Forgotten Customs of the Octave of Christian Unity

Above: the young Rev. Lewis Thomas Wattson. 

That all may be one: as thou, Father art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us. (John 17:21)

Known as the “Octave of Christian Unity” as well as the “Chair of the Octave of Christian Unity” this period of time which lasts from January 18th through January 25th has been virtually forgotten even while it is kept as a more informal “Week of Christian Unity” in the modern Church. Sadly, the aftermath of Vatican II has obscured the primary purpose of this Octave: to pray and work for the conversion of those outside of the True Faith (i.e., the Catholic Faith).

From Episcopalian Beginnings to Catholic Unity

In 1898, Lewis Thomas Wattson would establish the Society of the Atonement, an Episcopalian religious community whose purpose would be to bring the Franciscan life to the Anglican Church. Working with Luraran Mary White, they would eventually in 1909 convert to the Catholic Faith, after having preached the primacy of the Roman pontiff for several years. In fact, the Vatican took at that time an unprecedented step to accept the members of their society as a corporate body, allowing the friars and sisters to remain in their way of life.

Father Paul Wattson, as he was then known, would continue to labor for the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement and for Christian Unity until his death on February 8, 1940. The same is true of Mother Lurana who would labor for this purpose until her death on April 15, 1935 at age 65. A lasting legacy of their work is the establishment of the Octave of Christian Unity observed each January since first established by Father Wattson in 1908.

The Intentions for the Octave of Christian Unity

While we do pray for the conversion of all who are separated from the Unity of the True Faith at this time, the Church does denote a special focus on certain days to certain particular groups. The traditional delineation is as follows:

  • 18 January: The union of all Christians in the one true faith and in the Church
  • 19 January: The return of separated Eastern Christians to communion with the Holy See
  • 20 January: The reconciliation of Anglicans with the Holy See
  • 21 January: The reconciliation of European Protestants with the Holy See
  • 22 January: That American Christians become one in union with the Chair of Peter
  • 23 January: The restoration of lapsed Catholics to the sacramental life of the Church
  • 24 January: That the Jewish people come into their inheritance in Jesus Christ
  • 25 January: The missionary extension of Christ’s kingdom throughout the world 

The Chair of Unity Octave Prayers

For each day of this Octave, make it a point to say this prayer. A printable version can be found here.

Ant. That they all may be one, as Thou, Father, in me and I in Thee, that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that Thou has sent me.

℣. I say to thee, that thou art Peter,
℟. And upon this rock I will build my Church.

Let us pray: Lord Jesus Christ, Who didst say to Thine Apostles: peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you, look not upon my sins, but upon the faith of Thy Church; and vouchsafe unto Her that peace and unity which is agreeable to Thy will: Who livest and reignest God forever and ever. Amen.

This prayer has been blessed with indulgences issued by the Holy See. Specifically, a plenary indulgence on the usual conditions at the end of the octave of prayers for the unity of the Church from January 18th to January 25th.[1]

For those of us who pray the Divine Office, this can easily be added at the end of our prayers. For those who do not, we can print out this prayer and say it each morning before Mass or at least during our morning prayers at home.

In addition to this prayer, we can spend extra time praying for the conversion of various groups. The following prayers can be a great aid to that as they are all taken from official Catholic sources and express the traditionally missionary yearnings of Holy Mother Church.

The Forgotten Two Feastdays in Honor of the Chair of St. Peter

A reason why this Octave has become forgotten in practice among Catholics stems from the changes to the Feast of St. Peter’s Chair. Traditionally January 18th is the Feast of St. Peter’s Chair at Rome and Feb 22 is St. Peter’s Chair at Antioch. Pope Paul IV in 1558 instituted this Feast on January 18th to confound the errors of the Protestants who sought to discredit that St. Peter actually lived and died in Rome. The two feasts were included in the Tridentine Calendar with the rank of Double, which Pope Clement VIII raised in 1604 to the newly invented rank of Greater Double.

In 1960 John XXIII removed from the General Roman Calendar the January 18th feast of the Chair of Peter, along with seven other feast days that were second feasts of a single saint or mystery. The February 22 celebration became a Second-Class Feast. This calendar was incorporated in the 1962 Roman Missal. For those Catholics who follow the pre-1955 Missal and Office, they will keep January 18th as the Feast of St. Peter’s Chair at Rome. And the spiritually associated with this day naturally lended well to the Octave of Christian Unity. It was a fitting beginning to the Octave while the Conversion of St. Paul, celebrated on January 25th, served as a poignant and appropriate ending to a week of prayer for those separated from the Ark of Salvation.

There is No Salvation Outside of the Catholic Church

The Church has always taught that there is no salvation outside of the Church (Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus). We are called to bring all people into the One Church of salvation, the Catholic Church. Our efforts to spread the Faith are centered on saving the souls of others. This is of supreme charity.

Perhaps Pope Eugene IV said it best in Cantate Domino when he unambiguously affirmed:

The most Holy Roman Church firmly believes, professes and preaches that none of those existing outside the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics, can have a share in life eternal; but that they will go into the eternal fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels, unless before death they are joined with Her; and that so important is the unity of this ecclesiastical body that only those remaining within this unity can profit by the sacraments of the Church unto salvation, and they alone can receive an eternal recompense for their fasts, their almsgivings, their other works of Christian piety and the duties of a Christian soldier. No one, let his almsgiving be as great as it may, no one, even if he pours out his blood for the Name of Christ, can be saved, unless he remain within the bosom and the unity of the Catholic Church.

Year-Round Efforts for the Propagation of the Faith

Hence rediscovering these customs is essential to countering the false ecumenism of our era. Make it a point to pray the prayers of Christian Unity between January 18 and January 25th, in addition to offering other prayers for groups separated from the Faith. We would do well to request priests to offer Masses for this intention and to offer Rosaries for those separated from Catholic Unity, including those who have fallen away from regular Sacramental life. In fact, the Church has attached indulgences in the Raccolta to pious practices for the propagation of the Faith. We should make it a point to do so throughout the year.


[1] Apostolic Brief: Feb. 25, 1916; S. P. Ap., Nov. 15, 1927, and Dec. 10, 1946.

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