September 19, 2014

That All May Be One / Fr. Rick Ginther

Work of ecumenism belongs to us all

This is the first column in a monthly series regarding the work of the archdiocesan Office of Ecumenism. I am pleased to be able to share with all of you in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis the gift and challenge of ecumenical work—a work, as we shall see, which belongs to us all.

What is ecumenism? It is rooted in the Greek word “oikomene.” In the days of the early Church, it referred to “the whole inhabited world,” which in that time meant the Roman Empire. Today, it is a movement among Christians to bring about greater Christian unity or cooperation.

Christian denominations and Christian Churches are separated by doctrine, history and practice. Many hope that one day there will be one Christian Church. They base their hope upon Jesus’ own words in the Gospel of St. John: “Ut unum sint,” which means “that they all may be one” (Jn 17:21-22).

Two important documents of the Second Vatican Council underpin Roman Catholic participation in the ecumenical movement: the “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church” and the “Decree on Ecumenism.” Both were promulgated at the Council on Nov. 21, 1964. They are inextricably linked theologically.

The “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church” (“Lumen Gentium”) describes the Church as a mystery, a communion of baptized believers, the people of God, the Body of Christ, and as a pilgrim moving toward fulfillment in heaven but marked on Earth with “a sanctity that is real, although imperfect.”

In Chapter II, “On the People of God,” it states: “The Church recognizes that in many ways she is linked with those who, being baptized, are honored with the name of Christian. …” (#15). They honor Scripture and usually are consecrated in baptism.

Many, particularly Eastern Orthodox Christians, recognize and accept other sacraments, rejoice in the episcopate, celebrate the holy Eucharist and cultivate devotion toward the Virgin Mother of God. They share in prayer and other spiritual benefits. They in some real way are joined with us in the Holy Spirit, and to them, too, he gives his gifts and graces.

“In all of Christ’s disciples, the Spirit arouses the desire to be peacefully united, in the manner determined by Christ, as one flock under one shepherd, and he prompts them to pursue this end” (#15).

The “Decree on Ecumenism” (“Unitatis Redintegratio”) states that ecumenism should be everyone’s concern. Genuine ecumenism involves a continual personal and institutional renewal.

Paragraph 12 states: “Before the whole world, let all Christians confess their faith in the triune God, one and three in the incarnate Son of God, our Redeemer and Lord. United in their efforts, and with mutual respect, let them bear witness to our common hope which does not play us false.

“In these days when cooperation in social matters is so widespread, all men without exception are called to work together, with much greater reason all those who believe in God, but most of all, all Christians in that they bear the name of Christ. Cooperation among Christians vividly expresses the relationship which in fact already unites them, and it sets in clearer relief the features of Christ the Servant” (#12)

In this 50th anniversary year of the issuing of these two teaching documents of our Church, may we grasp anew our ecumenical commitment!

Whenever we as Catholics attend to human needs in concert with other Christians, gather for prayer for Christian unity or sit down to dialogue over what we share and how we differ as followers of Christ, we are acting, praying and speaking with an ecumenical spirit.

(Father Rick Ginther is director of the archdiocesan Office of Ecumenism. He is also dean of the Terre Haute deanery and pastor of St. Patrick and St. Margaret Mary parishes, both in Terre Haute. E-mail him at

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