VATICAN CITY, OCT. 3, 2005 (Zenit.org).- With the 11th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops under way, ZENIT is publishing in these days a summary of the past synodal assemblies.
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1. I Ordinary General Assembly
In session: Sept. 29-Oct. 29, 1967
Synod Fathers: 197
Topic: “The Preservation and Strengthening of the Catholic Faith, its Integrity, its Force, its Development, its Doctrinal and Historical Coherence”
Pope Paul VI stated the goals for this first General Assembly: “the preservation and the strengthening of the Catholic faith, its integrity, its force, its development, its doctrinal and historical coherence.” One result of the meeting was a recommendation by the bishops to set up an international commission of theologians to assist the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith as well as to broaden a discussion on approaches to theological research. In 1969 Pope Paul VI established the International Theological Commission.
The Synod also called for a revision of the Code of Canon Law of 1917 in an attempt to make it more pastoral and more contemporary in tone and emphasis. The work was subsequently begun by Pope Paul VI and brought to completion under Pope John Paul II with the promulgation, in 1983, of the Revised Code of Canon Law.
Other pastoral questions were discussed and submitted to the Pope as recommendations: that episcopal conferences should have major control over seminaries in their respective areas; procedures relating to mixed marriages were recommended and approved by the Pope in 1970; and approval was given for the New Order of the Mass which was put into effect in 1969.
2. I Extraordinary General Assembly
In session: Oct. 11-28, 1969
Synod Fathers: 146
Topic: “The Cooperation between the Holy See and the Episcopal Conferences”
This specially convoked General Assembly had as its agenda to seek and examine ways and means of putting into practice the collegiality of bishops with the Pope, a subject which gained much attention in the declarations on the Church formulated at the Second Vatican Council. This meeting opened the door to wider participation by the bishops with the Pope and each other in the pastoral care of the universal Church.
The main emphasis of these sessions involved two basic points: 1) the collegiality of the bishops with the Pope; and 2) the relation of episcopal conferences to the Pope and to individual bishops.
Various recommendations were subsequently submitted to the Pope, three of which received immediate attention: 1) that the synod meet at regular intervals, every two years (subsequently changed to every three years); 2) that the General Secretariat operate between synodal sessions and organize these meeting; 3) that the bishops be permitted to suggest topics for the future assemblies.
Between the second and third synodal assemblies, an advisory council for the General Secretariat was formed made up of 12 elected bishops and three papal appointees.
Such a council first met from May 12-15, 1970, and was intended to facilitate communication with episcopal conferences and the formulation of the agenda for the subsequent assembly. After this meeting a general consultation of the bishops worldwide was begun for suggested topics for future assemblies.
Such consultation now begins in the final days of a synodal assembly. Since that time the council of the General Secretariat, elected from each synod in light of preparation for the following synod, has become a permanent feature of the General Secretariat.
3. II Ordinary General Assembly
In session: Sept. 30-Nov. 6, 1971 (longest to date)
Synod Fathers: 210
Topic: “The Ministerial Priesthood and Justice in the World”
In the course of their discussion the Synod Fathers praised priests worldwide for their dedication in their ministry to Word and sacrament as well as their pastoral work in the apostolate. At the same time, attention was given to various difficulties experienced by priests in the ministry.
In addition, the Synod Fathers treated the subject of justice, stating the need to relate the Gospel to existing worldwide and local circumstances. In response they outlined an eight-point program for international action, and made recommendations that the Church on the local level foster education and ecumenical collaboration in the field of justice.
4. III Ordinary General Assembly
In Session: Sept. 27-Oct. 26, 1974
Synod Fathers: 209
Topic: “Evangelization in the Modern World”
At this assembly the Synod Fathers re-emphasized the essential missionary character of the Church and the duty of each member to bear witness to Christ in the world. In this context the popular issue of “liberation” was linked to the work of evangelization in seeking to free peoples and individuals from sin.
The Synod Fathers’ recommendations and proposals submitted to the Pope, were used in the formulation of the apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Nuntiandi” of December 1975.
5. IV Ordinary General Assembly
In session: Sept. 30-Oct. 29, 1977
Synod Fathers: 204
Topic: “Catechesis in our Time”
The discussion of the Synod Fathers, which gave special attention to the catechesis of children and young people, resulted in a series of 34 proposals or “propositions” and more than 900 suggestions regarding the subject.
Six general areas were treated in the these recommendations: the importance of catechetical renewal, the nature of true catechesis, the persons involved in catechesis, the ongoing need of catechesis for all Christians, the means or channels of catechesis, and the special aspects affecting catechesis.
On this occasion the Synod Fathers issued for the first time a synodal statement entitled “A Message to the People of God,” in which the Synod Fathers pointed out that Christ is the center of salvation and, therefore, of catechesis.
At the same time, they emphasized that all Christians have the responsibility of bringing Christ to the world. Shortly after the conclusion of this synod, Pope John Paul II issued the apostolic exhortation “Catechesi Tradendae” of October 1979, which utilized a great many of the Synod Fathers’ insights and proposals.
6. Special Assembly for the Netherlands
In session: Jan. 14-31, 1980
Synod Fathers: 19
Topic: “The Pastoral Situation in the Netherlands”
The “Particular Synod for the Netherlands,” or the so-called Dutch Synod, is, according to Canon 345 of the revised Code of Canon Law, subsequently promulgated in 1983, the first Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops.
This synodal gathering, held in the Vatican, dealt with the Second Vatican Council concept of mystery of Church communion and its practical implications, both local and universal, centering on the figure of the bishop as “Teacher of the Faith” and “Pastor of Souls,” both in his diocese and in the episcopal conference.
At its conclusion the assembly adopted resolutions pertaining to the ministerial priesthood, religious life, the participation of the laity in the mission of the Church, the sacraments, the Eucharist and confession, liturgy, catechesis and ecumenism, all based on the teachings of Vatican II.
A specially formed council instituted at the end of this synodal assembly periodically meets with the General Secretariat to continue to assess the pastoral situation and to promote the implementation of the synod resolutions. Though technically still in existence, this council has not had a meeting since Nov. 10-11, 1995.