Unitatis Redintegratio 8

This section contains some important guiding principles for prayer among Christians, staking out the Catholic position, and giving the reasoning behind it. First, an affirmation of the desire for unity among Christians based on the striving for holiness:

This change of heart and holiness of life, along with public and private prayer for the unity of Christians, should be regarded as the soul of the whole ecumenical movement, and merits the name, “spiritual ecumenism.”

Ordinary Catholics pray for unity: 

It is a recognized custom for Catholics to have frequent recourse to that prayer for the unity of the Church which the Saviour Himself on the eve of His death so fervently appealed to His Father: “That they may all be one”.(Jn. 17, 21.)

Catholics praying with separated Christians is acceptable. More than that, in some circumstances, it is “desirable.”

In certain special circumstances, such as the prescribed prayers “for unity,” and during ecumenical gatherings, it is allowable, indeed desirable that Catholics should join in prayer with their separated (brothers and sisters). Such prayers in common are certainly an effective means of obtaining the grace of unity, and they are a true expression of the ties which still bind Catholics to their separated (brothers and sisters). “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them”.(Mt. 18, 20.)

This next section is perhaps the stumbling block for many Christians. Let’s read it first, then I’ll add comments.

Yet worship in common (communicatio in sacris) is not to be considered as a means to be used indiscriminately for the restoration of Christian unity. There are two main principles governing the practice of such common worship: first, the bearing witness to the unity of the Church, and second, the sharing in the means of grace. Witness to the unity of the Church very generally forbids common worship to Christians, but the grace to be had from it sometimes commends this practice. The course to be adopted, with due regard to all the circumstances of time, place, and persons, is to be decided by local episcopal authority, unless otherwise provided for by the Bishops’ Conference according to its statutes, or by the Holy See.

The principles listed pertaining to Communicatio in sacris are not to be sidestepped lightly. First, we do know, and Christians from Taize to the New World have found it to be so, that undeniable benefit and grace come from shared prayer. Yet there is a quality of worship described that requires unity. This is a point which should be explored.

First, UR does acknowledge some aspects of unity that already exist, despite the current situation. These would include a profession of faith in Christ, the recognition of baptism, as well as much moral and theological congruence, especially in day-to-day life.

Second, we realize that within Catholicism there is room for difference among believers on very serious moral issues: the death penalty, war, and the like. Yet these differences, sometimes impassioned, do not necessarily obviate the sharing of worship among Catholics.

In addition to the Lord’s prayer and teaching in John 17, we hear Jesus on the Mount:

Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Mt 5:23-24)

God’s intention is clear that disunity be set aside before believers come to worship. Perhaps this is the opportunity presented to modern-day Catholics. It would be an event of grace if we were more and more able to set aside our differences with other Catholics before approaching the Word or Altar.

The ideal chain of command is essentially Roman. The local bishop determines the best opportunities for sharing worship, unless the conference or Rome, in that order, have anything to add.

Have any readers anything to add?


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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2 Responses to Unitatis Redintegratio 8

  1. Thomas Nikkel says:

    I am a former Methodist and Vineyard Church pastor who came home to the Catholic faith in 2010. I am currently Pastoral Associate for Evangelization at a Catholic Church in Michigan. I have been a lay Franciscan since my teenage years and am now in formation with the Secular Franciscan Order. As a Roman Catholic, it is a joy to accept invitations to worship with non-Catholic christians and bear witness to my pilgrimage and joyful homecoming to the Catholic faith and I do so on a regular basis. I am developing a rationale for continuing this practice and inviting certain well-grounded Catholic brethren to join me as a hand-on, grass-roots experience in evangelizing inactive Catholics, for I find that no matter which non-Catholic church I attend, it is loaded with inactive Catholics. Needless to say, i encounter much opposition to this approach. My reading of Unitatis Redintegration and Ut Unum Sint were defining moments in my journey home to Rome and so I take them very seriously and appeal to their directives as a basis for my activity. i would be very interested in dialoguing with you about my approach, specifically about how to appropriately involve active Catholics in my zeal for ecumenism, which is part and parcel of my vocation as an evangelist and as a Franciscan. Incidentally, I am a native son of Pella, Iowa and have several siblings who graduated from Iowa State. Peace and all good, Thomas Nikkel

    • Todd says:

      Hello Thomas,

      I do not trumpet this information, but I do offer personal contact information at the bottom of the sidebar on the right. I would welcome any dialogue with you by email. Your approach is intriguing, and it might also brush up against concerns about prudence. Another possible reflection point is how the tradition of John Wesley, a very evangelical effort in its origins, informs your Roman and Franciscan identity.

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