Instrumentum Laboris for the Synod 2023
Working tool of the first session of the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops
Nature of the Instrumentum laboris
As the Latin word suggests, the IL is first and foremost a working instrument, a document for the discernment of the participants in the work of the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. In this sense, the IL does not suggest answers, but notes, opens up and invites deepening.
The IL comes at the end of a long process of listening to the people of God in the local churches and the subsequent stages of discernment by the Bishops' Conferences and Continental Assemblies. However, the IL is not a summary of the journey so far, but rather the result (the fruit of experience) of what has been learned about the nature of the synodal Church. The IL is also the fruit of a discernment on the questions-tensions to be explored that are deemed necessary to bring about the synodal conversion of the Church in an evident and permanent way.
Here again, the question around which the entire document revolves is the same from the beginning of the synodal process, as formulated in no. 2 of the Preparatory Document (PD): «how does this ‘journeying together’, which takes place today on different levels (from the local level to the universal one), allow the Church to proclaim the Gospel in accordance with the mission entrusted to Her; and what steps does the Spirit invite us to take in order to grow as a synodal Church? »
The IL as a whole bears witness to the faith experience of the People of God and the points on which they feel called to take further steps to deepen the practice of the synodal dimension of the Church. The real protagonist is the Holy Spirit, who accompanied and guided the journey and infused the hope and confidence to move forward so that we can grow as a missionary synodal Church proclaiming the Gospel, in fidelity to the task entrusted to Her by the Lord.
Structure of the document and methodology of the Assembly
The structure of the IL is closely linked to its use during the work of the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops.
The Instrumentum laboris consists of a text and fifteen worksheets. Together they bring the fruits of the synodal journey so far in response to the fundamental guiding question (PD, 2).
The IL does not develop a theoretical understanding of the term 'synodality', but brings out a dynamic vision, which articulates the variety of ways in which synodality is experienced and understood in different parts of the world, and which requires further study.
Text and worksheets highlight the characteristics of the synodal Church, which have emerged through the experience of these two years, and the proceeding way that has been identified as a key element in becoming more and more a synodal Church (Section A); the three priority issues that emerge from the entire process and that require further in-depth discernment are then highlighted (Section B).
The three priority issues that will be at the center of the work of the Synodal Assembly in October 2023 are linked to the three words that constitute the theme of the Synod: the question of how to grow in communion by welcoming all, no one excluded, in fidelity to the Gospel; the question of concrete ways for co-responsibility, recognising and valuing the contribution of each baptised person in view of the common mission; the identification of structures and dynamics of governance through which to articulate participation and authority over time in a missionary synodal Church.
Each of these three priorities is developed by five worksheets: these are five different approaches to the same issue, enabling the diversity of people and social, cultural and religious contexts as they emerged during the process to be better appreciated and considered in discernment.
Each worksheet presents, a brief reflection resulting from the discernment carried out throughout the synod process. This is followed by the basic question for discernment to be carried out in the various working sessions and some points for prayer and preparatory reflection by each member of the assembly. These are, in most cases, genuine questions, but they must always be placed in the perspective of the fundamental question of how to respond to the Spirit's call to grow as a synodal Church.
In fact, the IL re-proposes in an original way the articulation of the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, which also consists of two parts, different in character and focus, «but is a unified whole» (GS, footnote 1). From this point of view, the Council Constitution can therefore be an inspiration for the work of the Assembly.