Teaching Our Faith — What is a Synod?

Last spring, I received word that I will have the honor of traveling to Rome from Oct. 7 to Oct. 28 for the synod, entitled “The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith.” This year’s Synod of Bishops will help launch Pope Benedict’s Year of Faith and marks the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council and the 20th of the publication of the Catechism of the
Catholic Church.

The topic for the synod, the “new evangelization,” calls us to deepen our faith, believe in the Gospel message and go forth to proclaim the Gospel. Our Holy Father is asking us to focus in a special way on re-proposing the Gospel to those who have become tepid in their faith or experienced a crisis of faith and to focus on new ways of communicating the Gospel, especially through social media.

As part of my preparation for this event, I took the time to study synods, and this topic will be the subject of this series of teaching editorials for August.

A synod is a gathering of representative bishops and experts with the Holy Father who meet to delve into a specific, important and timely pastoral issue. This is the 13th ordinary synod since the close of Vatican II. Bishops are appointed by the Pope from various parts of the world, and Cardinal Donald Wuerl of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., is serving as relator general (or recording secretary) for the synod. Cardinal Timothy Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York, Cardinal Francis George of the Archdiocese of Chicago, Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller of the Archdiocese of San Antonio and I will join Cardinal Wuerl with about 200 other bishops from around the world.

Synods result in concrete recommendations that help the Holy Father develop an apostolic exhortation, which then guides and shapes pastoral priorities in the Universal Church. Three prominent examples from the last several decades include Servant of God Paul VI’s 1975 apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Nunciandi (On Evangelization in the Modern World), the synod on the family, which gave us Blessed John Paul II’s 1981 Familiaris Consortio (On the Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World), and a synod on priests, which resulted in the 1992 Pastores Dabo Vobis (I Give You Shepherds). The synods on evangelization, the family, and the priesthood will be the subjects of the next three teaching editorials, and then we will conclude with an overview of the topic for the upcoming synod — the new evangelization.

Synods are accompanied by several working papers. The first, called the lineamenta, is the result of an initial consultation among bishops throughout the world, who are encouraged to invite the participation of others in the Church so that the bishops can discuss the topic of the synod and take a pastoral inventory. We completed this document in November. A second document, which I received in June, is called the Instrumentum Laboris. This is a “working document” that includes a summary of responses to the lineamenta and an outline of the discussion subjects at the synod.

Finally, the synod itself will produce documents that will give concrete suggestions and pastoral directions. So we can expect to receive both a document from the synod and likely an apostolic exhortation, similar to the examples just cited.

I very much look forward to participating in this event and to the wonderful opportunities for renewal that will emerge from it. In preparation for the synod, I will be meeting with a cross-section of pastoral leaders and lay faithful in August and September to receive their insights and recommendations about furthering the new evangelization at the synod and in the archdiocese.

Please keep me and all participating in the synod in your prayers and keep informed through The Record, Conversations and our social media (Twitter: @ArchbishopKurtz; The Record, @Record_Archlou; and the Archdiocese, @ArchLouKY). One great benefit is that our parishes will be participating in Why Catholic? as the synod takes place, and so we will have another focus for the topic of prayer that is the subject of this season’s Why Catholic?

Most Reverend
Joseph E. Kurtz, D.D.
Archbishop of Louisville

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