The Synod on Synodality

On 4 October, Feast of St Francis of Assisi, the Synod on Synodality commenced in Rome.

This is the sixteenth ordinary synod held since the end of the Second Vatican Council. A synod is a meeting of bishops called by the Pope to discuss a particular pastoral matter.

From the results of the synod discussions and recommendations the Pope then issues a document called an Apostolic Exhortation.

An Apostolic Exhortation is a pastoral message which draws on the outcomes of the synodal reflection. It offers direction to the Church in responding to a particular issue of the day.

Thus, the Apostolic Exhortation flowing from this synod will address the issue of the role of synodality in the Church’s life.

This synod will run for the month, concluding on 29 October. It will be the first of two sessions, the second will be held in October next year. Only after the second session will the Pope produce his response.

The Synod will involve 364 participants and, for the first time in such synods in Rome, will include 70 non-bishop members with voting powers, of whom 50 are women. Australia will be represented by five bishops and five non–bishops.

Preparation for the synod began back in 2021 and has involved an extensive consultation process in dioceses, in nations and across continents.

This synod will explore the notion of ‘synodality’, a concept of Church governance which has been promoted by Pope Francis.

The synod will explore ways that governance can be exercised within the Church. In recent years Pope Francis has spoken of the need for all the baptised to be involved in decision-making in the Church.

Pope Francis has expressed his desire that the Holy Spirit be allowed to more effectively guide the Church. He commented that he sees the Holy Spirit not only as the “soul of the Church” but also as “the heart of synodality.”

He called for the Synod on Synodality to “place the Holy Spirit at the beginning and at the heart of the work of the synod”.

However, he has been very clear as to what this synod needs to avoid: “The synod now taking place is — and should be — 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”.

During the ‘listening’ phase leading up to the synod, various groups were pressing for this or that issue to be addressed by the synod.

However, Pope Francis has made it clear that the synod is not about changing the teachings of the Church. As he said, the synod is “not a parliament for demanding rights and claiming needs in accordance with the agenda of the world”.

When the Lord spoke about the role of the Spirit, he described the Spirit as the spirit of truth. The Lord commented that this Holy Spirit would guide the Church into the truth. At the Last Supper Jesus said,

I still have many things to say to you but they would be too much for you now. But when the Spirit of truth comes he will lead you to the complete truth (Jn 16:13).

He then adds, “since he will not be speaking as from himself but will say only what he has learnt”. The inspirations of the Holy Spirit are fully consistent with the teaching of Jesus.

The promise of the presence of the Holy Spirit is a great consolation to us in the Church. It is a guarantee that the Church will not fall into error.

The Spirit, as Jesus says, will not offer innovation but will simply confirm what has already been revealed.

When it comes to developments in teaching in the Church, they can only involve a further deepening of the tradition, what Pope Benedict called the ‘hermeneutic of continuity’, not a change of direction.

Pope Francis desires that a focus on synodality could become a way in which the Church is more open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

For this we should pray, asking that the Holy Spirit will indeed guide the synodal process. While there has been much talk about changing the Church’s teaching on various matters, this is not the purpose of this synod.

Let us pray for the synod. Let us earnestly invoke the intercession of the Holy Spirit on the Synod on Synodality that it will actually enable the Church to be more faithful to the revealed truth and more effective in boldly declaring it to the world.

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