni laicali nella Chiesa, p. 88 Quote: "Col nome di associazioni si indicano le aggregazioni che hanno una struttura organica ed istituzionalmente caratterizzata quanto alla composizione degli organi direttivi e all'adesione dei membri. I1 nome di movimenti è attribuito a quelle realtà aggregative nelle quali l'elemento unificante non è tanto una struttura istituzionale quanto l'adesione «vitale» ad alcune idee-forza e ad uno spirito comune. Sono denominati gruppi le aggregazioni di vario tipo che sono caratterizzate da una certa spontaneità di adesione, da ampia libertà di auto-configurazione e dalle dimensioni alquanto ridotte, che permettono una maggiore omogeneità tra gli aderenti. In un campo nel quale ben raramente si danno realtà rigide e fisse, non sempre i termini di associazione, movimento e gruppo corrispondono alla figura sostanziale che designano."
- About the Community
- "Associationes fidelium quae ad exercitium alicuius operis pietatis aut caritatis erectae sun, nomine veniunt 'piarum unionum'; quae, si ad modum organici corporis sunt constitutae, 'sodalitia' audiunt" (Associations of the faithful which are established for carrying out some pious or charitable work are called "pious unions"; if they are constituted as an organic body, they are referred to as "sodalities") - canon 707 §1 of the 1917 Code of Canon Law
- Canons 579 and 732
- Brendan Leahy, Ecclesial Movements and Communities: Origins, Significance, and Issues (New City Press, 2011)
- Book review of Cities of God: The Religion of the Italian Communes 1125-1325 by Augustine Thompson, OP
- David Dieterich, Brotherhood and Community on the Eve of the Reformation: Confraternities and Parish Life in Liege, 1450-1540