Questions from the Instrumentum Laboris

I meant to publish this post soon after the Instrumentum Laboris (IL) or Working Paper for the First Session of the Synod on Synodality appeared. But somehow I overlooked it. Well, now that the Synod has started meeting, perhaps it’s even more relevant.

In contrast with previous synods, in which the IL offered a draft statement or document, this time the IL proposes a series of questions for discussion and discernment at the Synod.

And a number of these questions concern the role of lay associations, groups and movements. Here I’ve extracted those questions and added a few comments.

First, it should be noted that the IL is divided into two parts:

A. “Towards a Synodal Church,” which

a) “outlines a series of fundamental characteristics or distinguishing marks of a synodal Church,” and

b) “articulates the awareness that a synodal Church is also marked by a particular way of proceeding.”

B. “Communion, mission, participation,” which “articulates, in the form of three questions, the priorities that most strongly emerge from the work of all the continents.” Here the document notes that the priority is to look at how the conclusions of previous synods (2015 and 2018) are to be implemented.

The questions relating to the role of lay associations and movements all come within Part B, which makes sense since this is particularly where such groups will have a practical role.

What the Synodal journey means

Still, it’s important to look at Part A to see what the Synodal journey means. Really, there’s almost too much to summarise but here are a few key points as indicators:

For those who take part, the synodal process offers an opportunity for an encounter in faith that makes the bond with the Lord, fraternity between people and love for the Church, not only on an individual level, but involving and energising the entire community.

From listening to the People of God a progressive appropriation and understanding of synodality “from within” emerges, which 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.

Characteristics of a synodal Church

§20: A synodal Church is founded on the recognition of a common dignity deriving from Baptism, which makes all who receive it sons and daughters of God, members of the family of God, and therefore brothers and sisters in Christ, inhabited by the one Spirit and sent to fulfil a common mission.

A synodal Church cannot be understood other than within the horizon of communion, which is always also a mission to proclaim and incarnate the Gospel in every dimension of human existence.

§21: A Church that is also increasingly synodal in its institutions, structures and procedures, so as to constitute a space in which common baptismal dignity and co-responsibility for mission are not only affirmed, but exercised, and practised.

§22: “A synodal Church is a listening Church

§23: As a Church committed to listening, a synodal Church desires to be humble, and knows that it must ask forgiveness and has much to learn.

§24: A synodal Church is a Church of encounter and dialogue.

§25: A synodal Church is called to practice the culture of encounter and dialogue with the believers of other religions and with the cultures and societies in which it is embedded, but above all among the many differences that run through the Church itself.

§26: A synodal Church is open, welcoming and embraces all.

§27: At the same time, a synodal Church confronts honestly and fearlessly the call to a deeper understanding of the relationship between love and truth

§28: Characteristic of a synodal Church is the ability to manage tensions without being crushed by them

§29: Trying to walk together also brings us into contact with the healthy restlessness of incompleteness

Clearly, there’s much to be learned from reflecting on each of these points.

But what does all this mean for the myriad groups, associations and movements of the baptised, mostly lay, sometimes mixed that comprise a significant part of this Synodal Church?

Let’s look at what the questions that the IL proposes have to say about such groups, associations and movements.

Associations in the exchange of gifts

B 1.3 How can a dynamic relationship of gift exchange between the Churches grow?

Question for discernment

How can each local Church, the subject of mission in its context, enhance, promote and integrate the exchange of gifts with the other local Churches within the horizon of the one Catholic Church? How can the local Churches be helped to promote the catholicity of the Church in a harmonious relationship between unity and diversity, preserving the specificity of each one?

Suggestions for prayer and preparatory reflection

9) How can the exchange of experiences and gifts be made active and fruitful not only between the different local Churches, but also between the different vocations, charisms and spiritualities within the People of God, including institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life, lay associations and movements, and new communities? How is it possible to ensure the participation of communities of contemplative life in this exchange?

Involving lay movements and associations in the “exchange of experiences and gifts” is evidently an important area for reflection. On the other hand, it’s hard not to understand why this process has not been more integrated into the Synod itself.

It might actually be helpful to hear the experiences of these movements on this issue!

Towards an “all-ministerial,” missionary Church

B 2.2 What should be done so a synodal Church is also an ‘all ministerial’ missionary Church?

Question for discernment

How can we move towards a meaningful and effective co-responsibility in the Church, in which there is a fuller realisation of the vocations, charisms and ministries of all the Baptised in a missionary key? What can we do to ensure that a more synodal Church is also an “all ministerial Church”?

Suggestions for prayer and preparatory reflection

4) Co-responsibility is manifested and realised primarily in the participation of all in mission. How can the specific contribution of those bearing different charisms and vocations be enhanced so as to best serve the harmony of community commitment and ecclesial life, especially in the local Churches? These charisms and vocations may range from individual skills and competencies, including professional ones, to the foundational inspiration of congregations and Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, movements, associations, etc.

Frankly, I’m not really sure what an “all-ministerial Church” really is? As I’ve noted elsewhere, in the Vatican II documents, the word “ministry” applies mostly to clerical roles. Which would imply we’re trying to develop an even more “clerical” Church! Truly, I hope not! In this context, it’s not irrelevant to look at what Pope Francis has said on the subject, where he lays out the distinction between “lay apostolate,” which he says is “secular” is directed outward, and “lay ministry,” which is directed towards building up the Church.

Much to reflect in the words of Pope Francis!

Recognition and promotion of the baptismal dignity of women

B 2.3 How can the Church of our time better fulfil its mission through greater recognition and promotion of the baptismal dignity of women?

Question for discernment

What concrete steps can the Church take to renew and reform its procedures, institutional arrangements and structures to enable greater recognition and participation of women, including in governance, decision-making processes and in the taking of decisions, in a spirit of communion and with a view to mission?

Suggestions for prayer and preparatory reflection

1) Women play a major role in transmitting the faith in families, Parishes, consecrated life, associations and movements and lay institutions, and as teachers and catechists. How can we better recognise, support, and accompany their already considerable contribution? How can we enhance it in order to learn to be an increasingly synodal Church?

Excellent and practically oriented questions here, and I’m sure that Synod participants will have plenty to say on these issues and much better than anythingn I could add.

Towards a missionary, synodal Church

B 3. Participation, governance and authority

What processes, structures and institutions are needed in a missionary synodal Church?

B 3.1 How can we renew the service of authority and the exercise of responsibility in a missionary synodal Church?

A synodal Church is called to uphold both the right of all to participate in the life and mission of the Church by virtue of Baptism, and the service of authority and exercise of responsibility that is entrusted to some. The synodal journey is an opportunity to discern the ways in which this can be done that are appropriate to our times. The first phase made it possible to gather some ideas to aid this reflection:

a) authority, responsibility and governance roles—sometimes succinctly referred to by the English term leadership—take a variety of forms within the Church. Authority in consecrated life, in movements and associations, in Church-related institutions (such as universities, foundations, schools, etc.) is different from that which derives from the Sacrament of Orders; spiritual authority linked to a charism is different from that linked to ministerial service. The differences between these forms must be safeguarded, without forgetting that they all have in common the fact that they are a service in the Church;

Question for Discernment

How can authority and responsibility be understood and exercised such that it serves the participation of the whole People of God? What renewal of vision, and forms of concrete exercise of authority, responsibility and governance, are needed in order to grow as a missionary synodal Church?

Suggestions for prayer and preparatory reflection

2) In the Church there are roles of authority and responsibility not linked to the Sacrament of Orders, which are exercised at the service of communion and mission in Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, in associations and lay movements, in ecclesial movements and new communities, etc. How can these forms of authority be appropriately promoted and how can they be exercised in relationship with the ministerial authority of the Pastors within a synodal Church?

e) adopting the perspective of community discernment challenges the Church at all levels and in all its organisational forms. In addition to Parish and diocesan structures, this also concerns the decision-making processes of associations, movements and Lay-led groups, where they have recourse to institutional mechanisms that routinely involve practices such as voting. It calls into question the way in which the decision-making bodies of Church-related institutions (schools, universities, foundations, hospitals, reception and social action centres, etc.) identify and formulate operational guidelines. Finally, it challenges Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life in ways that connect the specificities of their charisms and their own constitutions (cf. DCS 81);

The emphasis here on participation as a right (and responsibility) arising is important and positive. It does surprise me, however, that the document does not go a step further and state clearly that 99.9% of the baptised are “lay people.” Is this not important?

Secondly, I note the apparent concern with the “decision-making process of associations, movements and Lay-led groups.” If so, then we’re back to the prior question as to why were so few lay groups and movements invited to share their experience at the Synod?

I would dare to say that some – even many – of those groups have positive experiences of synodal, communal discernment that deserve to be shared at a Synod on synodality.

Participatory decision making

Question for discernment

How can we imagine decision-making processes that are more participatory, which give space for listening and community discernment supported by authority understood as a service of unity?

Suggestions for prayer and preparatory reflection

6) How can and must Consecrated men and women participate in the decision-making processes of the local Churches? What can we learn from their experience and their different spiritualities regarding discernment and decision-making processes? What can we learn from associations, movements and Lay-led groups?

OK, this is better! Now we’re asking how we can learn from those associations. Well, at the risk of repeating myself, one way would be to invite more of them to the Second Assembly of the Synod!!!

Structures for a missionary, synodal Church

B 3.3. What structures can be developed to strengthen a missionary synodal Church?

The Continental Assemblies express a strong desire that the synodal way of proceeding, experienced in the current journey, should penetrate into the daily life of the Church at all levels, either by the renewal of existing structures—such as diocesan and Parish Pastoral Councils, Economic Affairs Councils, diocesan or eparchial Synods—or by the establishment of new ones. While not meaning to diminish the importance of renewed relationships within the People of God, work on structures is indispensable to strengthen changes over time. In particular:

b) this requires that structures and institutions function with adequate procedures that are transparent, mission-focused and open to participation; procedures that make room for women, young people, minorities, the poor and marginalised. This is true for the participatory bodies already mentioned, the role of each of which must be reaffirmed and strengthened. It is also true for: decision-making bodies of associations, movements and new communities; governing bodies of Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life (in a manner appropriate to the particular charism of each); the many and diverse institutions, often also subject to civil law, through which missionary action and the service of the Christian community is realized, such as schools, hospitals, universities, mass media, reception and social action centres, cultural centres, foundations, etc;

Many good points here – but again I would say that many groups, movements, etc already have great experience in these areas! Let’s create opportunities for them to share their experiences with the wider Church!

Reforming institutions, structures and procedures

Question for discernment

A synodal Church needs to live co-responsibility and transparency: how can this awareness form the basis for the reform of institutions, structures and procedures, so as to strengthen change over time?

Suggestions for prayer and preparatory reflection

4) How does the perspective of a synodal Church challenge the structures and procedures of consecrated life, the different forms of lay association, and the functioning of Church-related institutions?

Question 4 on the synodal challenges for “different forms of lay association” is particularly interesting and needs further reflection.

One thing that I will say here is that in my humble opinion, the public and private association structures envisaged in the 1983 Code of Canon Law are frankly in urgent need of reflection and reform.

Well, where exactly does that leave us? With a lot more questions and a lot more work to do!

But one way to start would be to begin by seeking out the views of so many existing lay groups, movements, associations, etc.

I’m confident that the paths forward would begin to quickly emerge from such a consultation.

Stefan Gigacz