Extensive consultation marks diocesan synods

As Archbishop Aymond has called for a diocesan “synod” (pronounced sin’ud), it only seems right to explore a bit what that means.

The word “synod” has Greek roots and means something like “moving forward together.” That’s an apt summary of what a diocesan synod is all about! It’s a gathering of the diverse People of God, under the leadership of our local apostle, the archbishop, moving forward together in communion and mission, propelled by the spirit of truth who daily renews the church in holiness.

As we live in such a high-paced world, it’s important for the church to step back from time to time and listen carefully to discern what the spirit is saying to her about the “signs of the times.”

Synods go back to the earliest days of Christianity, as the successors to the apostles – the bishops – would gather in council with select clergy at opportune times to respond to the pressing needs of the church. As the bishops are tasked by Christ with wisely governing the church and ensuring that the fullness of the Gospel is being clearly and effectively proclaimed, they need now and again to gather Christ’s faithful together to discern strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

Out of these synods come clarifying teaching and pastorally actionable decrees in service to the renewal of the church in faith, hope and charity.

The church recommends that diocesan bishops use synods to collaboratively evaluate what is being done well, what can be done better and where God is leading the local church. The first diocesan synod in New Orleans was held in 1832 (with all of its decrees/directives in French!), while the most recent synod was begun under Archbishop Hannan in 1980 and promulgated in 1987. The goal of our present synod will be to set pastoral priorities for the future based on the vision of church and our local needs. The priorities and outcomes of the synod will be translated into legislation and a plan that will guide how the archdiocese will move forward into the future.

As our church law words it, “a diocesan synod is a group of selected priests and other members of the Christian faithful of a particular church who offer assistance to the diocesan bishop for the good of the whole diocesan community.” The synod is composed of priests from within the archdiocese, as well as religious, deacons and laity chosen for their firm faith, pastoral experience, expert knowledge and ecclesial leadership, adequately representing the great diversity of our local Catholic population. They will offer the bishop wise counsel in helping him formulate a clear and bold path ahead.

Here’s how a synod traditionally proceeds. After the synod has been announced, a preparatory commission is established and a “synodal directory” is created that contains the “who’s who” of synod membership, as well as all of the necessary procedural norms that will govern the synod proceedings. Then, along with accompanying initiatives of prayer, catechesis and formation, there is a period of extensive consultation across the diocese in order to help the bishop determine the important questions that must be answered.

The actual synod opens with an inaugural solemn liturgy and profession of faith by the synod members. Archbishop Aymond will formally introduce the Ninth General Synod April 15 at the 10 a.m. Chrism Mass at St. Louis Cathedral.

Then, as many times as is necessary, the synod members will meet to freely discuss the issues under consideration. After the bishop concludes these discussions, various commissions will draft official synod documents with precise formulations intended to assist the pastoral ministry. Finally, the bishop will sign and promulgate synodal declarations and decrees that will then serve as a template for all future pastoral planning within the archdiocese.

This is an exciting time for the archdiocese, a time of grace and renewal that will require much prayer and hard work by many people. Keep your eyes and ears open for the ways you might be able to contribute to its success. Above all, join us dialing in saying, “Come, Holy Spirit!”

Dr. Thomas J. Neal is academic dean of Notre Dame Seminary.
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