What you need to know about the Synod on Synodality


Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich (right), relator general of Synod on Synodality, speaks to the media on June 20, 2023, at the temporary headquarters of the Holy See Press Office in Vatican City. Beside him is Cardinal Mario Grech, the Secretary General for the Synod of Bishops. / Credit: Daniel Ibáñez/CNA

Rome Newsroom, Sep 13, 2023 / 12:54 pm (CNA).

The first Vatican assembly for the global Synod on Synodality will kick off in October bringing together clerics and laity alike for nearly one month of discussions. Here is what you need to know:

What is the Synod on Synodality?

The Synod on Synodality, initiated by Pope Francis in October 2021, is a multiyear, worldwide undertaking during which Catholics were asked to submit feedback to their local dioceses on the question “What steps does the Spirit invite us to take in order to grow in our ‘journeying together?’”

The Catholic Church’s massive synodal process has already undergone diocesan, national, and continental stages. It will culminate in two global assemblies at the Vatican. The first will take place Oct. 4–28 and the second in October 2024 to advise the pope on the topic “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, Mission.”

What does synodality mean?

Synodality was defined by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s International Theological Commission in 2018 as “the action of the Spirit in the communion of the Body of Christ and in the missionary journey of the people of God.”

The 2021 synod preparatory document described synodality as “the form, the style, and the structure of the Church.”

The latest document published by the Vatican adds that synodality can also be understood as something that “does not derive from the enunciation of a principle, a theory, or a formula but develops from a readiness to enter into a dynamic of constructive, respectful, and prayerful speaking, listening, and dialogue.”

“At the root of this process is the acceptance, both personal and communal, of something that is both a gift and a challenge: to be a Church of sisters and brothers in Christ who listen to one another and who, in so doing, are gradually transformed by the Spirit,” it says.

Pope Francis has said that he envisions the Synod on Synodality as “a journey in accordance with the Spirit, not a parliament for demanding rights and claiming needs in accordance with the agenda of the world, nor an occasion for following wherever the wind is blowing, but the opportunity to be docile to the breath of the Holy Spirit.”

What are the main questions that the Synod on Synodality will try to answer?

There are three overarching questions for the upcoming synod assembly as defined by the 2023 synod assembly’s guiding document called the Instrumentum Laboris:

  1. How can we be more fully a sign and instrument of union with God and of the unity of all humanity?
  2. How can we better share gifts and tasks in the service of the Gospel?
  3. What processes, structures, and institutions are needed in a missionary synodal Church?

The main objective of the first session in October will be to design a plan of study in a “synodal style” and to indicate who will be involved in those discussions, according to the Instrumentum Laboris. Discernment will be “completed” in the 2024 session of the synod.

What are some of the topics that could be addressed in the synod assembly?

The Instrumentum Laboris document guiding the discussions at the October synod assembly suggests discernment on questions regarding some hot-button topics, including women deacons, priestly celibacy, and LGBTQ outreach.

The document also highlights a desire for new institutional bodies to allow for greater participation in decision-making by the “people of God.” One of the proposed questions for discernment for the synod of bishops asks: “What can we learn about the exercise of authority and responsibility from other Churches and ecclesial communities?”

How does the Synod on Synodality differ from past synods of bishops?

A synod is a meeting of bishops gathered to discuss a topic of theological or pastoral significance in order to prepare a document of advice or counsel to the pope.

For the first time, the Synod of Bishops in 2023 will include voting delegates who are not bishops. Nearly a third of the 364 voting delegates were chosen directly by the pope, including laypeople, priests, consecrated women, and deacons. Fifty-four voting members are women.

The October assembly will be held in the Paul VI Hall, instead of the Vatican’s New Synod Hall, with delegates sitting at round tables of about 10 people each. The latter part of the October gathering will focus on deciding the Church’s next steps and “the necessary in-depth theological and canonical studies in preparation” for a second assembly in October 2024.

What other events are happening leading up to the October Vatican assembly?

The 2023 Synod on Synodality assembly at the Vatican will begin with a three-day retreat for the Catholic bishops and participants Oct. 1–3 led by Dominican Father Timothy Radcliffe, who has drawn criticism from some for his statements on homosexuality.

Pope Francis has also announced an ecumenical prayer vigil will take place in St. Peter’s Square as part of the Synod on Synodality on Sept. 30. The prayer vigil, organized by the Taizé Community, will entrust to God the work of the October synod assembly.

Who has participated in the Synod on Synodality?

The General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops has reported that the initial diocesan listening phase concluded with the participation of 112 out of 114 of the world’s Catholic bishops’ conferences.

According to a report from the U.S. bishops’ conference, about 700,000 people participated in the diocesan phase of the synod in the U.S. out of 66.8 million Catholics in the country, or about 1%.

Who are the key organizers of the Synod on Synodality?

Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, the 64-year-old archbishop of Luxembourg, is one of the leading organizers of the ongoing Synod on Synodality as the relator general. The Jesuit was recently added to Pope Francis’ council of cardinal advisers. Hollerich said in an interview in March that he believes that a future pope could allow women priests and that he finds “the part of the teaching calling homosexuality ‘intrinsically disordered’ a bit dubious.”

Cardinal Mario Grech, the secretary general for the Synod of Bishops, is the former bishop of Gozo, Malta. He was one of two authors of the Maltese bishops’ controversial pastoral guidelines on Amoris Laetitia, which stated that divorced and remarried Catholics, in certain cases and after “honest discernment,” could receive Communion. Last year, Grech decried the public criticism of the German “Synodal Way” as “denunciation.”

Is there a prayer for the Synod on Synodality?

The vade mecum for the synod published the following “Prayer for the Synod on Synodality”:

“We stand before you, Holy Spirit, as we gather together in your name. With you alone to guide us, make yourself at home in our hearts; teach us the way we must go and how we are to pursue it. We are weak and sinful; do not let us promote disorder. Do not let ignorance lead us down the wrong path nor partiality influence our actions. Let us find in you our unity so that we may journey together to eternal life and not stray from the way of truth and what is right. All this we ask of you, who are at work in every place and time, in the communion of the Father and the Son, forever and ever. Amen.”

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  1. A Synod assembly divided into thirds….So, this echo from the history of 1789, as it repeats itself or at least seems to rhyme:

    “The higher clergy assumed that, when the Estates-General met at Versailles, their own Estate, which was the First Estate,’ the ‘Estate of the Church,’ would deliberate and vote separately, and would submit its proposals to the King for his approval. But, through the influence of the cures, matters turned out very differently. When the Estates of the clergy, and the nobility, and the ‘Third Estate’ assembled, it was found that out of 296 deputies representing the Estate of the clergy no less than 208 were cures; and these cures proceeded to show their readiness to vote with the Third Estate, and many of them even insisted upon taking their seats with that Estate. They thus compelled the Crown to give way and abandon its original plan, by which the three Estates were to have deliberated and voted separately, in favor of one single Assembly in which each individual member had one vote. And by doing so they secured the triumph of the Third Estate, which was as numerous as the other two Estates put together. The ultimate victory of the Revolution was assured; the higher clergy and the nobility had been defeated by the parish priests of France. Unwittingly [!] they had made the French Revolution” (E.E.Y. Hales, “The Catholic Church in the Modern World,” Image, 1960, pp. 34-35).

    And, thusly, was the Church divided into a State Church and a “Refactory” Church (as in “backwardist”?). And, “Unwittingly?”—think the words of Cardinal(s) Hollerich, and Grech who “decried the public criticism of the [combined voting!] German ‘Synodal Way’ as ‘denunciation’.”

    ALL can readily agree, or course, that the parallel between 1789 and 2023 is very inexact…

    …in revolutionary France, sacramental marriage was reduced to a civil contract (Sept. 20, 1792), rendering legitimate the marriage of priests, which was encouraged, and of the religious, and of the divorced…

    …while, in 2023. the siren call of Secularism now erects anti-binary LGBTQ liaisons to the stature of civil/gay “marriage”—with bishops pseudo-theologizing over a less-than-sacramental “blessing” from the formerly-sacramental Catholic Church. And, what of the other re-stirred “tensions” waiting to be harmonized by nuanced word merchants, e.g., the distinct nature and role of the (“facilitator”?) Successors of the Apostles “sent”(!) by Jesus Christ, and of the ordained male (what’s that?) priesthood?

  2. Reminded of Jezebel’s 400 prophets who prayed to their god at the challenging request of Elijah. Whether their’s or Israel’s God is indeed God. Analogy here begs the question, Why should we feel compelled to beseech God for guidance, for protection from error if not that what has been revealed in Christ has come under question? The Instrumentum Laboris’ hot-button topics, well referenced by CNA’s Courtney Mares, including women deacons, priestly celibacy, and LGBTQ outreach suggest this.
    Now for another analogy from outer space. Today Mexico revealed alleged perfectly preserved bodies of ancients from somewhere out there. Each was reverently placed in neat coffin like receptacles. Each appeared exactly the same as the others. Each was a close to perfect representation of ET. We’re expected to awe and ah. Then it was supported by visual evidence recorded by pilots, after years of sightings, evidence that could not be confirmed by tangible evidence.
    We’re grasping for reality in stacks of straw. Our great Synod is as comprehensive and legitimate as Jezebel’s hopping prophets, as credible as preserved aliens. Elijah slaughtered the prophets. Perhaps a more kindly disposed future pontiff will refer them all to an intense course in catechetical instruction.

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