The process for the Synod is very different from anything I’ve experienced in the Church of England. For one thing the programme is in Latin. My ancient languages are stronger than my modern ones so that’s not so much of a problem. My first form Latin teacher was right – it has come in useful!
We are dealing with one big subject over quite a long time rather than lots of big subjects in small bites. The subject for the Synod is identified several years in advance and there is very thorough preparatory work.
An initial list of questions is prepared (the Lineamenta – a kind of outline) and sent to all the Bishops Conferences and other institutions around the world. Responses are requested by a certain date. From those responses the Synod staff prepare the key preparatory document called the “Instrumentum Laboris” (I guess working tool would be a reasonably translation).
The Instrumentum Laboris summarises the responses to the Lineamenta and organises them into themes for discussion at the Synod. I normally have to take a very thick ringbinder to a four day meeting of the Church of England General Synod. The Instrumentum Laboris is an 80 page book and gives me, I think, everything I need to know. There is a realistic chance that everyone will have arrived having read the Instrumentum and prepared to discuss its themes together – a kind of level playing field.
The Instrumentum is divided into four chapters. The first and I think the strongest is the theological introduction to evangelisation entitled: “Jesus Christ, the Good News of God to Humanity”. This is the first paragraph and well worth pondering:
“The Christian faith is not simply teachings, wise sayings, a code of morality or a tradition. The Christian faith is a true encounter and relationship with Jesus Christ. Transmitting the faith means to create in every place and time the conditions which lead to this encounter between the person and Jesus Christ. The goal of all evangelisation is to create the possibility for this encounter, which is at one and the same time, intimate, personal, public and communal” (IL 18).
The second chapter has the title “Time for a New Evangelisation” and seeks to discern and map the changes in the world which affect how we live our faith and which influence our communities (social, cultural, media etc.). The term new evangelisation needs a post in itself. Chapter Three maps the basic classic places and ways the Church aims to transmit the faith. Chapter Four explores areas of newer areas pastoral activity which are a response to the changing cultural conditions. I guess we will hear more about these in the contributions to the Synod itself.
The Synod has the specific goal of producing a further document over the three weeks summarising the reflections of the Bishops and offered to set future direction and the agenda for future work. Hence the structure of the Synod is 12 days in plenary followed by around nine days in smaller groups then some final plenary sessions.
All the documents (including, I think, the responses to the Lineamenta) are posted on the Vatican website (www.vatican.va)