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2014-2015 Synods of Bishops on the Family

 
This image of the Holy Family is featured on a prayer card with Pope Francis' prayer for the Synods on the Family.

A prayer card featuring this image with Pope Francis' prayer for the Synods on the Family is available from the USCCB bookstore.

On October 8, 2013, Pope Francis announced that in October 2014 there would be an Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on topics related to the family and evangelization. Subsequent communications made clear that the Extraordinary General Assembly would be followed by an Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in October 2015, on the same topics.

This webpage provides a brief overview of the Synod of Bishops and the two upcoming Synods of Bishops on the family and evangelization. It is meant to aid the Catholic faithful in preparing for these important events in the life of the Church. Additional information will be added as it is released from the Vatican. See below for speeches and texts from the III Extraordinary Synod.

Table of Contents

Basic Information about the Synod of Bishops

What is the Synod of Bishops?

The Synod of Bishops is a permanent institution of the Catholic Church. It was established by Pope Paul VI in 1965, shortly after the close of the Second Vatican Council, to continue the spirit of collegiality and communion that was present at the Council. The Synod is an assembly of bishops from around the world who assist the Holy Father by providing counsel on important questions facing the Church in a manner that preserves the Church's teaching and strengthens her internal discipline. (See the Vatican website and Code of Canon Law, canon 342)

When does the Synod of Bishops meet?

The Synod of Bishops meets at the request of the Holy Father, when he considers it necessary or opportune to consult with the world's bishops.

What are the meetings of the Synod of Bishops called?

The Synod of Bishops can meet in a General Assembly (or Session) on topics that pertain to the entire Church; these kinds of sessions can be either Ordinary or Extraordinary. The Synod of Bishops can also meet in a Special Assembly (or Session) on topics that pertain to a limited geographical area. For example, Special Assemblies have been held in recent years on topics concerning the Middle East and Africa.

What is an Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops?

A General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops is called "Ordinary" if its topic is "for the good of the universal Church" and seems to require the "learning, prudence and counsel" of all the world's bishops (Ordo Synodi Episcoporum, 4).

What is an Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops?

A General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops is called "Extraordinary" when it is convened to deal with matters "which require a speedy solution" (Code of Canon Law, canon 346 §2) and which demand "immediate attention for the good of the entire Church" (OSE, 4).

Who are the heads of the Synod of Bishops?

The President of the Synod is the current Holy Father, Pope Francis. The Synod also has a General Secretary, who is currently Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri. (See the Vatican website for a list of past Presidents and General Secretaries.)

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III Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Family (2014)

This Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops will be the third ever held; previous Extraordinary General Assemblies were held in 1969 and 1985.

What is the theme of the III Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops?

"The pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization"

What are the dates of the III Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops?

October 5-19, 2014

Where will the III Extraordinary Synod take place?

Vatican City

Which U.S. bishops will attend the III Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops?

The full list of participants and auditors can be found on the Vatican News website. The bishop delegation from the United States includes Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz (Louisville, USCCB President), Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan (New York, Member of the Ordinary Council of the Synod of Bishops), Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl (Washington, Member of the Ordinary Council of the Synod of Bishops), and Archbishop William C. Skurla (Byzantine Metropolitan of Pittsburgh, president of the Council of the Ruthenian Catholic Church). There are also two married couples from the United States who have been invited to attend as auditors. The number of bishops who attend Extraordinary General Assemblies is smaller than the number who attend Ordinary General Assemblies.

What is the purpose of the III Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops?

The Preparatory Document described the purpose of the III Extraordinary General Assembly as "to define the 'status quaestionis' [current situation] and to collect the bishops' experiences and proposals in proclaiming and living the Gospel of the Family in a credible manner." The Instrumentum Laboris said that the III Extraordinary General Assembly "will thoroughly examine and analyze the information, testimonies and recommendations received from the particular Churches in order to respond to the new challenges of the family."

What documents have been released in advance of the III Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops?

November 2013: The Preparatory Document outlined the purpose of both the Extraordinary and Ordinary General Assemblies, provided a basic catechesis on the Gospel of the Family, and requested input from the world's bishops on nine questions about the current state of pastoral care for marriages and families. (See also Vatican News, press conference, release of PD)

June 2014: The Instrumentum Laboris contained the results of the consultation achieved via the Preparatory Document's questionnaire. This document provides a substantive reflection on the major challenges facing the family today, and outlines the topics that will be discussed at the Extraordinary General Assembly. (See also Vatican News, press conference, release of IL

Addresses and Homilies from the III Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops:
Please visit the Vatican Synod page for additional addresses, in various languages.

  • October 5, 2014: Homily by Pope Francis at the Mass for the Opening of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family
  • October 6, 2014: Relation by Cardinal Peter Erdo (Hungary), Relator General of the III Extraordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops
  • October 6, 2014: Video presentation by Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz (USCCB President) on expectations for the Synod
  • October 7, 2014: Testimony by U.S. married couple Jeff and Alice Heinzen, "Marriage, a Life Journey of Authentic Love"

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XIV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Family (2015)

The most recent Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops was held in 2012 (XIII Ordinary General Assembly on the New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith)

What are the dates of the XIV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops?

October 4-25, 2015. This Synod will mark the 50th anniversary of the Synod of Bishops.

What is the theme of the XIV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops?

"The vocation and mission of the family in the Church and in the contemporary world"

What is the purpose of the XIV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops?

The XIV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops will continue the work of the III Extraordinary General Assembly by "reflect[ing] further on the points discussed so as to formulate appropriate pastoral guidelines" for the pastoral care of the person and the family (Instrumentum Laboris, III Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops).

Where will the XIV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops take place?

Vatican City

Which U.S. bishops will attend the XIV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops?

To date, it has not been announced which bishops from the United States will attend the Ordinary General Assembly. The number of bishops who attend Ordinary General Assemblies is larger than the number who attend Extraordinary General Assemblies. The majority of the bishops who attend the Ordinary General Assembly from the United States will be elected by the USCCB.

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Other Questions

What is the relationship between the III Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops and the XIV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops?

The Instrumentum Laboris for the III Extraordinary General Assembly notes that the work of the Synod of Bishops "is to take place in two stages, forming a single organic unity." The Extraordinary General Assembly could be understood in a certain sense as a preparatory step for the Ordinary General Assembly. At the Extraordinary General Assembly, the bishops will define the current state of the family and challenges that face it; at the Ordinary General Assembly, the bishops will formulate pastoral guidelines to respond to those challenges.

Will there be a document issued after the two Synods of Bishops?

After an Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, it is common for the Holy Father to issue a substantive document, called a post-synodal apostolic exhortation, which takes up the themes of the Synod and deepens them further. It is also expected that after the Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, one or more documents will be issued in preparation for the Ordinary General Assembly.

When was the last time a Synod of Bishops discussed marriage and the family?

The most recent Synod of Bishops on the theme of the family took place in 1980 (V Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops). Pope St. John Paul II's 1981 apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio, on the role of the Christian family in the modern world, was written at the request of that Synod's Fathers.

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How Can I Support the Upcoming Synods of Bishops?

How can Catholics support the upcoming Synods of Bishops on the Family?

Pray: In a letter to all families, Pope Francis invited them to pray for the upcoming Synods of Bishops, as well as the 2015 World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, saying: "May we all, then, pray together so that through these events the Church will undertake a true journey of discernment and adopt the necessary pastoral means to help families face their present challenges with the light and strength that comes from the gospel."

Pope Francis provided this prayer for the Synod of Bishops on the Family in his Angelus address on the Feast of the Holy Family (Dec. 29, 2013):

Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
in you we contemplate
the splendor of true love,
to you we turn with trust.

Holy Family of Nazareth,
grant that our families too
may be places of communion and prayer,
authentic schools of the Gospel
and small domestic Churches.

Holy Family of Nazareth,
may families never again
experience violence, rejection and division:
may all who have been hurt or scandalized
find ready comfort and healing.

Holy Family of Nazareth,
may the approaching Synod of Bishops
make us once more mindful
of the sacredness and inviolability of the family,
and its beauty in God's plan.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
graciously hear our prayer.


A worldwide day of Prayer for the Synod of Bishops took place on Sunday, September 28, 2014.  Prayer cards featuring Pope Francis' prayer above are available from the USCCB bookstore. Other suggested prayers are available here.

Study: Read the Preparatory Document and the Instrumentum Laboris, the key documents for the III Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. Read the Catechism and the most recent teaching documents of the Magisterium on the subject of marriage and the family; an annotated list is available here. Spend time, alone and together as a married couple and family, reflecting on the rich teaching of the Church on marriage and family. 

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