This January the Week of Prayer among the Christian Churches will coincide with the interreligious outreach scheduled by the Holy Father for January 24 in Assisi. It will be important for us to keep our prayer with Christians for unity distinct from this interreligious outreach. However, these initiatives enable us as Christians to reach out in common concern for our interreligious partners. Christians praying together at interreligious event are also a sign of what we hold in common as Christians.
Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
This year's theme is With You is the Fountain of Life (Ps 36:5-9). Materials are available from the Graymoor Ecumenical and Interreligious Institute, Rte. 9, P.O. BOX 300, Garrison, NY 10524-0300, 718-562-6522.
Whether celebrating the life and work of Martin Luther King, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity or the two together, ecumenical prayer within the Catholic Church is guided by The Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism, issued in 1993 by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and available from the USCCB in Washington at 800-235-8722.
In some cases, non-sacramental liturgical ecumenical worship might be appropriate for a celebration of the life and work of Dr. King and the Week of Prayer. This is worship "carried out according to books, prescriptions and customs of a Church or ecclesial community, presided over by a minister or delegate of that Church or Community." (§ 116)
The Directory also addressees itself to the case of prayer in common, prayer prepared by communities cooperating together. "Prayer breakfasts," intended to include Catholic and non-Catholic participants and prepared for the specific one-time event, would be an example of this prayer type.
This type of prayer is recommended by the Directory in connection with the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (§ 110) and in situations where Catholics and other Christians wish to "put before God the needs and problems they share" or "make a common act of thanksgiving or petition to God, as on a national holiday" (§ 109). The document directs that this "shared prayer should, however, be particularly concerned with the restoration of Christian unity" (§ 110).
Celebration of the Life and Work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, January 21, falls within the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. In many communities, this is an important ecumenical, sometimes interreligious, commemoration which is often integrated into the Week of Prayer schedule of events. The Week of Prayer materials from Graymoor provide resources for the ecumenical celebration of the occasion.
Ecumenical celebration of the life and work of Dr. King has been enhanced in recent years by the words and activities of Pope John Paul. Unitatis Redintegratio, the Decree on Ecumenism of the Second Vatican Council, § 4 includes an exhortation that Catholics recognize and esteem the holiness and the virtuous works of justice within non-Catholic communities.
In the encyclical Ut Unum Sint, Pope John Paul brought forward this element of the Council's teaching on ecumenism in drawing attention to the witnesses, martyrs and saints who even now provide a special bond of unity among Christians:
In a theocentric vision, we Christians already have a common martyrology. . . . Albeit in an invisible way, the communion between our communities, even if still incomplete, is truly and solidly grounded in the full communion of saints - those who, at the end of a life faithful to grace, are in communion with Christ in glory.
. . . These saints come from all the churches and ecclesial communities which gave them entrance into the communion of salvation. (§ 84)
In preparation for the celebration of the new millennium, episcopal conferences through out the world were asked to name twentieth century martyrs and witnesses known to them and from their own region. Names forwarded from the United States included Dr. King. The process of collecting names produced a total of about12,000 Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox and Catholic names. On May 7, 2000, Bishop Tod Brown, BCEIA chairman, was present as the Pope presided at a commemoration of these many witnesses at the Colosseum. In the worship occasion, a selection of individuals were named as examples and representatives of the many who went unnamed.. In his homily, the Pope expressed and demonstrated the acknowledgment and esteem of the truly Christian endowments of other Christian communities that the Council Fathers called for.
The Directory on Prayer in Common
The Directory (§ § 108-115) provides guidance for preparing this type of event. Key concepts to remember are (§ 111):
- The participating groups should agree among themselves on the way in which each is to take part, choose the themes and select the Scripture readings, hymns and prayers.
- In such a service there is room for any reading, prayer and hymns that manifest the faith or spiritual life shared by Christian people and for exhortation, address or biblical mediation that draws on the common Christian inheritance and promotes mutual good will and unity.
- The version of Holy Scripture used should be acceptable to all and be faithful translations.
- The structure of the celebrations should take account of the different patterns of community prayer in the participating communities.
- When services are arranged between Catholics and those of an Eastern Church, particular attention should be given to the liturgical discipline of each Church.
The event may be celebrated in the church of one or another of the participants or in another space that is conducive to devotion. (§ 112) Those who have a function in the ceremony may wear dress appropriate to their ecclesiastical rank and the occasion. (§ 113)