Instrument laboris

10 short questions and answers on the Instrumentum Laboris for the Synod on Synodality 2024

Answers to questions on the new Instrumentum Laboris for the Synod on Synodality in October 2024

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(ZENIT News / Vatican City, 07.09.2024).- At noon on Tuesday, July 9, the Working Instrument («Instrumentum Laboris») for the second part of the synod on synodality, which will take place in October 2024 at the Vatican, was presented. Surrounding this document, questions have arisen that have been organized into 10 blocks. Below, we list the questions, followed by the answers one by one.

1 What is the Instrumentum laboris?

2 The Instrumentum laboris originated from reports that the General Secretariat of the Synod  received. Who sent these reports?

3 Who wrote the Instrumentum laboris?

4 How is the Instrumentum laboris structured?

5 This Instrumentum laboris appears, in its structure, somewhat different from the previous  one which contained many sheets with many questions, why was this structure chosen?

6 The Instrumentum Laboris is for the members of the XVI Assembly, but how can local  synodal groups and, in general, the faithful who will not participate in the October Assembly  use it?

7 How can they contribute to the work in October?

8 The Instrumentum Laboris mentions a theological subsidy. What is it about?

9 What can we expect from the conclusion of the Synod?

10 Where can I find the IL?

***

1 What is the Instrumentum laboris?  

As its Latin wording implies, the Instrumentun Laboris (IL) is first and foremost a working tool for  the members of the Second Session of the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops.  This also justifies its language and the use of theological notions and categories in some of its parts.  A theological subsidy, soon to be published, will facilitate its reading and allow for a deeper  understanding of the theological notions and categories used.

It stems from the reflections that the Bishops’ Conferences, the Oriental Catholic Churches and other  international ecclesial realities, as well as the reports presented by the parish priests during the three day work meeting of the Parish Priests for the Synod, have carried out around the Synthesis Report of the First Session (4-29 October 2023) in the light of the indications given by the General Secretariat  of the Synod through the document Towards October 2024. The IL thus articulates the syntheses  received in order to encourage the Assembly’s reflection on the question at the heart of the October  assembly How to be a Synodal Church in Mission.

The IL is not a magisterial document, nor a catechism: it is meant to be a working tool of the XVI  Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. Nor is it a text that offers prefabricated answers, nor a  document that intends to address all the issues related to the need to be increasingly «synodal in  mission». It is a document, bearing the fruit of listening, discernment and reflection on Synodality  that has matured in the course of the synodal process. It is a basic text, which is both articulated and  essential, conceived above all as a support to the method with which the Assembly will be called to work. It is an instrument meant to encourage prayer, dialogue, discernment, and the maturing of a  consensus starting from some convergences which matured along the way in view of the delivery to  the Holy Father of a Final Document of the XVI Assembly.

2 The Instrumentum laboris originated from reports that the General Secretariat of  the Synod received. Who sent these reports?  

In December 2023, the General Secretariat, through the document Towards October 2024, invited the  entire Christian community to reflect on the guiding question identified for the Second Session of the  XVI Assembly How to be a Synodal Church in Mission? by proposing a series of different paths and  activities starting from the Synthesis Report, approved by the members of the XVI Ordinary Assembly  at the end of the work of the First Session in October 2023. It was a question of keeping synodal  dynamism alive by promoting at the local level a reflection on how to enhance the differentiated coresponsibility in mission on the part of all the faithful and, at the same time, to ask the Bishops’  Conferences, the Eastern Catholic Churches and the groupings of Churches to reflect on how to  articulate the dimension of the Church as a whole and its rooting at the local level, thus gathering the  fruits of reflection around the Synthesis Report.

Despite the short time available, as of 30 June 2024, no less than 108 reports had been received from  the Bishops’ Conferences, 9 from the Oriental Catholic Churches, in addition to the contribution of  the USG-UISG (respectively the International Union of Major Superiors and the International Union  of Superiors General). In addition to the contribution of some dicasteries of the Roman Curia, the  General Secretariat also received more than 200 comments from international entities, university  faculties, associations of the faithful or individual communities and persons. Obviously, in drafting  the Instrumentum laboris, the General Secretariat also took into consideration the reports submitted  by the parish priests during the three-day working session of the International Meeting Parish Priests  for the Synod, and of some working groups: the five groups set up by the General Secretariat of the  Synod for an in-depth theological study of five areas of reflection, in the wake of what was repeatedly  requested by the Assembly (the face of the missionary synodal Church; the missionary synodal face  of the groupings of Churches; the face of the universal Church; the synodal method; the «place» of  the synodal Church in mission), and a specific commission of canon law experts set up to support the  work of the theologians.

In this sense, the Instrumentum laboris can truly be considered a document of the Church that has  been able to dialogue with various sensitivities and different pastoral spheres.

3 Who wrote the Instrumentum laboris

Like any other document of the General Secretariat of the Synod related to the synodal process, the  Instrumentum laboris (IL) is the fruit of a work that involved a large number of people from different  parts of the world and with different competences. First of all, a group of theologians (men and  women, bishops, priests, consecrated men and women, and lay people) from different continents, but  also the members of the XV Ordinary Council of the General Secretariat of the Synod accompanied  by some Consultors of the same Secretariat.

An initial version of the document was then also sent to about seventy people, representing the entire  People of God (priests, consecrated men and women, lay people, representatives of ecclesial realities,  theologians, pastoral workers and a significant number of pastors) from all over the world, of various ecclesial sensitivities and from different theological ‘schools’. This wide-ranging consultation was  done to remain consistent with the principle of circularity (what comes from the grassroots, goes back  to the grassroots) that animated the entire synodal process. This verification of the material prepared  in the light of the reports received was also an exercise, on the part of the General Secretariat, of that  accountability which characterises the synodal Church.

Finally, after due modifications, the IL returned to the Ordinary Council which, after a series of  amendments, approved it and transmitted it to the Holy Father for final approval.

4 How is the Instrumentum laboris structured? 

The Instrumentum laboris consists of five sections. After the Introduction, the IL opens with a  section dedicated to the Foundations of the understanding of synodality, which re-proposes the  awareness matured along the way and sanctioned by the First Session. Three closely interwoven  Parts follow, illuminating the missionary synodal life of the Church from different perspectives: (I)  the perspective of Relationships – with the Lord, between brothers and sisters and between Churches  – which sustain the vitality of the Church far more radically than its structures; (II) the perspective  of Paths which support and nourish in concreteness the dynamism of relationships; (III) the  perspective of Places which, against the temptation of an abstract universalism, speak of the  concreteness of the contexts in which relationships are embodied, with their variety, plurality and  interconnection, and with their rootedness in the wellspring of the profession of faith. Each of these  Sections will be the subject of prayer, exchange and discernment in one of the modules that will mark  the work of the Second Session.

5 This Instrumentum laboris appears, in its structure, somewhat different from the  previous one which contained many sheets with many questions, why was this  structure chosen? 

The Assembly is an evolving reality and the Instrumentum laboris is at the service of the Assembly  and not vice versa! If in the First Session it was necessary to bring out convergences in the face of the  many questions that emerged from the broad consultation of the People of God at the local, national  and continental levels, it is now necessary that from these convergences a consensus can be reached.  While in the First Session the members were asked to choose the thematic area in which they wished  to make their contribution, in the Second Session, all the members will address the same text and  discuss the same proposals.

6 The Instrumentum Laboris is for the members of the XVI Assembly, but how can  local synodal groups and, in general, the faithful who will not participate in the  October Assembly use it? How can they contribute to the work in October? 

The Instrumentum laboris is mainly addressed to the members of the Second Session of the XVI  General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. However, it is also a valuable tool for individual groups  at the diocesan and national level who wish to continue their journey of reflection and discernment  on how we walk together as a Church; and to carry out ecclesial initiatives.

For example, the IL can be a special occasion for a meeting – even a virtual one – among members of  the Assembly and, at least, the national team in the phase of preparation for the October meeting, also  through the synodal method of Conversation in the Spirit. In this way, the representative function of  the individual members of the Assembly can be made tangible.

In any case, it is important that those who are interested in the synodal conversion of the Church with  a view to mission, continue their commitment so that the ecclesial dynamism initiated with the  consultation of the People of God in 2021, does not wane, and that the exercise of co-responsibility  in the mission of the Church continues to develop at the local level, as is already the case. Moreover,  the IL will certainly help to understand how important it is for the faithful to accompany the work of  the Assembly with prayer, asking the Holy Spirit – the true protagonist of the work in October – to  support the great task entrusted to the members of the Assembly.

7 The Instrumentum Laboris mentions a theological subsidy. What is it  about?  

To accompany the relatively concise Instrumentum laboris, the General Secretariat of the Synod  deemed it opportune to offer some guide lines to the theological and canonical insights (Insights) into  the themes present in the IL. This theological subsidy is meant to help the members of the Assembly  in the first place – without however excluding a wider circle of recipients – to recognise and understand  the roots and implications of what is contained in the IL. «Deepening» from a theological point of  view means: highlighting the reference of the individual topics to Sacred Scripture, to the Tradition  of the Church, to the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, to the recent Magisterium of the Bishop  of Rome of the world episcopates. To ‘deepen’ from the canonical point of view means: to show how  discernment with respect to individual topics can be translated into regulated and verified practices  also through the normative instrument.

Rather than an organic text, the subsidy will be presented as a series of «glosses» to the IL. In fact, an  updated version of the IL will contain some references to the Subsidy in the margins of the individual  chapters.

8 What can we expect from the conclusion of the Synod? 

The celebration of the Second Session of the XVI Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops will  not mean the conclusion of the synodal process. The Apostolic Constitution Episcopalis Communio (EP), which governs the entire synodal process, reminds us that the synod is basically made up of  three phases: consultation of the faithful, discernment by the pastors and the implementation phase.  These three phases are not only to be understood in a chronological sense. In fact, with the celebration  of the XVI Ordinary Assembly, according to EP, we would be in the phase of discernment of the  pastors, which would be followed by the time of reception of the work of the Assembly by the local  communities. However, the discernment of the pastors accompanied almost the entire synodal process  (i.e. already in the consultation phase, which in fact already saw the discernment of the pastors at the  local, national and continental level). Moreover, it can be attested that the ‘implementation’ phase  already began immediately after the first meetings. The synodal ‘fruits’ are already numerous: many  are the testimonies of those ecclesial realities that have changed their ecclesial actions in a synodal  sense with a greater co-responsibility of all the baptised faithful. Therefore, the conclusion of the  Second Session will not be the end of the synod process, but only an important moment in the pastors’  discernment.

On the other hand, in previous synods, a final document was approved and delivered to the Holy  Father. This document contained some indications that the Assembly wished to deliver to the Pope.  The latter, usually after a few months, would deliver to the entire Church a document called a Post Synodal Exhortation containing some provisions related to the topic addressed. It can be expected  that this Assembly would also produce a final document to be handed over to the Holy Father for  possible exhortation. It is that the purpose of the Synodal Assembly is to offer guidance to the Pope.  The Synod is consultative and not deliberative.

9 Some topics have been entrusted to the 10 working groups set up by Pope Francis.  How should this decision be interpreted? Is it a way of removing these themes  from the Assembly’s debate? 

From the beginning, Pope Francis insisted that this Synod is not about this or that theme, but about  synodality, about how to be a missionary Church on a journey. The October Assembly and all the  theological questions and pastoral proposals for modifications on certain issues have this as their  purpose. The Assembly must therefore be a time in which each participant, placing oneself within a  journey that began in 2021 and bringing the «voice» of the people of God from which one comes, will  invoke the help of the Holy Spirit and that of their brothers and sisters to discern God’s will for His  Church: it is not an opportunity to impose one’s own vision of the Church.

At the same time, Pope Francis welcomed the convergence that the members of the Assembly had  expressed during the First Session around a series of relevant issues concerning the life and mission  of the Church in a synodal perspective on which the Assembly had reached a consistent consensus,  almost always above 90%, by setting up 10 ad hoc working groups. These are major issues, some of  which require to be dealt with at the level of the whole Church and in collaboration with the  Dicasteries of the Roman Curia. It is therefore not a matter of removing certain issues from the debate  of the Assembly, which has already expressed a convergence as to their importance, but rather of  providing useful elements from a theological and canonical point of view to offer to the ministry of  Peter. These groups are therefore already to be considered a fruit of the synodal journey. These groups  are involving experts and Bishops from different parts of the world, identified on the basis of their  expertise and respecting the variety of geographical origins, disciplinary backgrounds, gender and  ecclesial condition necessary for an authentically synodal approach. They are collecting and  enhancing existing contributions on the topics assigned to them. The Groups should complete their work if possible by the end of June 2025.  

10 Where can I find the IL? 

The Instrumentum laboris can be found in various languages on the official website of the General  Secretariat of the Synod (www.synod.va) where an ad hoc section has been created for the work of  the Second Session of the XVI Assembly. In addition to the IL, this section also contains a FAQ,  Infographics, and other documents useful not only for the preparation of the members of the assembly  but also for any other person or group wishing to deepen their understanding of the Synodal Church.

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