The Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity 2015

Last year I wrote about the three kinds of unity for which we strive as Christians. Both the post itself (which you can read here) and the discussion in the comments section strike me as still valid. A recent experience on Facebook has convinced me, however, that we have a long way to go before we all attain to the kind of theological and historical fluency we need in order to be able to think about any kind of institutional unity. That leaves us with the need to work for unity within the Church to which we belong, and the everyday, pragmatic unity of working and praying alongside each other even if we cannot share the same sacraments or institutional structures.

Of these two, I think working for the unity of the Church to which we belong is the bigger challenge. Family quarrels are always more passionate than any other. We know each other too well, and, au fond, love each other too deeply,  to retreat into polite disagreement. We care; and because we care, we are ready to fight tooth and nail. There is just one little problem with this nowadays. The digital revolution means that nothing can be kept private for very long, and when outsiders eavesdrop on the quarrelling, they are apt to draw the wrong conclusions. One could be forgiven for thinking sometimes that the Catholic Church is divided into two camps: Benedict XVI v. Francis, Tridentine v. Novus Ordo, Europe v. the rest of the world. It all smacks of ‘I am for Paul; I am for Apollos,’ doesn’t it? It matters, because only from the unity of the Church can the quest for further unity among Christians proceed. We can try to kid ourselves that we are working for unity by attending all kinds of prayer groups and meetings and making all sorts of ecumenical gestures, but unless we are united in the heart of the Church to which we belong, we are chasing a chimera.

So, on this first day of the Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity, may I propose a little soul-searching? I suggest we each spend a moment or two thinking about the Church to which we belong and our membership of it. Do we contribute to its unity or detract from it? Does our unity impell us to seek unity with other Christians, or do we use ecumenism as a way of hiding from ourselves our own lack of commitment? The answers we give may not be what we would like, but unless we are honest with ourselves and others, how can we truly seek the unity for which Christ prayed?


10 thoughts on “The Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity 2015”

  1. Am I right in thinking that Saint Paul tells us the body of Christ is made up of many parts? If so, we might argue that the Church is already united as everyone is playing their part.

  2. I agree with you Sister Catherine. The beginning go the Octave for Christian Unity starts today, on the Confession of Peter’s Day, which is ironic, in a way.

    All the local Churches in Pollokshields Churches Together, will come today to our church for an ‘ecumenical lunch’. They were all invited of course to our Sung Eucharist, but the Protestant Churches baulk at that and our dear friends at St Gabriel’s RC Church have their own Mass at the same time. Yes, we are all a long way from unity, which must puzzle other faiths such as Islam,, Sikhism, Hinduism and Judaism – even ourselves. We all shout ‘I am Spartacus!…’ When we relent and accept each other’s strange practices, then we can say we have a degree of unity. The ARCIC agreed document on Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry still haunts me as it was never put into action, yet it was agreed. “We have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep and the truth is not within us…’ (from the Scottish Prayer Book 1929 and the English BCP 1666)

    • May I say that lumping all your partners together as “The Protestant Churches” as if somehow the Reformation passed Anglicans by is not very helpful. Furthermore, I rather suspect that if the arrangements were the other way round you might be baulking at cancelling the Sung Eucharist and attending the Methodist, URC or Independent Charismatic service instead. How about we all cut each other a little slack? 🙂

  3. Graham – the ARCIC “agreement” was not accepted by Rome, which is why it was not put into practice. See the following link for details:

    Church Unity requires unity of belief, and this was as lacking between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Church then, as it remains today. While all Christians of course hold a very great deal in common, the issues that divide us are significant chasms.

    Yes, Sister – we do need to pay far more attention to our own state. We need the determination to resolve, and not merely dismiss with impatience, our own divisions. If we cannot deal with each other in concern and in charity, what do have to offer to others?

  4. Thank you for your responses. I think they illustrate both the importance of further prayer, and the need to inform ourselves more fully. I would suggest that, if you do not have the ARCIC statements to hand, it would be worth following the link below to the Vatican website, which gives the official clarifications of ARCIC on two of the most problematic, Eucharist and Order, and the response of Cardinal Cassidy. I ought to point out that as, as far as I know, has no official standing in the Catholic Church, i.e. its statements and interpretations cannot be taken as authoritative.

  5. As a lay member of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham who entered the full communion of the Catholic Church almost 4 years ago having been very involved in the CofE for over 30 years I am very aware of the ARCIC process from both sides of the Tiber. Much water has flowed under the bridge in the Years since the process began and I suspect that the “Agreed statements” would not gain agreement from either the Catholic Church or the Anglican Communion if they were formally to look at it again. Of course a process which promotes good relations and looks for common ground is valuable but as a vehicle for achieving unity ARCIC simply can’t deliver, certainly not within a lifetime or two. And so it was that a group of us “swam the Tiber” and this does give us a new perspective on the discussions and, perhaps paradoxically, enables us to have far better and more honest relationships with our friends and colleagues who remain in the Church of England.

    One particular way in which the statement on the Eucharist and the clarifications has been overtaken by events is that we now have definitive answers to some of the questions around the form of the Eucharist contained in the CofE’s book of common prayer and where they are deficient in terms of Catholic teaching. The Ordinariate Use of the Roman rite approved by the Congregations for Worship and the Doctrine of Faith both excludes parts of the BCP and includes parts of the Roman Rite in order to have a rite which conforms to the teaching of the Catholic Church. For Ecumenists in the Catholic Church and the CofE to ignore the Ordinariate is, to continue the nautical theme, to have missed the boat.

    We need to be honest as to where we are now and those of us taking part in an Ecumenical walk around London SE1 on Saturday would welcome your presence and prayers.

    • Thank you for your comment. I hope that following the links to the Vatican website will resolve any doubts about the content of the ARCIC statements and their subsequent reception/the qualifications made by the Catholic Church. Although I understand your enthusiasm for the Ordinariate and the part it might play in advancing ecumenical understanding with the Church of England, I have to say I am personally less confident. Quite apart from the fact that, looked at from Rome’s perspective, healing the schism between East and West must always be the priority, too many Anglicans of my aquaintance are hurt and angry not only at the Ordinariate’s very existence but at what they perceive to be the attitude of some Ordinariate members towards their former co-religionists. That is something for the Ordinariate to address. You’ll find in an earlier comment in this thread a reference to the triumphalist attitude of Catholics — again mainly a problem of perception, I think, but one that can be unhelpful if not checked.

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