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June 2008

Vol. XIV, No. 4

Synod on the Word of God
Lineamenta offers preview of synod's studies

by Helen Hull Hitchcock

The 12th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops will be held in the Vatican October 5-26, 2008. The theme is “The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church”.

The Synod on the Word of God will be a continuation of the 2005 Synod on the Eucharist, according to Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, secretary-general of the Synod of Bishops, who presented the “lineamenta”, or preliminary guidelines for the synod, on April 27. According to the Preface to the Lineamenta, the topic was favored by the bishops after the last synod, and was announced by Pope Benedict in October 2006. The Introduction to the Lineamenta says that the “synod’s underlying purpose and primary goal” is to set forth “the intrinsic connection between the Eucharist and the Word of God.”

Revelation, life, mission

The Lineamenta consists of an Introduction and three chapters, each of which is followed by several questions for reflection.

The three chapters are:

Chapter 1, “Revelation, the Word of God and the Church”, which examines the need for revelation, the relationship between Tradition and Scripture, and the task of interpreting the Word of God in the Church.

Chapter 2, “The Word of God in the Life of the Church”, which focuses on how the Church was born and lives by the Word of God.

Chapter 3, “The Word of God in the Mission of the Church”, which stresses that the Word of God must be accessible to everyone, everywhere, and at all times. “Listening to the Word of God must always take into consideration its ecumenical dimension”, it says; and points out that Scripture is “a light for interreligious dialogue” with the Jewish people and with those of other faiths.

In his address to the Synod of Bishops council meeting in January of this year, Pope Benedict gave particular stress to the importance of evangelization and ecumenical dimension of the Church’s mission, centered on the Word of God:

Among the Ecclesial Community’s many and great duties in today’s world, I emphasize evangelization and ecumenism. They are centered on the Word of God and at the same time are justified and sustained by it. As the Church’s missionary activity with its evangelizing work is inspired and aims at the merciful revelation of the Lord, ecumenical dialogue cannot base itself on words of human wisdom (cf. I Cor 2:13) or on neat, expedient strategies, but must be animated solely by constant reference to the original Word that God consigned to His Church so that it be read, interpreted and lived in communion with her. In this area, Saint Paul’s doctrine reveals a very special power, obviously founded on divine revelation but also on his own apostolic experience, which confirmed anew the awareness that not wisdom and human eloquence, but only the power of the Holy Spirit builds the Church in the faith (cf. I Cor 1:22-24; 2:4ff.).

The Lineamenta with its questions was originally sent to bishops March 25, 2007, with a request for responses, which would form the “instrumentum laboris”, or working document, for the synod when it convenes at the Vatican this fall.

Archbishop Eterovic said that the 2008 synod, which will take place more than 40 years after the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on Scripture, Dei Verbum, will seek to identify “within the universal Church, the positive results [the Constitution] has brought to the people of God, especially as concerns biblical renewal in the fields of liturgy, theology and catechesis.”

He noted that “unresolved and problematic aspects persist, for example phenomena such as ignorance concerning the doctrine of the revelation and of the Word of God, as well as the significant detachment of many Christians from the Bible.”

Synod officials, representatives

Pope Benedict XVI made two key appointments for the Synod of Bishops on January 13 of this year. Cardinal Marc Ouellet of Quebec will be the relator-general, and Bishop Wilhelm Emil Egger, of Bolzano-Bressanone, Italy, will be the special secretary.

Members of the synod from the United States are Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB); Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson; USCCB vice president, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Houston; and Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington. Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia and Bishop William Skylstad of Spokane, Washington, were named alternate delegates.

Pope Benedict XVI ratified the selection of the US bishops who voted to recommend delegates during the USCCB plenary meeting last November in Baltimore. Confirmation of the appointments came earlier this year in a letter to Cardinal George from the General Secretary of the Synod of Bishops, Archbishop Nikola Eterovic.

This will be the second synod presided over by Pope Benedict XVI. (The first was the Synod on the Eucharist in October 2005, which led to his Apostolic Letter, Sacramentum Caritatis. At that synod, Pope Benedict shortened the length of the meeting to three weeks, and introduced free interventions of the assembly.)

The Synod of Bishops is a permanent institution established by Pope Paul VI in 1965 as a way to maintain the level of collegiality among bishops reached at the Second Vatican Council.

The Introduction and most of Chapter I appears in this issue. (Footnotes are indicated but omitted. The bracketed numbers were inserted because of a duplication in the Vatican original.)

The complete document is accessible on the Vatican web site: www. vatican.va/roman_curia/synod/documents/rc_synod_doc_20070427_lineamenta-xii-assembly_en.html.

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