By Lacy de la Garza
Special to The Texas Catholic
This is a special time for the Church in Dallas. We have the opportunity to address the abject loneliness and uneasiness that we see in our diocese, present before yet magnified on the heels of a global health crisis that has changed the world. Many lives are upended and our relationships with God may look different than they did before. The Church wishes to respond to the needs of the people in our diocese. Thus, as the shepherd of our diocese and with our best interest in mind, Bishop Edward J. Burns has chosen to call the third diocesan synod to be held in 2024.
A diocesan synod has four phases that begin with the pre-preparatory phase, which we are in now. This pre-preparatory phase lasts until the official synod launch Mass on Dec. 12, 2021. With this opening Mass, we will move into the second phase which is known as the preparatory phase. The primary work of the preparatory phase is to listen to the people of God, and invite participation in our listening sessions which will be held across the diocese. This work leads to the writing of the synodal directory and the resolutions which will be discussed at the actual synod meeting. The third phase of the diocesan synod process is the actual synod meeting itself, which for Dallas will take place in 2024. This meeting is comprised of some canonically appointed members and others whom will be appointed by Bishop Burns during the preparatory phase.
As Chair for the Synod Preparatory Commission, it is my responsibility to ensure proper administration of the first three phases of our diocesan synod in accordance with Bishop Burns’ vision, in service to the people of God in the Diocese of Dallas. I, alongside the 25 other members of the preparatory commission, were appointed to our roles by Bishop Burns. We will continue to meet with regularity to ensure this work is done, all voices are heard, and that we move forward with the guidance of the Holy Spirit to improve our diocese. Intentionally, the preparatory commission members were chosen “from amongst the clergy and other faithful who are distinguished by their pastoral prudence and by their professional competence and who, in so far as possible, reflect the various charisms and ministries of the People of God” (Instruction on Diocesan Synods, 1997).
The two primary duties of the preparatory commission are to write the synodal directory and to write the resolutions that will be discussed at the actual synod meeting that takes place in 2024. The synodal directory dictates the composition of the synod, identifying who participates in the synod, the norms by which elections of synodal members are to be conducted, the various offices to the exercised in the synod, and the “modus procedendi” (procedural norms) of the meeting of the synod. The resolutions are the substance of what is discussed and then voted on at the actual synod meeting. They are distilled down from the listening sessions which will take place in 2022 and 2023, and represent the shared expressions of the people of God who attend these sessions.
It is important to know that the synod will in no way affect the doctrine of the Catholic faith. The synod is not going to change doctrine, or even entertain changing doctrine, yet will address issues of administration, formation, and catechesis. Said another way, it will address how people encounter the faith. The example I commonly give is to imagine that you wish to baptize your child. In this imaginary example, to register for a child’s baptism you may need to turn in a paper form in person to a parish office before they close at 4 p.m., yet you work until 6 p.m. In this example, you do not directly encounter the Catholic doctrine of baptism, yet the practices of this imaginary parish represent the experience of how you encounter the faith and thus affect your perception of Catholicism. Another example comes from the recently completed synod for the Diocese of Springfield, IL, which resulted in changing the order of sacraments in their diocese to Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist. These are two examples of the type of topics that could be addressed in our synod.
I strongly encourage you to remain informed with what is going on in our synod and to prayerfully consider being a part of this process. Volunteer opportunities will open soon, and in addition to volunteering, attendance at the upcoming catechetical and listening sessions is also encouraged. I have confidence that the synodal efforts for Dallas will remain animated by the Holy Spirit. This synod will allow us to intentionally discern together how our local Dallas church can improve the practical application of our Catholic faith that governs how individuals, families, and communities encounter Christ.
Lacy de la Garza serves as the Chair of the Synod Preparatory Commission for the Diocese of Dallas.