January 6, 2022
One thing that has already come forth from the synod is Pope Francis’ clear desire to see the vision of Vatican II fully implemented. We witness this in the way the Synod is organized primarily through local parishes and dioceses. The Synod itself is embodying a vision of the Vatican II Church, one where the universal church is embodied in the local church. This vision of Church, it’s called a Communion Ecclesiology, is the dominant image of Church from the Second Vatican Council. It also underpins the synodal path we are following.
A couple of points about this vision of Church. There are both vertical and horizontal dimensions to it. That is, as the baptized we are invited to deepen our participation in and with the life, death and resurrection of Christ (the Paschal Mystery). This is the vertical dimension of Church. We are one community and we participate and express our belief in the triune God, a God whose very being is a relation of persons, a communion, a mutual indwelling of Father, Son and Spirit.
If we are to express who we are, and we are image of this God, then we most fully express this identity when we are together, when we are in relationship, when we are a communion, hence the name: communion ecclesiology. When we celebrate the sacraments of the Church, we are both participating in this reality and we are manifesting this reality. For example, when a person is baptized what do we say? We are baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and this is lived out how? One way is in our celebrations and especially in the Eucharist, the high point of all our sacramental celebrations. In this celebration we are most fully who we are as image of the triune God in and through our relationships with one another! Eucharist is the most radical social act we do.
The horizontal component: this is our life together as a community, as a communion wherein we live out the vertical relationship with God. We are to live out what it means to be in relationship with a triune God, to live out what it means to be part of the life, death and resurrection of Christ. In other words, we care for one another. We follow the example of the Gospel. We give ourselves away through actions of forgiveness, compassion and mercy. As MT 25 35-40 lays it out for us, for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me . . .
Vatican II also envisioned the horizontal dimension as manifested structurally. That is, the Church universal is understood to be organized as a communion of local churches each of whom are living out these vertical and horizontal dimensions and who are in union with each other under the leadership of their bishop and with Rome under the leadership of the Pope (Bishop of Rome). And each of these local Churches most fully manifests the reality of the universal Church when it gathers to celebrate the Eucharist. In other words, the universal Church exists most fully in the local church and by local church Vatican II meant what we call a Diocese understood to be part of one reality, one communion.
Not to get bogged down in the details but it is precisely here, at the local level that the synod is focusing its efforts. It is our voices that need to speak, our concerns and our dreams that need to be shared and heard so that this vision of Church, a true communion, can finally take hold.