Megan Bodenschatz

Moving Toward Heaven Together: The Role of Lay Movements in the Church

When I was in college I decided that I wanted to do more than just go to Church on Sunday. But what should I do? My local youth group was lackluster, and I didn’t want to go to church meetings with elderly ladies who knew me when I was a toddler. My short attention span meant that I wasn’t going to join anything that required me to spend hours at home praying.

I was stuck… so I prayed.

In answer to my prayer, I met a young woman who was part of an ecclesial movement called the Focolare and a few years later I joined up myself.

Of course, when I met her I had never heard the term “ecclesial movement” before. (Or lay movement, lay association, new community, whatever you want to call them). This blog is meant to introduce them to you.

So what are movements anyway?

An ecclesial movement (ecclesial means church) is a Catholic association whose members are primarily lay people. They each have a particular charism (spirit or goal) which guides the types of activities they do. Their members belong to different parishes, dioceses, and even countries.

Who is in charge of the movements?

Each movement is in charge of itself. They write their own regulations (or statutes) and decide organizational questions, like how the president will be chosen, and how someone will become a member; and questions about their mission, like what their objective is, what type of formation program there will be for members, and what apostolates (or projects) they will be involved in.

The Church does, however, oversee the movements. Movements start within a diocese, with the bishop’s approval. Once they grow internationally, the Pontifical Council for the Laity has the duty of looking after the movements by approving their regulations and ensuring that nothing they do goes against Church teaching. The Council also encourages the movements and facilitates their collaboration. As the Council’s website says, “The overall aim is to recognize the great treasure we have in their presence in the mission of the Church and to encourage ecclesial communion in diversity and complementarity of charisms.”

What are some examples of ecclesial movements?

The entire list can be found at the web page for the Pontifical Council of the Laity, but here are some that may sound familiar: Cooperators of Opus Dei, Communion and Liberation, Work of Mary (Focolare), World Organisation of the Cursillo Movement, Worldwide Marriage Encounter.

What role do movements play in the Church?

Pope John Paul II called the movements, “One of the most significant fruits of that springtime in the Church which was foretold by the Second Vatican Council.”

Movements are communities which draw their members deeper into the love of Christ and spread the Gospel. Though they may each have different specific goals, they work together as part of the Body of Christ.

The Pontifical Council of the Laity says, “They demonstrate the vitality of the Church which is always being renewed by the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit. They are abundantly bestowed for the common good of the entire Church.”

How do you get to know and join a movement?

Most movements have website with information on who they are and where they are located. You can get to know a movement by attending an event, reading magazines or books, or speaking with a member.

In general, any lay person can join a movement, though each may have different requirements. Some may even have a special program for teens or young adults.

When my college friend invited me to a summer retreat put on by the Focolare I had no idea what a movement was or that I would someday end up being a part of one. But God knew what He was doing. In answer to my desire to deepen my faith, He introduced me to a group of people striving to live the Gospel in their daily lives.

Being part of a movement has helped me on my holy journey. We not only learn about the faith and how to live it, but we also support each other in doing so and help each other along the way.

Megan Bodenschatz

About the Author

I will read anything that stands still long enough. I also love going to the movies, meeting people from other countries, and spending time with my 16 cousins. I usually win the "Youngest-Person-at-Daily-Mass Award" whenever I go.