Synods date back to 1858 in diocese

From the Archives
By Mary Woodward

JACKSON – On Sunday, Oct. 24, at the 10:30 Mass in the Cathedral of Saint Peter the Apostle, Bishop Joseph Kopacz will officially open the diocesan phase of the church’s preparation for a universal synod on the synodal process in 2023. In the Mass, Bishop Kopacz will offer prayers for the diocesan church as we undertake this important aspect of church life on the local level.

More information on the preparations for the synod is shared in this week’s paper and will be shared as the process moves forward. This is an exciting time for our church.

Bishop R.O. Gerow, seventh bishop of the diocese, sits surrounded by his clergy for a 1935 Synod held in Bay St. Louis at St. Augustine Seminary on July 9. (Photos from archives)

From an archive’s perspective, synods have been held in our diocese dating back to 1858. Bishop William Henry Elder called the First Synod of Natchez to gather his priests together to discuss diocesan life and business. In 1856 the Archdiocese of New Orleans had hosted a synod for the province, which included our diocese. Decrees, including the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, rules for the election of bishops, and several disciplinary items, were promulgated from that synod. Bishop Elder called the 1858 local synod in Natchez to discern those decrees and discuss in collegial fashion how to implement them in the diocese.

Nowadays we get information immediately; in the mid-19th century news travelled much more slowly. It is not unusual that it took two years to discuss these decrees and how they will affect the growing church in Mississippi.

The 10th and last official diocesan synod was held in 1957. This synod took up some very weighty topics such as the teaching authority of the church, the Sacraments, Christian education for children, and the administration of church property.

After each synod, a book was published of the decrees and decisions. In the 1957 book we find some great paragraphs on the sacraments and sacred things. These quotes will sound familiar to many of us.

Paragraph 96 states: “The Sacraments should be administered with dignity and decorum and in accordance with the regulations of the church. The rubrics shall be carefully studied and scrupulously observed.”

Paragraph 100 is most important to an archivist and chancellor: “Great care should be taken that records of Sacraments administered be plainly legible. All names of recipients should be written in BLOCK CAPITAL LETTERS. Ink to be used must be of a permanent type.”

Bishop William Henry Elder called the First Synod of Natchez to gather his priests together to discuss diocesan life and business.

Paragraph 211 is most informative: “The music for all church services shall be that found in approved liturgical books and only hymns which have been approved by recognized authorities in church music shall be used.”

Those are a few of the 261 statements coming forth from the 1957 synod. The 10 synods in our history were clergy attended. Diocesan convocations grew out of the synods. These convocations up until COVID met every two years and in recent years had included parish leadership other than just priests.

The themes for the 2023 worldwide synod are: Communion, Participation and Mission. It will involve listening sessions with local parishioners around the world on these powerful foundations of our faith. Our diocese will participate in this process as stated above.

Stayed tuned to how you can be a part of this historic and spiritual process in our church.

(Mary Woodward is Chancellor and Archivist for the Diocese of Jackson)