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Ecumenical Directory


The full title of the "Ecumenical Directory" is Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism. It was approved by Pope John Paul II on March 25, 1993 and published on June 8 by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity as a general executive decree of the universal Catholic Church. It supplants the Directory for the Application of the Decisions of the Second Vatican Council Concerning Ecumenical Matters, issued during the pontificate of Pope Paul VI.

Development of the Ecumenical Directory. When the archbishop of Rouen, J. M. Martin, presented the draft of the Decree on Ecumenism (Unitatis redintegratio ) to the Second Vatican Council, he promised that it would be followed by a directory explaining in greater detail the application of its decisions. The Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, charged with the task of making good on this promise, produced the Directory in stages. In 1967 Pope Paul VI ordered the publication of Part I of the Directory, and in 1970 he approved Part II. The first called for setting up ecumenical commissions in Catholic dioceses and episcopal conferences. It addressed the validity of baptism conferred in other churches and ecclesial communities, the fostering of spiritual ecumenism, and the sharing of spiritual resources (prayer, worship, and sacraments) with other Christians. The second par addressed "Ecumenism in Higher Education" and, in a particular way, in theological faculties and colleges.

The publication of the new Code of Canon Law in 1983 prompted a revision and updating of the Directory. Addressing the Roman Curia in 1985, John Paul II said:

Every particular church, every bishop, ought to have solicitude for unity and ought to promote the ecumenical movement. The new Code of Canon Law recently promulgated recalled this in a clearer than usual fashion, because it is a matter of Christ's will (Canon 755). But the church of Rome and its bishop have to attend to this care in a quite special way. It is therefore useful thatin the field of ecumenism we take a look at the path which we have so far covered in the direction of unity and draw from its enlivening spirit. Among the initiatives taken within the Catholic Church I recall first of all the Ecumenical Directory. This directory will need to be progressively updated in coming months, account being taken of the new Code of Canon Law and the progress of the ecumenical movement which the directory is directly intended to serve.

Once begun, it became evident that a revision of the existing directory would not be enough. A new directory that would encompass a wider scope, be more specific and concrete, and recognize the significant diversity found among the particular churches was called for. The new directory had the same aim as its predecessor, namely, the advancement of Vatican II's ecumenical vision of the Church, but it was a difficult challenge. As John Paul II remarked "it is impossible to translate perfectly into canonical language the conciliar image of the Church" though that image must always be referred to as the "primary pattern" that canonical language ought to "express insofar as it can" (Sacrae disciplinae leges, 1983).

Outline of the Directory. The directory is addressed first to the bishops of the Catholic Church and, through them, to all the faithful, and to members of other churches and ecclesial bodies who, "it is hoped," will find it useful. The first of its five parts reaffirms the commitment of the Catholic Church to ecumenism based on the principles of the Second Vatican Council, and explains that a real and certain communion bonds the Catholic Church with other Christian churches and ecclesial communities. It emphasizes the duty of all Christians to work and pray that division be healed and overcome. Part two describes the structures, beginning with the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christianity Unity, diocesan officers, and other personnel within the Catholic Church, that are charged with promoting ecumenism. Part three deals with the aims and methods of inspiring Catholics, especially those engaged in pastoral work, with an ecumenical out-look. It identifies categories of people who are to be formed, as well as theological faculties, catechetical institutes, and other centers that must accept the responsibility for this formation. Part four expands on the communion that exists among Christians on the basis of their common baptism. This section describes various ways that Christians share in prayer, worship, and other spiritual activities. Part four also incorporates new guidelines on mixed marriages. Part five speaks of various forms of ecumenical cooperation, dialogue and common witness, and the principles that should guide ecumenical activities. It singles out Bible study, the adoption of common liturgical texts, ecumenical cooperation in catechesis, collaborative research, and collaboration in social and cultural programs.

Pope John Paul II has cited the Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism on several occasions. It is clear from his 1995 encyclical Ut unum sint that he sees the directory as providing both the inspiration and framework for ecumenism in the Catholic Church.

Bibliography: "Directory for the Application of the Decisions of the Second Vatican Council concerning Ecumenical Matters, Ad Totam Ecclesiam (14 May 1967) in Vatican Council II," The Conciliar and Postconciliar Documents, ed. a. flannery, (Northport, N.Y. 1987), 483501. Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism, 25 March 1993 (Vatican City 1993). Also U.S. Catholic Conference Publishing Services (Washington, D.C. 1993); Origins 23:9 (29 July 1993): 129; 131160; L'Osservatore Romano (16 June 1993): i-xvii. For the text of Ut unum sint, see Acta Apostolica Sedis 87 (1995): 921982.

[j. f. hotchkin]

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