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Fr Billy Swan

At the Spring Meeting of the Episcopal Conference this year, the Irish bishops decided to embark on a synodal pathway for the Catholic Church in Ireland leading to the holding of a National Synodal Assembly with the next five years. Prior to this synod, there will be much reflection on the life of the Irish Church through the lens of a synodality model that seeks to consolidate the bonds of communion between all members of the Church and to foster a sense of co-responsibility for the mission of the Church. This shift from a passive to participative model of Church began in earnest at the Second Vatican Council and has been promoted ever since. In the ‘Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church’ published in 2004, ‘Participation’ is included among eight principals of the Church’s social teaching. In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI said: ‘it is necessary to improve pastoral structures in such a way that the co-responsibility of all the members of the People of God in their entirety is gradually promoted…This demands a change in mindset, particularly concerning lay people. They must no longer be viewed as "collaborators" of the clergy but truly recognized as "co-responsible", for the Church's being and action’.[1] Here is a call for all the baptised to actively participate in the life of the community. Unlike a democratic model, participation in the life of the Church is predicated on our participation through grace in the life of the Trinity and is celebrated by actively participating in the liturgy, especially the Eucharist.[2] The forthcoming synod and preparatory work will be an opportunity to engage with the gifts of all the baptised and open up new possibilities for leadership, liturgical renewal and shared pastoral responsibility. Whatever the future of the Church in Ireland, it already seems clear that the Irish Church will be newly participative or will not be here at all.

[1] Opening Address to a Pastoral Convention, Rome, 26th May 2009. [2] ‘Through the Holy Spirit we are all called participators of God…we enter to form part of divine nature through participation in the Spirit’ St Athanasius, Letter to Serapion, I, 14; ‘This is our vocation. To become divine, to become God through participation’. St John of the Cross, Spiritual Canticle, 22, 3.


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