The Synod on the Family – What’s This All About? Part 1

Pope FrancisIn October Pope Francis announced that an Extraordinary Session of the Synod of Bishops will meet October 5 – 19, 2014 to discuss the “pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization.” Not only has the announcement of this extraordinary synod made news, but so has Pope Francis’ invitation to Catholics worldwide for their thoughts and observations in preparation for it.

 This week I will offer some insights regarding the synod of bishops and what Pope Francis is suggesting needs to be reflected on to support the family and the importance of its role in society. Next week I’ll offer some observations about the importance of consultation in the church in light of Pope Francis’ invitation Catholics worldwide.

 So what is a synod of bishops? The synodal principle is an ancient one in the Church. It means people coming together to discuss major issues in the Church and at times making practical determinations about those issues. Our present understanding of the synod of bishops is an innovation of the Second Vatican Council and was established by Pope Paul VI in 1965. The synod’s role, Pope Paul VI said, is to examine “the signs of the times” and “to provide a deeper interpretation of divine designs and the constitution of the Catholic Church” in order to “foster the unity and cooperation of bishops around the world with the Holy See.” The first meeting of the synod of bishops took place in 1967 and since then have been held regularly every three years.

 According to the Law of the Church, commonly referred to as the Code of Canon Law, three types of “synods of bishops” are possible. Ordinary sessions meet every three years to discuss a subject of importance to the universal Church or a particular region within the Church. In recent years ordinary sessions have reflected on the Revision of Canon Law, Christian Family, Catechesis, Formation of Priests; Vocation & Mission of the Laity; and the New Evangelization.  Extraordinary sessions are designed to give special attention to a subject of high importance to the universal Church that calls for a speedy solution. Only two of these have taken place – one focused on the cooperation of the Episcopal Conferences with the Holy See and the other on the 20th Anniverary of the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council.  Special Sessions are intended for issues affecting one or more particular regions of the Church. A number of these special sessions have taken place since the first one in 1980 which reflected on the Church in the Netherlands, including one in 1997 on the Church in America.

 For Pope Francis, issues of family and marriage are ones that he believes require a deeper interpretation given the signs of the times, and dedicating an Extraordinary Synod to this topic demonstrates how important he believes the family is and the urgency he sees in responding to issues Christian families face at this time. The Pope has also called for a discussion on the promotion and acceptance of Catholic teaching on marriage and the family, as well as cultural and social challenges to those teachings.

Next week I’ll offer some insights on Pope Francis’ decision to invite all of us to offer our thoughts and observations in preparation for the Synod on the Family.

 Question – What would you name as one burning issue that Christian families face today?

Photo of Pope Francis- Attribution: Non-Commercial.

November 13th, 2013 |