Pope Francis has recently decided to change the way the Church conducts its worldwide synods. A synod literally means “taking the path together” and has been in existence in the Church from the very beginning in different forms and degrees. The more usual forms were the “diocesan synod” (where a bishop brings together representatives of all the faithful to discern, discuss and plan the way ahead) and the synod of bishops (where representatives of the bishops of the world would meet with the Pope on a subject matter chosen by him, but of relevance to the life of the universal church).
The Pope now wants each synod of bishops to be prepared by diocesan synods. This means that the consultation at local level is then fed into the universal level when the bishops meet with the Pope in Rome.
It is important to understand that the process of a synod is one of discernment, i.e. of prayerfully seeking together the inspirations and direction of the Holy Spirit on a given question or set of questions. It is not a democratic process, since power in the Church is not “people power” but the power of the dead and Risen Christ and must only be used at the service of the Gospel of salvation. What the Pope is challenging and encouraging us all to do is to look at the situations in the church and in the world through the eyes of Christ and to discern or detect what the Spirit of Christ wants us to do. In the Book of Revelation, we hear the oft repeated phrase in the early chapter: “Listen to what the Spirit is saying to the Church.” That is precisely what a synod is all about.
Bishop Nolan has sent us a first communication about all this, which I reproduce below in its entirety: