To the Editor:
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, celebrated from January 18 – 25, has just passed. May I share its roots that we, here in Newtown, might reflect upon its purpose?
Jesus the Christ prayed: “As You (the Father) sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world that they may be one as we are one.” That all may be one! What a magnificent hope for all people!
Among the plausible explanations for celebrating such a week are:
1) Abbe Paul Courtier cites the text known as the “Testament of Cardinal Mercier,” which states: In order to unite with one another, we must love one another; In order to love one another, we must know one another; In order to know one another, we must go and meet one another.
Courtier, who popularized its observance, in 1935, has been called the Father of the Week of Prayer.
2) Geoffrey Curtis attributes the concept to the World Evangelical Alliance, which called to Christians all over the world for the “outpouring of the Spirit." Curtis points to the liturgical expressions in the Eucharistic rites of the Roman and Eastern Church traditions: “that our Lord will grant to his Church ‘that peace and unity which is according to his will,’” and to the Book of Common Prayer in which God is constantly besought “to inspire continually the universal Church with the spirit of truth, unity, and concord.”
Secondly, Curtis points to the movement of “United Prayer for the Holy Spirit and Revival,” finding prophetic expression in the work of New England Congregationalist, Jonathan Edwards (1705-58).
3) The Lambeth Conference, in 1878, recommended an actual week for "the observance of a special season of ‘prayer for reunion.’” It was observed by the Church of England on Whit Sunday - Pentecost - in 1894-95, and in 1895, the Roman Catholic Church in England joined its Anglican neighbors in this observance. Pope Leo XIII had previously encouraged all Catholics to celebrate the first “Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity” within that same time frame. It was not until 1908 that the week was observed on the current January dates.
4) Spencer Jones, a Church of England clergyman, and Lewis Wattson, a new Catholic and founder of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement, jointly initiated the observance as January 18 to 25, the feasts of the Confession (or Chair) of St. Peter and the Conversion of St. Paul. In 1909, Pope Pius X approved the observance for the whole Roman Catholic Church. However, it was not until the Second Vatican Council's Decree on Ecumenism (1964) that Roman Catholics were permitted, and indeed, encouraged, to meet together with other Christians for common prayer for unity.
“We are one in the Spirit; we are one in the Lord and we pray that all unity may one day be restored. And they’ll know we are Christians by our love.” We have come a long way. Why stop now?
Rev. Leo McIlrath, DMin
The Lutheran Home of Southbury
Sugarloaf Road, Sandy Hook January 31, 2014