Unity Week a 100-Year Success Story

Prayer Octave Began in New York in 1908

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 17, 2008 (Zenit.org).- After 100 years of celebrating the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, the event’s organizers say there is every right to speak about its history as one of success.

The week of prayer begins Friday and ends Jan. 25, feast of the conversion of St. Paul.

The 2008 celebration of the week marks the 100th anniversary of the inauguration of the “Church Unity Octave.” An explanation of the evolution of the week of prayer is explained at the Vatican’s Web site.

“One hundred years ago, Father Paul Wattson, Episcopal — Anglican — priest and co-founder of the Society of the Atonement at Graymoor […] introduced a Prayer Octave for Christian Unity that was first celebrated from Jan. 18 to 25, 1908,” the site explains. “Exactly 60 years later, in 1968, churches and parishes around the world received for the first time material for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which had been jointly prepared by Faith and Order of the World Council of Churches and the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity — Catholic Church.”

Now, the cooperation between Protestant communities and the Orthodox and Catholic Churches “has become a familiar practice,” the text continues. “This simple fact is in itself a strong evidence for the effectiveness of prayer for unity. It gives us every right to speak about the history of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity as one of success, and a reason for great joy and gratitude.”

Nothing new

The event organizers note that prayer for Christian unity really began with Christ’s petition at the Last Supper.

“Christians have made this prayer their own in a myriad of ways ever since,” the site explains. “In the midst of our divisions, Christians of all traditions have prayed with an awareness of their union with the prayer of Christ for the unity of all his disciples. The ancient daily liturgy of the Orthodox Churches, for example, invites the faithful to pray for peace and for the unity of all.”

The Web site notes that the selection of dates for the week of prayer began with what was then the feast of the Chair of Peter.

“After the Society of the Atonement had been corporately received into the Roman Catholic Church in 1909, Pope Pius X gave the octave for unity his official blessing,” the site explains. “In the mid-1930s, Abbé Paul Couturier of Lyons, France, gave a new orientation to the church unity octave. […] Abbé Paul maintained the dates of Jan. 18-25, but changed the terminology; the ‘Universal Week of Prayer for Christian Unity,’ which he promoted to pray for the unity of the church ‘as Christ wills it.’

“It was on Jan. 25, 1959, at the conclusion of the prayer for unity octave, that Pope John XXIII called for the Second Vatican Council, which brought the Catholic Church energetically into the ecumenical movement.”

God’s will

The event organizers reflected that prayer for Christian unity is a way of beseeching the fulfillment of God’s will.

The Web site explains: “In our baptism we commit ourselves to the following of Christ and the fulfillment of his will. This will for his followers was expressed in a prayer for unity so that others would come to believe in him as the one sent by God.

“Prayer that joins Jesus’ prayer for unity has come to be referred to by some churches as an expression of ‘spiritual ecumenism.’ This prayer is most intense during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity but needs to flow out of this observance into our daily lives. We realize that Christian unity cannot be solely the fruit of human efforts, but is always the work of the Holy Spirit.”

“We cannot as humans make or organize it,” the site acknowledges. “We can only receive it as a gift of the Spirit when we ourselves are prepared to receive it.”

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