Vol. XIV, No. 3
Synod on the Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church
by Helen Hull Hitchcock
A synod of the world’s bishops on the subject of Scripture will take place October 5-26, 2008.
The preliminary guideline for the synod, titled “The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church”, was posted in April on the Vatican web site by the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops.
Called Lineamenta, the document’s four chapters provide comments on the topics to be covered followed by questions concerning, for example, the use of Scripture in the Church, in the Liturgy, in the daily lives of believers, and in ecumenical situations.
The Lineamenta document outlines the purpose of the Synod on the Word of God, and says that
The Church’s primary task is to assist the faithful in understanding how to encounter the Word of God under the guidance of the Spirit. In a particular way, she is to teach how this process takes place in the spiritual reading of the Bible; how the Bible, Tradition and the Magisterium are intrinsically joined by the Spirit, and what is required of the believer to be guided by the Holy Spirit received in Baptism and the other sacraments (§19).
“Today, important ideas are emerging in a manner seldom before expressed”, the Lineamenta observes, and this factor underscores
the duty of exegetes and theologians to study and explain the Scriptures according to the mind of the Church; interpreting and teaching the Word of the Bible in conjunction with the Church’s living Tradition and vice versa; keeping uppermost in mind the heritage of Church Fathers on the subject; relying on the guidance of the Church’s magisterial teachings; and accompanying the work with intelligence and a spirit of loyalty (§23)
The Lineamenta frequently refers to Dei Verbum [The Word of God], the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on Scripture, as well as the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Among the many questions for reflection the document poses are these:
4. The Bible as the Word of God
Why are Christians eagerly seeking the Bible today? What effect does the Bible have on the life of faith? How is the Bible received in the non-Christian world? And among people of [various cultures]? Does a proper approach to the Scriptures always exist? What are some of the more common failings? Describe the faithful’s understanding of the charism of inspiration and truth of the Scriptures. Do the faithful realize that the spiritual sense of Scripture is the final sense willed by God? How is the Old Testament received? If the Gospels are read more often, is the knowledge and reading of them satisfactory? What are overwhelmingly considered the “difficult pages” of the Bible today, and what approach should be taken in their regard?
5. Faith in the Word of God
How do believers look at the Word of God? Do the faithful listen to the Word of God with a deep faith and do they aim at re-generating their faith by it? Why do the faithful read the Bible? What criteria for discernment are used by believers in reading the Bible?
6. Mary and the Word of God
Why is Mary the Model and Mother of listening to the Word of God? Is the Word of God received and lived as she did? How can Mary become the Model for every believer of listening, meditating upon and living the Word of God?
In a section in Chapter II, on Liturgy and Prayer, we read,
The Church has learned to discover and welcome God who speaks through liturgical prayer — as compared to personal and communal prayer — in a unique manner. Indeed, Sacred Scripture is a liturgical and prophetic reality in which the Holy Spirit proclaims and bears witness, beyond what is attested in written form, to the actual event of Christ’s life in this world. Acknowledging that liturgical celebrations spread a knowledge and love of Sacred Scripture, the Church’s ongoing task is to put into practice the letter and spirit of the Second Vatican Council on the use of the Word in the Liturgy. This requires a vibrant process of renewal, both qualitative and quantitative, which is a call to the faithful to reflect in common on the Council’s various directives. (§21)
The Instrumentum Laboris, or working document, will summarize bishops’ reflections on the subjects introduced in the Lineamenta, and this will give further direction to the bishops’ discussions.
It is the usual practice for the pope to issue an apostolic exhortation following a world Synod of Bishops. Sacramentum Caritatis, issued February 22, 2007, was Pope Benedict’s exhortation following the Synod on the Eucharist.
In Sacramentum Caritatis, Pope Benedict emphasized the importance of the Liturgy of the Word:
[I]f it is to be properly understood, the word of God must be listened to and accepted in a spirit of communion with the Church and with a clear awareness of its unity with the sacrament of the Eucharist. Indeed, the word which we proclaim … is inseparably linked to Christ’s person and the sacramental mode of His continued presence in our midst. Christ does not speak in the past, but in the present, even as He is present in the liturgical action. In this sacramental context of Christian revelation (136), knowledge and study of the word of God enable us better to appreciate, celebrate and live the Eucharist. (§45)
As the production of vernacular texts for both Scripture and Liturgy continues, a synod of bishops on the Word of God may be of crucial importance.