An important document called the Instrumentum laboris will be the basis for the work of the participants in the General Assembly of the Synod on Synodality, which begins in the Vatican in October 2023 and concludes with a second Assembly one year later. It brings together the experiences of dioceses around the world over the last two years, when Pope Francis set in motion a journey to discern what steps to take “to grow as a synodal Church.” It has some sixty pages that incorporate the experiences of local Churches in every region of the world – Churches that are experiencing wars, climate change, exploitation, inequality, and ‘waste’.” Churches whose faithful suffer martyrdom, in countries where they are minorities or where they are coming to terms “with an increasingly driven, and sometimes aggressive, secularisation.” Churches wounded by sexual abuse, or abuses of power and conscience,” whether economic and institutional – wounds that demand answers and “conversion.”
“Indeed, the purpose of the synodal process is not to produce documents but to open horizons of hope for the fulfilment of the Church’s mission.”
The Instrumentum laboris is composed of an explanatory text and fifteen worksheets that reveal a dynamic vision of the concept of “synodality.” Section A highlights the experience of the past two years and indicates a way forward to become an ever more synodal Church; Section B – entitled “Communion, Mission, Participation” – focuses on the “three priority issues” at the heart of the work to be done in October 2023. These are elaborated in three main themes:
• Growing in communion by welcoming everyone, excluding no one;
• recognizing and valuing the contribution of every baptised person in view of mission;
• and identifying governance structures and dynamics through which to articulate participation and authority over time in a missionary synodal Church.
“Rooted in this awareness, is the desire for a Church that is also increasingly synodal in its institutions, structures, and procedures.” It notes that a synodal Church is first and foremost a “Church of listening” and therefore “desires to be humble, and knows that it must ask forgiveness and has much to learn…The face of the Church today bears the signs of serious crises of mistrust and lack of credibility. In many contexts, crises related to sexual abuse, and abuse of power, money, and conscience have pushed the Church to undertake a demanding examination of conscience so that ‘moved by the Holy Spirit’ the Church ‘may never cease to renew herself’, in a journey of repentance and conversion that opens paths of reconciliation, healing, and justice.”
A synodal Church is also “a Church of encounter and dialogue” with believers of other religions and with other cultures and societies, “not afraid of the variety it bears,” but on the contrary, “values it without forcing it into uniformity.” The Church is synodal when it is unceasingly nourished by the mystery it celebrates in the liturgy, experiencing everyday “radical unity” in the same prayer, in the midst of a “diversity” of languages and rites.
Other significant passages concern the question of authority – is it rooted in service?; the need for “integral formation, initial and ongoing” for the People of God; as well as the need for “a similar effort” aimed at the renewal of the language used in the “liturgy, preaching, catechesis, sacred art, as well as in all forms of communication, including through new or traditional forms of media.”
Fr Matthew, based on a summary by Salvatore Cernuzio.