Quoting St. John Paul II, the new constitution says that while the synod “normally has a merely consultative function,” this “does not diminish its importance.” Rather, the vote of the synod fathers "if morally unanimous, has an ecclesial quality that overcomes the merely formal aspect of the consultative vote.” This, Baldisseri explained, is more important that a specific margin of voting.
Other sections of the constitution substantially affirm recent synodal processes and regulations, including on the synod’s composition and structure, which members have voting rights, and the three distinct synodal phases of preparation, assembly, and implementation.
In the preparatory phase, information on the announced theme of the synod is gathered through study commissions, local consultations conducted through the diocesan bishops, and a pre-synod meeting - if one is convoked. The new norms also provide the option for such pre-synodal meetings to be held at a regional level.
The second phase is the actual assembly of the synodal fathers and other members, while the third phase is the implementation of the synod’s conclusions in the particular Churches.
Episcopalis Communio underlines the importance of bishops listening to the voice of lay Catholics, saying that “the Synod of Bishops must increasingly become a privileged instrument for listening to the People of God.”
“Although in its composition [the Synod] appears as an essentially episcopal organism, the Synod does not therefore live separate from the rest of the faithful. On the contrary, it is a suitable instrument to give voice to the whole People of God precisely through the Bishops, constituted by God as ‘authentic guardians, interpreters and witnesses of the faith of the whole Church,’” the document states.
This principle is recognized in the canonical norms of the constitution itself. Article 7 of Episcopalis Communio states that the right of the faithful to send their own contributions for the synod directly to the secretary general “remains integral” to the process.
The Synod of Bishops acts as a temporary and occasional advisory body to the pope on issues of pastoral importance to the Catholic Church. It was established by Bl. Pope Paul VI with the motu proprio Apostolica sollicitudo in 1965.
While the synod itself is a temporary body called into being by the pope, it has a permanent general secretariat in the Roman Curia.
There are three types of synod assemblies a pope can call: ordinary, extraordinary, and special. Next month’s meeting will be an extraordinary assembly, as was 2014’s synod on the family.
A special assembly is usually convoked to discuss an issue related to a particular geographical region, such as the upcoming special assembly on the Amazon, which will take place in October 2019.
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