Don't be afraid of the Unity Octave
I By MICHAEL de la BEDOYERE
NEXT Wednesday, the Feast of St. Peter's Chair is the beginning of the Chair of Unity Octave.
Prayer for Church Unity during this Octave has been strongly recommended to all Catholics by the present Holy Father and his immediate predecessors.
For some years the Octave has been widely observed in Europe, but it has only slowly spread in our own country. The reason for this is probably a misunderstanding of the real meaning of the Octave. With our strong traditions of a Catholic minority emerging from a history of persecution and of our rightful sense of being the only true heirs of Catholic Britain, we readily jump to the conclusion that the Octave somehow involves compromise on our part.
Of course it does not. The Popes would never approve of any devotion which involved the slightest weakening in the Catholic faith that there is only one true Church —the Church of our own forefathers.
The Octave is simply a prayer the prayer of Our Lord Himself to His Eternal Father. " I pray," Our Lord said, " for those who are to find faith in rue through their word; that they may all be one; that they, too. may be one in us, as thou Father, art in me, and I in thee; so that the world may come to believe that it is thou who has sent me." (John XVII, 20, 21.) No controversy EVERY year we are asked to join publicly or privately with Our Lord during the days of this Octave that we " may all be one." that, in other words, the unity of all who find faith in " Christ may be achieved. And, happily, every year sees more and more of those who find faith in Christ, and yet are outside the Church which He founded, joining with us at this time in the prayer.
The realisation of the true
character of the Octave has been spreading in this country during the past few years and consequently its observance has increased. But it seems that it is still far from being announced in our church pulpits as a matter of course—still less is it everywhere publicly observed in our churches on each day of the Octave (though presumably this could he done after the daily Mass or Masses).
Nothing, then, could be simpler or less controversial than the nature of the Octave in itself. Nevertheless, as so often happens, this very simplicity carries within it a whole world of significance and practical application.
Por example, it becomes quite impossible for those who have once understood the character and spirit of the Octave to think of our separated brethren in merely polemical terms. When we kneel together (separated doctrinally and physically as we may be) to pray Christ's own prayer for Unity, we cannot but love one another with the love of Christ Himself.
This does not mean either that we should compromise with truth or that we should cease from defending that truth, but we may only do so in a spirit of love, charity and human (indeed Christian) understanding.
Facts. interpretations. real differences. old misunderstandings are in question between our separated
brothers and ourselves, not dislikes, fears, emotional loyalties. prestige, jealousies. 'Yet if we are truly honest with ourselves how much of the latter marks religious controversy as normally conducted!
NITY in Christ's own prayer for unity in fact gives a wonderful freedom, a wonderful emancipation. Without the smallest weakening of our own essential position, we can hold our hands out in Christ's charity and welcome, examining our own consciences for attitudes, perhaps only half-conscious, that are inconsistent with the spirit of this prayer for Unity.
The Abbd Couturier, who played so big a part in the defining and spreading of the Octave, was never known at any time to weaken or compromise m the rigidity of his own Catholicity, yet, spiritually nurtured on the true spirit of the Octave, he became in fact persona gratissima with every kind of nonCatholic, clerical or lay, working in the field of Re-union.
This new-found freedom has another advantage. It encourages a lifelong interest in the very real problems involved in all efforts to obtain a greater understanding between the different Communions. Under God, a growth of such understanding is an absolutely necessary step towards whatever ultimate practical solutions God may enable Christians to reach through their prayers and their work.
HERE in this country the field
for constructive work cannot but appear to be extremely hopeful, and yet somehow the fruits yielded seem unusually disappointing.
Without attempting to guess at figures, we can certainly say that there are very many people, whether actually "Catholic ' in their beliefs and traditions, whether earnestly and devotedly Christian, whether even only vaguely and confusedly Christian, who are aninue naturaliter Catholicte. They are the men and women, clerical or lay, who. one feels, only need a fresh light, a redisposal of certain traditional beliefs and values. to be prepared for receiving God's gift of full faith.
This seems to us to be particularly the case among the large number of Anglicans who in fact live personal lives of truly Catholic prayer and practice—lives, so very often, so much more dedicated to the spirit of Christ than many of Ours are.
Yet as year follows year and despite doctrinal crises that would appear to destroy the Christian foundations to which they have clung, the general picture remains virtually unchanged.
IN these matters we must be careful not to prejudge God's will. It may be that God, Who understands the situation so infinitely better than we do, sees that as things are there is work to be done for the people of our country which the members of the one Church He founded are not at present in so good a position to do.
But if we say this, we are also enabled to add by God's own revelation that such a state of affairs is due to human failings in which we Catholics share—and share most heavily since God's full revelation was entrusted to us. We are enabled to say this because Christ only commissioned one Church, the Church of which Peter was head on earth, and prayed for one fold and one shepherd. But then for our infidelities the condition of unity must he better for souls generally than the condition of disunity.
The remedy for the present disappointing situation must therefore in the first instance be laid at our own door, whether in terms of faults of commission or of omission.
It is not for the lay writer to attempt any detailed examination of conscience of this order. But one may perhaps suggest a relevant point or two.
THERE can be no doubt that
the people of this country consciously or unconsciously cling to their national traditions and habits. For most of them institutional religion means the religion of their upbringing and their country. If this religious faith weakens, as it is so manifestly doing in these secularist times, there is little to dispose them to turn to the remote mystery of an apparently imported Catholic Church.
-If, on the other hand, they find in their English "Catholicity" or Protestantism sufficient for their apparent needs, the majority will be content to stay where they arc.
Yet the one true Church is not intrinsically debarred from expressing the one truth and the one worship in a way and habit readily conforming to and representing the native traditions of different countries.
We are not here referring especially to controverted points of change such as the greater use of the vernacular. We are thinking of something subtler.
Questions of loyalties, manners, ways of mixing, approaches, accidental values—quite small things like these can profoundly change the external character of an institution.
To be excellent Catholics we do not need to appear a separate people. On the contrary, to be true Catholics we need to be people with every sort of tradition, association and bond with the mass of our countrymen of every class and type. And if we were this, we might then more easily see whether or not certain more definite changes could ease the transition from the post-Reformation British Christian idiom to the Catholicity which once was Britain's only religious idiom.
On our side, too. we may surely consider that the development of movements and ideas calculated to give our own Catholic people a more living and real understanding of Catholic worship and participation in it would enormously help us all to carry the truth over to the many varieties of peoples among whom we live and work.
MUCH more could be said about all this, but the purpose of this article is rather to suggest that the true understanding of the full spirit of the Chair of Unity Octave inevitably leads to a state of mind in which one looks, not for differences, clashing loyalties. controversies, but rather for those bridges which would facilitate the forming of a state of mind into which God's own grace of full faith----the only final solution to the problem—could more easily flow.