Praying for Unity

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity : a brief Introduction

In 1907, an Anglican vicar explored the possibility of prayer for Christian Unity. The Rev. Spencer Jones, Vicar of Moreton-on-Marsh, wrote to the Rev. Paul Wattson, an American Episcopal priest, suggesting that a day of prayer for Christian Unity might be observed each year on the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul (June 29). Wattson proposed instead an eight-day octave observance of prayers, sermons and conferences between the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter (formerly on January 18th) and the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul on January 25th.

The Reverend Wattson and Mother Lurana White, co-founders of the Society of the Atonement, a small group of Franciscan Sisters and Friars, founded the Church Unity Octave the very next year in 1908. They publicly dedicated January 18 to 25 to prayer for Christian unity in the Sisters' Our Lady of the Angels Chapel, Graymoor, Garrison, N.Y. Mother Lurana later wrote in her diary: "I often think if the Society of the Atonement had never done another thing, this alone is a great work of God, so far reaching in its effects as to baffle our weighing its influence either now or in the days to come."

The Sisters and the Friars, along with thirteen lay associates, entered the Roman Catholic Church in 1909. Pope Pius X shortly thereafter gave his official blessing to the Octave and in 1916 Pope Benedict XV encouraged its observance throughout the entire Roman Catholic Church. In the 1930s, the name was changed to the "Chair of Unity Octave" to emphasize the centrality of the Petrine ministry.

Meanwhile, other movements for Christian Unity were also being promoted. In 1921, a committee of Protestant Church leaders for the World Conference on Faith and Order declared that a special octave of prayer for Church Unity would be held each year ending on Pentecost Sunday (Whitsunday). In 1935, a Roman Catholic priest, Abbé Paul Couturier, from Lyon, France, advocated a Universal Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in January that would foster a "unity that Christ wills, as he wills, and when he wills." In 1941, the Commission on Faith and Order moved its Pentecost observance to January with the hope that Protestants and Catholics might pray together for the unity that they so earnestly sought.
In 1964, the bishops at the Second Vatican Council issued the Decree on Ecumenism, calling prayer "the soul of the ecumenical movement."
Because the ideas of Abbé Couturier emphasized a more common basis upon which every Christian Church could pray together for unity, representatives from the Orthodox, Protestant and Roman Catholic Churches agreed in 1967 to jointly observe a time of prayer called the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Since 1968, the World Council of Churches and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity have collaborated annually in selecting scriptural themes and helpful materials to promote prayer for the unity of the Christian Churches. As a worldwide observance seeking "unity in diversity" (words taken from the Preface of the Mass for Christian Unity), the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity focuses upon the shared yearnings of all Christians "that all may be one" (Jn. 17:21) according to the will of Christ.

The photo shows Fr. Neil with the Reverend Ian Smith
(Ecumenical Development Officer, Churches Together in Merseyside Region)
who preached in St. Mary’s and St. Faith’s on Christian Unity Sunday.

Prayers and Reflections
for the Week of Prayer
for Christian Unity

January 18th – 25th 2009

Your Body, the Church

(A prayer for Christian Unity)

We ask you to
forgive the sin that mingles
even with our holiest actions.

Forgive us for the ways in which
we have hurt and dismembered
your body, the church.

Forgive us for any way in which
we have, thoughtlessly or deliberately,
insulted or patronised
those who are called by the same name as ourselves.

Forgive us if we have prayed for unity
and done nothing,
or very little,
to help bring it about,
preferring prayers to action
and fantasies to hard reality.

Be active,
be disturbing,
be empowering,
in your church,
and among Christian people throughout the world.

Remind us of the mighty company
in heaven and on earth
to which we all belong.

John Harvey
(Hay & Stardust)

Prayer of Confession
(from Common Worship)

Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you
and against one another,
in thought, and word, and deed.
We are truly sorry for our pride,
and for our lack of faith, of understanding and of love.
We repent of our narrow-mindedness,
of our bitterness and our prejudices.
Pardon and forgive us,
save us and renew us,
that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Act of Penitence

O God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,

our only Saviour, the Prince of peace:
give us grace seriously to lay to heart
the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions.
We confess our hatred and prejudice
and all else that hinders us from godly union and concord.
As there is but one body and one Spirit,
and one hope of our calling,
one Lord, one faith, one baptism,
one God and Father of us all,
so may we henceforth be all of one heart and soul,
united in one holy bond of truth and peace,
of faith and charity,
and with one mouth give you glory;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

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