The Blessings of Being A Public Association of the Faithful

Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke, D.D., J.C.D.

Introduction

The Marian Catechist Apostolate is a lay apostolate, canonically established, as a public association of the faithful. What does being a public association of the faithful mean for members and for the Apostolate? What are our obligations in carrying out the mission freely assumed by this public association of the faithful?

Various associations of the faithful

The Church recognizes the work of the Holy Spirit among the faithful, inspiring various joint efforts to promote the Christian life, in general, and to promote specific aspects of our life in Christ, for example, the Sacred Liturgy, Catholic education, works of charity and Christian witness in the various fields of human activity and endeavor. The faithful are, in fact, encouraged to form associations among themselves for the sake of living the Faith more deeply and spreading the Faith to others more effectively.

The faithful may form associations on their own without any intervention of Church authority. At the same time, an association of the faithful, by definition, always shows respect for Church authority and works to promote the unity and strength of Church life. The use of the name, Catholic, by an association is governed by the competent Church authority (canon 300). If the association uses the name Catholic, it means that the members and the whole association are obedient to the Magisterium. It also means that the members of the association respect those who are members of other Church associations and seek harmony among all those working for the Church.

By definition, the members of an association of the faithful join the association freely. In other words, the Church does not compel all catechists to join the Marian Catechist Apostolate, but they are free to join and to leave the association, according to their own desires.

Private or public associations

What is the difference between a private association of the faithful and a public association of the faith? A private association exists in virtue of a private agreement among its members. A private association may or may not be recognized by the local Church authority, according to the wishes of the members. If the association wishes to be recognized as a private association of the faithful, then it must submit its statutes for review by the competent Church authority (canon 299, §§1-3).

A public association of the faithful is established by the competent Church authority. Some associations of the faithful must be public because of the nature of their apostolate, namely the handing on of Christian doctrine "in the name of the Church" or the promotion of the Sacred Liturgy or "purposes whose pursuit is of its nature reserved" to Church authority (canon 301, §1).

Who is the competent Church authority? For associations which are universal and international, it is the Holy See. If the association is national in scope, it is the conference of bishops of the nation. If the association is diocesan, it is the diocesan bishop (canon 312, §§1-3).

Because the association of the Marian Catechist Apostolate exists primarily to form and nurture catechists spiritually and doctrinally for the teaching and sharing of the Catholic Faith, it is most fittingly a public association of the faithful. The Marian Catechist Apostolate, a public association of the faithful first erected in the Diocese of La Crosse, because of its membership from throughout the universal Church seeks recognition as an international public association of the faithful.

Rights and responsibilities

All associations of the faithful, public and private, must have "their own statutes which define the purpose or social objective of the association, its seat, government, and conditions required for membership and which determine the manner of its acting" (canon 304, §1). The statutes protect both the nature of the association and the rights of those who join. Without statutes, the association can be wrongly used for purposes other than those for which it was erected or can be operated without respect for all the members.

Because they are in the Church, associations of the faithful are "subject to the vigilance of competent ecclesiastical authority which is to take care that the integrity of faith and morals is preserved in them and is to watch so that abuse does not creep into ecclesiastical discipline" (canons 305, §1; and 323, §§1-2). The vigilance of Church authority over associations of the faithful does not, in any way, diminish their freedom to pursue their stated purposes but guarantees that their activities are carried out in the communion of the Church.

A public association of the faithful becomes a juridic person in the Church and receives a mission from the Church to achieve "the purposes it proposes to pursue in the name of the Church" (canon 313). As a result, the competent Church authority approves the statutes and any revision of the statutes of a public association (canon 315), confirms the moderator elected by the members or appoints the moderator, if the statutes so provide, and appoints the chaplain after consultation with the principal leaders of the association (canon 317). By contrast, a private association of the faithful names its moderator without the confirmation of Church authority and chooses its spiritual adviser with "the confirmation of the local ordinary" (canon 324, §§1-2). The complete Church discipline regarding associations of the faithful, private and public, is found in canons 298-329 of the Code of Canon Law.

For the Marian Catechist Apostolate, I am the ecclesiastical authority and hold the office of Episcopal Moderator and International Director. I approved the Statutes of the Marian Catechist Apostolate on 12 December 1999. They were revised and approved on 25 March 2006 and are included in this publication.

Father Hardon saw the service of catechists as critical to the future of the Church. In order to prepare catechists to carry out their critical mission, he provided, through the Marian Catechist Apostolate, an appropriate spiritual and doctrinal formation.

Please note the detailed requirements for when and how one becomes a Consecrated Marian Catechist in the Statutes. These requirements are necessary to ensure that the high standard of spiritual and doctrinal formation developed by Father John A. Hardon, S.J., is carried out. Our mission to form and nurture catechists and to teach the Catholic faith in this secular culture is dependant upon our fidelity to these requirements so wisely envisioned by Father Hardon.

Father Hardon stressed that the spiritual formation of the catechist is as important as is the doctrinal formation. The catechist needs to know Christ intimately. This occurs especially through daily prayer, daily Mass—if possible—and the regular confession of sins and reception of God’s forgiveness in the Sacrament of Penance.

Only through a disciplined spiritual life will the catechist come to know Christ deeply and be able to bring Christ to others. Otherwise, the danger is that the catechist will be teaching himself or herself, his or her ideas, rather than teaching Christ and His Word.

Doctrinal formation goes hand-in-hand with spiritual formation. In fact, the more one grows in the spiritual life, the more one desires to study the truth, the deposit of faith, which Christ teaches us in the Church.
Proper doctrinal formation requires regular study of the Faith, through the help of Father Hardon’s courses and then ongoing, lifelong study, also outlined by Father Hardon. The more deeply the catechist understands the Faith, the more fully he or she will be able to live the Faith and to hand on the Faith and its practice to others.

I ask your continued cooperation in fulfilling your initial and life-long formation requirements, and in satisfying the requirements for annual consecration. Your cooperation assists me in fulfilling my role, as stated in the Statutes of the Marian Catechist Apostolate:

The Episcopal Moderator of the Marian Catechist Apostolate is the highest authority of the Association. …[He] is responsible for:

  1. The faithful adherence to and protection of the founding charism and mission of the Marian Catechist Apostolate.
  2. The proper application of all norms pertaining to the governance and administration of the Marian Catechist Apostolate and the universal law of the Church.
  3. Incorporation and formation of the members.
  4. The discipline of members.
  5. The giving of directives for the corporate apostolate in consultation with the Spiritual Advisor and National Coordinator.
  6. Calling forth members for a specific service on behalf of the Marian Catechist Apostolate.

Blessings received by members

The blessings which come with being a member of a public association of the faithful are the actual graces given to anyone who dedicates himself or herself more fully to the apostolates of the Church. These graces are actual graces and, therefore, they are given by God freely. The graces received through the Act of Consecration as a Marian Catechist augment the actual graces received by all members of the Apostolate. One who consecrates his or her life to the Sacred Heart of Jesus through the Immaculate Heart of Mary can be assured of an abundance of graces in order to live the consecration.

Conclusion

I conclude by drawing your attention to three norms of Church law, which pertain to associations of the faithful formed by the laity.

First of all, the Church urges all of the faithful to esteem such associations, "especially those which propose to animate the temporal order with the Christian spirit and in this way greatly foster an intimate union between faith and life" (canon 327).

Secondly, the Church urges the leaders of associations of the faithful "to take care that their associations cooperate with other associations of the faithful where it is expedient and willingly assist various Christian works, especially those in the same territory" (canon 328).

Finally, the Church reminds the moderators of associations of the faithful "to take care that the members of the association are duly formed to exercise the apostolate proper to the laity" (canon 329).

Originally published in The Tilma, Summer 2007