Resources for
THE WEEK OF PRAYER FOR CHRISTIAN UNITY
and throughout the year 2008

Pray without ceasing (1 Thess 5:17)

Jointly prepared and published by
The Pontifical Council for Christian Unity
The Commission on Faith and Order of the World Council of Churches



Introduction to the Worship Service

The proposed worship service recalls the deep-rooted American religious belief in the power of prayer. It includes elements of Roman Catholic liturgy and features drawn from liturgies of other mainline Christian traditions, with particular contributions from Protestant pietism and American pentecostalism. Spirituals inspired by the gospel are recommended for the sung parts. The service comprises three distinct parts in relation with the themes of the eight days.

The order of service

The first part begins with a litany of prayers to the Holy Spirit, SEQ CHAPTER \h \r 1asking for the gift of unity among Christians and for those gifts which lead to unity. The central element in this first part is the word of God; the general theme of the readings is the call to search for the will of God, accompanied by constant prayer (Is 55: 6-9 ; 1 Thess 5: 13b-18), in particular, prayer united to Christ’s own prayer that his disciples be one (Jn 17: 6-21). The sermon is followed by a moment of silence and then thanksgiving, gratefully acknowledging the work of the Spirit in the hearts and lives of those who contributed to the birth and development of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (see introduction).

In the second part of the worship service all join together to share prayer requests and exchange a sign of peace, and a collection is taken up. The sign of peace and the collection are placed here in order to underline their value as signs of already existing communion and solidarity. Hymns and songs might strengthen the expression of ‘active faith’ and the hope signified by these acts and intercessions.

The third part comprises the confession of faith, the blessing and the prayer of sending. The symbol of light is proposed. This concluding section celebrates the joy of confessing together our faith in the risen Christ, light of our lives (Col 1: 12-20), leading to a renewed commitment – personal and in community – to pray without ceasing and to work for Christian unity. We are sent forth with God’s blessing. The members of the congregation then leave the worship space each holding a lighted candle/taper, symbolising the fact that Christians are called to be constant both in prayer for unity, of which Christ is the source, and in ecumenical action in the presence of the risen Christ.
 
 

Order of Service

Pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5 : 17)

L Worship Leader
R Readers
A All

Opening hymn and procession

The worship leaders and participants in the service can enter in procession during the singing of the hymn. It is suggested that one of them carry either an oil lamp or a lighted candle which will be placed in view of the congregation, for example on the altar/communion table bearing the Bible. Those present will already have received an unlit candle/taper on entering the church.

I. Welcome, invocation of the Holy Spirit and proclamation of the word of God

Word of welcome:

The worship leader or the pastor of the host congregation welcomes the assembly in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, then says:

L. Together let us call upon the Holy Spirit, light of our hearts, breath of life and power of the Father made manifest in the death and resurrection of Jesus. May he continue today his work of reconciliation and communion as it began with the preaching of the apostles. Do we not recognise this work of the Spirit in every step towards fuller communion in love, towards reconciliation and justice, in the ecumenical movement and the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity over this last one hundred years?

One of the leaders briefly introduces the 2008 celebration, placing it within the framework of the centenary of the establishment by Paul Wattson, in 1908, of the prayer for unity octave, forerunner of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

L. We start our prayer by invoking the triune unity of our God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Let us welcome God into our hearts, as God welcomes us into his own through Jesus Christ, our Lord.
A. Amen

L. Let us pray to the Father to send us the gifts of his Holy Spirit: that our hearts may open to his presence, that he may be present in our prayers and lead us into his communion. The unity of the church is the work of the Holy Spirit. We can never succeed by our own means. Let us pray that the Holy Spirit may descend upon each of us, that he may bless the church of God with his grace and unite us in Christ.

L. Come, Holy Spirit!
A. Fill our hearts with grace!
L. Come, Holy Spirit!
A. Free us from doubt and mistrust!
L. Come, Holy Spirit!
A. Give us faith to go forward!
L. Come, Holy Spirit!
A. Transform our hearts of stone!
L. Come, Holy Spirit!
A. Bring God’s justice to our world!
L. Come, Holy Spirit
A. Help us to understand that we are sisters and brothers!
L. Come, Holy Spirit !
A. Break down the walls between us!
L. Come, Holy Spirit!
A. Give us your gifts that we may share them!
L. Come, Holy Spirit !
A. Intercede for us, Spirit of the Father, whose profound sighs go further than our words!
L. Come, Holy Spirit!
A. Unite all Christians in Christ our Lord!

A hymn to the Holy Spirit is sung: e.g. ‘Veni Creator Spiritus’, ‘Veni Sancte Spiritus’(Taizé), ‘Come Holy Ghost’, or the American spiritual, ‘Come Holy Spirit’.

L. May there be a new and ongoing Pentecost. May our churches commit themselves once more to pray for the full unity of all Christians, and our prayers be added to a century of prayers “that all may be one”. We pray through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

A. Amen

The word of God

R. Is 55: 6-9 Seek the Lord while he may be found

Psalm 34, sung or read responsively.
This poor soul cried, and was heard by the Lord

R. 1 Thess 5: (12a) 13b-18 Pray without ceasing

Sung Alleluia

R. John 17: 6-21 That all may be one

Sermon
(Silence)

Thanksgiving

For gifts received within the ecumenical movement and through the faithfulness of Christians praying for unity in Christ. According to the context the congregation might evoke more explicitly the fruits of the ecumenical movement and the prayer for unity at a local or global level.

All. Truly our God is great,
Our hearts are filled with wonder!

L. We give thanks to you for Jesus your Servant whose name is called
Upon by the multitude among the ‘nations’;

R1. We give thanks to you for the Christ, your envoy,
he who gathers your scattered children;

R2. We give thanks to you for your Holy Spirit;
he is our communion and leads us into the unity of one faith;

R1. We give thanks to you for all who were pioneers in the search for
Christian unity, be they well known like Father Paul Wattson
and the Abbé Couturier or quite unknown -
faithful lay people, monks and nuns, all the servants of Christian unity
who have responded to your call.

R2. We give thanks for the abundant fruits of this
unceasing prayer for unity in Christ, rising up from all the continents.

R1. During one whole century you have heard this constant prayer which has brought forth so much fruit.

R2. May your Spirit encourage us to persevere in prayer and may we ever keep alive the memory of active faith of all the ‘saints’ – pioneers, theologians and those who have been faithful in prayer for the ecumenical movement, in their love of the gospel and of the church.

L. Now, O God our Father, from the depth of our memory and of our hearts we turn towards you and praise you with all those whom your Word has illumined and called, that your Holy Spirit might move us: those whom you desire to bring together in one baptism, one faith and one communion, in praise of your glorious name.

The opening line of praise could be inserted between each verse of thanksgiving.

Song expressing praise, thanksgiving, glorification of God. For example, the Trisagion, Gloria. Some psalms would be suitable accompanied by a brief introduction : Ps 33, Ps 34, Ps 36 (English, NRSV)

II. Prayers of intercession and symbolic gestures of unity

Intercessions

L. Let us pray to the Father, through the Son and in the Holy Spirit, for the needs of our churches, our world and ourselves.

L. We pray without ceasing for the unity of all Christians.

A. Lord, have mercy on us and hear us!

L. We pray without ceasing for the leaders of our churches and faith communities, that they may persevere in the task of pursuing Christian unity.

A. Christ, have mercy on us and hear us!

L. We pray for all the baptized, that they may ever pray that “all may be one…so that the world may believe”.

A. Lord, have mercy on us and hear us!

L. For the churches and faith communities which risk further division and schisms, that their unity might be preserved.

A. Christ, have mercy on us and hear us!

L. For the councils of churches throughout the world at national and local level, and that the work which they accomplish together might be a witness to the gospel in the world.

A. Lord, have mercy on us and hear us!

L. For the ecumenical dialogues between and among our churches, communions and faith communities, so that whatever divides us might be overcome through wisdom, love and truth.

A. Christ, have mercy on us and hear us!

L. That all Christians might witness to the gospel, turning away from all that is destructive, to embrace justice, peace and solidarity. For the poor, the oppressed, victims of war and of violence. For the broken hearted and for those who are hated and maltreated.

A. Lord, have mercy on us and hear us!

L. We pray that the Lord may hear and respond to our constant prayers, through Christ our Lord.

A. Amen

The sign of peace

L. Peace be with you.

A. And also with you.

L. Having prayed to God for the forgiveness of our sins, and as we ourselves forgive each other, let us now exchange a sign of peace and seal our unity in prayer, in faith, love and in the hope of full communion.

Participants exchange a sign of peace. A hymn is sung while the participants afterwards return to their places.

Collection

III. Commitment to constant prayer and ecumenical action, blessing and prayer of dismissal

Lighting of candles

(Instrumental music during the lighting of the candles/tapers)

From the worship space, the candles or tapers of the people in the first row of the congregation are lit. From there the light will be spread all over the church. When all the candles are lit, all proclaim the confession of faith together. (The Nicene or Apostles’ Creed could be used instead.)

Confession of faith in the Risen Christ, our unity and the light of our lives

A. May we joyfully give thanks to the Father / who has enabled us to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. / He has rescued us from the power of darkness / and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, / in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. / He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; / for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, / whether thrones or dominions or rulers of powers / – all things have been created through him and for him. / He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. / He is the head of the body, the church; / he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, / so that he might come to have first place in everything. / For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, / and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, / whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. (Col 1 : 12-20)

Our Father

For the Lord’s prayer, members of the congregation are invited to leave their places and to either come to the front of the church or into the worship space. If possible, one or more concentric circles can be formed. If this conforms to local custom, the participants could hold hands while praying.

L. Let us join our minds, hearts and voices with all Christians throughout the world, as we pray together in the words Jesus gave us:

A. Our Father

Ecumenical commitment
(lighted candle in hand)

A. Lord we have glorified you for the grace you have given us in the ecumenical movement. / In the joy of being called to serve you in the one search for Christian unity, / we acknowledge the work of the Holy Spirit / and the admirable diversity of gifts and talents of the Spirit destined to be shared. / We commit ourselves to persevere in constant prayer for Christian unity, / and through concrete gestures of reconciliation, / to seek to bring forth perfect unity in your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Blessing

L. Let us leave this place glad to have worshiped together and been called to pray without ceasing while we wait for that great day when we shall all be perfectly united in Christ.

L. The Lord Jesus Christ be with you

A. And with your spirit

L. (The worship leaders can say these words together).
May the Lord bless you/us and keep you/us. May the Lord make his face to shine upon you/us and keep you/us. May the Lord be gracious unto you/us and give you/us his peace.

A. Amen

L. May the Lord bless us in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

A. Amen

L. Let us go in peace, praying constantly and rejoicing in hope, while never ceasing to thank God

A. Let us give thanks to God

(Final procession, lit candle/taper in hand)

The leaders of the local churches, pastors, ministers, readers and other participants in the worship process out of the church with the lit candles. A hymn or song may be sung during this concluding/retiring procession, underlining the commitment of Christians in the mission of unity; for example, ‘Lord you give the great commission’ or ‘The church’s one foundation’ or the spiritual ‘There’ll be peace in the valley’ would be appropriate.

Significance of this symbolic act within the framework of the worship service:

Like a watchman awaiting the return of Christ, each member of the congregation holds the lit candle/taper, sign of his or her commitment to pray without ceasing for Christian unity, in hope and in the light of our paschal faith. This symbol underlines our desire to hasten the coming of the Lord (a major theme of the letters to the Thessalonians) and to pray and work for unity.

The symbolism of the light recalls the celebration of Easter: Christ, our Passover, present and working through the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, is the light of the dawning of a new day for the world, a world henceforth called to renounce the shadows of sin, division and hatred. Is it not in the power of the Risen Christ, and at the prompting of the Spirit of the Father, light of our hearts and inspiration of our lives, that we are called to cooperate with other Christians in making visible the unity of the church of Christ?


To index page of the 2008 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity