From Synodality to a creative pastoral approach

Journalists and commentators have been spilling a lot of ink over the recently ended “Amazon Synod.” And, naturally, they are mostly focusing on these three items that emerged from the Oct 6-27 gathering.

Nov 10, 2019

By Robert Mickens
Journalists and commentators have been spilling a lot of ink over the recently ended “Amazon Synod.” And, naturally, they are mostly focusing on these three items that emerged from the Oct 6-27 gathering:

1. The Synod Fathers’ recommendation that married men who are already permanent deacons be ordained to the presbyterate (priesthood) in certain cases.

2. The request for further study on how to formally recognise ministries carried out by women, including the possibility of allowing them to become deacons.

3. The Synod assembly’s suggestion that people of the Pan-Amazon region be allowed to develop a liturgical rite that better incorporates religious elements and expressions unique to their culture.

These recommendations, which all passed by at least a 2/3 margin among the 184 voting members, have deeply alarmed certain Catholics who boast of being “orthodox” and “faithful.”

Ignorance of Church history and theology or just mendacity?
The journalists among them have been saying apocalyptically that Pope Francis would fall into heresy if he were to implement the suggestions that came out of his “rigged” Synod assembly. The pope has already indicated that he will, in some way or another, advance these three proposals (among several others).

But claims that this would be a break with Church tradition are false. And those who make them – including presbyters and even some bishops and cardinals – must be ignorant of history and theology.

Otherwise, they are doing nothing else but engaging in that unique form of Trump-like mendacity where one repeats lies often and earnestly enough until people are convinced they are true.

First of all, Francis is not moving to end the celibate priesthood. Yes, he is opening a path that many reform-minded Catholics hope will lead, eventually, to the discontinuation of mandatory celibacy for diocesan priests.

This is not a break with tradition, nor is it heretical. It is actually a recovery of the oldest tradition in the Church – a priesthood of both married and celibate men.

Secondly, there is a wide body of evidence that women served as deacons in the early centuries of Christianity, though how and under what conditions seems to be a matter of further research.

And there are Orthodox Churches (with a big O) that have embraced this tradition and have reintroduced the female diaconate.

And, thirdly, in regards to the possibility of creating a special Amazonian liturgy (liturgical rite), this is also solidly in continuity – and is not a break – with the oldest Christian tradition.

The Amazon Synod marks animportant shift
Still, the “orthodox” Catholics (with a small o) are acting like these are novel innovations. They clearly are not.

But there is one thing these alarmists are dead right about – the Synod of Bishops’ special assembly for the Pan-Amazonian Region has marked an important shift.

This assembly “clearly signalled the end of nearly five centuries” of Tridentine Catholicism wrote La Croix’s Isabelle de Gaulmyn.

“We are still, consciously or unconsciously, largely dependent on this  Council (of Trent)… (which) structured Catholicism around the figure of the priest,” she wrote.

“The cleric, one single person, then becomes the central character. He concentrates on his person all the sacred functions, starting from the Eucharist and confession. This concept of the ideal priest – the “holy priest” identified with Christ, placed above the faithful and condemning them to be nothing more than a simple flock of docile sheep – has deeply marked the mentality of all Catholics, and has greatly favoured the prevailing ‘clericalism’, including among the laity.”

A Church more centred on the cultic priesthood than the Eucharist
This one paragraph sums up the type of Church and model of ordained priesthood that many Catholics – and not just the so-called traditionalist – want to preserve.

Whether it is out of nostalgia or a clericalist mentality, they do not want the Church they have always known to become “protestantised,” an anti-ecumenical phrase that even too many bishops carelessly use.

Catholics believe that the Eucharist is the “source and summit” of the Church’s life and activity (Lumen Gentium No. 11). Yet, as Gaulmyn points out, the Tridentine ethos has created a mentality and model of Church that, effectively, is more centred on the male cultic priest (sacerdos) than on the Eucharist.

She notes that even in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council (196265), this model and mentality are still solidly in place. But is she right that this latest Synod gathering marks the beginning of its end? --LCI ( com/)

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