Super Bowl Ad Shows the Power of Lay Apostolates

COMMENTARY: The real story in the Hallow commercial is the power of lay apostolates, which are a key factor in the extraordinary vibrancy of the Church in the U.S.

Actor Jonathan Roumie is featured in the 2024 Super Bowl ad
Actor Jonathan Roumie is featured in the 2024 Super Bowl ad (photo: Screen Capture / Hallow)

The greatest story in the Super Bowl earlier this month had nothing to do with the Chiefs, the 49ers or even football. It had everything to do with Catholicism and the powerful commercial from Hallow.

The commercial, which featured Mark Wahlberg praying in the pews of a parish church, was seen by at least half the 123 million people who watched the Super Bowl. Millions more have viewed it online since then. Whoever they were, and whenever they watched it, they saw an invitation to make prayer a bigger part of their own lives — or even to pray for the first time.

That’s great, but it’s not the story I have in mind. Nor am I focused on the star power that Hallow has brought to bear. In addition to Wahlberg, Hallow partners with actor Jonathan Roumie (The Chosen) and Father Mike Schmitz (Bible in a Year podcast). They help make Hallow — and prayer itself — more appealing to a broader audience. That helps explain why Hallow broke download records after the ad aired, even surpassing Netflix in popularity on Apple’s App Store. It was the first prayer app to reach the Top 10.

Yet that’s not what I’m talking about, either.

The real story in the Hallow commercial is the power of laypeople. This isn’t an app that was dreamed up by the Vatican. Nor was it created by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. No diocese was involved. No parish priest or cloistered nun came up with the idea. Just the opposite: Hallow is the creation of everyday Catholics. They saw a chance to do something for the Church and the faithful — a chance to evangelize. They took that chance, and now, they’re making an extraordinary difference in people’s walks with Christ.

Every Catholic can find inspiration in this story. Hallow’s co-founder, Alex Jones, got the idea for the app after asking his friends if they knew of anything that combined meditation and faith. After digging around, he saw a chance to build something new and powerful. The app launched in 2018 and, even before the Super Bowl commercial, it had well over 10 million downloads and more than 225 million prayers completed. Clearly, Hallow is a faith phenomenon. 

But it’s also a reflection of what makes Catholicism in the United States so evangelistic. Everyday Catholics in the U.S. have embraced the Church’s call to spread the Gospel. We don’t sit back and demand that priests do all the work, reflecting the “clericalism” that Pope Francis has criticized across the world. Rather, we step up alongside the hierarchy, applying our talents and skills to preach the truth and faith in Christ.

Lay evangelization takes many forms, but, in a particular way, it’s centered on lay apostolates. These organizations — of which Hallow is a sterling example — focus on specific needs and opportunities within the Church and the broader society. According to Cause IQ, there are probably at least 4,100 lay apostolates spread across America.

Many are fairly well-known, like the Knights of Columbus. Founded in 1882, the Knights has 10,000 local councils, holding Bible studies, organizing blood drives, and protecting millions of Catholic families with life insurance. 

Elsewhere, FOCUS, one of the leading Catholic apostolates, has been evangelizing on college campuses, parishes and abroad for over 25 years. According to the National Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors, 35% of America’s nearly 5,000 seminarians have been inspired by FOCUS. 

Many more lay apostolates do incredible work. Countless new ones are created every year. They help explain why the Church in the U.S. is so vibrant, especially in comparison to Catholicism in many other advanced countries. The culture of lay leadership — encouraged by the Second Vatican Council and amplified by the American ethos of civic engagement — has arguably taken root in the U.S. more than anywhere else. And it continues to inspire everyday Catholics, especially in the younger generations, to take on the Great Commission.

Hallow is perhaps the most visible proof. The lay leadership that led to its creation is the greatest story of the Super Bowl. And it’s a story that continued after the game ended, because even now, everyday Catholics are looking for new ways to share the Good News of Jesus Christ.

This column was updated after posting.