Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.
Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy
At the beginning of January, I spent several days in Minneapolis at the North American Academy of Liturgy. In a seminar on 16th-20th liturgical history, we opened our first session with morning prayer in common (led by Frank Senn). In the room were ELCA Lutherans and the Presbyterians, Methodists and Anglicans, Catholics and the Missouri Synod Lutherans. That morning, we chanted Lauds in English as it was done by early to mid-twentieth century Lutherans and Episcopalians. We did so with great trepidation, lacking musical accompaniment, for the most part sight reading notes that we were glancing upon for the first time.
And yet, we prayed. At the end, it did not feel like it was some exercise in re-constructing old liturgical rites. It did not feel like a session on the history of musical notation. It was prayer, shared in common by Christians who (without a doubt) have quite different views about ministry, theology, development of doctrine, ecclesial discipline, and the moral life.
The unity of the Church today, to be frank, is not something that we can will into being with great ease. There are serious disagreements to be had among us Christians about points of doctrine and practice that really do matter to our identities. In reality, many of us Christians are in open disagreement not simply with other Christian communities but those who subscribe to the very same articles of belief that we do. Methodist against Methodist. Episcopalian against Episcopalian. Orthodox against Orthodox. Only a bloodless approach to unity wants to pass over these differences without real dialogue and argument alike.
Yet, in such moments when we really do pray together, we are offered a glimpse of the kind of unity that Christ intended within the Church. That each of us profess faith in the “catholic” Church, a Church made one through the love of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. That every human being is to be gathered together into that one body of total praise. And that one day, through a grace that we can only desire, argument and discourse will give way to praise and adoration.
In reality, we are not one. We are not yet there. The arguments and disagreements remain present and must be had. But through times of praying together, of learning to dwell together in unity (even in the midst of our very real differences), we practice that vocation of total praise which is our destiny. We long to pray not simply as an Orthodox or a Methodist or a Catholic. Rather, we long to pray as together as one body, one spirit in Christ.