Cardinal Grech: Synodality is Not a ‘Fad’ of the Pope

The Maltese cardinal, who was appointed to his present role in September 2020, said that the preparatory document recalled the Second Vatican Council’s desire to “return to the sources” of Christianity.

Cardinal Mario Grech, Secretary General of Synod of Bishops.
Cardinal Mario Grech, Secretary General of Synod of Bishops. (photo: Diocese of Gozo via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0). / Diocese of Gozo via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0).)

VATICAN CITY — Cardinal Mario Grech said on Wednesday that synodality is not a “fad” of the pope, but rather “the form and style of the early Church.”

The Secretary General of Synod of Bishops told Vatican News on July 21 that officials were working on a preparatory document for the 2023 synod on synodality.

“I would like to clarify a misunderstanding. Many people think that synodality is a ‘fad’ of the pope. I hope none of us shares this thought,” he said. 

“In the various preparatory meetings, it became clear that synodality was the form and style of the early Church.” 

The Vatican announced in May that the 2023 synod would begin with a two-year consultative phase involving Catholic dioceses worldwide.

The General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops is expected to release a preparatory document and vademecum, or handbook, in September.

An infographic showing the timeline for the synod on synodality. / Vatican Media.

An infographic showing the timeline for the synod on synodality. / Vatican Media.

The Maltese cardinal, who was appointed to his present role in September 2020, said that the preparatory document recalled the Second Vatican Council’s desire to “return to the sources” of Christianity.

“The preparatory document clearly highlights this; and it highlights how Vatican II, with the movement of ‘return to the sources’ — the Ressourcement — wanted to recover that model of the Church, without renouncing any of the great advances of the Church in the second millennium,” he said.

“If we want to be faithful to Tradition — and the Council should be considered as the most recent stage of Tradition — we must boldly go down this path of the synodal Church.”

A synod is a meeting of bishops gathered to discuss a topic of theological or pastoral significance, to prepare a document of advice or counsel to the pope.

The theme for the upcoming assembly is “For a synodal Church: communion, participation, and mission.”

Earlier this week, the General Secretariat named the members of three groups helping it to prepare for the 2023 gathering.

Cardinal Grech told Vatican news: “We have created four commissions to support the work leading up to the Synod: one for theological study, another to help us grow as a Church in the spirituality of communion, a third for methodology, and finally a fourth that will be dedicated to the aspect of communication.”

Pope Francis is expected to “inaugurate the synodal path” over the weekend of Oct. 9-10 with an opening session and a Mass. All dioceses are invited also to offer an opening Mass on Sunday, Oct. 17.

During the initial “diocesan phase,” each bishop is expected to undertake a consultation process with the local Church from October 2021 to April 2022.

The Vatican will then release an instrumentum laboris (working document) in September 2022 for a period of “pre-synodal discernment in continental assemblies,” which will influence a second draft of the working document to be published before June 2023.

The process will culminate with the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops at the Vatican in October 2023.

Asked if the synodal process required too much of local churches, Grech said: “All this is not really a process that complicates the life of the Church. Because without knowing what the Spirit is saying to the Church, we could act in a vacuum and, even without knowing it, against the Spirit.” 

“Once we have rediscovered the ‘pneumatological’ dimension of the Church, we can only adopt the dynamism of prophecy-discernment, which lies at the heart of the synodal process. This is especially true when thinking about the third term at play: mission.” 

The cardinal recalled that the 2018 youth synod referred to “missionary synodality.”

“Synodality is for mission, it is listening to how the Church becomes itself by living, witnessing and bringing the Gospel. All the terms proposed by the title are connected: they stand or fall together,” he said.

“Let us also ask to be deeply converted to synodality: it means converting to Christ and his Spirit, leaving the primacy to God.”
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