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Apostolicam Actuositatem is the Second Vatican Council's Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity. It was approved by a vote of 2,340 to 2 of bishops assembled at the Council, and promulgated by Pope Paul VI on 18 November 1965. The title is Latin for "Apostolic Activity", which is from the first line of the decree, as is customary with significant Catholic documents.
Apostolicam Actuositatem follows upon Lumen gentium, the "Dogmatic Constitution on the Church", of 21 November 1964, which in Chapter IV, discusses the laity, by which they mean all the faithful except those in Holy Orders or religious institutes. "They live in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life, from which the very web of their existence is woven. ... led by the spirit of the Gospel they may work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven. In this way they may make Christ known to others, especially by the testimony of a life resplendent in faith, hope and charity.
The numbers given correspond to the section numbers within the text.
- Introduction (1)
- The Vocation of the Laity to the Apostolate (2-4)
- Objectives (5-8)
- The Various Fields of the Apostolate (9-14)
- The Various Forms of the Apostolate (15-22)
- External Relationships (23-27)
- Formation for the Apostolate (28-32)
- Exhortation (33)
"The apostolate of the Church and of all its members is primarily designed to manifest Christ's message by words and deeds and to communicate His grace to the world." Apostolicam Actuositatem acknowledges the central importance of the laity in the mission of the Catholic Church. The purpose of this document was to encourage and guide lay people in their Christian service. In this decree the Council sought to describe the nature, character, and diversity of the lay apostolate, to state its basic principles, and to give pastoral directives for its more effective exercise. The specific objectives of lay ministry are: evangelization and sanctification, renewal of the temporal order, and charitable works and social aid.  The layman, being simultaneously a believer and a citizen, should be continuously led by a Christian conscience. The decree quotes Colossians 3:17: "Whatever you do in word or work, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God the Father through Him".
Recognizing that the Holy Spirit bestows special gifts to the faithful,
This plan for the spiritual life of the laity should take its particular character from their married or family state or their single or widowed state, from their state of health, and from their professional and social activity. They should not cease to develop earnestly the qualities and talents bestowed on them in accord with these conditions of life, and they should make use of the gifts which they have received from the Holy Spirit. ... They should also hold in high esteem professional skill, family and civic spirit, and the virtues relating to social customs, namely, honesty, justice, sincerity, kindness, and courage, without which no true Christian life can exist. ... The perfect example of this type of spiritual and apostolic life is the most Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Apostles, who while leading the life common to all here on earth, one filled with family concerns and labors, was always intimately united with her Son ....
Francis Cardinal Arinze explains lay persons "...are called by Baptism to witness to Christ in the secular sphere of life; that is in the family, in work and leisure, in science and cultural, in politics and government, in trade and mass media, and in national and international relations."
Arinze notes that there are many things individuals may accomplish for Christ quietly without belonging to a particular association. In other instances organization is more efficient to address challenges beyond the capacity of one person.
- Second Vatican Council. Lumen gentium, Chapter IV, §31, 21 November 1964 Archived September 6, 2014, at the Wayback Machine.
- Apostolicam Actuositatem, §6.
- Rachal, Dianne. "Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People", Catholic Connection, Diocese of Shreveport, 3 May 2013
- Apostolicam Actuositatem, §5.
- Apostolicam Actuositatem, §4.
- Francis Cardinal Arinze, The Layperson's Distinctive Role, Ignatius Press, 2013 ISBN 9781586177805