Welcome to PlenaryPost
It is almost three-and-a-half years to the day since we announced that Pope Francis had given his approval for the Catholic Church in Australia to hold a plenary council. It was a long journey from the seeds of a national gathering until that approval, and the time since the official period of preparation began has seen the Church traverse drought, bushfire, floods and an ongoing pandemic.
Through all that, we stand just 10 days away from the Opening Mass, which Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB will celebrate at St Mary’s Cathedral in Perth. There have been moments when we wondered if we’d ever make it to this point, but led by the Holy Spirit and supported by a cast of thousands across the country, we’re within touching distance.
Keen followers of PlenaryPost will know that the newsletter normally comes out on the last Thursday of each month. This month, we’re sending it a week early because there are some timely updates that will help the thousands of people who receive the newsletter to prepare for the first general assembly.
Read on for a series of updates, including on prayers and liturgies, on the advisers to the Plenary Council, information on livestreaming during the first assembly and other news and notes from around the country.
Hundreds preparing for first assembly on behalf of us all
by Lana Turvey-Collins
There are just 10 days to go until…
20 Expert Advisers (periti)
A Canonical Committee
A Drafting Committee
A Steering Committee
And more than 150 volunteers and support staff
…will gather virtually to commence the celebration of the Fifth Plenary Council of Australia. It is the moment all of the People of God across Australia have played a part in bringing to fruition. Thank you to every person who has participated in listening and dialogue sessions, set up rooms and invited people to come and be part of something, has emailed, or called or prayed as part of this journey of discernment. It is indeed a final countdown to this very special moment for the Church.
Yet, in another way, it is another beginning. The commencement of the first general assembly opens the “Celebration” of the Plenary Council, which is scheduled for 10 months — beginning with the first general assembly, continuing the work of the Council between November 2021 and June 2022 and concluding with a second general assembly, to be held in-person (we pray!) in Sydney in July 2022.
In this edition of Plenary Post, you can find information on the livestreaming schedule for the week and you can access the prayer resources and liturgical materials which have been meticulously developed by the Plenary Council Liturgy Working Group, led beautifully by Sr Kerry Willison RSM. We encourage you to download and use these resources in your local community, parish, family or workplace to pray in solidarity with the members and others attending the Plenary Council.
Stay connected to the Plenary Council website for the week – it will be a one-stop hub of activity and it will keep all of the People of God up-to-date with the discernment and discussions happening throughout the week.
Earlier this week, members of the Plenary Council joined a formation session with Sr Nathalie Becquart, Undersecretary for the Synod of Bishops, which is planning the 2023 Synod on Synodality: Participation, Communion and Mission. She shared great wisdom on the topic of “No Synodality without Spirituality” and spoke of the experience of synodality being like the experience of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, and likened the living relationship of the Holy Trinity to the People of God in communion as a truly synodal church. She also noted that becoming a synodal Church is messy – and that this is normal. Personally, I took great comfort in this last part. ????
Please continue to share your stories of faith with one another, engage with the agenda in conversation around your dinner tables or in your online meetings. By speaking boldly, and listening deeply, we connect with one another, and together we continue to “listen to what the Spirit is saying”.
Yours in mission,
We will address a new question in each e-newsletter. To catch up on previous editions, you can check out the Plenary Council FAQ page. If you have a question, email it to us and we will include it in future editions of PlenaryPost.
The question for this edition is…
Who will attend the Plenary Council assemblies?
There will be three main groups of people attending the Council’s assemblies: Members; Advisers; and Observers.
Members of the Fifth Plenary Council of Australia are those who have been called to participate in the assemblies. Some of the members are people who “must” be called to a plenary council, as outlined in Church law; others are people who “may” be called, who were chosen through a range of processes across the country. The members have, at times, been referred to as “delegates” to the Council. The language of “member” better reflects the canonical status of those called to a Council, as well as the sense that all members are there to represent the People of God in Australia, not just their local Church community. Members are the only people who can vote at the Council assemblies. It is expected there will be 278 members at the assemblies.
Advisers to the Council are people with particular expertise across a range of matters, such as theology, Scripture, governance, formation, ecclesiology (study of the Church), who can be called upon by members, individually or collectively, to provide advice on particular matters to assist with their discernment and decision-making. Advisers are sometimes called “experts” or “periti”, a latin term used to describe the experts at the Second Vatican Council and other major Church events.
Observers are people who, as the name suggests, observe the proceedings of the Council assemblies because of their particular relationship with the Catholic Church in Australia. Following the tradition of other Church gatherings, the observers are likely to include Catholic leaders from other parts of the world, especially New Zealand, the Pacific and Asia; leaders of other Christian denominations; and leaders of other faith traditions.
Synodality: The Church, called to renew
We cannot ignore the variety of conditions in which Christian communities live in the different regions of the world. Alongside countries where the Church welcomes the majority of the population and represents a cultural reference point for the whole of society, there are others where Catholics are a minority; in some of these countries, Catholics, together with other Christians, experience forms of persecution, including some very violent ones, and not infrequently martyrdom.
If, on the one hand, a secularised mentality tends to expel religion from the public space, on the other hand, religious fundamentalism, without respect for the liberties of others, feeds forms of intolerance and violence that are also reflected in the Christian community and in its relations with society. Christians not infrequently adopt the same attitudes, even fomenting divisions and opposition, including within the Church. It is equally necessary to consider the reverberation, within the Church and in its relations with society, of the fractures caused by reasons of ethnicity, race, caste, or other forms of social stratification or cultural and structural violence, which run through the latter. These situations have a profound impact on the meaning of the expression “journeying together” and on the concrete possibilities of doing so.
Within this context, synodality represents the main road for the Church, called to renew herself under the action of the Spirit and by listening to the Word. The ability to imagine a different future for the Church and her institutions, in keeping with the mission she has received, depends largely on the decision to initiate processes of listening, dialogue and community discernment, in which each and every person can participate and contribute. At the same time, the decision to “journey together” is a prophetic sign for the human family, which needs a shared project capable of pursuing the good of all.
A Church capable of communion and fraternity, of participation and subsidiarity, in fidelity to what she proclaims, will be able to stand beside the poor and the least and lend them her own voice. In order to “journey together,” we need to let ourselves be educated by the Spirit to a truly synodal mentality, entering with courage and freedom of heart into a conversion process that is indispensable for the “continual reformation of which [the Church] always has need, in so far as she is a human institution”.
— From the Preparatory Document for the 2023 Synod of Bishops with the theme “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation and Mission”.
Catholics called to pray with, for Council members
The liturgies and prayers that will nourish and sustain the members of the Fifth Plenary Council of Australia have been published online to invite the Church nationally to pray with the members and for the upcoming first general assembly.
With public Masses suspended in large parts of the country, Mass will be broadcast on the Plenary Council website on each day of the assembly, starting with the Opening Mass on Sunday, October 3. Where communities can gather to celebrate Eucharist, they have the option to use the same prayers, readings and music that are being used for the official Masses.
“This historic moment is a time for deep prayer and discernment, and we are inviting everyone to play their part in praying for the Council and praying for and with the members, who have a particular role during the Council’s celebration,” Plenary Council president Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB said.
Find prayer resources for the first general assembly, including Mass booklets and prayer experiences, on the Plenary Council website.
Advisers, chairpersons named for Plenary Council
Some of the country’s leading Catholic thinkers have been engaged to support the members of the Fifth Plenary Council of Australia when they gather for the first general assembly early next month.
As happens with international gatherings, including at the Second Vatican Council, participants are able to seek guidance from a group of advisers. Their expertise covers a broad range of disciplines, including theology, philosophy, ethics, ecclesiology, education, liturgy, governance and social justice.
“We are grateful to those women and men who have responded so generously, have seen the importance of this moment in the life of the Church and agreed to serve in this critical role,” said Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB.
Seven chairpersons have also been chosen to support the work of the first general assembly. In addition to chairing the plenary session on one day, the chairpersons will also serve on the Steering Committee and “will have an ongoing role in shaping the agenda and program in response to the daily discernment and dialogue of the members”.
Faithful gather for Adelaide Diocesan Assembly
More than 400 representatives of parishes, migrant communities, schools, clergy, religious orders and Catholic agencies listened and shared their stories at the Adelaide Diocesan Assembly.
In his opening address, Adelaide Archbishop Patrick O’Regan also spoke of the significance of being able to gather in large numbers at a time when this was not possible in many other parts of the country.
“My thoughts go immediately back to when I started my time here, at my installation where I think we had 30 people at the ceremony, so in a sense I have longed to be with the whole, so far as we can be representative tonight, of the diocese,” Archbishop O’Regan said.
The program included morning prayer and a panel discussion before participants broke into 36 groups to discuss a number of key themes arising from the consultation process for the Diocesan Assembly.
Issues included outreach and accompaniment of young people and families, inclusion and healing, parish life and liturgy, responding to the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor, and leadership and formation.
Plenary Council members cover the age spectrum
Fr Frank Gordon, the current vicar-general of the Diocese of Cairns, was five years old when the last Plenary Council was held in Australia.
When Matthew Brown was born, the Church in Australia was starting to consider how it might stage a national gathering in response to Pope John Paul II’s encyclical letter Novo Millennio Ineunte — Into the New Millennium.
Next month, they will each be part of the 278 members with the task of discerning the 16 questions that have emerged from the three-and-a-half-year Plenary Council journey.
“I was a little hesitant at first because I didn’t really appreciate what a plenary council entailed. But after some discernment, I knew this was such a landmark event for the future of the Catholic Church in Australia and such a great opportunity for youth to be represented,” 20-year-old Mr Brown said in this article.
“But if you’re asking me personally about what I would hope would come out of it, it would be something very basic,” he said.
“I’ll put it this way: helping people to rediscover what it means to be baptised. Now that’s very basic.”
Follow the Plenary Council assembly online
With the Fifth Plenary Council of Australia being an event for the whole Church, parts of the first general assembly will be livestreamed each day. The home page of the Plenary Council website will be the place to go to find the livestream each day.
Here are some highlights from the livestream schedule:
October 3: Opening Mass of the Fifth Plenary Council of Australia, 2pm AEDT from St Mary’s Cathedral in Perth.
October 4-9: Daily Mass broadcast at 9.30am AEDT and on demand afterwards.
October 4-6 and October 8-9: Plenary session livestream starts at 11am AEDT and runs until approximately 12.15pm AEDT.
October 7: Plenary session livestream starts at 12 noon AEDT and runs until approximately 12.45pm AEDT.
October 10: Closing Mass of the First General Assembly, 11am AEDT from St Stephen’s Cathedral, Brisbane.
Local consultation set to commence for Synod
The Fifth Plenary Council of Australia has featured in the preparatory documents for the 2023 Synod of Bishops, which has the theme “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, Mission”.
On October 10, Pope Francis will launch the Synod process, with bishops to launch diocesan processes the following weekend. Local consultation, which will be shared with national bishops conferences and then regional conferences of bishops, will feed into a journey that culminates with an international gathering in Rome in October 2023.
A national committee has been formed in Australia to assist the local process, led by National Centre for Pastoral Research director Dr Trudy Dantis. The work undertaken for the Plenary Council will help inform the local consultations, which are expected to also feature a survey of Catholic individuals and groups.
The World Day of Migrants and Refugees is celebrated on the last Sunday in September (September 26 this year). The theme of Pope Francis’ message is Towards an Ever Wider “We”, in which he reflects on the need for a more inclusive and welcoming world for those on the margins, including refugees and asylum-seekers. A series of resources can be accessed on the Australian Catholic Migrants and Refugee Office website.
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