Synodality? To recover ecclesial spaces

Synodality is essential not only for recovering the legitimacy of ecclesial spaces. It’s also vital in exposing the neo-traditionalist and neo-integralist understanding of tradition that’s contrary to what Catholics believe about communal religious and liturgical experience.

Jun 26, 2021


By Massimo Faggioli

Synodality is essential not only for recovering the legitimacy of ecclesial spaces. It’s also vital in exposing the neo-traditionalist and neo-integralist understanding of tradition that’s contrary to what Catholics believe about communal religious and liturgical experience.

Synodality counters a neo-traditionalist idea of Catholicism that is actually anti-traditional, hyper-modern, and incompatible with the theological foundations of the ecclesia.

A synodal event in ecclesial spaces where the people of God can meet would save the Catholic conversation from virtualization and expose the ideological extremism responsible for our current ecclesial polarization.

Lived synodality (as opposed to the carefully manicured religious identities presented online and through social media) could save the Church from the new demagogy rooted in algorithms that render humanity a commodity.

Synodality would allow for a form of ecclesial accountability that does not yield to the tribal and moralistic gnosticism of our online lives, where the perception of the lived dimension is largely shaped by the social media dynamic of “influencing.”

The upcoming synodal process could also counter the risk of sectarianism.

On paper it may look like a bureaucratic undertaking, but in fact synodality is about sacramentality and the Church as a sacrament: “The Church is in Christ like a sacrament or as a sign and instrument both of a very closely knit union with God and of the unity of the whole human race, it desires now to unfold more fully to the faithful of the Church and to the whole world its own inner nature and universal mission” (Vat II, Lumen Gentium, # 1)

In the long history of the Christian tradition, synods and councils have always had a liturgical core. Before and in addition to the debates and the deliberative sessions, synods are spiritual and liturgical moments.

There is an intimate relationship between the Eucharistic-sacramental moment of the liturgical assembly and the synodal moment of ecclesial life; this was clear even before Francis added the Jesuit element of “discernment” to the vocabulary of synodality.

One of the differences between Catholicism and sectarianism is that the Catholic Church is supposed to provide all its members access to the mystery, even when some of them feel they don’t have full access but remain in some way connected to the Church.

Maintaining this openness is easier when the institution isn’t obsessing over numbers (“How many people are going to Mass?”) and when there isn’t such a rigid vertical hierarchy from bishops to clergy to laity.

In the end, the synodal discernment will be in the hands of the bishops, but a truly synodal experience can bear fruit in time and space, beyond what is immediately measurable. It could also do something in the very near term: synodality is also a response to the sex-abuse crisis, and the liturgical aspect of the synodal events could help us see that the missing element in the Church’s handling of the scandal (especially in the United States) is a sacramental response.

Synodality is crucial to making space for the paradoxical in Catholicism, for a Catholic way to include and sanctify the messiness of the Christian experience.

Our Church is in cultural and political crisis, but there is also a crisis of the legitimacy of ecclesiastical structures, so that our encounter with the sacred in communal spaces is itself endangered.

That encounter must be experienced; otherwise, people leave, especially if they already sense that the hierarchy is governing access to the sacred through procedural means aimed at exclusion. This is the framework in which we should think about matters like the blessing of gay couples in Germany or Joe Biden’s access to the Eucharist.

It reveals the dangers of the non-Catholic understanding of the Church being advanced at the highest levels of the hierarchy.––Commonweal Magazine

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