to the Diocesan Synod, October 11, 2004
St. Isidore Parish, Yuba City
In the life of the Church, the two most authentic embodiments of the very essence of the Diocesan Church are: first, the Stational Mass, at which the Diocesan Bishop presides, and, second, the Diocesan Synod, at which he also presides.
At the Stational Mass, the Diocesan "Bishop...celebrates the Eucharist...surrounded by his college of presbyters and by his ministers, and with the full active participation of all God's holy people." (Ceremonial of Bishops 119). The most perfectly typical Stational Mass is the Mass of the Chrism, as the Diocesan Bishop, presiding in his Cathedral Church among his college of presbyters, with his ministers assisting, blesses the Holy Oils, amid the liturgical participation of the People of God of the Diocese.
At the solemnization of the Diocesan Synod, the Diocesan Bishop in council makes provision for the nourishment and shepherding of that portion of God's holy people entrusted to his charge, by taking counsel with the Members of the Synod, drawn from each and every state of life and order in the Diocese
Of course, ever since the Passion, Death, Resurrection and Ascension of our Savior, Jesus, we live in the Era of the Holy Spirit and of the Spirit's bride, the Church, which was inaugurated by the outpouring of the gift of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. In consequence, these two prime actualizations of the Church, the Mass and the Synod, are, first and foremost, the work of the Holy Spirit, singular and proper to the Spirit.
In the Liturgical Action, the Mass, in the prayer immediately preceding the consecration, called the Epiclesis, that is "the invocation to aid," the priest spreads his hands over the offerings and prays, "Let your Spirit come upon these gifts to make them holy, so that they may become for us the body and the blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ."
In response, the Holy Spirit comes into the midst of the Eucharistic Assembly and actuates the priest's sacramental character of orders, in order that he may be an effective instrument in the hand of God to change the bread and wine into the body and blood of our Lord. It is the supreme work of the Holy Spirit.
Likewise, in the pastoral action of governance through consultation in communion, which is the Diocesan Synod, it is the Holy Spirit who inspires the Diocesan Bishop to convoke this assembly; it is the Holy Spirit who inspires and guides all the preparatory work; it is the Holy Spirit who answers our joint appeal for help as members of the Synod by coming into our midst, in synod assembled; as in the Mass, the Spirit joins our assembly to actuate the sacramental character of Baptism in each member of the Synod, in order that, together, they may exercise the prophetic function of their common Baptismal priesthood; they do so by offering their consultative counsel on the topics proposed to them by the Diocesan Bishop presiding, for his deliberative consideration.
It is in virtue of that common priesthood of Baptism, in which every baptized person participates, that all the members of the Synod, whether clergy or laity, are called together, each on an equal footing.
Indeed, I venture to assert that it is with that prophetic function of the common baptismal priesthood particularly in mind, that the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council set forth long since what one may call the charter laying out the theological foundation of every Diocesan Synod. It is found in section 12 of the Council's document, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium. There the Fathers of the Council declare:
"The holy People of God shares also in Christ's prophetic office: it spreads abroad a living witness to him....The whole body of the faithful who have an anointing that comes from the Holy One (cf. 1 Jn. 2:20 and 27) cannot err in matters of belief. They exhibit this endowment, that belongs uniquely to them, in the supernatural appreciation of the faith of the whole people (sensus fidei, [that is, that instinctive sensitivity and power of discernment, which members of the Church possess in matters of faith. - Translator'], when, "from the bishops to the last of the faithful," [as St. Augustine puts it], they manifest a universal consent in matters of faith and morals. By this appreciation of the faith, aroused and sustained by the Spirit of truth, the People of God, guided by the sacred teaching authority (magisterium), and paying heed to it faithfully, receive not the mere word of men, but truly the word of God (cf. 1 Th. 2:13), the faith once for all d elivered to the saints (cf. Jude 3). The People of God unfailingly (indefectibiliter) adheres to this faith, penetrates it more deeply with right judgement, and applies it more fully in daily life."
The Fathers of the Council go on to display their profoundly rich understanding of this unique endowment of the People of God, but particularly with reference to the laity, by continuing as follows:
"It is not only through the sacraments and the ministrations of the Church that the Holy Spirit makes holy the People of God, leads them and enriches them with his virtues. Allotting his gifts according as he wills (cf. 1 Cor. 12:11), he also distributes special graces among the faithful of every rank. By these gifts he makes them fit and ready to undertake various tasks and offices for the renewal and more ample and effectual upbuilding of the Church, as it is written, ‘the manifestation of the Spirit is given to everyone for the common good' (cf. 1 Cor. 12:7). Whether these charisms be very remarkable or more simple and widely diffused, they are to be received with thanksgiving and consolation since they are especially fitting and useful for the needs of the Church...It is the prerogative of those who have charge over the Church, and within whose special competence it lies, to judge the genuineness and the ordered exercise of these gifts, not indeed to extinguish the Spirit , but to test all things and to hold fast to what is good (cf. 1 Thess. 5:12 and 19-21)." (Lumen Gentium 12.2)
As I have suggested, there lies the theological charter of the Diocesan Synod. The Synod efficacy rests upon the following foundations:
First, the participation of the People of God, and, in consequence, the participation of those who are duly qualified Members of the Synod, in the prophetic function of Christ's priesthood through their incorporation into the common priesthood of Baptism "by regeneration and the anointing of the Holy Spirit." (Lumen Gentium 10)
Second, the unique endowment of the whole People of God, with that supernatural appreciation of the faith, aroused and sustained by the Spirit of truth, — the sensus fidei— that instinctive sensitivity and capacity for discernment in regard to the content of the faith handed down to us, which members of the Church possess through the anointing they have received that comes from the Holy One.
Third, the consequent capacity of the People of God to adhere observantly to this faith, to penetrate it more deeply with right judgement, and to apply it more fully in daily life.
Fourth, the special graces distributed among the faithful of every rank by the Holy Spirit, which make them fit and ready to undertake tasks for the more ample and effectual renewing and upbuilding of the Church.
These gifts bestowed by the anointing that comes from the Holy One - the prophetic function, the sensus fidei, the capacity for right judgement in penetrating more deeply and applying more fully in daily life the faith received, the special graces distributed by the Holy Spirit for renewal and upbuilding - these are precisely the gifts and qualifications which make you, the Members of the Synod, aptly qualified to engage effectively and fruitfully in the Synodal dialogue with the Diocesan Bishop by your consultative counsel offered on the topics proposed by him, and with one another in the process of reaching a consensus on the counsel to be offered.
And, yet, we must not forget that both Synod and Diocese are only a portion of the whole People of God, and that, in consequence, the Synod lacks the gift of indefectibility, of being protected from error in adhering to, penetrating and applying the faith received; as only a part of the whole, we lack the inability to err that belongs solely to the whole body of the faithful.
Likewise, our charter reminds us insistently of that healthy and health-giving dynamic tension between the Believing Church, receiving, and bearing unerring witness to the factual content of, the faith handed down to us, and the Teaching Church, the college of bishops with the Pope as their head, enjoying full authority to define doctrine. (See "The Shape of Catholic Theology", Aidan Nichols, O.P., Liturgical Press 1991, 221-229)
Our charter reminds us that in exercising the sensus fidei, that supernatural endowment of appreciation and discernment of the faith received, the People of God are always guided by the sacred teaching authority in the Church and of the Church — the magisterium, and they always pay heed to that authority faithfully.
Our charter reminds us that it is the prerogative of those who have charge over the Church, and within whose special competence it lies, to judge the genuineness and the ordered exercise even of those special graces which the Holy Spirit distributes among the faithful.
I am heartened, as we face this great undertaking, by the fact that the Holy Spirit here present in our midst leads and guides you, the members of the Synod, in the exercise of the gifts he has bestowed — prophetic discernment, the sensus fidei to recognize the content of the faith handed down to us, the capacity for right judgement and discriminating application of the faith received.
I have unwavering assurance that the Holy Spirit will inspire this Synodal body to offer me secure counsel to enable me to make wise provisions for the renewal and the more ample and effectual upbuilding of the People of God of this diocese, and for their peaceful shepherding in the footsteps of our chief shepherd, the Lord Jesus.
The mighty wind of the Spirit is already blowing in our midst, as in a latter-day Pentecost. Let us unfurl the sails of our special spiritual graces and gifts to catch it and run before it to the safe haven already prepared for us.
"Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and enkindle in them the fire of your love: Lord, send forth your Spirit and they shall be created: and you will renew the face of the earth."
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