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Sight Magazine – Essay: What is the Synod of Bishops? Catholic priest and theologian explains

By on October 14, 2021 0

On October 10, 2021, Pope Francis officially opened a two-year process called a “Synod on Synodality,” officially known as Synod 2021-2023: For a synodal Church. In short, the process involves an expansion of an established institution, called the “Synod of Bishops”. This means bishops around the world will consult with everyone from parishioners to monks, nuns and Catholic universities before meeting for a discussion in 2023.

The subject? How can the church learn to rely more fully on this kind of consultation and discussion process – how it can become more “synod” in its governance.

Pope Francis leads an opening Mass for the Synod of Bishops in Vatican City on October 10. Photo: Reuters / Remo Casilli / File Photo.

Over the centuries, the Roman Catholic Church has organized many gatherings called “synods” – but rarely one so large in its potential consequences.

As a Catholic priest who studies theology, with particular interest in the role of lay people and local communities in the world catholic church, I will carefully watch this Synod. In part, it is designed to make the governance of the church more open and inclusive of all its members.

“As a Catholic priest who studies theology, with a particular interest in the role of lay people and local communities in the global Catholic Church, I will carefully monitor this Synod. In part, it is designed to make governance of the more open and inclusive church of all its members. “

Come together
Many people – even many practicing Catholics – may find the name “Synod on Synodality” and its purpose confusing. What is a synod in the first place?

The word derives from an ancient Greek term meaning “to reunite” or “to travel together”. developed a custom local leaders coming together to pray and make decisions on issues affecting all Christian communities in an area. They came together in the faith that their prayers and discussions would reveal God’s will and how it was to be accomplished.

These gatherings were called “synods” and began a tradition of regional synods for bishops, as well as larger ones called “ecumenical councilsIn principle, it was for all bishops around the world to discuss issues of importance to the whole church.

Over time, as the power of the papacy grew, ecumenical councils continued to be convened, but regional synods declined in importance. After the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, such gatherings of Catholic bishops took place rarely, and only with express authorization from the pope. During this time, even ecumenical councils have become rare – only two have taken place in 400 years.

The most recent, the Vatican Council II or “Vatican II”, met from 1962 to 1965 and launched important changes in the law and the structure of the church.

One of the goals of Vatican II was to revitalize the importance of bishops as heads of their local churches and to emphasize their cooperation with one another. As a middle-school” under the direction of the pope, bishops are mutually responsible for the governance of the whole church.

To accompany this revitalization, Pope Paul VI has created a permanent structure for a Synod of Bishops, with a secretariat in Rome and a General Assembly convened regularly by the Pope. Since 1967, the popes have convened this assembly 18 times: 15 “Ordinary Assemblies” and three “Extraordinary”, in addition to a number of “Special Assemblies” involving particular regions of the world.

“A church that listens”
Pope Francis has shown particular interest in the Synod of Bishops since the start of his pontificate in 2013. The following year he convened a “Extraordinary general meeting”, Outside the usual three-year cycle, on“ the vocation and mission of the family ”. The assembly discussed controversial issues such as welcoming couples living outside of church sanctioned marriages into communion. These discussions continued in an “Ordinary Assembly” in 2015.

2015 also marked the 50th anniversary of the Synod of Bishops established during Vatican II. During a ceremony for the anniversary, François gave a speech who presented his views on “synodality. The word “synod,” he reminded the audience, is about cooperation.

“A synodal church is a church that listens,” he said, noting that listening to one another has been the goal of much of the renewal of the church since Vatican II.

“For the disciples of Jesus, yesterday, today and always, the only authority is the authority of service, the only power is the power of the cross,” Francis said.



Since then, Francis has taken steps to give the Church examples and a concrete framework for a more “synodal” Church. In 2018 he published new regulation which encourage much broader consultation with church members and organizations at all levels as part of the synod process.

And in 2019, he followed up a “Special Assembly” for the bishops of the Amazon region with “Querida Amazonia“, a sort of papal document known as an” exhortation. “Here he took the unusual steps of acknowledging the authority of the synod’s own final document and of referring important structural and procedural changes to their continuing work. in their home churches, rather than intervention by the Vatican.

Getting ready for 2023
The stream “Synod on SynodalityIs the culmination of all this effort to bring a greater degree of openness, collaboration and mutual listening to the Church. Unlike previous synods, this officially begins in dioceses around the world, with opportunities for mutual consultation at all levels and between many different church organizations.

When the General Assembly meets in 2023, its task will be to prayerfully consider how to move forward as “a more synodal church in the long run“- a church which” walks together “.The conversation

Guillaume Clark is associate professor of religious studies at the College of the Holy Cross. This article is republished from The conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read it original article.


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