The Church Unity Octave *Catholics & Protestants Begin Unity Week

January 18, 2012 by  
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Hands Jesus GlobeRome, January 18, 2012: “We Will All Be Changed by the Victory of Our Lord Jesus Christ” is the theme for this year evoking the transformative power of faith in Christ, particularly in relation to our praying for the visible unity of the Church, the Body of Christ. It is in His life, action, teaching, suffering, death and resurrection that we seek inspiration for a modern victorious life of faith. The church dedicates this week specially to pray for unity between all churches that they come to remain in one fold. At the Last Supper Jesus specially prayed to the Father that all his followers may be one, even as he is one with the Father, united in the mystery of the Trinity. That is the basis and the goal of our search for unity in the church. Jesus says: “Holy Father, keep them in your name those you have given me that they may be one even as we are one.” The churches invite us to recall that all our Christian communities originated with the Church of Jerusalem and so this church continues to be a powerful ecumenical symbol for us.

Paul’s ringing affirmation of the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead, as given in his first letter to the Corinthians Chapter 15, is a fruitful text to ponder in relation to the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. It is useful, in the first place, because it is part of the First Letter to the Corinthians, in which the problem of unity is perhaps the central problem of the letter. Right at the outset Paul appeals to the Corinthians “that all of you be in agreement, and that there should be no divisions among you, but that you must be united in the same mind and the same purpose”. He writes this appeal because he has heard that they have been quarrelling and breaking into factions, declaring “I belong to Paul,” “I belong to Apollos,” and so on. Clearly one of Paul’s chief purposes in writing this letter is to call this community back to unity in the face of their divisions. He pursues this aim at several points in the letter, for instance when he urges the Corinthians to include all equally in the Lord’s Supper or when he advances the metaphor of the body with many parts, all of which need the others. If this whole letter, in a sense, revolves around the problem of creating unity in a divided church, then the final section of the letter, Paul’s argument for the resurrection of the dead must be seen as part of solving this problem.

Paul’s reason for articulating this doctrine for the Corinthians is not simply that he wants to educate them about certain aspects of their faith that some of them had come to doubt, but more urgently because he believed that this loss of faith in the resurrection was contributing to the disorders, conflicts and disunity within the Corinthian community. Paul’s premise throughout the letter is that what members of this community believe or don’t believe has a powerful impact on how they behave and what kind of common life they manifest. Hence in this section his purpose is to strengthen their faith in the resurrection of the dead in order that this faith might lead them to amend their behaviour and the character of their community. By looking at the specific ways that the Corinthians’ faith in this doctrine or lack of faith, influences their conduct and way of being in the world, we can by extension see how a firmer belief in the resurrection of the dead can affect our lives and conduct, and in particular our prayer and work for Christian unity.

This focus on God’s transforming power reminds us of some important principles in our work for Christian unity. First and foremost, Christian unity, like the resurrection of the dead, is fundamentally God’s gift to us, a miracle that God will perform beyond what we can do by our own efforts. If our disunity as Christians is a result as well as a manifestation of our sinfulness, then clearly it is only through God’s intervention that this disunity can be overcome, since only God has the power to remove the power of sin in our lives and bring us to holiness. It is essential, in all the work that we do for Christian unity that we recall that this is really God’s work and mission, in which we are participating, rather than being our own independent work. Our unity is grounded in God and sustained by God, rather than being grounded and sustained by ourselves. Among other things, remembering this crucial fact reminds us not to lose hope in work for Christian unity, even amidst conflicts and setbacks, since it is God who is bringing about this unity, and will accomplish it in God’s time. Hence our first and most important task in the work for Christian unity is to pray for that unity, to ask God to bring about this state, which we cannot by ourselves achieve.

In our ecumenical services we are invited to meditate on our devotion to the teachings of the apostles, fellowship, the breaking of bread and prayers as elements that constitute us as the body of Christ. The churches of Jerusalem also ask for our prayers for justice and peace which have eluded their land for so long. Christians everywhere are reminded through their ecumenical services of the basic aspect of all Christian witness, namely love in the service of the Gospel of reconciliation with God and with all peoples “that the world may believe”. Ecumenism takes as it starting point that Christ founded just one Church, not many churches; hence the Roman Catholic Church has as its ultimate hope and objective – that through prayer, study, and dialogue, the historically separated bodies may come again to be reunited with it.

Christian ecumenism, in the narrower sense referred to above, is the promotion of unity or cooperation between distinct religious groups or denominations of Christianity. Ecumenism in this broad sense is a faith movement. The interfaith movement strives for greater mutual respect, toleration, and co-operation among the world religions. Ecumenism as interfaith dialogue between representatives of diverse faiths does not necessarily intend reconciling their adherents into full, organic unity with one another but aims to promote better relations. It promotes toleration, mutual respect and cooperation, whether among Christian denominations, or between Christianity and other faiths.

The Catholic Church sees itself as the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic church, founded by Christ himself. Its teachings state the proper Church of Christ is identical with the Catholic Church, thus excluding all other Christian religious groups and churches. Before the Second Vatican Council, the Roman Catholic Church defined ecumenism as relations with other Christian groups in order to persuade these to return to a unity that they themselves had broken. Pursuit of unity, thus understood, was always a principal aim of the Church. At the Council of Lyon in 1274 and the Council of Florence in 1438, in which some bishops of the Eastern Orthodox Churches participated, reunion formulas were worked out that, however, failed to win acceptance by the Eastern Churches. The Roman Catholic Church even before the Second Vatican Council always considered it a duty of the highest rank to seek full unity with estranged communions of fellow-Christians, and at the same time to reject what it saw as promiscuous and false union that would mean being unfaithful to or glossing over the teaching of Sacred Scripture and Tradition.

The aim of the Second Vatican Council, as its initiator, Pope John XXIII, stated, was to seek renewal from within the Church itself, which would serve, for those separated from the see of Rome, as a “gentle invitation to seek and find that unity for which Jesus Christ prayed so ardently to his heavenly Father.” The Council opened up an era of earnest endeavour not only to explain to others the Church’s teaching, but also to understand their outlook. While the Roman Catholic Church sees itself as the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church founded by Christ himself, it recognizes that elements of salvation are found in other churches also. The Second Vatican Council’s document, Lumen Gentium, states that the sole church of Christ as “subsists in or exists in” rather than simply “is identical with” the Catholic Church. Significant agreements have been achieved on baptism, ministry and the Eucharist with Anglican theologians. With Lutheran bodies a similar agreement has been reached on the theology of justification. These landmark documents have brought closer fraternal ties with those churches.

The Second Vatican Council in its Document on Ecumenism says in its introduction: “The restoration of unity among all Christians is one of the principal concerns of the Council. Christ the Lord founded one Church and one Church only. However, many Christian communions present themselves to men as the true inheritors of Jesus Christ; all indeed profess to be followers of the Lord but differ in mind and go their different ways, as if Christ Himself were divided. Such division openly contradicts the will of Christ, scandalizes the world, and damages the holy cause of preaching the Gospel to every creature.” The Council in all its sincerity seeks to unite all churches together to build a bond in faith and sustain the unity in worship. In 1966, the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches and the Vatican Secretariat /Council for Promoting Christian Unity began collaborating as a common international text for worldwide usage. The theme for the annual celebration of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is prepared and announced by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Commission on Faith and Order of the World Council of Churches. Every year the theme is given in advance to help people to pray for the Unity in the Church.

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is being held from January 18th until January 25th and is a time when Christians of all groups are called to pray for the unity of the Church. Pope Leo XIII had asked for Catholics to pray for Christian unity and in 1897 established the continual recitation of a novena. The actual dates of the week of prayer were established by Spencer Jones, an Anglican priest and Lewis Wattson, an Episcopal priest who later converted to Catholicism. They suggested the dates of January 18-25 to begin with the old date of the Confession or Chair of St. Peter and end on the feast of Conversion of St. Paul, holy days within the Church year. Pope Pius X approved the new octave and extended its observance throughout the whole of the Catholic Church. Paul Couturier, a Frenchman, is well known for popularizing the week. The links below explain more of the history of the octave and served as sources for this brief introduction. The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity invites the whole Christian community throughout the world to pray in communion with the prayer of Jesus “that they all may be one”.

One of our main concerns as Catholics is the unity of the entire Christian community because of the vast amount of theology, practice, and morality that we have in common. We also pray for the unity of all Christians. We try to promote these goals through honest dialogue about areas where we disagree and working together where we agree. Following the words of Pope John Paul II, we at Ancient and Future Catholics want to “breathe with both lungs.” We believe the best way to achieve unity between Orthodox and Catholics is twofold: prayer and mutual understanding. This is also how we will accomplish greater unity with our Protestant brothers and sisters. On Ancient and Future Catholics we have always worked towards mutual understanding and now we want to make prayer for visible unity another primary focus.

The Church Unity Octave was first observed in January, 1908. Celebrated in the chapel of a small Atonement Franciscan Convent of the Protestant Episcopal Church, on a remote hillside fifty miles from New York City, this new prayer movement caught the imagination of others beyond the Franciscan Friars and Sisters of the Atonement to become an energetic movement that gradually blossomed into a worldwide observance involving many nations and millions of people. Two American Episcopalians, Father Paul James Wattson and Sister Lurana White, co-founders of the Franciscan Friars and Sisters of the Atonement, were totally committed to the reunion of the Anglican Communion with the Roman Catholic Church. As such, they started a prayer movement that explicitly prayed for the return of non-Catholic Christians to the Holy See. Needless to say, such an observance would attract few of our brothers and sisters from other sects except for a small number of Anglo-Catholics and Roman Catholics themselves. In 1907 Jones suggested that a day be set aside for prayer for Christian unity. Fr. Paul Wattson agreed with the concept but offered the idea of an octave of prayer between the Feast of St. Peter’s Chair on January 18 and the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul on January 25.

When Fr. Paul and Sr. Lurana became Roman Catholics, Pope Pius X gave his blessing to the Church Unity Octave and in 1916 Pope Benedict XV extended its observance to the universal church. This recognition by papal authority gave the Octave its impetus throughout the Roman Catholic Church. In 1924, Pope Pius XI asked the Benedictine religious to make it their special task to pray and work for Christian unity. In the 1930s Wattson changed the name “Church Unity Octave” to the “Chair of Unity Octave”, emphasizing the role of the papacy in the union of the Christian churches. In 1935 Abbé Paul Couturier, a Catholic priest in France, advocated a “Universal Week of Prayer for Christian Unity” during which Christians would pray together ‘for the unity Christ wills by the means He wills’. Common Christian prayer for unity continued to grow throughout the world. Pope John XXIII, in 1959, in an apostolic letter, sent his approval for the universal Catholic Church to observe this Octave.

With the Second Vatican Council, 1962-1965, an increasing number of Roman Catholics joined other Christians each year in January for common prayer for unity. The Council’s Decree on Ecumenism, promulgated in 1964, called prayer the soul of the ecumenical movement and encouraged the observance of what is now known as the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. In 1966, the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches and the Vatican Secretariat, now Council for Promoting Christian Unity began collaborating on a common international text for worldwide usage. Since 1968 these international texts, which are based on themes proposed by ecumenical groups throughout the world, have been developed, adapted and published for use in the United States by the Graymoor Ecumenical & Interreligious Institute. By 1991 an observance called Ecumenical Sunday had also become fully integrated into the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. From the ideal of unity of all churches the Church Unity Octave is indeed a positive step in building up our faith and living the call of Jesus Christ that all may be one. It is our duty to pray for the church that all may be one in Christ and become his mystical body.

– fr. eugene lobo s.j. rome

Catholics, Protestants Begin Unity Week

 

Vatican City, January 17, 2012: The annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity begins Wednesday and will conclude on Jan. 25, the feast of the conversion of St. Paul. The texts for this year’s celebration were prepared by groups in Poland.

This year’s theme is “We will all be changed by the victory of Our Lord Jesus Christ.”

A statement from the Vatican Information Service noted that the week is promoted by the World Council of Churches (WCC), a worldwide fellowship of 349 churches seeking unity, common witness and Christian service. The Catholic Church participates in this ecumenical initiative, despite not being a member of the WCC.

This year’s theme comes from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, which promises the transformation of human life — with all its apparent dimensions of “triumph” and “defeat” — through the victory of Christ’s resurrection.

After leading the Angelus on Sunday, Benedict XVI invited the faithful, “as individuals and in communities, to participate spiritually, and where possible practically, in the Week of Prayer, to ask God for the gift of full unity among the disciples of Christ.”

Materials

A working group composed of representatives of the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church and Old Catholic and Protestant Churches active in Poland prepared the texts this year.

The materials for the Week of Prayer explain the choice of the theme: “The history of Poland has been marked by a series of defeats and victories. We can mention the many times that Poland was invaded, the partitions, oppression by foreign powers and hostile systems. (…) And yet where there is victory there are also losers who do not share the joy and triumph of the winners. This particular history of the Polish nation has led the ecumenical group who have written this year’s material to reflect more deeply on what it means to ‘win’ and to ‘lose,’ especially given the way in which the language of ‘victory’ is so often understood in triumphalist terms. Yet Christ shows us a very different way!”

The text goes on to note that the 2012 European Football Championship will be held in Poland and Ukraine. “Thinking of this example might lead us to consider the plight of those who do not win — not only in sport but in their lives and communities: who will spare a thought for the losers, those who constantly suffer defeats because they are denied victory due to various conditions and circumstances? Rivalry is a permanent feature not only in sport but also in political, business, cultural and, even, church life.”

But Jesus’ teaching on victory is simple, the text continues: “‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all’ (Mark 9:35). These words speak of victory through mutual service, helping, boosting the self-esteem of those who are ‘last,’ forgotten, excluded. For all Christians, the best expression of such humble service is Jesus Christ, his victory through death and his resurrection. (…)

“The point is to achieve a victory which integrates all Christians around the service of God and one’s neighbor. (…) The unity for which we pray is not merely a ‘comfortable’ notion of friendliness and co-operation. It requires a willingness to dispense with competition between us. We need to open ourselves to each other, to offer gifts to and receive gifts from one another, so that we might truly enter into the new life in Christ, which is the only true victory.”

– zenit

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