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Vatican releases synod on synodality preparatory documents

By Courtney Mares for CNA

Pope Francis attends the morning session of the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family at the Vatican Oct. 18, 2017. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Vatican City, Sep 7, 2021 / 03:30 am (CNA).

The Vatican released Tuesday a preparatory document and handbook for the 2023 synod on synodality to be reviewed by all Catholic dioceses in the world over the next six months.

“It is precisely this path of synodality which God expects of the Church of the third millennium,” the new document states, quoting Pope Francis.

“This journey, which follows in the wake of the Church’s ‘renewal’ proposed by the Second Vatican Council, is both a gift and a task.”

The Vatican published on Sept. 7 the 22-page preparatory document, “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission,” and the 42-page vademecum, or handbook, for the diocesan phase of the synod.

The handbook includes prayers, a description of synodality, the objectives of the synodal process, and the main questions to which the local Catholic communities are asked to give feedback. It underlines that dioceses should focus on “maximum inclusion and participation” among baptized Catholics in the diocesan synod process.

The preparatory document has been released for a period of “pre-synodal discernment” that will influence a second draft of the text to be published before June 2023.

According to the Vatican, the preparatory document is “a tool to facilitate the first phase of listening to and consulting the People of God in the particular Churches” for the diocesan phase of the synod.

The diocesan phase

During the diocesan phase, each bishop is asked to undertake a consultation process with the local Church from Oct. 17, 2021, to April 2022.

The handbook says that dioceses should organize local gatherings for “synodal consultation,” and also enable individuals to give their feedback directly to the diocese.

It recommends that multiple parishes come together for these “synodal consultation meetings” so that “a range of people from different socio-economic backgrounds, ethnicities, age groups” take part.

The preparatory document, handbook, and questionnaire are to be reviewed by dioceses, as well as superior generals, unions, and federations of consecrated life, international lay movements, and Catholic universities during this phase.

The diocesan synod process should “tap into the richness of the lived experience of the Church in their local context,” the handbook says.

Main questions to be considered

Questions are included at the end of handbook, which says that the “fundamental question” to be considered by the dioceses and the bishops over this multi-year process is as follows:

“A synodal Church, in announcing the Gospel, ‘journeys together.’ How is this ‘journeying together’ happening today in your local Church? What steps does the Spirit invite us to take in order to grow in our ‘journeying together?’”

In considering this, dioceses will receive and report feedback on the following:

  • What are difficulties, obstacles, and wounds in the local Church?
  • What is the Holy Spirit asking of us?
  • In our local Church, who are those who “walk together”? Who are those who seem further apart?
  • How is God speaking to us through voices we sometimes ignore? How are the laity listened to, especially women and young people? What facilitates or inhibits our listening?
  • How does the relationship with the local media work (not only Catholic media)? Who speaks on behalf of the Christian community, and how are they chosen?
  • How do prayer and liturgical celebrations actually inspire and guide our common life and mission in our community?
  • What hinders the baptized from being active in mission? What areas of mission are we neglecting?
  • To what extent do diverse peoples in our community come together for dialogue? What are the places and means of dialogue within our local Church?
  • How are divergences of vision, or conflicts and difficulties addressed? What particular issues in the Church and society do we need to pay more attention to?
  • What relationships does our Church community have with members of other Christian traditions and denominations?
  • How does our Church community identify the goals to be pursued, the way to reach them, and the steps to be taken? How is authority or governance exercised within our local Church?
  • How do we promote participation in decision-making within hierarchical structures? Do our decision-making methods help us to listen to the whole People of God?

What is synodality?

The preparatory document describes synodality as “the form, the style, and the structure of the Church.”

“The Synodal Process is first and foremost a spiritual process. It is not a mechanical data-gathering exercise or a series of meetings and debates. Synodal listening is oriented towards discernment,” the handbook says.

The handbook describes the synodal journey as an experience of “authentic listening and discernment on the path of becoming the Church that God calls us to be.”

The synod on synodality will open with a “diocesan phase” in October 2021 and conclude with the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops at the Vatican in October 2023.

Pope Francis will “inaugurate the synodal path” over the weekend of Oct. 9-10 with an opening session and a Mass. All dioceses are invited also to offer an opening Mass on Sunday, Oct. 17.

One objective of the synod on synodality, according to the preparatory document, is to examine “how responsibility and power are lived in the Church as well as the structures by which they are managed, bringing to light and trying to convert prejudices and distorted practices that are not rooted in the Gospel.”

“The purpose of the first phase of the synodal journey is to foster a broad consultation process in order to gather the wealth of the experiences of lived synodality, in its different articulations and facets, involving the pastors and the faithful of the particular Churches at all the different levels,” the preparatory document says.

“We recall that the purpose of the synod, and therefore of this consultation, is not to produce documents, but ‘to plant dreams, draw forth prophecies and visions, allow hope to flourish, inspire trust, bind up wounds, weave together relationships, awaken a dawn of hope, learn from one another and create a bright resourcefulness that will enlighten minds, warm hearts, give strength to our hands,’” it says, quoting from Pope Francis’ address at the opening of the youth synod in October 2018.

The Vatican held a press conference on Sept. 7 to discuss the newly released documents.

Cardinal Mario Grech, the secretary general of Synod of Bishops, spoke on a panel, along with undersecretaries Sr. Nathalie Becquart and Bishop Luis Marín de San Martín. Myriam Wijlens and Fr. Dario Vitali, consultors for the synod, also answered questions as part of the panel.

At the press conference, Grech said that synodality is “the mature fruit” of the Second Vatican Council.

“The synod is not a parliament,” the cardinal said.

“A synod is an experience of everyone listening to the Holy Spirit,” he added.


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14 Comments

  1. “We recall that the purpose of the synod, and therefore of this consultation, is not to produce documents, but ‘to plant dreams, draw forth prophecies and visions, allow hope to flourish, inspire trust, bind up wounds, weave together relationships, awaken a dawn of hope, learn from one another and create a bright resourcefulness that will enlighten minds, warm hearts, give strength to our hands,’”

    What do any of these feel-good self-worshiping platitudes have to do with an honest examination of conscience, repentance for sins, and a commitment to sin no more, including to no longer ignore our obligations for works of mercy, the authentic Gospel message and the sole God given purpose of the Church’s existence.

    • Edward, this is about examining responsibility and power as it is managed in the Church today, and of how to “convert prejudices and distorted practices that are not rooted in the Gospel.”
      We need to gave it a go.

    • Dear Edward, thanks for your cogent and discerning comment.

      Our Lord Jesus Christ told His apostles that He would not leave them orphans but would give them The Holy Spirit, The Spirit of Truth, to remind them of all that He (Jesus) had commanded them to do.

      The result was 27 texts by 9 authors – The New Testament – a document totally unparalleled in the history of human literature. It is the foundation of our instruction manual, The Catechism of the Catholic Church, which cites The New Testament more than 3,500 times.

      Is The Catechism of the Catholic Church and The New Testament required reading for all those contributing in Plenary Councils and Synods?

      If not, I would like to know the reason(s) why not.

      Saint Pope John Paul 2nd assigned Cardinal Ratzinger (now Emeritus Pope Benedict 16th) to oversight a commission of 12 cardinals and bishops, assisted by 7 diocesan bishops, experts in theology and catechesis, to prepare The Catechism of the Catholic Church.

      He stated clearly: “Through the harmonious and complimentary efforts of all the ranks of the people of God may this Catechism be known and shared by everyone, so that the unity in the faith whose supreme model and origin is found in the Unity of the Holy Trinity may be extended to the ends of the earth.” [Laetamur Magnopere]

      “Therefore, I ask all the Church’s Pastors and the Christian faithful to receive this catechism in a spirit of communion and to use it assiduously in fulfilling their mission of proclaiming the faith and calling people to the Gospel life.”

      This catechism is given to them that it may be a sure and authentic reference text for teaching Catholic doctrine . .” [Apostolic Constitution Fidei Depositum].

      Is it too much to hope that there are plenty of clerics and lay who joyfully obey this Apostolic Instruction. Or, are they only a very few, reminiscent of John 1:9-12: “The Word was the true light that enlightens every person . . . yet, on coming to His own domain, His own people did not accept Him. But He gave power to become children of God to all who did accept Him . . .”

      The readings at Holy Mass today are from Colossians 3 and Luke 6: God gives specific and challenging directions to us faithful. Do those who organize Synods pay any attention to what The Holy Spirit has said over and over again in our liturgies? Or, are they either deaf to it or bored by it?

      Let’s pray, Edward, that they are not planning to ignore what The Holy Spirit has already commanded, so as to allow some other spirit to give them easy alternatives?

      Everybody, take care; keep well. In the love of Jesus Christ; blessings from marty

  2. We read: “How are divergences of vision, or conflicts and difficulties addressed? What particular ISSUES in the Church and society do we need to pay more attention to?”

    FIRST, can’t help but wonder if this wedge will be used not only in Germania, but on some entire continents as code language—-for synodal and parliamentary-like “resolutions,” and word-game “consensus”—-to either overturn or SUSPEND Humanae Vitae? Of the moral norm, artfully forgetting that “The Church is no way the author or arbiter of this norm” (Veritatis Splendor, n. 95)?

    SECOND, wondering, too, if the likely READING LIST includes the “Theology of the Body” (and “Veritatis Splendor”) as necessary ingredients to the restoration of, say, “Conjugal Coherence” as well as “Eucharistic Coherence”? That is, including a more-than-perfunctory tilt toward broadly informed and non-contraceptive Natural Family Planning?

    THIRD, both of the above, to clarify the recent CONFLATION of “integral humanism” (e.g., conjugal morality) and the crises of “human ecology” with the interrelated crises of “natural ecology”—-as the neologism “integral ecology”?

    FOURTH, I wonder, if we will begin to recognize the outcome foreseen already in 1968 by Pope Paul VI, when he warned: “WHO will stop rulers from favoring, from even imposing upon their peoples, if they were to consider it necessary, the method of contraception which they just to be most efficacious [….]” (Humanae Vitae, n. 17)?

    FIFTH, indeed, today we have the REAL “Seamless Garment:” contraception, plus abortion, plus the homosexual life style, plus gender theory, plus chemical abortions (Auschwitz miniaturized into a medicine cabinet?), plus oxymoronic gay “marriage,” plus all of the attendant intellectual sins, etc.—-All mandated by our rulers. (With the added insult that the incoherent emperor Biden is a cafeteria Catholic.)

    SIXTH, recalling, simply, that at the 1948 Lambeth Conference, opponents to the earlier ANGLICAN COMPROMISE (a consensus!) still had this to say:

    “it is, to say the least, suspicious that the age in which contraception has won its way is not one which has been conspicuously successful in managing its sexual life, Is it possible that, by claiming the right to manipulate his physical processes in this matter, man may, without knowing or intending it, be stepping over the boundary between the world of Christian marriage and what one might call the world of Aphrodite, the world of sterile eroticism…”

    Aphrodite, meet Pachamama! Pope Paul VI and Pole John Paul II, who are they?

    Instead, all the above with objective personal morality never actually denied, of course. But, by consensus, with a prominent cardinal’s “anthropological-cultural change” rendered “ADMISSIBLE”?

  3. “to plant dreams, draw forth prophecies and visions, allow hope to flourish, inspire trust, bind up wounds, weave together relationships, awaken a dawn of hope, learn from one another and create a bright resourcefulness that will enlighten minds, warm hearts, give strength to our hands”

    What a bunch of malarkey. Not a word about how Christ defined the Church. Not a word about ecclesiological dogma. Not a word about the Fathers of the Church. Just a free-wheeling “how do you feel” conversation as if we are starting the church from scratch. Doesn’t discernment begin with what God wants of us?

    Of course, I am sure all of the “prejudices and distorted practices” belong to orthodox Catholics. Count on it.

  4. “What is the Holy Spirit asking of us?”. If we are compelled to ask this we’ve lost our way. “The form, the style, and the structure of the Church”, a spiritual process of listening and discernment. Vademcum. Come O Brother! Walk with me. Though I know not where. An assessment of the Synod on synodality from Cardinal Gerhard Müller, an endless process of futile discussion at a time when the Church, the world needs action. Although some relevant questions, “To what extent do diverse peoples in our community come together for dialogue? How are divergences of vision, or conflicts and difficulties addressed?”. Perhaps Jacques Maritain responded well to this in 1936 in his treatise on integral humanism the book Integral Christian Humanism, defined by him as the integration of the spiritual dimension in man with the material. A theory of cooperation in a pluralistic age. When addressing sexual diversity, a major issue for Church and world we would say it’s manifest that the spiritual dimension is the arbiter, the unique means by which compassion and unity is illumined as justice. Not exclusively with it’s opposite sensual materialism. What must the Church do? Exactly what it hasn’t done. Faithful witness to Apostolic Tradition in practice, preaching, pronouncement of doctrine. And in deference to the Pontiff not to the exclusion of the morally diverse, the other lost sheep.

  5. I’ve read this article twice, and I arrived at the same conclusion on both readings: much of this sounds like a late 60s – 70s encounter group. I know. I participated in them. They are really of a time and place, and it is not now, in the 21st century.

    • The Preparatory Document comes within four words [!] of actually replacing the institutional (and charismatic) Church with not only the “style” of the secular 60’s and 70s, but also with a much earlier “congregational” model cast adrift by the Reformation.

      Four words! One is possibly reminded of how the Council of Nicaea and the nature of the Triune God pivoted on but one letter, the difference between homoousios—the Son as “con-substantial”—versus homoiousios—only “similar”.

      In Section IX of the (linked in the article) Preparatory Document, we find multiple “hierarchically structured communities” (note the plural!)—formerly the hierarchical and Eucharistic Church (a singular unity)—a profile muddled at first even in parts of Chapter 3 of Lumen Gentium. But, then fully clarified in the Prefatory/Explanatory Note attached by the International Theological Commission, at the direction of Pope Paul VI.

      The Church as a singular and “hierarchical communion,” as first between the papacy and the episcopacy, i.e., the episcopacy “together with its head, the Roman Pontiff, and never without this head…” (Ch. 3, n. 22, and especially the added “Explanatory Note”).

      So, synodality as a “style,” but first and last, the synodal Church as a unity and not to be possibly misunderstood by the participants as a synodal plurality.

      (Note: relative to the initial language in Lumen Gentium, this from Wiltgen (“The Rhine Flows into the Tiber”): “The extreme liberals made the mistake of referring, in writing, to . . . ambiguous passages, and indicating how they would be interpreted after the Council” (and) Pope Paul, realizing that he had been deceived, broke down and wept” and instructed the International Commission to prepare the appended Preliminary Explanatory Note.

  6. Isaiah 56
    10
    His watchmen are blind;
    they are all without knowledge;
    they are all silent dogs;
    they cannot bark,
    dreaming, lying down,
    loving to slumber.
    11
    The dogs have a mighty appetite;
    they never have enough.
    But they are shepherds who have no understanding;
    they have all turned to their own way,
    each to his own gain, one and all.
    12
    “Come,” they say, “let me get wine;
    let us fill ourselves with strong drink;
    and tomorrow will be like this day,
    great beyond measure.”

  7. Such vacuous verbiage we will be pummeled with in this pompous display of synodality. To whom will these preachers profess? The pews are EMPTY. We are afloat in a sea of senselessness so far away from what has formerly centered so many of us believers, and daily being pulled under by the worthlessness of words, words, words. Two thousand years later, we are still floundering.

    • Even at the requested ten-page limit, with 2,989 reporting dioceses worldwide, are the ground-level results too vulnerable to selective or even creative summarizing? (The Vatican II documents, also largely unread after six decades, add up to a grand total of only 105,000 words, not nine million.

      Like Laudatio Si, which was accelerated to influence on the Paris Climate Accord, were the synodal documents also accelerated—-to coincide unexpectedly with the Eucharistic Congress? This time more concise and better-written, but do they overlook an essential responsibility?

      Below, (1) a welcome extract, (2) a question, (3) a recommendation.

      FIRST, the extract: “[Part 2: Principles]: ‘…the entire body of the faithful, anointed as they are by the Holy One, cannot err in matters of belief. They manifest this special property by means of the whole people’s supernatural discernment in matters of faith when from the Bishops down to the last of the lay faithful, they show universal agreement in matters of faith and morals’ (Lumen Gentium—-recalling, of course, that rather than amalgamated majoritarianism, the roles of ordained ministry commissioned by Christ–the apostolic succession–and the laity “differ in kind as well as degree”).

      SECOND, the question: Why are the bishops then reduced to an almost consultant-type, and possibly humiliating flip-chart role? “[4.2] “Therefore, the primary role of the diocesan Bishop in this Synodal Process is to facilitate the synodal experience of the whole People of God on the journey towards a more Synodal Church.” The hackneyed and drive-by-shooting at “the scourge of clericalism” is unwarranted in most of the real world.

      THIRD, the alternative of two-way listening, THIS is real dialogue. From the initial diocesan step and throughout the entire process, openings for the bishops to teach (!) must skillfully and respectfully meet the questions face-to-face at the time they are being asked. Not two years later in an ascending paper trail, or never. (For example, the synodal documents mention St. John, but then overlook this: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world,” John 4:1).

  8. Yay, another Trainwreck Synod. But this time dedicated to the topic of Trainwreck Synods. Hopefully Francis’s successor will, as his first act, do away with these public clown shows.

  9. [sy – no – dal– l – ty] is a five-syllable word.
    Think about it for a moment.
    How many times in Sacred Scripture did our Lord Jesus use five syllable words?
    I can’t find any.
    Rather, He said things like:
    “If you love Me, keep my commandments.”
    “Love one another as I have loved you.”
    “Forgive, seventy times seven times.”
    “No greater love has any man than to lay down his life for his friend.”
    “Father forgive them, for they no not what they do.”

    Our Lord always spoke clearly, concisely and to the point. We don’t see Him trying to impress anyone by, say, debating the epistemological implications of Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason.”
    He did not speak in such a way as to flatter Himself, as so many of us do in these troubled times.

    Even the word “synodality” egregiously obfuscates and, indeed, obliterates any clear and concise referentially single=focused definition which it can be given. And the possible options are multitudinous.

    Another question: When does the word “synodality” first appear in any writings of the Church Fathers?
    I mean, when did any one of them really and truly use a precisely equivalently complex term in whatever original language in which they themselves spoke and wrote?

    I do not like this word.
    Within the historical and catechetical context of our One, Holy and Apostolic Catholic faith, i.e., the teaching Magisterium, such a word is, at best, completely and forever unnecessary. It is a word that was created with the single-minded purpose. It is intended to cloud, confuse and intentionally misdirect away from whatever concept to which it is applied.

    Does anyone recognize a pattern here?

    Our Lord Jesus warned us not to throw pearls before swine.
    What is happening before our eyes, though in a very synodal way, is a precisely fabricated situation in which the “pearls”, that is the three-legged stool of Scripture, Tradition and the teaching Magisterium, have been carefully laid open and bare before traitors, misfits, perverts and malcontents of every kind, to be trampled into the muck and mire under cloven hoof.

    As was said about the Obama presidency, “No matter how hard you try, you can’t polish a turd.”
    No matter how hard the current actors work, synodality, and anything about it, must be abandoned.

    We know two things.
    First, that the synodally synodal synod on synodality will take place, and all of the of the aforementioned trampling will occur unabated.
    And second, even though our future will be wrought with pain and suffering, we know that all of the forces of hell, in combination with the wicked and corrupt who have infiltrated the Church, will not be victorious.

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