Q. Pope Francis has convoked a synod of bishops in Rome. But what is a synod?
A. Synod is a Greek word that means “meeting,” and that’s what a synod is—a meeting. Since the early centuries of the Church’s life, the term “synod” has been used to denote an assembly gathered to discuss important issues in the Church’s life and mission.
In some circumstances, the word synod is used to signify a council of bishops gathered together to discuss doctrinal issues. In other circumstances, the word may describe a gathering of people—priests, laity, religious, and the bishop, gathered together to discuss the pastoral life and ministry of a diocese. The Diocese of Lincoln undertook this kind of synod—a “diocesan synod,” in 1996. The common prayer, discussion, and discernment of the people of the Diocese of Lincoln at that time continues to bear great fruit in our diocese.
The synod taking place right now is a meeting of bishops from around the world, elected to represent their nations, or appointed by Pope Francis, gathered to discuss the needs and mission of family life in the modern world. The bishops will discuss this topic for three weeks, and Pope Francis will listen to the their discussions, and receive daily reports. At the end of the discussion, a summary of their discussion will be presented to Pope Francis.
At that time, he will decide how and whether to use the content of that discussion as an aspect of his teaching ministry in the Church’s life—he will ascertain what good comes out of the discussion, and prudently and prayerfully reflect on how best to teach the Church about the goodness of family life.
As the bishops of the synod gather, each one of us ought to pray for them, and pray that the Holy Spirit will enlighten their discussion, and guide Pope Francis as he listens to the “synod”—the meeting.
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