Towards the Plenary Council – Part Six

What is Synodality?

There can be a good deal of confusion about synodality in the Church at the moment because it is a rather new idea to Catholics. The word is used for formal Church gatherings in other Christian Churches, but to get a better idea of what it means it is helpful to listen to Pope Francis talking about it.

In Pope Francis’ Address commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Roman Synod of Bishops, he stated the following: “A synodal Church is a Church which listens, which realizes that listening ‘is more than hearing’. It is a mutual listening in which everyone has something to learn. The faithful people, the college of bishops, the Bishop of Rome: all listening to each other, and all listening to the Holy Spirit, the ‘Spirit of truth’, in order to know what (the spirit) ‘says to the Churches’”.

This is looking towards a different way of being the Church: a Church which does not just work from the top down but a Church in which there is interplay between all levels of the Church’s life. This is not a Church in which some teach and some learn but a Church in which there is mutual listening and learning.

Listening is a crucial element in this way of seeing and living the life of the Church. It is not about a democratic voting system but about an openness to God’s ways, to the quiet guidance of the Holy Spirit. So it implies that a synodal structure is not about being present with all the solutions worked out and ready to give them to others but about being open and ready to listen to others and to let new approaches emerge from the discussions.

This is going to take time and new awareness on everyone’s part – people, priests, bishops, theologians, experts etc. It is however a crucial new skill for all of us to learn for the sake of the Gospel and the effective mission of the Church.

By Fr Frank O’Loughlin


Towards the Plenary Council Parts One to Five are available on the Parish Blog.

Plenary Council


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