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We are all the People of God

By Msgr Michael de Verteuil

Chair of the Archdiocesan

Liturgical Commission

Pope Pius X in 1906 wrote the letter Vehementer Nos to the French bishops. In this letter the following appears: “….the Church is essentially an unequal society, that is, a society comprising two categories of persons, the Pastors and the flock, those who occupy a rank in the different degrees of the hierarchy and the multitude of the faithful. So distinct are these categories that with the pastoral body only rests the necessary right and authority for promoting the end of the society and directing all its members towards that end; the one duty of the multitude is to allow themselves to be led, and, like a docile flock, to follow the Pastors.”

This ecclesiology, a way of understanding the Church, was the accepted way for centuries upon centuries but was upended by the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. The bishops of the Council saw the Church not in such strictly hierarchical terms but in the more scriptural image of the People of God, one body, one spirit in Christ.

We have come a long way in understanding this, but I do not think that we have realised its profound implications ranging from a sense of mission to our relationships or lack thereof with our sisters and brothers. This militates against the success of synodality where we are asked to build community, participation and mission.

We need to understand who we are as the Body of Christ. The pre-Vatican II liturgy in which the people’s role was reduced basically to being spectators, as Pope Pius’ declaration above implies, meant that many did not have a sense of being part of the Church. There was no sense of having a role to play or realisation that they too ‘had’ the Holy Spirit.

There are historians who say that it takes about 100 years for the teaching of a Council to take full effect. Pope Francis has given a major impetus to the moving forward of the Council’s teaching by his call for a synod on synodality.

Synodality sees the Church as the People of God, all the people, not just the hierarchy. When we talk of the Church, therefore, we are talking of all the people who now have to recognise who they are as the People of God, the Body of Christ, and the responsibilities they have, to take their rightful place listening to the Spirit and helping to guide the Church to accomplish the will of the Lord.

We began this article with a quote from a pope. Let us end with a quote from another pope. “Our first and fundamental consecration is rooted in our Baptism. No one has been baptized a priest or a bishop. They baptized us as lay people and it is the indelible sign that no one can ever erase. It does us good to remember that the Church is not an elite of priests, of consecrated men, of bishops, but that everyone forms the faithful Holy People of God” –Pope Francis in a letter to Cardinal Ouellet, 2016.




“Beside the good of the individual, there is a good that is linked to living in society: the common good. It is the good of ‘all of us’, made up of individuals, families and intermediate groups who together constitute society.” (7)


Pope Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate 2009

CCSJ Social Justice Education Committee