Today is the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, and marks the end of the Chair of Unity Octave, which is kept each year from the feast of the Chair of St. Peter in Rome until today.
Canon Aaron Huberfeld of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest preached the following sermon on Sunday during the Octave, and I can think of no better day to publish it than today. Enjoy, and pray for the perfect reconciliation of all Christians under the authority of Peter:
Sermon during the Chair of Unity Octave
Today there are certain prayers added to the Mass. They are taken from the Mass for the destruction of schism, and they are added here as prayers for the unity of the Church. We have been adding them to the Mass since January 18, Feast of St. Peter’s Chair in Rome, and will continue with them until January 25, Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. We are observing what is traditionally known as the Chair of Unity Octave, eight days between the Feasts of the two Apostles, during which we pray for the unity of all Christians and the extension of the reign of Christ throughout the world.
We should be careful with the term “unity of the Church”. The Church is the spotless bride of Christ; unity is one of her essential marks: in virtue of the constitution given to her by her Divine Founder, she is One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. And her members, sinners and saints, are one inasmuch as they hold the same Faith, receive the same sacraments, and live under obedience to the same Head. They hold to One Lord, one Faith, one Baptism; a creed and a sacramental priesthood handed down from Our Lord Himself through His Apostles and their successors, and a visible government founded on the Prince of the Apostles. They are one because they adhere to the same principal of unity, which is nothing other than that same Chair of St. Peter.
As the immortal Roman Catechism teaches us:
“Should anyone object that the Church is content with one Head and one Spouse, Jesus Christ, and requires no other, the answer is obvious. For as we deem Christ not only the author of all the Sacraments, but also their invisible minister – He it is who baptizes, He it is who absolves, although men are appointed by Him the external ministers of the Sacraments – so has He placed over His Church, which He governs by His invisible Spirit, a man to be His vicar and the minister of His power. A visible Church requires a visible head; therefore the Savior appointed Peter head and pastor of all the faithful, when He committed to his care the feeding of all His sheep, in such ample terms that He willed the very same power of ruling and governing the entire Church to descend to Peter’s successors.”
When we pray, then, for the unity of the Church, we do not pray for the Church to be what she already is. Rather, we pray that all those who are her children by baptism may come to know and love her as their mother, and to receive not only baptism, but all the sacraments. Further, we pray for all those who do not yet know Christ. Christ is the head of all men; all men are at least potential members of His Mystical Body. Such is the purpose and scope of the Chair of Unity Octave.
What a beautiful stroke of Divine Providence that we should owe the observance of this octave of prayer to a Protestant. Fr. Paul James Francis had founded a community of Episcopal Franciscans called the Friars of the Atonement, and he had joined with a community of Episcopal nuns who had taken the same name and desired the same apostolate. Grieved by the division which he perceived among Christians, Fr. Paul began his work in his own Protestant denomination by preaching reunion with Rome. When he found himself banned from the pulpits of the Episcopal church, he took to the streets of New York, where he continued to exhort all separated Christians to return to communion with the Holy See. In 1908 he instituted the Chair of Unity Octave in his own community, and many Protestants joined him in praying that all Christians might again be one under the successor of St. Peter.
Father Paul and his community were among the first fruits of this prayer, as they were all received into the Church a year after they began to observe the octave. The Holy See approved their community and blessed their work. The Chair of Unity Octave obtained official recognition from Rome, and it was soon established in every diocese of the United States as well as in many other parts of the world.
Not long before the advent of the Society of the Atonement, and on the other side of the world, the Russian writer Vladimir Soloviev exposed himself to censorship and persecution when he made his own eloquent confession of faith: “As a member of the true and venerable Eastern or Greco-Russian Orthodox church… I recognize as supreme judge in matters of religion him who has been recognized as such by St. Irenaeus, St. Dionysius the Great, St. Athansius the Great, St. John Chrysostom, St. Cyril… and so on – namely, the apostle Peter, who lives in his successors and who has not heard Our Lord’s words in vain: Thou art Peter, and upon this Rock I will build my Church…confirm thy brethren… feed my sheep… feed my lambs.”
Ubi Petrus, ibi Ecclesia. Where Peter is, there is the Church. True ecumenism is nothing other than following Our Lord’s commandment to preach the Gospel to every creature, to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost…and if they ask where they may find the church of Christ, you may tell them that they need look no further than Caesarea Philippi, monument to the earthly power of ancient Rome, in the face of which Our Lord loudly proclaimed: thou art Peter.
May Our Lady of the Atonement intercede for each of us, and grant that we may arrive safely at eternity’s shore, borne there by that one, true bark of Peter, outside of which there is only storm and shipwreck. It was she who first came to Our Lord with concern for our fellow men: they have no wine. May she intercede for all our brethren now, that they may receive the grace of partaking of the true wine of the holy sacraments, and soon there may be but one flock, and one shepherd. Amen.