Week of prayer for true Christian unity

Catholics today may be familiar with the “Week of prayer for Christian unity”, from 18 to 25 January, as an ecumenical effort widely promoted among various Christian communities. Fewer may know the Catholic origins and intention of the initiative, begun in 1908 with the approval of Pius X and Benedict XV.

Rather than a common prayer for Christians of all denominations to be united in their faith, it was designed specifically for Catholics to pray for all their separated bretheren to enter the one, holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. Catholics down the centuries have seen it as their particular responsibility to pray for non-Catholics to return to the one fold under the one Shepherd.

The week of prayer begins, appropriately, on the feast of the chair of St Peter in Rome (traditionally observed on 18 January), and concludes on the octave day, the feast of the conversion of St Paul (25 January). The placement of the octave in the Church’s calendar thus also reflects the unchanging truth that there can be no true unity apart from union with that rock, established by Christ Himself, which is Peter and his successors. 

It could reasonably be asked whether giving up prayer for our separated brethren is partly responsible for the decline in conversions to Catholicism and, indeed, for the decrease of fervour and practice among Catholics themselves. This decline is doctrinally rooted in a misunderstanding of the meaning of true ecumenism, which leads to the rejection of Our Lord’s great commission to “teach all nations” (Mt 28:19).

Let us pray then, ever more fervently and in true charity  — especially today, when the Catholic faith is being tried on the very rock on which Christ built His Church — that our non-Catholic brothers and sisters may be once and for all united on that rock restored in Christ. “That they all may be one” (Jn 17: 21).

Click here for a printable list of the specific intentions for each day in the octave.