Since the earliest moments in the Church’s history, the “assembly” (σύνοδος, synodos) of her bishops as shepherds of the faithful, and in union with them, has been a mechanism for discernment both of God’s will for the Church and of the meaning of the Deposit of the Faith (the saving truth revealed to the apostles by the Lord, and committed to their care).
The earliest “Synod” can be found in the so-called “Council of Jerusalem” (cf. Acts 15:2-35) at which, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Apostolic College, with St. Peter and under his headship, discussed the integration of Jewish and Gentile believers in the one Christian community. This earliest assembly of the Church’s hierarchy provided a Scriptural basis for later developments in Synods, both local and universal. Since Scripture itself attests to the ability of the Church to gather in Synod with and under St. Peter’s primacy, so the Catholic Church in both East and West has continued this anointed means by which we may call on the Lord for guidance: “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt 18:20, NAB).
The most recent successors of St. Peter—Pope St. Paul VI, Pope St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis—have each held “Synods of Bishops” at which the bishops as successors of the Apostles, in union with the pope, have discussed issues of great importance for the life of the Church. Following upon these discussions, the popes have then promulgated their “Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortations”. These teaching documents are the authoritative decrees that conclude the work of each Synod, and in the recent past these exhortations have been notable both for their profundity and for the effect they have had on a wide range of issues such as, proclaiming the Gospel (Paul VI, Evangelii nuntiandi); family and married life (John Paul II, Familiaris consortio; Francis, Amoris laetitia); the lay vocation and mission in the Church (John Paul II, Christifideles laici); the formation of priests (John Paul II, Pastores dabo vobis); the importance of the Bible, God’s word, in the Church (Benedict XVI, Verbum Domini); the Church in Africa (Benedict XVI, Africae munus); young people (Francis, Christus vivit); and most recently, the Church in Amazonia (Francis, Querida
Amazonia), to name just a few.
And now once again, the Holy Father has called for a “Synod of Bishops” on the question of “Synodality” itself. In this Synod, Pope Francis asks the whole Church to discern the meaning of “journeying together” as the pilgrim people of God, and how our shared stories and life experiences can help the Episcopal College to follow the action of the Holy Spirit in guiding us into all truth. This Synod on Synodality has three main phases, two preparatory and one final: (1) the preparatory diocesan phase (October 2021-August 2022) in each diocese/eparchy or ordinariate throughout the world; (2) the preparatory national phase at the level of the Episcopal Conferences and Eastern Catholic Patriarchal/Episcopal Synods (August 2022-March 2023); and (3) the Synod of Bishops itself in Rome (October 2023).
As the Vademecum, or handbook, for the Synod describes it, the diocesan phase “is an opportunity for parishes and dioceses to encounter, experience, and live out the synodal journey together, thus discovering or developing synodal tools and pathways that are best suited for their local context, which will ultimately become the new style of the local Churches on the path of Synodality”
(V §3.1). As such, during the global diocesan phase, the voices of Catholics of all walks of life—lay people, religious, and clergy—will be heard, according to the manner set up by each diocesan/eparchial/ ordinariate bishop. Each diocese is different, and it is the task of the local ordinary—in our case, Bishop Kevin W. Vann—to discern the best method of organizing this consultation of the faithful. As a means of fulfilling this synodal mandate, Bishop Vann has determined that each of the seven deaneries (groupings of parishes) will conduct a “consultation” with the faithful in early 2022, to which each parish will send a group of six individuals selected by the pastor. These parochial representatives will speak to the joys and hopes, worries and desires, of individuals in similar walks of life (married ((including the divorced/ annulled)), single, young, old, and those with special needs or interests). Through this consultation across the entire Diocese, we hope to learn from the real-life experiences of the faithful in Orange County, and to present these findings in the ten-page final “synthesis” document that the Holy See requires of each local church. The Diocese is also developing a webpage to highlight the synodal process, and to provide access to its relevant documents. On this webpage, the Diocese will include a survey with three basic questions about “communion”, “participation”, and “mission”, which will allow a broader degree of participation from Catholics throughout Orange County.
Finally, the Holy Father asks all of us to pray in a particular way to the Holy Spirit during this time, using the ancient prayer, Adsumus Domine Sancte Spiritus (We are present before thee, O Lord Holy Spirit). Pope St. John XXIII asked that the Council Fathers at the Second Vatican Council recite this venerable prayer in Latin daily as a means of invoking the presence of the Spirit in the Church’s deliberations. In the Diocese of Orange, we are providing an original translation of this traditional prayer into English exactly as it was said at Vatican II, and we would like to encourage everyone to join in this prayer together as we begin our synodal journey as the Church of Orange.
We are present before thee, O Lord
We are present though we are weighed
down by the gravity of our sins.
Yet in thy name, we are gathered for a
Come to us, be with us, and deign to
enter our hearts.
Teach us what we should do and
where we should go,
and show us what we ought to accomplish,
that with thy help we may have the
strength to please thee in all things.
Be thou the only inspiration and perfecter
of our judgments, thou who alone
with God the Father and His Son hast a
Suffer us not to disturb the order of
justice, thou who lovest equity above all
Let not ignorance draw us into darkened
ways; let not partiality sway us; let
not the taking of gifts nor the respect of
persons corrupt our minds.
But unite us to thee efficaciously by
the gift of thy grace alone, that we may
be one in thee and in nothing deviate
from the truth.
Wherefore, being gathered in thy
name, may we hold fast in all things the
course of justice by the rudder of piety,
so that even here our verdict may dissent
from thee in nothing, and in the age
to come our good deeds may obtain for us
an everlasting reward.