Nature and Purpose of the Synod
The Code of Canon Law provides nine canons (Cann 460 to 468) on the subject of the Diocesan Synod. In 1997 the Congregation for Bishops and the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples issued an Instruction on Diocesan Synods. In canon law, Instructions ‘set out the provisions of a law and develop the manner in which it is to be put into effect.’ They ‘are given for the benefit of those whose duty it is to execute the law, and they bind them in executing the law.’ (Can. 34 '1)
The Instruction sets out the Nature and Purpose of the diocesan Synod which may be summarised as follows:
- Canon 460 of the Code of Canon Law describes the diocesan Synod as an ‘assembly of selected priests and other members of Christ’s faithful of a particular Church which, for the good of the whole diocesan community, assists the diocesan Bishop’.
- The Synod offers the Bishop the opportunity of calling to cooperate with him, priests, religious and laity such as will demonstrate the responsibility of all in building up the Body of Christ.
- The Bishop determines its convocation and, following consultation, proposes the questions to be discussed in the Synod and presides at the synodal sessions. Moreover, it is the Bishop who, as sole legislator, signs the synodal declarations and decrees and orders their publication.
- The work of the Synod is to promote acceptance of the Church’s salvific doctrine and to encourage the faithful in their following of Christ; to further that apostolic zeal which inspires so many ecclesial activities. To foster community and missionary renewal it is appropriate to be concerned with the continued betterment of clerical life, the formation of the clergy and the promotion of vocations to the priesthood and to the religious life.
- The Synod builds up and fosters unity within the diocese and with the Holy See and the Universal Church. Hence it is necessary that the synodal documents accurately reflect the universal Magisterium of the Church and apply common canonical discipline to the particular circumstances obtaining in the diocese.
- Always bearing in mind the need for renewal and, where necessary, remedying lacunae in diocesan norms, the Synod will also evaluate the adequacy of pastoral programmes already in place, and with the help of divine grace, propose new pastoral plans where such are deemed desirable.
Convocation of the Synod
‘It is the sole prerogative of the diocesan Bishop, in his prudent judgement and having consulted with the council of priests, to convoke a diocesan Synod.’ (Can. 461)
The Bishop’s Decree Convoking the Synod
Having consulted with the College of Consultors, the Priests' Council and lay members of the Pastoral Areas, I have issued a pastoral letter Together in Mission? A Time to Begin Again, convoking a Diocesan Synod, the first since the 1930s.
The actual meaning of the word "Synod" is "journeying together". It is a long established practice in the Church to use this term for decisive meetings at significant times where members of the Church come together to review one or more issues and make decisions. Fifty years after the Second Vatican Council and in view both of the multiple challenges facing us as well as the opportunities that contemporary cultural changes afford us, we are at a significant moment in the history of our Diocese. There is clear duty on us to discern carefully together what the Spirit is saying to the Church in Limerick and agree on common goals and actions for the coming years.
In convoking the Synod I am mindful of Pope Francis' desire that we advance along the path of what he calls ‘a pastoral and missionary conversion which cannot leave things as they presently are’. We owe this to future generations and to the wider society that we want to serve. Pope Francis explains what he means by pastoral and missionary conversion when he writes, “Pastoral ministry in a missionary key seeks to abandon the complacent attitude that says, ‘We have always done it this way’.”' It means being bold and creative in the task of rethinking the goals, structures, style and methods of evangelization in our Diocesan community with its various parish and ecclesial, religious and social communities.
As we set out towards the Synod, let’s entrust our journey to Mary, the mother and first disciple of Jesus. Her journey of faith is a model for all Christians. She reminds us to be attentive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. She knows better than any of us where, in God’s grace and mercy, our journey is ultimately heading - eternal life in the new heaven and new earth that God is preparing for us.
Bishop Brendan Leahy
St. John's Cathedral, Limerick
December 7th, 2014
A Pastoral Letter convoking a Diocesan Synod "Together in Mission – A time to begin again"
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
A year and a half have now passed since I was ordained Bishop and I continue to be grateful for the warm welcome and encouragement I have received throughout the Diocese. It has been a busy and lively time for me, meeting many people, discussing the strengths of our Diocese as well as naming the challenges we face. At this stage, having consulted with the College of Consultors, the Priests’ Council and lay members of the Pastoral Areas, I have decided to convoke a Diocesan Synod. It will be the first Synod for our Diocese since the 1930s and indeed in Ireland since the 1950s.
The meaning of the word Synod is ‘journeying together’. It is a long-established practice in the Church to use this term for significant meetings where members of the Church come together to review things and make decisions. Pope Francis describes a Synod as a Awonderful experience’, Aan intense moment of growth’.
In our case the Synod will be a large three-day meeting with around 400 representatives of the life of faith in this Diocese. The official launching of the Synod will take place on December 7th 2014 with a liturgy in St. John’s Cathedral and the actual meeting of the Synod will take place in Spring 2016. Between the launching of the Synod and the 2016 gathering there will be a vast process of reflection and sharing, catechesis and prayer, out of which we will identify the issues that will be discussed at the Synod. I hope that as many as possible throughout the Diocese will be involved.
I have appointed Fr. Éamonn Fitzgibbon, Episcopal Vicar, as Director of the Synod. It will be his task to co-ordinate the many strands of preparation for the Synod as well as the Synod event itself. He will soon engage in a process of arranging for the selection of delegates for the Synod. The delegates in totality must be truly representative; we will be looking for delegates of strong faith, of diminished faith and of lost faith. For the Synod to be the journey it needs to be, we must all travel together. Everyone has an opinion worth listening to and we must listen before we learn.
I have written a longer pastoral letter that explains in more detail my reasons and hopes for the Synod. I invite you to read it. I hope it can serve as a reflection document for use throughout the Diocese in the coming weeks and months.
There’s one thing I would like to emphasise. If the Synod were only to be a meeting of a few days in Spring 2016, it would be a waste of time. The risk would be that it would only produce a report gathering dust on the shelf. The Synod will have to mark a real step forward for our Diocese, indicating a realistic pathway of genuine renewal for all of us who feel faith is important. For that to be the case, we will all need to approach the Synod as something that involves us personally. The Synod has to be about more than changing structures.
The spiritual attitude with which we approach the period of discernment ahead of us is very important. It needs to be a spiritual experience of journeying together in communion with one another, deepening our knowledge of the Faith and a time of prayer. For that reason, as we set out on our journey towards the Synod, I would like us all to focus in a new way on the Gospel. We will be distributing copies of Luke’s Gospel throughout the Diocese in the coming months.
No one, no matter what age, should feel a stranger to the Synod process. In the coming year and a half there will be many gatherings for discussion, catechesis and prayer. We will be opening a website for the Synod. I invite you to send in observations or suggestions.
We are about to set out on a journey. It’s a chance to ask ourselves: what Church do we want to be as we face the challenges ahead of us? What face of the Church do we want to present to society today in order to serve it with humility? How best can we be salt, light and leaven in the world?
I would like to suggest that for the duration of our preparation for the Synod we say a prayer to the Holy Spirit before the final blessing at Mass and at other occasions when Catholics gather. I will arrange for the distribution of the prayer that was recited every day during the Second Vatican Council.
As we set out towards the Synod, let’s entrust our journey to Mary, the mother and first missionary disciple of Jesus. Her journey of faith is a model for us all.
Let’s encourage one another to make our own the words of Pope Francis in his Apostolic Letter on the Joy of the Gospel: ‘I dream of a "missionary option", that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channelled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation.’
We are at a crucial time in the history of our Diocese. The missionary commitment of each one of us is essential.
With kind regards,
The Code of Canon Law (Can. 463) sets out those persons who are member of the Synod ex officio and de iure and who ‘are to be summoned to the diocesan Synod as members’ and who ‘are obliged to participate in it.’ They are:
- the Vicars General and Episcopal Vicars, and the Judicial Vicar
- the Canons of the Cathedral Church;
- the members of the Council of Priests;
- the Vicars Forane;
The law provides also that other member are to be elected in such a way that the membership, like the membership of the diocesan pastoral council, ‘truly reflects the entire portion of the people of God which constitutes the diocese, taking account of the different regions of the diocese, of social conditions and professions, and of the part played in the apostolate by the members, whether individually or in association with others.’ (Can. 512 ' 2) They are:
- lay members of Christ’s faithful, not excluding members of institutes of consecrated life, to be elected by the [diocesan] pastoral council in the manner and the number determined by the diocesan Bishop
- all priests incardinated in the diocese and all priests, diocesan and religious, who hold a diocesan pastoral appointment;
- Superiors of religious institutes and of societies of apostolic life which have a house in the diocese: these are to be elected in the number and the manner determined by themselves taking account of the provisions of Cann. 164 to 179 as necessary.
The diocesan Bishop may also invite others to be members of the diocesan Synod, whether clerics or members of institutes of consecrated life or lay members of the faithful.
The diocesan Bishop shall invite to the diocesan Synod as observers some ministers or members of Churches or ecclesial communities which are not in full communion with the Catholic Church, but who can play an important role in the renewal of the Catholic Church. We will value opinions and observations from those who are informed and familiar with the Catholic Church. In preparation for this an event will be organised where a structured conversation will take place with representatives of other faiths. It is intended that this structured conversation will include representatives from the Church of Ireland, Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, Pentecostal and Society of Friends communities. Members of the Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh and Baha’i communities will also be invited to be part of this structured conversation.
Lay members must be possessed of ‘firm faith, high moral standards and prudence’ (Can. 512 - 3) and enjoy canonically regular status. (Instr on Diocesan Synods II, 3. 1.) The diocesan Bishop shall communicate in writing to members their designation as members and likewise, members, not bound ex officio and de iure, shall communicate their acceptance in writing.
One may lose one’s membership by reason of loss of title - that which qualified one to become a member - or by removal by the Bishop for a lawful reason.
As provided in Can. 833, before commencing the Synodal discussions, the members of the Synod shall make the profession of faith.
Officers of the Synod
The diocesan Bishop presides over the diocesan Synod. He may however, delegate a Vicar general or an episcopal Vicar to fulfil this office at individual sessions of the Synod. (Can. 462 ' 2.)
The diocesan Bishop shall appoint a Moderator to oversee the preparatory stages of the Synod and to coordinate the offices and commissions of the Synod and to moderate the sessions of the Synod. (Instr. III. B. 2. 3.)
The diocesan Bishop shall appoint a Secretary to oversee the Secretariat and Communications Commission of the Synod. (Instr. 3. B. 1.) The secretary shall oversee the Secretariat and Communications Commission, set out below.
The Bishop is obliged to constitute a preparatory commission.
‘The members of this preparatory commission are chosen by the Bishop from amongst the clergy and other faithful who are distinguished by their pastoral prudence and by their professional competence and who, in so far as possible, reflect the various charisms and ministries of the People of God. Some members should be expert in the disciplines of Canon Law and Sacred Liturgy.’ (Instr. III, B, 1)
Its tasks are principally; to assist the Bishop in matters pertaining to the organization and preparation of the Synod; in drawing up and publishing the synodal Directory; in the designation of the synodal members and in his determining the questions to be proposed for synodal deliberation. The diocesan Bishop presides over the meetings of the preparatory commission. If he is unable to preside, his delegate does so.
To assist the diocesan Bishop, whose prerogative it is to propose topics for the consideration of the Synod members, the faithful shall be afforded the opportunity of expressing their needs, desires and opinions with regard to the topics to be dealt with in the Synod. Moreover, the clergy of the diocese shall be asked separately to formulate proposals by way of response to the pastoral challenges with which they are confronted. This latter shall be done at meetings of the clergy in the Pastoral Areas, convened for that purpose, and at diocesan gatherings of the clergy. (Instr. I, 1 & III, C, 2)
The consultation shall endeavour to reach all ‘vital forces’ of the People of God present and operating in the Diocese. For this reason consultation shall take place in parochial communities, institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life, ecclesial associations, educational institutions and other significant movements and groups including Health Care communities; members of the Travelling Community and other minority and migrant communities; youth ministry groups and ecclesial groupings such as Muintearas Íosa, Charismatic Renewal, Emmanuel Community and others; the Prison community; the Irish, Polish and other language speaking communities, representatives of the city of Limerick, regeneration areas, the worlds of business, the arts, sport and other areas of culture.
‘In providing suitable directives for consultation, unjustified expectations with regard to the acceptance of proposals should be avoided.’ (Instr. III, C. 2.) For this reason the Instruction provides that: ‘In view of the bonds uniting the particular Church and her Pastor with the universal Church and the Roman Pontiff, the Bishop has the duty to exclude from the synodal discussions theses or positions - as well as proposals submitted to the Synod with the mere intention of transmitting to the Holy See ‘polls’ in their regard - discordant with the perennial doctrine of the Church or the Magisterium or concerning material reserved to Supreme ecclesiastical authority or to other ecclesiastical authorities.’ (Instr. IV, 4; CD 8; Can. 381)
Determining the questions
At the conclusion of the consultative process, with the assistance of persons expert in the various disciplines and pastoral spheres and with the assistance of the preparatory commission, the Bishop shall proceed to determine those questions on which the synodal debate will concentrate.
Finally, the approved texts of these questions should be transmitted to the members of the Synod and sufficient time allotted for them to be studied before the initiation of the synodal sessions. (Instr. III, C, 3)
Spiritual and Catechetical Commission
The function of the Spiritual and Catechetical Commission is to provide for the formation of Members of the Synod and of the Faithful for the more effective and fruitful celebration of the Synod. ‘The celebration of the Synod affords the Bishop a privileged opportunity for the formation of the faithful. It leads to a well articulated catechesis of the faithful with regard to the mystery of the Church and the participation of all the faithful in her mission. Such catechesis is carried on in the light of the teaching of the Church’s Magisterium and particularly that of the Second Vatican Council. To this end, concrete directives can be given to priests for preaching.’ (Instr. III, C, 1)
The Catechetical Journey
Secretariat and Communications
The Bishop shall make provision for the establishment of a synodal secretariat which shall be directed by a member of the Preparatory Commission, The Secretary. ‘The function of such a secretariat is to assist the Synod as far as organizational matters are concerned: transmission and archiving of documentation, drawing up minutes, direction of logistical matters, as well as matters relating to finances and accounting.’ (Instr. III, B, 1) Information concerning the Synod is disseminated to the media by means of press-releases, website material, supplements and social media.
‘All should be informed with regard to the nature and purpose of the Synod and the scope of its deliberations’. (Instr. III, C, 1) In this connection, in December 2014 a newspaper was produced and made widely available as a supplement in local and some national papers to communicate information about the Synod, entitled “Limerick Diocese Script” it included interviews with Bishop Brendan, Synod delegates, and many others. Articles continue to appear regularly in magazines and newspapers.
The Legal Commission shall have the function of ensuring conformity, in all things pertaining to the Synod, with the General Law of the Church, avoiding matters which are ultra vires, and shall, with others expert in ecclesiastical disciplines, assist the Bishop in Drafting the Decrees and Declarations of the Synod.
The research component of the Synod conforms to the ethical guidelines of the Sociological Research Association. All participants were given background information to the research project which enabled them to make an informed decision concerning participation. Participation in this research has been and will be kept confidential. No clues to the identity of interviewees appear on the questionnaires. Recorded information is kept in a secure and confidential place.
Liturgical and Spiritual Journey:
The Liturgical Commission shall oversee the Preparation of the Liturgies associated with the Synod and shall promote prayer for the success of the Synod.
To correspond with the Pastoral letter which convoked the Synod a Prayer Card was produced for the success of the Synod and widely distributed throughout the diocese.
On Sunday, 07 December 2014 the synod was officially launched at the midday Mass at St. John’s Cathedral. The Mass, which was celebrated by Bishop Brendan, was attended by the delegates from across the diocese and the Decree of Convocation was formally read.
The Mass was followed by a time of reflection and prayer for delegates. This was led by Dr. Jessie Rogers, Lecturer in Sacred Scripture in St Patrick’s College, Maynooth who married the Advent themes (especially the person of John the Baptist), with Synodal themes (especially discernment).
Synod Sunday: Sunday February 8th 2014 was designated as the first of a number of Sundays designated as ‘Synod Sunday’ for the parishes of the diocese. Resource materials for the Liturgy were provided including homily notes, prayers of the faithful, music and singing suggestions and reflections. These days serve to raise awareness in our parishes around the Synod and provide an opportunity for each parish to formally name their delegates and for parish delegates to speak at Masses. Further Synod Sundays are planned for Sunday 18th October 2015 and Sunday February 7th 2016
Parish Banners have been created with the Synod logo and will hang in our Churches until April 2016.
A Hymn for the Synod will be commissioned.
Resources will continue to be made available to parishes.
Days of reflection and retreats will continue to be provided.
The Synod takes place in April 2016. On Sunday April 3rd 2016 the Synod will open with a concelebrated mass in St John’s Cathedral. This will be followed by the ‘Days in the Parishes’ – a time of prayer and preparation similar to that which takes place in the days prior to World youth day. The Synod meetings will take place on 8th, 9th, and 10th, April 2016 and will conclude with Mass in St John’s Cathedral on Sunday 10th April 2016.
CONVOCATION OF THE SYNOD
The Synod shall be celebrated on the 8th, 9th and 10th April, 2016 in St. John’s Cathedral and at Mary Immaculate College, South Circular Road, Limerick.
RULES OF PROCEDURE FOR THE SYNOD
(The full Rules of Procedure concerning Liturgical Rites, Discussions, Interventions, Votes etc. shall follow).
At the Synod in April 2016 there will be voting on a variety Proposals for Action. These Proposals if adopted then become recommendations to the Bishop for his consideration as possible actions appropriate to the needs to the Diocese. The Bishop then has responsibility to draw up decrees and statutes based on these recommendations. He does this cognisant of the needs, wishes and desires of the People of God but also cognisant of the general law of the Church.
Each of the six themes will be introduced at a session of the Synod drawing on the experience of the people of the diocese (as identified through the listening process) and the Tradition of the Church (as addressed through the Catechetical programme). Proposals for Action (which are recommendations to the Bishop as sole legislator) will be brought forward and these will be voted on with the vote of either Yes, No or Yes with amendments.