Last week, I noted that synodality is the way all members of Christ faithful participate in the mission of the Church and are co-responsible for the success of this mission. The ongoing synodal activity is titled “Synod on Synodality: Towards a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission”. Synod and synodality are two terms that can be confusing. This post intends to clarify the two terms.
Synod and synodality come from the same Greek root σύνοδος (synodos)which means “walking together”. However, since the early Church, the word “synod” has been used to refer to ecclesiastical assemblies convoked at various levels, wherein discussions are made to resolve challenges facing the Church. In this case, the term “synod” loosely corresponds to the term “council”, which is an assembly convoked by a legitimate authority.
The 1983 code of canon law categorises some assemblies as councils (Concilium in Latin) such as the ecumenical council (Cann. 337 – 341) and particular council (Cann. 439-446); and on the other hand, some assemblies as synods (Synodus in Latin) such as the synod of bishops (Cann. 342-348) and the diocesan synod (Cann. 460-468). Pastoral council and presbyteral council differ because the original text in Latin uses “consilium” instead of “concilium”.
Now, the synod of bishops is a group of bishops selected from different parts of the world, who meet on various occasions to assist the Pope regarding decisions on faith, morals, ecclesiastical discipline, and mission of the Church in the world (Can. 342). Only the Pope convokes the synod, and the function of the synod is to discuss matters he proposes to it and make recommendations to him. Pope Paul VI established the synod of bishops in 1965 with the apostolic letter, Apostolica Sollicitudo.
The synodal assembly of bishops can be general or special (Can. 345). It is general (ordinary or extraordinary) when it discusses matters concerning the universal Church. The current synod on synodality with its three phases (diocesan, continental, and universal) adopts a format chosen by Pope Francis to promote participation. The final phase of discussions in October 2023 in Rome would be the 16th ordinary general assembly of the synod of bishops. A synodal assembly is special when it discusses matters concerning a particular region. The recent synod on the Amazon region was a special assembly. The synod of bishops also has a permanent general secretariat (Can. 348 §1).
The diocesan synod is an assembly of selected priests and other members of the faithful in a diocese which the bishop convenes to assist him in decision making regarding the good of the diocese (Can. 460).
Synodality, on the other hand, is how the entire Christian faithful walk forward together towards holiness and evangelisation, whilst listening to the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. This means that synodality is a “constitutive dimension” of the Church. In other words, the Church, by its nature, is synodal because the faithful have always walked and will continue to walk together towards the call of Christ to holiness and salvation of souls.
A synod is an assembly of selected members of Christ faithful while synodality involves all members. Synod is a one-off event that can be repeated, while synodality is a continuous process because the call towards holiness and salvation of souls is a continuous journey.
May God continue to help us.🙏🏾