Today in Rome, the XIV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops begins and it will be convened from October 4 to October 25, 2015. Many are concerned with the outcome of the Synod and how it will shape the future of the Church. To be honest, I agree with one writer who stated that we are approaching another Humanae Vitae moment. I believe, that it is so important that the Synod opens with our Gospel from Mark 10:2-16 concerning divorce and remarriage. As the Holy Father opened the Synod, he preached in his opening Mass,
“This is God’s dream for his beloved creation: to see it fulfilled in the loving union between a man and a woman, rejoicing in their shared journey, fruitful in their mutual gift of self.”
A great start to the Synod.
And, I have to be honest, I have never understood how a Synod is convened and the process that takes place. So, I thought I would share what I have learned and, during the Synod, maybe provide some information that might be helpful. Let us continue to prayer for the Synodal Fathers to be guided by the Holy Spirit in a spirit of truth and peaceful fraternity…
The preparation for this Ordinary General Synod included:
- Collecting three proposed themes from every Episcopal Conference
- Electing the participants from each Episcopal Conference
- Preparing and distributing a preliminary outline called a Lineamenta that is put out for comment to all those involved. This Synod’s Limeamenta is entitled, The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and the Contemporary World
- Collecting the comments and then forming a working document called an Instrumentum Laboris which is then distributed to all churches. The 2015 Synod’s Instrumentum Laboris: The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and the Contemporary World is just a click away
Once the synod convenes, the assembly will use the proposals provided in the instrumentum laboris as the template for their discussions. Usually, a talk or reflection is provided on each proposal and then the assembly discusses it. This Synod, however, will not proceed in the usual fashion. According to the Vatican Radio, the Holy Father has adapted the Synod to reflect a more discussion-based collegiality:
Participants will gather with Pope Francis in St Peter’s Square on Saturday night for a candle-lit prayer vigil and again on Sunday morning for the opening Synod Mass in St Peter’s Basilica. But the real news announced by Cardinal Baldisseri is the way the meeting is structured, allowing more time for the small group discussions, known as Circuli Minores, where all members can play a more active part in the discussion.
It was the Synod Fathers themselves who suggested less time should be spent on the lengthy presentations of the General Assembly and a stronger focus on smaller and more participatory language group work, where non-voting members – and non-Catholics – can make their often valuable contributions to the discussion.
At the end of the Synod (October 24, 2015) a Relatio Finalis will be presented to the Holy Father for his consideration. Remember, the synod is a consulting body and does not dictate changes in the Church. Usually, the Holy Father will use what was presented to be the basis of an Apostolic Letter that would be promulgated within a year of the Synod’s conclusion.
So who participate? Great question! It turns out that the participants are elected by their respective business conference. So for the United States, since we have a large conference four Bishops are elected to participate. With them include “the heads of the Eastern Catholic Church, ten members of religious institutes elected by the Union of Superiors General and the cardinals who head the departments of the Roman Curia.
To that end, the four elected participants include:
- Archbishop Joseph Kurtz (Louisville,KY)
- Archbishop Charles Chaput (Philadelphia, PA)
- Cardinal Daniel Di Nardo (Galveston-Houston,TX)
- Archbishop Jose Gomez (Los Angeles, CA)
In addition, the Holy Father added four more participants:
- Cardinal Timothy Dolan (New York, NY)
- Cardinal Donald Wuerl (Washington, DC)
- Archbishop Blase Cupich (Chicago, IL)
- Bishop George Murry Youngstown, OH)
If you want a quick snapshot of each participant, check out the article, US Synod Fathers published by the National Catholic Reporter. For a full list of synod participants including collaborators see the Vatican Bulletin (Hit the button to translate it unless, of course, you read Italian).
What to Expect
No clue except a great deal of heated discussions. In the early days of the Church e.g., the Council of Nicea (AD 325), St. Nicholas (otherwise known as Santa) punched out the heretic Arius during the discussions. I’m not saying that they will be trading fisticuffs but these discussions will be heated and very important. Stay tuned for updates!