Comments after the October Synodal Assembly oscillate between enthusiasm about the experience and disillusionment about the few tangible results, including virulent or fearful criticism from people faced with anticipated or fantasized changes. What can we take for granted?
Let us see here three symbols which mark a decisive step. As we know, a symbol is a sensible reality revealing a non-sensible reality. In the theological tradition, the lex orandi (the way we celebrate) to which we could associate a lex congregandi (the way we gather to govern) express the faith of the Church (the lex credendi). These symbols are therefore not details. They express the meaning of the action and reveal a horizon, perhaps better than the texts themselves.
Tables mixing bishops and laity
The most visible symbol broke out into multiple photos relayed millions of times. The Assembly (ecclesia in Latin) was organized in a completely new way: large tables mixing all ministries and states of life, in both functional and symbolic circles, all on the same horizontal plane with the exception of the Pope’s table with the leaders of the Synod. We have seen it, but have we properly measured what is meant here? With the words of the Second Vatican Council’s constitution on the Church, we have seen that “Even if some, by the will of Christ, are instituted doctors, dispensers of the mysteries and pastors for the good of others, nevertheless, as for the dignity and activity common to all the faithful in the edification of the Body of Christ, true equality reigns among all” (n. 32). If there is here the expression of a lex congregandi, the multiple local ecclesial meetings linked to governance will have to draw a lesson calling for sometimes substantial modifications.
The symbol least noticed in the media is nevertheless the most essential for the faith, and also the oldest. At the start of the session, a book of the Gospels was brought in procession and enthroned on the platform of the Paul-VI room. This rite was practiced for the first time at the Council of Ephesus in 431. Both the chronicle of the time and the commentary of Saint Cyril of Alexandria note and comment on this rite. Thus the second writes: “The holy Council assembled in the holy church of Mary and made Christ, so to speak, one of its members and the head of the Synod. The holy Gospel was in fact placed on a holy throne. » Certainly, the book was a little lost on the large platform of the Paul VI room, without a candle and with only a large icon of Mary as distant company. But he presided, and through him Christ himself. This conviction of faith has always been rooted in the promise of Jesus: “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Mt 18:20).
The croix of San Damiano
The most discreet symbol illuminated the Assembly with the spiritual and reforming lights of the history of the Church, both to exhort it and to give it hope. A reproduction of the Crucifix of San Damiano was placed at the entrance to the Paul-VI room, symbolically welcoming the participants with its 1.90 meter height, on a human scale. However, this cross played an essential role in the conversion of Saint Francis of Assisi and his subsequent mission. According to the first Vita, he heard him say to him: “Go and repair my house which, you see, is falling into ruin. » This is so well known that everyone, entering for a session, could hear themselves saying these words. And in case it was necessary, this crucifix was commented on during the “Together” ecumenical prayer vigil preceding the session itself. Two words resonate here about “my house”, that of Christ. The “ruin” is more than paradoxical. Christianity brings together around 2.7 billion human beings, of whom 1.37 billion are Catholics. What ruin are we talking about then? Certainly the internal state affected by the loss of attractiveness and credibility, of which the abuse crisis is a major cause. “Repair” is an ambiguous command.
Positively, it calls for action without delay. But it could suggest a goal which would be a return to a previous state to function as before, if we take the analogy of a boat or a car. But it is not a question of that, but of a profound change commensurate with the changing times underway.
The scale of the process undertaken
These three symbols allow us to perceive the scale of the process undertaken. There were in fact more than formal and concrete decisions. The transformation is theological, spiritual and… radical. It can reassure those fearful of a parliamentary drift. The presidency of the Book of the Gospels alone placed the Assembly in a context fundamentally different from a consultative or deliberative body specific to democracy. The transformation also opens a very clear horizon to all those who hope for a Church ever more capable of hearing the cries of suffering humanity and of offering it a path of faith and love. The first synodal session therefore revealed the deep meaning of the Synod. The second session should focus on the concrete and canonical implementation of the milestones set.