Presentation. Instruction on the Celebration of Synodal Assemblies

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The Instruction on the celebration of the Synodal Assemblies and on the activity of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops was published 1st October 2018, in accordance with art. 26 of the new Apostolic Constitution of Pope Francis Episcopalis communio (September 15th 2018).

The Instruction is essentially practical in character and, for this reason, must be read and understood in the light of Episcopalis communion from which it originates. Since the recent Apostolic Constitution replaces the Motu Proprio Apostolica sollicitudo of St. Paul VI, this new Instruction likewise replaces Ordo Synodi Episcoporum, which in the course of almost fifty years has known different editions, the last of which was approved by Benedict XVI in 2006.

A significant number of the articles of the previous Ordo are reflected in this new Instruction published on October 1st. This is a sign that the restructuring process of the synodal organism, which has been desired by Pope Francis from the beginning of his pontificate, is not a break with the past, but rather is a sign of continuity in development.

The articles of this Instruction follow a sequential order, as shown by its two parts.

The first part deals with the following themes: the Roman Pontiff; the members or synod fathers designated for the different types of assembly; the General Secretariat with its Councils; the commissions and organisms in place during the Synod Assemblies, that is to say: the President Delegate, the General Rapporteur, the Special Secretary, the Commission for Information, the Redaction Committee for the project of the Final Document, the Study Commissions and the Commission for controversies.

The second part of the Instruction, deals with the procedures: it is here that, amongst other things, the discussion of topics in the General Congregations and in the Minor Circles, as well as the voting process in the Circles, in the Redaction Committee for the project of the Final Document and in the Synodal Assembly as a whole are regulated.

The Instruction also contains some significant developments. This is keeping with the renewal sanctioned by Episcopalis communion, which in turn incorporates and clarifies the innovations introduced by the Synodal Assemblies held during the pontificate of Pope Francis.

One significant development is the enlargement of the General Secretariat of the Synod. The Ordinary Council will now consist of twenty-one Bishops, sixteen of whom will be elected by the Ordinary General Assembly. Among the latter, one bishop from the Eastern Catholic Churches and the other fifteen from the Latin Rite Churches according to their geographical origin: two bishops for North America, three for Latin America, three for Europe, three for Africa, three for Asia and one for Oceania.

As per Episcopalis communio (Article 24, § 2), only diocesan bishops may be elected. This is in keeping with the spirit of the Second Vatican Council, which called for the establishment of a permanent central body of pastors responsible for particular churches to assist the Pope. The elected members are joined by the Head of the Dicastery of the Roman Curia whose competency pertains most to the theme of the Synodal Assembly who is chosen by the Holy Father as well as four members by pontifical nomination.

In conclusion, more than its individual aspects, what must be emphasized is the general orientation which, in keeping with Episcopalis communio, animates this Instruction: all functions and procedures are regulated with the aim of facilitating as much as possible the debate and exchange of opinions among the Synod Fathers. This highlights the richness of the voices of the various churches scattered throughout the earth. Thus, the Synod is configured for all intents and purposes as a special expression of the indissoluble bond which unites the Bishops among themselves and with the Pope in their service to the People of God.


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