Is true unity being prayed for this week?

January 24, 2014
Source: District of the USA

The ecumenical observance of the Week of Christian Unity is compared to the Magisterium's traditional intention.

Pastor's Corner for Sunday, January 26

This week—of January 18-25—is called the “Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.” Begun originally as the “Octave of Christian Unity” with the approval of Pope St. Pius X, this week-long observance had as its non-ecumenical intention of bringing back into the fold of the Catholic Church all separated brethren (e.g, the Orthodox and Protestants).

Symbolically, this octave for true unity begins on the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter and concludes with the Feast of St. Paul’s Conversion, thus providing through the sacred liturgy a vivid reminder that one must be in union with Rome to be part of the Mystical Body of Christ.

By contrast, the post-conciliar observance is ecumenical and thus, less focused about conversion to the One, True Faith as opposed to what separates those outside the Church from those within Week for Christian Unity—hence the USCCB’s proclaimed theme for 2014: "Has Christ Divided Us?"[1]

But the Magisterium has always taught that Our Lord entrusted the Deposit of the Faith to His Catholic Church so that, assisted perpetually by the Holy Ghost, she may religiously guard this revealed doctrine and faithfully promote it. This is her right and divine duty and all nations are obliged to learn the Christian doctrine from her and to embrace the true Church of God—as even the 1917 Code of Canon Law remarks (canon 1322).

In a subsequent canon (1325 §3), Catholics are forbidden to dialogue about doctrinal matters with non-Catholics, especially in public without permission from the Holy See, or in the case of emergency, the local Ordinary.

To further explain this principle, we offer some extracts from the 1949 instruction of the Holy Office, which gave the following directives to diocesan bishops:[2]

Since the above-mentioned 'union' is a matter which pertains primarily to the authority and office of the Church, it should be attended to with special care by the bishops, whom 'the Holy Ghost hath placed to rule the Church of God'. They shall see that the canons 'on the previous censure and prohibition of books' (canons 1384 seq.) are observed.

They will provide all things useful to non-Catholics who wish to know the Catholic faith and will designate the persons adequate for such consulations.

As regards the manner and method of proceeding in this work, the bishops themselves will make regulations as to what is to be done and what is to be avoided, and shall see that these are observed by all. They shall also be on guard lest, on the false pretext that more attention should be paid to the points on which we agree than to those on which we differ, a dangerous indifferentism be encouraged, especially among persons whose training in theology is not deep and whose practice of their faith is not very strong. Therefore the whole and entire Catholic doctrine is to be presented and explained: by no means is it permitted to pass over in silence or to veil in ambiguous terms the Catholic truth regarding the nature and way of justification, the constitution of the Church, the primacy of jurisdiction of the Roman Pontiff, and the only true union by the return of the dissidents to the one true Church of Christ.

With regard especially to mixed assemblies and conferences of Catholics with non-Catholics, the Ordinaries will take the opportune measures, designating as participants only priests who have shown themselves truly fit for such work by their knowledge of theology and their firm adherence to the principles and norms which the Church has laid down in this matter.

The Ordinaries are given the faculty of granting the required previous permission of the Holy See, on the following conditions: a) that communicatio in sacris be entirely avoided and, b) that the presentations of the matter be duly inspected and directed."

As this Week of Christian Unity comes to a close, let us truly pray for the conversion of our separated brethren, that they may convert to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.


1 See the website of the USCCB for more details.

2 For the full text of the December 20, 1949 instruction: On the “Ecumenical Movement”.