Jan. 18, the feast of the Chair of St. Peter, marks the beginning of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which will culminate on Jan. 25, the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul.
The week was founded in 1908 by the Rev. Paul Wattson, an American Episcopal priest, and Mother Lurana White of the Graymoor Sisters of Our Lady of the Angels in Garrison, N.Y. Shortly thereafter, Pope Pius X gave his official blessing to the octave and, in 1916, Pope Benedict XV encouraged its observance throughout the entire Roman Catholic Church.
Soul of the movement
This movement gained impetus in 1964 when the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council issued their Decree on Ecumenism, calling prayer “the soul of the ecumenical movement.” In 1967, representatives from the Orthodox, Protestant and Roman Catholic churches agreed to observe this week of prayer together.
Since 1968, the World Council of Churches and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity have collaborated annually in selecting scriptural themes and providing other resources to promote this worldwide observance. This year’s theme, based on 1 Corinthians 15:51-58, will be, “We will all be changed by the Victory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Celebrating the conclusion of this week last year, our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI expressed what he sees is the precise nature and purpose of this annual observance:
“The search for the re-establishment of unity among the divided Christians cannot therefore be reduced to recognition of the reciprocal differences and the achievement of a peaceful coexistence: what we yearn for is that unity for which Christ himself prayed and which, by its nature is expressed in the communion of faith, of the sacraments, of the ministry.
“The journey towards this unity must be perceived as a moral imperative, the answer to a precise call of the Lord. For this reason it is necessary not to give in to the temptation of resignation or pessimism, which is lack of trust in the power of the Holy Spirit. It is our duty to continue enthusiastically on our way towards this goal with a strict and serious dialogue in order to deepen the common theological, liturgical and spiritual patrimony; with reciprocal knowledge, with the ecumenical formation of the new generations and, especially, with conversion of heart and with prayer.”
Setting aside time
While it has not been our consistent practice to have an archdiocesan commemoration of the Octave, I would hope that parishes would gather in their deaneries to hold prayer services with neighboring Protestant congregations. In addition, I encourage all Catholics to set aside time this week during their personal, private prayer to include this intention for Christian unity, especially while in eucharistic adoration.
Surely, the ultimate reconciliation of all Christian believers into one Church is the work of grace in the power of the Holy Spirit. But that work depends on our prayer, which is itself a dynamic means of realizing that unity for which Jesus so ardently prayed.
God bless you!