Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Prayer for Unity among Christians

A post by Fr Ray at "I escaped it this year" reminds me of my own thoughts on ecumenical services, particularly those held to mark the annual Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity.
I suspect that most of the ordinary faithful have a gut feeling that an "ecumenical service" is somehow "not the real thing". This means that, if they have been to Mass in the morning, attending an "ecumenical service" in the evening is a bit of a non-starter. I concluded two or three years ago that I thought this gut feeling represented an authentic sense of faith.
If, in response to Vatican Council II, the Church has gained a greater sense of its ecumenical character (and I would want to argue that that sense of its ecumenical character was present in the Church before Vatican II) we should expect that greater sense of ecumenical character to be reflected in the ordinary life of the Church and not in add-on "ecumenical services". And, if we look, I think we can find places in the Church's ordinary life where it is reflected ....
The Bridgettine order, present at Maryvale Institute and now founding a new community in Wales, have a charism that embraces monastic life, hospitality and prayer for Christian unity. The Focolare Movement lives a "spirituality of unity" that is at once both profoundly Christocentric and engaged in dialogue with other Christian denominations, other religions and with non-believers. Both of these charisms pre-date Vatican II, but will have been confirmed by the teaching of the Council.
The joint "ecumenical service" in my own immediate area was, so far as I can see, abandoned this year. Last year's attendance was very poor - my own parish priest said at the time that he had been quite embarrassed to be the only attendee from the parish. The thought was to hold a service in the summer, when people would be more inclined to come out in the evening ... but I think that rather misses the point!
There is another discussion to be had about prayer for "unity among Christians" vs prayer for "Christian unity", and the subtleties of the two different phrasings.

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