Ecumenism 25 Years Later

by Brother William J. Martyn, S.A.
photos: CNEWA files

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Pope John XXIII’s respect for the churches of the East is well-documented. This admiration is often cited as a source for the calling of the Second Vatican Council, an ecumenical synod dedicated to reforming the Church. Pope Paul VI, John XXIII’s successor, continued and implemented the reforms of this ecumenical council.

In November 1964, this college of bishops promulgated three documents that have had lasting impact on the life of the Church: the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium), the Decree on Ecumenism (Unitatus Redintegratio) and the Decree on Eastern Catholic Churches (Orientalium Ecclesiarum).

November 21, 1989, was the 25th anniversary of Orientalium Ecclesiarum. This innovative document set the tone for the goal of reunion with the Eastern Orthodox Churches.

Members of the Latin Rite of the Roman Catholic Church have a need to learn more about their brothers and sisters of the Eastern churches, of their liturgical rites, their rich religious traditions and spirituality. “All clerics and those aspiring to sacred orders should be well instructed in various rites and especially in the principles which are involved in interritual questions. As part of their catechetical education, the laity, too, should be taught about these rites and their rules.” In North America, Eastern Catholics of the Armenian, Byzantine (Hungarian, Melkite, Romanian, Russian, Ruthenian, Slovak and Ukrainian), Chaldean, Coptic, Ethiopian, Maronite, Syrian and Syro-Malabar rites have parishes. As members of the Catholic Church we share the same faith, the same sacraments and the same government.

The Church is the holy sphere in which the Holy Trinity dwells in our midst. The living unity of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit is revealed in their work, the Church. The origin of the Church is from God the Father. He sends his Son into the world so that he may call and gather together out of disunited, sinful humanity a new people.

The life of the Church is a share in the life of Christ, and as Christ exists from the Father, so also does the Church. The mission of the Church is a share in the mission of Christ, and as Christ was sent from the Father, so is the Church.

The mystery of the Church is primarily and at its deepest level an internal communion in faith, hope and charity of those who live out their fellowship with one another and with Christ, his Holy Spirit, and God the Father. But it is also an external, visible institution of means which beget and bring about this communion: the preaching of the Gospel, the administering of the sacraments and the governing of the faithful. The external, visible institution left to human weakness and sin has not always been faithful to its internal communion. Therefore the Council Fathers speak about the need of continual renewal. “In ecumenical work, Catholics must assuredly be concerned for their separated brethren, praying for them, keeping them informed about the Church, making the first approaches towards them. But their primary duty is to make an honest and careful appraisal of whatever needs to he renewed and achieved in the Catholic household itself, in order that its life may hear witness more loyally and luminously to the teachings and ordinances which have been handed down from Christ through the Apostles.”

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Tags: Unity Ecumenism Catholic Eastern Christianity Pope John Paul II