Week of Prayer for Christian Unity calls us to mirror God’s love
By Melissa Holland
The week of Jan. 18-25 will begin with the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday and see the inauguration of President Joe Biden, the second Catholic ever to hold our nation’s highest office. It will also see the annual observance of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
The local observance of this is held in various ways. For the past 15 years, an ecumenical service has been held at Pax Christi Catholic Church during the Octave of Christian Unity in cooperation with 10 congregations of various Christian traditions, with diocesan, synod and conference leaders participating.
Why do Catholics do this?
We remember the prayer of Jesus at the Last Supper as shown in the Gospel of John: “I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.”
That our Lord, Jesus Christ would explicitly pray for unity among his followers shows us that Christian unity is not some added nicety — it is, in fact, God’s will for Christians. It is God’s will. It is his will not only that his body, the Church, be united but also that the members of that body would cooperate with the Holy Spirit in healing divisions, old and new, whether driven by the theological debates of centuries past or the politics of our world today.
Like Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and the inauguration of a Catholic president, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is an act of public witness aimed at restoring right relationship with all of our brothers and sisters. We join with other Christians to be a witness to belief in our Lord and the justice and peace that flows from that belief.
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is a relatively new tradition in the life of the Church, emerging nearly a millennium after the schism of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches and four centuries after the Protestant Reformation.
First observed in 1908, the Octave of Christian Unity was celebrated in the chapel of a small Atonement Franciscan Convent of the Protestant Episcopal Church and eventually grew into a worldwide observance. It begins with the feast of the Chair of St. Peter and ends with the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. Pope Pius X gave his blessing to the Church Unity Octave, and in 1916, Pope Benedict XV extended its observance to the whole Church. In 1993, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity explicitly encouraged participation in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
Each year, churches of various countries are invited to select the theme and prepare the material for the observance. The materials for 2021, along with the theme, “Abide in my love … You will bear much fruit,” were prepared by the Monastic Community of Grandchamp in Switzerland.
A recording of the daily devotion will be posted each day of the Octave at:
Please join Bishop John Stowe, OFM Conv., along with the leadership from other Christian traditions, for this year’s virtual livestreamed service on Jan. 24 at 7 p.m. They will share prayers, readings and reflections on our life together as Christians as we focus on this year’s theme: “Abide in my love … You shall bear much fruit.” (Jn 15:1-17)
In this time of separation, congregations might consider providing their
members the prayer guide for the Octave which can be found at:
Melissa Holland is ecumenical officer of the Catholic Diocese of Lexington and pastoral associate at Pax Christi Catholic Church in Lexington.