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2014-2015 Synods of Bishops on the Family

 

On October 8, 2013, Pope Francis announced that in October 2014 there would be an Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on topics related to the family and evangelization. Subsequent communications made clear that the Extraordinary General Assembly would be followed by an Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in October 2015, on the same topics. On April 8, 2016, Pope Francis issued an apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia ("The Joy of Love"), which is a result of his prayerful reflection on the discussions and outcomes of both synods. For information about Amoris Laetitia, go to this page.

The content below provides a brief overview of the Synod of Bishops and the two Synods of Bishops on the family and evangelization. It is meant to aid the Catholic faithful in learning about these important events in the life of the Church.

Table of Contents

Basic Information about the Synod of Bishops

What is the Synod of Bishops?

The Synod of Bishops is a permanent institution of the Catholic Church. It was established by Pope Paul VI in 1965, shortly after the close of the Second Vatican Council, to continue the spirit of collegiality and communion that was present at the Council. The Synod is an assembly of bishops from around the world who assist the Holy Father by providing counsel on important questions facing the Church in a manner that preserves the Church's teaching and strengthens her internal discipline. (See the Vatican website and Code of Canon Law, canon 342)

When does the Synod of Bishops meet?

The Synod of Bishops meets at the request of the Holy Father, when he considers it necessary or opportune to consult with the world's bishops.

What are the meetings of the Synod of Bishops called?

The Synod of Bishops can meet in a General Assembly (or Session) on topics that pertain to the entire Church; these kinds of sessions can be either Ordinary or Extraordinary. The Synod of Bishops can also meet in a Special Assembly (or Session) on topics that pertain to a limited geographical area. For example, Special Assemblies have been held in recent years on topics concerning the Middle East and Africa.

What is an Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops?

A General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops is called "Ordinary" if its topic is "for the good of the universal Church" and seems to require the "learning, prudence and counsel" of all the world's bishops (Ordo Synodi Episcoporum, 4).

What is an Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops?

A General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops is called "Extraordinary" when it is convened to deal with matters "which require a speedy solution" (Code of Canon Law, canon 346 §2) and which demand "immediate attention for the good of the entire Church" (OSE, 4).

Who are the heads of the Synod of Bishops?

The President of the Synod is the current Holy Father, Pope Francis. The Synod also has a General Secretary, who is currently Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri. (See the Vatican website for a list of past Presidents and General Secretaries.)

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III Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Family (2014)

This Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops was the third ever held; previous Extraordinary General Assemblies were held in 1969 and 1985.

What was the theme of the III Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops?

"The pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization"

What were the dates of the III Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops?

October 5-19, 2014

Where did the III Extraordinary Synod take place?

Vatican City

Which U.S. bishops attended the III Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops?

The full list of participants and auditors can be found on the Vatican News website. The bishop delegation from the United States included Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz (Louisville, USCCB President), Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan (New York, Member of the Ordinary Council of the Synod of Bishops), Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl (Washington, Member of the Ordinary Council of the Synod of Bishops), and Archbishop William C. Skurla (Byzantine Metropolitan of Pittsburgh, president of the Council of the Ruthenian Catholic Church). Two married couples from the United States were also invited to attend as auditors.

What was the purpose of the III Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops?

The Preparatory Document described the purpose of the III Extraordinary General Assembly as "to define the 'status quaestionis' [current situation] and to collect the bishops' experiences and proposals in proclaiming and living the Gospel of the Family in a credible manner." The Instrumentum Laboris said that the III Extraordinary General Assembly "will thoroughly examine and analyze the information, testimonies and recommendations received from the particular Churches in order to respond to the new challenges of the family."

What documents were released in advance of the III Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops?

November 2013: The Preparatory Document outlined the purpose of both the Extraordinary and Ordinary General Assemblies, provided a basic catechesis on the Gospel of the Family, and requested input from the world's bishops on nine questions about the current state of pastoral care for marriages and families.

June 2014: The Instrumentum Laboris contained the results of the consultation achieved via the Preparatory Document's questionnaire. This document provided a substantive reflection on the major challenges facing the family today, and outlined the topics that would be discussed at the Extraordinary General Assembly.

Addresses, Homilies and Documents from the III Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops:
Please visit the Vatican Synod page for additional addresses, in various languages.

  • October 5, 2014: Homily by Pope Francis at the Mass for the Opening of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family
  • October 6, 2014: Video presentation by Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz (USCCB President) on expectations for the Synod
  • October 7, 2014: Testimony by U.S. married couple Jeff and Alice Heinzen, "Marriage, a Life Journey of Authentic Love"
  • October 18, 2014: Address by Pope Francis for the Conclusion of the Third Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops
  • October 19, 2014: Homily by Pope Francis at the Closing Mass of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family and Beatification of the Servant of God Paul VI
  • October 19, 2014: Relatio Synodi (final report) of the Extraordinary Synod

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XIV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Family (2015)

The most recent Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops was held in 2012 (XIII Ordinary General Assembly on the New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith).

What were the dates of the XIV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops?

October 4-25, 2015. This Synod marked the 50th anniversary of the Synod of Bishops.

What was the theme of the XIV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops?

"The vocation and mission of the family in the Church and in the contemporary world"

What was the purpose of the XIV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops?

The XIV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops continued the work of the III Extraordinary General Assembly by "reflect[ing] further on the points discussed so as to formulate appropriate pastoral guidelines" for the pastoral care of the person and the family (Instrumentum Laboris, III Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops).

Where did the XIV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops take place?

Vatican City

Which U.S. bishops attended the XIV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops?

The full list of participants and auditors can be found on the Vatican News website. The bishops from the United States were Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz (Louisville, USCCB President), Cardinal Daniel DiNardo (Galveston-Houston, USCCB Vice President), Archbishop Jose Gomez (Los Angeles), Archbishop Charles Chaput (Philadelphia), Archbishop Blase Cupich (Chicago), Bishop George Murry (Youngstown), Cardinal Donald Wuerl (Washington, member of the Ordinary Council of the Synod of Bishops), Cardinal Timothy Dolan (New York, member of the Ordinary Council of the Synod of Bishops), and Bishop Kurt Burnette (Byzantine Eparchy of Passaic, NJ), representing Archbishop William Skurla (Archeparchy of Pittsburgh, Byzantine Catholic). Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone (San Francisco) was named as an alternate.

What documents were released in advance of the XIV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops?

December 2014: The Lineamenta, "The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and Contemporary World" contained the Relatio Synodi (final report) of the Third Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, together with an explanatory preface and a series of questions "aimed at knowing how the document is received and to generate an in-depth examination of the work initiated during the Extraordinary Assembly" (from the preface). As the Lineamenta explains, the results of the consultation based on the questions contained therein "will serve as the basis for the Instrumentum Laboris" for the Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in October 2015.

June 2015: The Instrumentum Laboris "The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and Contemporary World" served as the "working document" for the Ordinary Synod. It contained the Relatio Synodi text from the conclusion of the III Extraordinary Synod, along with a summary of the responses to the questions in the Lineamenta (see above). As explained by Cardinal Baldisseri in the Presentation of the Instrumentum Laboris, the three sections of the document "illustrate the continuity between the two Assembles": the first part, "Considering the Challenges of the Family" draws more directly from the Extraordinary Synod, the first phase of the Synodal process, while the second and third parts, "the Discernment of the Vocation of the Family" and "The Mission of the Family Today" introduce the topic of the Ordinary Synod, which has the "intention of offering to the Church and the contemporary world pastoral incentives to spur renewed efforts in evangelization."

Addresses, Homilies and Documents from the XIV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops: Please visit the Vatican Synod page for additional addresses, in various languages.
  • October 3, 2015: Prayer Vigil in Preparation for the XIV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops
  • October 4, 2015: Homily of Pope Francis at the Mass for the Opening of the Synod
  • October 5, 2015: Introductory Remarks by Pope Francis
  • October 24, 2015: Address of Pope Francis at the Conclusion of the Synod
  • October 25, 2015: Homily of Pope Francis at the Mass for the Conclusion of the Synod
  • October 25, 2015: Relatio Synodi (final report) of the Ordinary Synod on the Family

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Other Questions

What is the relationship between the III Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops and the XIV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops?

The Instrumentum Laboris for the III Extraordinary General Assembly notes that the work of the Synod of Bishops "is to take place in two stages, forming a single organic unity." The Extraordinary General Assembly could be understood in a certain sense as a preparatory step for the Ordinary General Assembly. At the Extraordinary General Assembly, the bishops defined the current state of the family and challenges that face it; at the Ordinary General Assembly, the bishops formulated pastoral guidelines to respond to those challenges.

Was a document issued after the two Synods of Bishops?

Yes. On April 8, 2016, Pope Francis issued an apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia ("The Joy of Love"). For more information about this document, go to this page.

When was the last time a Synod of Bishops discussed marriage and the family?

The most recent Synod of Bishops on the theme of the family took place in 1980 (V Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops). Pope St. John Paul II's 1981 apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio, on the role of the Christian family in the modern world, was written at the request of that Synod's Fathers.

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Prayer to the Holy Family

The Relatio Synodi (final document) from the 2015 Ordinary Synod of Bishops included this prayer, which is a slightly modified version of a prayer Pope Francis shared in a 2013 Angelus address.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
in you we contemplate
the splendor of true love,
to you we turn with trust.

Holy Family of Nazareth,
grant that our families too
may be places of communion and prayer,
authentic schools of the Gospel
and small domestic Churches.

Holy Family of Nazareth,
may families never again
experience violence, rejection and division:
may all who have been hurt or scandalized
find ready comfort and healing.

Holy Family of Nazareth,
make us once more mindful
of the sacredness and inviolability of the family,
and its beauty in God's plan.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph,

graciously hear our prayer.

Amen.


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