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What’s in the Instrumentum Laboris? A document for the whole Church | Synod on Synodality

Julian Paparella

Saturday, July 22, 2023

Cardinal Grech, Cardinal Hollerich, and the Synod Secretariat present the Instrumentum Laboris for the 2023 General Assembly of the Synod on Synodality.
On June 20, 2023, the Working Document (commonly known as the Instrumentum Laboris or “IL”) was published for the Synodal Assembly taking place in Rome this October. This Assembly will be the first of two sessions bringing the Synod on Synodality to fruition at the level of the universal Church. The second session is scheduled to take place in 2024. 
Every Synod has a Working Document as the basis of its work. So what’s so special about the Working Document for this Synod?
For starters, the worldwide, grassroots process that has been the heart and soul of the current Synod has been unprecedented. Never before has such a wide cross-section of the entire Church been involved in a process of consultation, listening, dialogue, and common discernment. The process began in October 2021 at the diocesan level, listening to people in the grassroots in parish basements, church halls, and diocesan centres. The Diocesan Phase was followed by a Continental Stage with gatherings on all continents.
The current Working Document thus comes as the fruit of a long process that has taken place across the globe, beginning with the most local levels of the Church. As a result, the Working Document for the upcoming Assembly is more representative than ever of the true pulse of the People of God around the world, bringing together their voices and concerns in a frank and authentic way in an ongoing process of discernment. We also know that this upcoming Synodal Assembly in October will be unprecedented in its composition and methodology. For the first time ever, the Synod will include “non-bishop” voting members, including lay men and women – a total of 70 of them. All of this in an effort to listen deeply to the voice of God, which speaks through the unity and diversity of the entire Church, and not just through one small subsection. 
At the press conference presenting the Working Document, Cardinal Mario Grech (General Secretary of the Synod) summarized the newness of this particular IL as follows:
The IL is not a document of the Holy See, but of the whole Church. It is not a document written at a desk. It is a document in which all are co-authors, each for the part he or she is called to play in the Church, in docility to the Spirit. You will not find in the text a theoretical systematic explanation of synodality, but the fruit of a Church experience, of a journey in which we have all learnt more by walking together and questioning ourselves on the meaning of this experience. I can say that the IL is a text in which no one's voice is missing: that of the Holy People of God; of the Pastors, who have ensured ecclesial discernment with their participation; of the Pope, who has always accompanied us, supported us, encouraged us to move forward. The IL is also an opportunity for the entire People of God to continue the journey that has begun, and an opportunity to involve those who have not been involved so far.
So, what’s in the document?
The Working Document begins by recounting “the journey so far,” highlighting the joys and graces that have been experienced through the many encounters that have taken place around the world over the course of this Synodal Process. At the same time, it expresses the realization that the journey doesn’t stop here but is ongoing. It has not yet reached all the corners of the Church, and there is still much more that God expects of us in this path of renewal. 
The body of the text is then concentrated around two central themes. The first focuses on the vocation of the Church to experience synodality more deeply, and to become a more synodal Church. The second presents communion, participation, and mission as the three priorities for a synodal Church. Looking through the document, one is immediately struck by the fact that it does not provide “almighty” answers or pre-packaged solutions – there is no pre-set agenda here! Rather, the text is characterized most of all by the many questions that it poses, on the heels of what was heard around the world in the Synodal Process up until now.
In this sense, the three key priorities of communion, participation, and mission are each accompanied by a question that can serve as a compass for the whole Church, for our Christian communities, and for our own lives as witnesses of Jesus in the world today:
  1. In seeking a communion that radiates, how can we be more fully a sign and instrument of union with God and of the unity of all humanity? (B 1)
  2. As we work towards sharing our common mission in a spirit of co-responsibility, how can we better share gifts and tasks in the service of the Gospel? (B 2)
  3. In terms of participation, governance, and authority, what processes, structures, and institutions are necessary for a missionary synodal Church? (B 3)
In keeping with this refreshing style of openness, the document concludes with a series of worksheets – a brand-new feature that was never included in any Working Document for previous Synods. These worksheets are made up of questions that help us to delve more deeply into the three main questions listed above, about our ability to live out communion, participation, and mission as a synodal Church in today’s world. 
The hope and idea is that these questions will be the centre of the reflection and dialogue that will take place under the guidance of the Holy Spirit at the Assembly this October. But they are not meant to stop there: the questions are offered as a powerful resource of renewal for our parishes, dioceses, and Catholic organizations around the world! As the Working Document itself says, “We ask that the Assembly be a time of outpouring of the Spirit, but even more that grace accompanies us when the time comes to put its fruits into action in the daily life of Christian communities throughout the world” (#8). The format, contents, and style of this Working Document – more than any of its predecessors – makes clear that this Synodal Process is not just about a meeting in Rome, but rather about the journey of the whole Church in which we are all key players, wherever we find ourselves. 
To that end, here is the series of questions that comprise the worksheets of the Working Document. They are presented here to whet our appetite and nourish our hearts and minds on the path of synodal transformation in us and around us. Let us ask ourselves: how do they resonate with us, and how might they provide a helpful compass in renewing our Church communities and the mission we share in the world today? If you find yourself wanting to reply to any of these questions, please feel free to share your thoughts on our social media channels.
A communion that radiates
  • How does the service of charity and commitment to justice and care for our common home nourish communion in a synodal Church?
  • How can a synodal Church make credible the promise that “love and truth will meet” (Ps 85:11)?
  • How can a dynamic relationship of gift exchange between the Churches grow?
  • How can a synodal Church fulfil its mission through a renewed ecumenical commitment?
  • How can we recognise and gather the richness of cultures and develop dialogue amongst religions in the light of the Gospel?
Co-responsibility in mission
  • How can we walk together towards a shared awareness of the meaning and content of mission?
  • What should be done so a synodal Church is also an ‘all ministerial’ missionary Church?
  • How can the Church of our time better fulfil its mission through greater recognition and promotion of the baptismal dignity of women?
  • How can we properly value ordained Ministry in its relationship with baptismal Ministries in a missionary perspective?
  • How can we renew and promote the Bishop’s ministry from a missionary synodal perspective?
Participation, governance, and authority
  • How can we renew the service of authority and the exercise of responsibility in a missionary synodal Church?
  • How can we develop discernment practices and decision-making processes in an authentically synodal manner, that respects the protagonism of the Spirit?
  • What structures can be developed to strengthen a missionary synodal Church?
  • How can we give structure to instances of synodality and collegiality that involve groupings of local Churches?
  • How can the institution of the Synod be strengthened so that it is an expression of episcopal collegiality within an all-synodal Church?
Holy Spirit, come, set us on fire, to renew us and our communities on the path of communion, participation, and mission in the world today. Inspire us to do our part to take up the torch that You desire to light in our midst. Amen.

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