Report on the Synodal Process Leading to Publication of Sacramentum Caritatis

Author: Archbishop Nikola Eterović

Report on the Synodal Process Leading to the Publication of Sacramentum Caritatis

Archbishop Nikola Eterovie
General Secretary of the Synod of Bishops 

Post-Synodal Exhortation a 'ripe fruit' of recent Synod

Experience of ecclesial communion

The Lord Jesus gave his disciples' a golden rule for evaluating human activity by its results: "No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; for each tree is known by its own fruit" (Lk 6:43-44).

This saying of Jesus Christ springs to mind on the happy occasion of the presentation of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis. The Document, which the Holy Father Benedict XVI signed on 22 February, Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, is truly a good fruit that has ripened over a long period of prayer, dialogue, reflection and discussion, in attentive listening to what the Holy Spirit is saying today to the Churches (cf. Rv 2:7). Their representatives, Successors of the Apostles, met in Rome from 2 to 23 October 2005 at the 11th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, at which the Holy Father Benedict XVI, Successor of the Apostle St. Peter, Bishop of Rome and universal Pastor of the Church, presided.

Representatives of the consecrated life and the apostolic life, lay Auditors, as well as a certain number of Fraternal Delegates, members of the Christian Churches and communities not yet in full communion with the Catholic Church, also took part in the Synod in their various capacities.

They all lived an experience of strong communion with God and among the brothers and sisters from the five continents, who belonged to various races and spoke many languages and had rather different sensibilities.

They were all, however, deeply united, aware that the diversity of charisms, ministries and operations came from one source, from one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit (cf. I Cor 12:4-6), and that it was oriented to one good: the unity of God's holy Church (cf. Jn 17:21).

This spiritual dimension of communion formed the background of the Synod Meeting. It remains a precious treasure for all those who took part, even if it is difficult to quantify or describe it with clear connotations. The atmosphere of deep ecclesial communion, however, is perceived in the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, which can therefore be presented as the mature fruit of the long synodal process.

Preparation for the 11th Ordinary General Assembly

The synodal process began with enthusiasm after the public announcement on 13 February 2004 that the Servant of God John Paul II had chosen for the 11th Ordinary General Assembly the theme: The Eucharist: Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church.

Therefore, assisted by some sound experts, the 10th Ordinary Council of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops began to examine the theme and its relevant doctrinal and pastoral aspects in order to prepare the Lineamenta. The purpose of this document is to present briefly the status quaestionis of the topic of the Synod's reflection in order to open a broad discussion on the universal Church level.

According to the Statutes of the Ordo Synodi Episcoporum, which reflect the hierarchical structure of the Church, the privileged conversation partners are the collegial organisms: Synods of the Eastern Catholic Churches sui iuris, Bishops' Conferences, Dicasteries of the Roman Curia and the Union of Superiors General.

It was, of course, also possible for individual members of the People of God to make their contribution.

The Lineamenta were forwarded to those concerned around Easter 2004, and served to fuel the discussion of the Eucharist among all the living forces of the particular Churches. From a practical viewpoint, the Questionnaire at the end of the document was very important. It aimed to facilitate a deeper examination of the individual aspects of the theme, the perception of the Eucharistic Mystery, its celebration and its consequences in ecclesial and social life.

By the end of 2004 the bodies questioned had sent in their answers; 95 percent of those who had received the questionnaire responded. After careful examination, these answers were set out in the four chapters of the Instrumentum Laboris: I) The Eucharist and today's world; II) The faith of the Church in the mystery of the Eucharist; III) The Eucharist in the life of the Church, and IV) The Eucharist in the mission of the Church.

This work was done by the Ordinary Council of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops with the help of several experts. The document was published at' the beginning of 2005 and widely disseminated. it was, however, of particular interest to those who were to speak at the Synodal Assembly, given that it actually served as the Agenda of the Synod.

The Instrumentum Laboris reflected the Eucharistic practices of, the particular Churches. On the whole, the information was positive and comforting, despite the presence of certain shortcomings, gaps or abuses in the celebration of the sublime Sacrament of the Altar which must be corrected or overcome in a spirit of humble acceptance of the great gift of God-Love and profound adoration. This, moreover, must necessarily be mirrored in the Eucharistic life of every member of the faithful and of the entire community in today's ecclesial and social life.

Work in the Synodal Assembly

It was then the task of Cardinal Angelo Scola, Patriarch of Venice, as General Relator, to indicate in the Relatio Ante Disceptationem the salient aspects of the Instrumentum Laboris which resulted from a broad ecclesial consultation, and to outline certain important topics to be discussed and examined, taking into account the great Tradition of the Catholic Church and the changing social conditions in which our contemporaries live and work.

Numerous interventions by the Synod Fathers followed, the 232 scheduled and spontaneous addresses in addition.

The Auditors as well as the Fraternal Delegates were also entitled to speak. Assisted by the Special Secretary and by several experts, the General Relator gathered the wealth of contributions in the Relatio Post Disceptationem, whose text was discussed in 12 circuli minori, study groups divided into the five languages of the Synod: Italian, French, English, German and Spanish-Portuguese. These groups formulated numerous suggestions which were subsequently brought together in the 50 Propositiones.

The members of the Synodal Assembly, after further discussion leading to considerable improvements, expressed their opinions on these Propositiones through personal voting. The Propositions were then presented to the Holy Father Benedict XVI with the request that he would take them into consideration for the expected draft of the Final Document, usually called "Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation", destined for the entire Catholic Church.

Pope Benedict XVI's contribution

The Holy Father Benedict XVI was elected to the office of Bishop of Rome and universal Pastor of the Church on 19 April 2005, after the Lord of Life had called to himself — on 2 April 2005 — the Servant of God John Paul II. It was John Paul II who had called for the celebration of the 11th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops.

It fell to the new Pontiff to confirm it. His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI promptly did so on 13 May 2005 by confirming the convocation of the Synodal Assembly from 2 to 23 October 2005.

At the same time, he suggested that certain modifications be made to the duration and methodology of the celebration. The most important of these concerned the duration of the Synodal Assembly, reduced to three weeks instead of the customary four, and the introduction of an hour for optional interventions at the end of the general daily sessions to encourage a livelier discussion.

By confirming the validity of the synodal experience and in continuity with it, His Holiness Benedict XVI desired to add his innovative touch, which derived, moreover, from his own vast experience as a Synod Father.

The Holy Father followed the work of the Synodal Assembly very closely, taking part in all salient moments. As President of the Synod of Bishops, he presided at the Holy Masses for the Opening and Closing of the Synod, delivering Homilies rich in content on the sublime mystery of the Eucharist, the everlasting source of the Church's holiness and mission.

The Holy Father focused on the Bishops' Meeting in several of his Angelus reflections as well as in the Catecheses he addressed to the children preparing for their First Communion.

The most eloquent initiative was the Eucharistic Adoration in St. Peter's Basilica at which Pope Benedict XVI presided in silent recollection, together with the Synod Fathers and the faithful of Rome who had come to show their deep reverence for the Risen Lord, present in the heart of his Church under the species of bread and wine.

Two interventions by the Holy Father in the Synod Hall were of particular importance.

With the first, he introduced the meditation on the Hour of Terce with which every morning's session began. With' the second, he made a splendid contribution to the relationship between the traditional Hebrew meal and the Eucharistic Banquet instituted by Jesus Christ at the Last Supper and entrusted to the Church until the end of time.

The Supreme Pontiff had also inherited the Year of the Eucharist proclaimed by his Predecessor, John Paul II at the close of the Eucharistic Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico, on 17 October 2004.

The Congress: was due to close with the celebration of the 11th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops dedicated to the mystery of the Eucharist. The Year of the Eucharist was a providential event which had a remarkably positive influence on the Synod of Bishops.

The Synod Fathers felt in communion with the entire, living Ecclesial Community which was praying for them, worshipping the same Mystery that the members of the Synodal Assembly were discussing in an atmosphere of faith, hope and charity.

Furthermore, particularly during the Year of the Eucharist, the Holy Father Benedict XVI delivered numerous Homilies and Addresses on the sublime Sacrament of the Altar. It was a rich doctrinal, pastoral and spiritual heritage which also converged in the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis. This process extended beyond the end of the Year of the Eucharist, as demonstrated for example by the numerous citations in it of his first Encyclical Deus Caritas Est, promulgated by the Holy Father on 25 December 2005.

Therefore, Sacramentum Caritatis is an example of collegial collaboration in drafting such an important Document. It is a Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation since it has gathered a multitude of contributions from the last Synodal Meeting.

In addition to the Relatio Ante and Post Disceptationem texts, we must also remember the Message to the People of God, the Reports of the 12 study groups and especially the 50 Propositiones which have been incorporated into Sacramentum Caritatis.

This abundant material was examined and worked on by the 11th Ordinary Council of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops with the help of several experts; it was submitted to the Holy Father with the Synod Fathers' request that he would make it a Document for the good of the universal Church.

As it is easy to see, His Holiness accepted their proposal and made abundant use of the material from the Synod on which he has impressed his Petrine charism, enriched with his own reflections on the topics of Eucharist, priesthood and fraternal charity that flow from it for all, especially the poorest of the poor.

It logically follows that Sacramentum Caritatis is a mature fruit of the 11th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops and of the exemplary collaboration of the members of the Episcopal College with one another and with their Head, the Bishop of Rome. The Synod of Bishops is the best environment where this collaboration can take place in fruitful ecclesial communion that makes possible the exercise of affective and effective episcopal collegiality.

'Sacramentum Caritatis', a starting point

The Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis continues the series of important Documents on the sublime Sacrament of the Eucharist, such as, for example, those of the Servant of God John Paul II Ecclesia de Eucharistia and Mane Nobiscum Domine. Sacramentum ' is a follow-up of these, and at the same time presents once more in a modern form a few essential truths of Eucharistic doctrine, recommending that the sacred rite be celebrated with- dignity. It also recalls the urgent need for a daily Eucharistic life, proclaiming the surpassing beauties of our God who out of love wants to stay with us under the veil of bread and wine as the source and goal of the life and mission of his Church.

The promulgation of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation in the middle of Lent enabled us to put into practice what the Holy Father proposed in his Message for Lent 2007, that is: "Let us live Lent, then, as a 'Eucharistic' time in which, welcoming the love of Jesus, we learn to spread it around us with every word and deed" (Message for Lent 2007, L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 21 February 2007, pp. 6, 7).

This process, begun in Lent, is destined to extend not only during the liturgical year but also throughout the life of every member of the faithful who belongs to the Ecclesial Community.

Therefore, it only remains for the faithful and for people of good will to follow the example of Mary, Woman of the Eucharist, that is, to live this great mystery and to proclaim it in their words and especially through the example of their lives.

In this perspective, Sacramentum Caritatis has a promising future because it presents anew the essence of Christian life, the source of holiness and mission for all ages, including our time.

There is no doubt that the People of God, guided by their Pastors, will draw copiously from this Document, which, presenting in an accessible way to contemporary man the great truths on the Eucharistic faith, treats various aspects of topical subjects in its celebration and exhorts them to renew their commitment to building a world that is more just and more peaceful, in which the Bread broken for the life of all may become more and more an exemplary cause in the fight against hunger and against every form of poverty, which at the same times cries out to reach the ears of the Lord of hosts (cf. Jas 5:4) and debases the dignity of the human being created in God's image (cf. Gn 1:26-27).

In Divine Providence, the fruit of a good tree is given to people so that they may eat it and be nourished by it. Similarly, it is hoped that Sacramentum Caritatis, a ripe fruit of the 11th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, will become a delicious food, savoury and nourishing, for the spiritual life of the members of the Catholic Church in all its riches as a sacrifice, a banquet and a pledge of future glory, of which the members of the Church and the Christian Communities, of other religions and all people of good will, may be increasingly able to enjoy.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
30 May 2007, page 6

L'Osservatore Romano is the newspaper of the Holy See.
The Weekly Edition in English is published for the US by:

The Cathedral Foundation
L'Osservatore Romano English Edition
320 Cathedral St.
Baltimore, MD 21201
Subscriptions: (410) 547-5315
Fax: (410) 332-1069