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Those 'inclusive' invocations at inter-faith events: are they really Christian prayers?

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Sep 24, 2014

When asked to say a blessing at an inter-religious gathering, how many Catholic priests carefully avoid any mention of Jesus? Even a prayer offered to the “Father” might trouble adherents of those faiths that believe in a deity infinitely removed from the human estate. But “the Almighty” might safely be invoked, without fear of offending anyone.

Such painstakingly inclusive prayers—the “least-common-denomination” approach—have always bothered me. Of course we should try not to offend believers of other faiths. But if a group invites a Christian minister to offer the invocation, shouldn’t they expect a Christian prayer?

So the question arises: Can a Christian pray in such a way that he does not make any claims or assumptions that might be objectionable to other faiths? I suppose that could be done easily enough: by praying silently. In that context it is noteworthy that at a meeting with journalists (presumably including some who were not Christian), early his pontificate, Pope Francis proposed a moment of silent prayer.

But what about the times when we pray aloud? Consider this:

There is no other way of Christian prayer than Christ. Whether our prayer is communal or personal, vocal or interior, it has access to the Father only if we pray "in the name" of Jesus.

Those two sentences aren’t drawn from some controversial Catholic essayist, but from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2664). That is the official teaching of the Church: that we have “access to the Father only if we pray ‘in the name’ of Jesus.”

So when a Christian minister is asked to lead prayers at an inter-religious gathering, he has a choice. He can offer “a few nice words,” and keep nearly everyone happy. Or he can actually pray, as Christians pray, in Jesus’ name.

For the sake of friendly inter-religious ties, I would suggest that any priest who chooses the latter option should let his hosts know in advance what he has in mind, and give them an opportunity to find someone else to deliver the invocation. The response might be revealing.

Think about it. If you ask someone to make a phone call on your behalf, would you be satisfied with someone who makes a great show of dialing the number? Or would you be happier knowing that someone was likely to pick up the phone on the other end of the line?

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: molchanie77 - Sep. 27, 2014 10:25 AM ET USA

    This touches on a bit of a sorrow I have with some approaches to ecumenism. I am a convert and I thank God for the priests and those who 'set the table with the Treasures of our Faith' and invited me to come and eat and be satisfied! We need to go to others in the place they are at; but we need to bring the fullness of what God offers through His Church. The power of conversion comes from God through His Church. I was attracted by the extraordinary 'feast' offered by the Church.