(OSV News) – The Synod on Synodality’s first session at the Vatican has concluded, with its results wrapped up in a 41-page “half-time report.” The entire Church is called to reflect on the challenges and proposals from the first session before the second and final session in Rome next October. The following are ten takeaways from the report – why it matters to Catholics, and what happens next.
- Synodality is about the Church’s evangelizing mission. We have all been baptized, and we are all called to holiness.
The Church’s members – with diverse backgrounds, languages and cultures – share the “common grace of baptism.” The synod’s themes of “communion, participation, mission” are the hallmarks for how the entire people of God relate to each other and live together the call to holiness, proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ to the world.
The synod’s “conversations in the Spirit” – an experience of listening, sharing in faith, and seeking God’s will – is recognized as a helpful tool in this regard.
- The synod calls for formation in ‘authentic discipleship.’
The synod stresses that the Church’s members are called to be “all disciples, all missionaries” who have the “responsibility of demonstrating and transmitting the love and tenderness of God to a wounded humanity.” In other words, living discipleship is at the heart of being Catholic.
In this regard, the synod stresses that “the Eucharist shapes synodality,” and so the Mass should be celebrated “with an authentic sense of friendship in Christ” that reflects beauty and simplicity. The synod says that “liturgy celebrated with authenticity is the first and fundamental school of discipleship.”
It also proposes enriching Catholic life beyond the Mass with alternative forms of prayer, particularly Marian devotion.
- Synodality is not about having more meetings. It is about discerning together how to go on mission at each level of the Church.
Synodality in the Church calls Catholics to discern intentionally as a community how Jesus is calling them to live out their mission. It’s not about meetings, but rather a style of carrying out
“evangelical proclamation, service to those experiencing poverty, care for our common home and theological research.”
The document emphasizes the need for formation. The Church’s social doctrine needs to be understood by the faithful so they can build up the kingdom of God. Synodality is about gathering the disciple community together to discern how Jesus is sending them on mission.
- A synodal Church must reflect on what priests, deacons and laity need to carry out their mission together.
The synod recognizes bishops and priests face disproportionate burdens of responsibility for the Church’s mission. It also identifies clericalism as opposed to Jesus’ model of ministerial service, leading to “authoritarian attitudes.”
The synod recognized there is universal agreement that priestly celibacy is “richly prophetic and a profound witness to Christ.”
Controversial topics were also discussed. The synod suggested further consideration of whether it is appropriate for the Latin Church alone to continue to insist on it – the Eastern Churches (Catholic and Orthodox) have a tradition of celibate and married clergy – when there are ecclesial and cultural contexts that make it more difficult for the Church’s mission.
The synod indicated the importance of expanding women’s access to theological formation, their inclusion in decision-making, their responsibility in pastoral care and ministry, and even the exploration of new ministries where women could decisively contribute. It noted the debate over women and the diaconal ministry, and expressed openness to continuing research and examining what has been done so far.
- Disciples listen to people and accompany them like Christ, no matter their situation.
The synod says “listening is the word that best expresses our experience. This is listening given and received.” Listening really is where the Church discerns the mission to which Jesus calls his disciples and their particular communities.
It also emphasized that the Church needs to give its closeness, listening and accompaniment to those who feel alone in remaining faithful to the Church’s teaching on marriage and sexual ethics, as well as to those on the margins because of “their marriage status, identity or sexuality.”
The synod suggests further consideration of the point that listening “does not mean compromising proclamation of the Gospel or endorsing any opinion or position proposed” – but rather being like Jesus, who listens and loves unconditionally, to share his good news.
- The Catholic Church needs strong Eastern Churches collaborating with the Latin Church.
The synod indicates it is vital for Catholics to realize that the Catholic Church is a communion of coequal sister churches – Latin Church (the largest) and 23 different Eastern Catholic Churches, all enjoying communion through their unity with the pope. The synod calls for all Catholic communities and clergy to learn about each other and actively work together modeling “unity in diversity.”
It stresses that the Latin Church’s members (for the most part known as Roman Catholics) need to help Eastern Catholics in situations where they do not have access to their own churches to live out their traditions. The synod said “Latinization” (making Eastern churches conform to the traditions and practices of the Latin Church) is “outdated.”
It proposes a permanent council of patriarchs and major archbishops to the Holy Father, and that Eastern Catholics should be adequately represented throughout the Roman Curia.
- The synod suggests new ideas for ecumenism.
Among the proposals was that an “ecumenical martyrology” be developed, which would allow the Church to commemorate Christian martyrs from other denominations. The point has been emphasized most recently by martyrdoms in the Middle East, where Islamist militants killed Orthodox and Catholics for being Christians – among them the 21 Coptic Orthodox martyrs of Libya.
Another proposal is to find a common date for the celebration of Easter with an eye to the year 2025, the 1,700th anniversary of the Council of Nicaea.
- The synod emphasizes that the Church needs to evangelize digital spaces.
The synod views the digital realm as a “crucial dimension of the Church’s witness in contemporary culture.” This means understanding digital culture in order to engage with the Church’s younger generation – clergy, religious and lay. One suggestion is collaboration with digital influencers, particularly in areas of “human dignity, justice and care for our common home.”
- Sex abuse is undermining the Church’s missionary life, and the synod recognizes that a truly synodal Church needs to get this right.
The synod stated, “Sexual abuse and the abuse of power and authority continue to cry out for justice, healing and reconciliation.” A synodal Church requires a “culture of transparency,” respect for existing procedures to safeguard minors and people when they are vulnerable, and “further structures dedicated to the prevention of abuse.”
- The bishops must now figure out how to take these ideas to the pews for further discernment and bring that back to the synod.
At this point, the synod leaves it to worldwide episcopal conferences to discern the next steps to take. The prospect of getting this feedback within a year may seem daunting to bishops. If the document is really going to be thoroughly discerned and feedback provided within 11 months, the lay faithful must raise their voices and volunteer to work with their pastors and bishops to get it done in time for the second October session.