The Pontifical Council for the Laity is a dicastery of the Roman Curia that assists the Holy Father in the exercise of his supreme office for the good and the service of the universal Church and the particular Churches, as regards the promotion and coordination of the lay apostolate and, in general, the Christian life of lay people.
The renewed awareness of the mystery of the Church and of her mission in the world, arising from Vatican II, could not fail to inspire a profound reform of the Curia. Paul VI put this into effect with the Apostolic Constitution Regimini Ecclesiae Universae of 15 August 1967. Alongside the centuries-old Congregations, the tribunals and other Curial offices, new dicasteries and secretariats were created to implement the teachings and directives of Vatican II.
The Pontifical Council for the Laity originated from a proposal formulated in n. 26 of the conciliar decree Apostolicam actuositatem on the apostolate of the laity. Its birth was made official by Paul VI on 6 January 1967 with the “motu proprio” Catholicam Christi Ecclesiam. At the end of the first experimental period of five years, the Pope declared: “No one can fail to see that the Laity Council is destined to have a privileged place within the Church”.(4) The Council, in fact, is “ever more an irreplaceable and effective instrument for the promotion of the laity in the Church”.
Ten years after its creation, on 10 December 1976, with another “motu proprio” Apostolatus peragendi, Paul VI reformed it and included it among the permanent dicasteries of the Roman Curia. It had grown “in experience and maturity”,(6) giving “clear signs of faithful service and of the importance of its tasks for the life of the Church and the ministry of the Pope”.
The wide scope of the service rendered by the Pontifical Council has been clearly indicated by Paul VI and John Paul II.(18) “The field is immense and the challenge considerable: evangelizing persons and cultures, contributing from within, as a leaven, to the sanctification of the world, penetrating the temporal order with the spirit of the Gospel, in order to build a world more worthy of human beings, of the children of God”.(19) “An immense task”, John Paul II repeated some years later; “a task inherited from the great event of the Second Vatican Council: bringing an ever increasing number of Christians to be committed to living the priesthood of their baptism, conciously and censistently, as stones for Christ's building, citizens and active agents in his pilgrim people”.
The VII Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on “The vocation and mission of the laity” (October 1987) afforded the Pontifical Council for the Laity a panorama of the manifold realities of the laity at world level twenty years after the close of the Second Vatican Council. The Pontifical Council was called to collaborate actively in the preparation of this event,(25) in which a significant number of lay people took part from all over the world in various capacities. The guidelines of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles laici (1988) are today the main reference as regards the vocation of lay people, their communion and participation in the life and mission of the Church.