Mass marks beginning of synodal process in archdiocese

BOSTON -- As the global Church began its new liturgical year, a Mass celebrating the initiation of the "synodal way" took place at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross on Nov. 27, marking the official opening of the synodal year on the diocesan level.

Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley was the main celebrant of the vigil Mass of the first Sunday of Advent. Among the concelebrants were the archdiocese's local coordinators for the synod: Bishop Robert Reed, auxiliary bishop for the West Region and president of CatholicTV, and Father Paul Soper, archdiocesan secretary for Evangelization and Discipleship.

Invited guests included members of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council, who will play a significant role in the synodal process.

In his homily, the cardinal noted that the cycle of Sunday Mass readings would now feature the Gospel of Luke, which depicts Jesus traveling on a long journey to Jerusalem.

"It is very fitting that in this new year, Pope Francis is inviting all of us to be part of a journey together that he describes as a synodal journey," Cardinal O'Malley said.

The theme of the synod, which Pope Francis launched in October, is "For a synodal Church: communion, participation and mission." Whereas past synods were gatherings of bishops to discuss particular issues in the Church and in the world, the "synod on synodality" is meant to involve all the faithful, examining how the Church listens to people and what methods have worked well or poorly. The global consultation process will take place over two years, starting at the level of parishes and dioceses and then progressing to the national and international levels.

Cardinal O'Malley explained that the word "synod" means to journey together.

"At a time of such divisions and polarization in our country and the world, the Holy Father is inviting us to join together on a synodal way, where together we can help discover God's will for us," the cardinal said.

He said that a synod is not a convention or a session of government, but rather "a grace-filled event, a process of healing guided by the Spirit."

He spoke about how St. Luke's other book in the Scriptures, the Acts of the Apostles, also called "the Gospel of the Holy Spirit," reveals the first Christians' awareness of the Spirit working among them. They "allowed themselves to be led by the Spirit" as they chose a replacement for Judas, established the diaconate, and discussed how to receive Gentiles into the Church.

To participate in the "worldwide synodal experience," Cardinal O'Malley said, "we must pray hard and learn to listen to each other."

He emphasized that this includes hearing from "those who are often overlooked."

"We want to hear from those who are active in the Church, but we must also learn to listen to those whose viewpoint is different, seldom heard, on the edge," the cardinal said.

He said he hopes the Church can grow stronger by praying and talking about her mission. He also expressed the hope that this synodal way will help people to "be more than customers or consumers who come to Church to acquire a commodity," and help people see themselves "as protagonists in this Gospel of the Spirit, on a journey, a pilgrimage together."

"We hope that the synodal conversion the pope is inviting us to will allow us to discover our personal and communal vocations, sense of purpose, and mission," Cardinal O'Malley said.

In addition to consulting diocesan councils, the archdiocese has also invited the faithful to participate in the synodal process. A preliminary survey has been released online, asking for input about how the Church can better listen to her people at various levels. Focus groups will be organized in various communities, and plans are being made for five regional sessions open to the public.

The feedback collected during the diocesan phase will be compiled into a 10-page document, which will be submitted to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops shortly after Easter in 2022. The synod will conclude with a General Assembly at the Vatican in October 2023.