Long before it was renamed The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity - itself now more or less forgotten in the current ecumenical winter - the Chair of Unity Octave was devised by an Anglican Franciscan, Fr Lewis Thomas Wattson, Friar of the Atonement, on October 3, 1899. He and his brethren moved corporately into Full Communion ten years later ... one of the first examples of the process urged by Anglicanorum coetibus: group reconciliation. His brilliant notion was to have an Octave of Prayer beginning on the Feast of the Chair of S Peter at Rome (January 18), and ending on that of the Conversion of S Paul (January 25). The devotion was indulgenced by Benedict XV in 1916 and by Pius XII in 1946. Its observance was vigorously encouraged in the Church of England by priests like Fr Henry Fynes-Clinton and organisations with which he was associated, notably the Catholic League.
Bugnini's prim and disapproving pencil deleted the January 18 celebration on the grounds that it duplicated the Feast of the Chair of S Peter on February 22. The history of these two commemorations seems to be this. The February date was indeed the original day for commemorating the Chair ... that is to say, the Episcopal Consecration and Episcopate ... of S Peter. But the churches of first millennium Gaul disliked having festivals in Lent. And so they transferred it to the date in January. When their commemoration slithered into the Roman Calendar, this January feast was deemed to be that of S Peter's episcopate in Rome; the February doublet was called the feast of his episcopate in Antioch.
Perhaps future generations will have occasion to see January 18-25, 2011, as significantly bound up with the Great Ordinariate Adventure. And as people look to the future, I hope they will not forget the heroic men who, in the darkest of times and with no encouragement from local RC hierarchies, prayed and worked and exposed themselves to persecution on behalf of the Unity for which the Lord prayed.
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