Abbé Paul Irénée Couturier 1881-1953

Apostle of Christian Unity

Westminster Cathedral

Vigil of the Annunciation of our Lord

24 March 2003

Solemn Mass

5-30 pm


Principal Concelebrant

The Rt Revd Mgr Alan Hopes VG

Auxiliary Bishop in the Diocese of Westminster, Titular Bishop of Cuncacestre (Chester-le-Street)



The Revd Dominique Ferry

Communauté du Chemin Neuf, Langport



sung by the Choir to Gregorian Chant

Rorate caeli desuper, et nubes pluant iustum: aperiatur terra, et germinet Salvatorem. V. Caeli enarrant gloriam Dei: et opera manuum eius annuntiat firmamentum.

Let the clouds rain down the Just One, and the earth bring forth a Saviour. V. The heavens proclaim the glory of God and the firmament shows forth the work of his hands.

Among the ecumenical guests present at this Commemoration of the Abbé Paul Couturier were members of the Ecumenical Society of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Society for Ecumenical Studies, and the Catholic League (a group of Anglicans and Roman Catholics praying for the reconciliation of all Christians with the apostolic see of Peter).

Bishop Hopes warmly welcomed the Canon Jonathan Gough, representing the Archbishop of Canterbury, the representatives of the organizations involved in the Anniversary, and the clergy, lay people and religious from many churches.

The Bishop then read out the following greeting from His Eminence Cormac, Cardinal Murphy O'Connor, Archbishop of Westminster:


Dear Bishop Alan,

I am very glad indeed to know that Mass is being celebrated in the Cathedral to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the death of Abbé Paul Couturier.

It is good that so many people wish to remember a great Christian and Ecumenist who did so much in his life to promote prayer and work for Christian Unity.

I regret very much indeed that I am unable to be with you for the celebration but do give my warmest greetings to all present and the assurance of my prayers that the life and work of Abbé Paul Couturier will continue to bear much fruit.


+Cormac Murphy O'Connor

Archbishop of Westminster







from the prophet Isaiah, 7:10-14.8:10

The maiden is with child

read by Dr Martin Conway, former President, The Selly Oak Colleges, Birmingham, now President, the Society for Ecumenical Studies



from Psalm 8

Tollite portas, principes, vestras: et elevamini portae aeternales: et introibit Rex gloriae.

Lift up your gates, O princes, and he lifted up, O ancient doors: that the King of glory may come in.



from the letter to the Hebrews, 10:4-10

I was commanded in the scroll of the book, `God, here I am! I am coming to obey your will'.



Audi filia, et vide, et inclina aurem tuam: quia concupivit rex speciem tuam. V. Vultum tuum deprecabuntur omnes divites plebis: filiae regum in honore tuo.

Hearken, O daughter, and behold, and incline your ear; for the king desires your beauty. V. All the rich among the people will implore your countenance; your maids of honour- are the daughters of kings.



according to Luke, 1:26-38

You are to conceive and bear a son.




by Bishop Hopes


In our Mass tonight we have three reasons to be joyful. First we celebrate again the Incarnation of our Lord, whose coming as man was announced to the Virgin Mary over two thousand years ago. Second, we celebrate the dedication of our Cathedral exactly one hundred years ago. And third, we celebrate with love and gratitude the life and work of Paul Couturier who died fifty years ago today.

For most of his life, Paul Couturier was a devout, faithful and good priest in Lyon. Then he went on retreat to the Monks of Unity in Belgium. The Holy Father had asked these monks to live a monastic life that could reunite the great traditions of the Christian East with those of the Western Catholic world. He also learned here of Cardinal Mercier's conversations with Lord Halifax and the Abbé Portal in the 1920s to try to overcome the divisions between Anglicans and Catholics. There he began to understand that Christian disunity was not only a history of human unkindness but that it was also a sin against the goodness of Christ himself. So he surrounded the separations of Christianity with love and the prayer of Christ, through the Mass and the Divine Office.

He wondered how it would be possible to mend these enormous breaches, and to overcome the history of strife and suffering which Christians had inflicted upon each other. He took to heart Mary's response to the angel : 'let it be done to me as you have said'. Couturier realised that Christian unity could not be a matter of compromise, earthly convenience, or mere amalgamation. Like the coming of Christ as true God and true man, it would come at the right moment, when all things would be possible and when the world could believe. Couturier began to pray to Christ for unity 'according to his will, according to his means'.

Lyon had became a refuge for thousands of Russians who had fled the Communist Revolution. He discovered that there were vast spiritual riches to be embraced from his new Orthodox friends. He quoted often Metropolitan Platon of Kiev - 'The walls of separation do not reach as far as heaven'. Couturier grasped that even if our beliefs and cultures and traditions had such different contents, we could still unite in a place beyond this world, close to heaven but free from earthly separation, and there pray ever more closely to the Lord. He called this place without walls 'the invisible monastery' and invited everyone to go there every Thursday night, the night before Jesus died, and pray again his high priestly prayer - 'that they may all be one; as you Father, are in m e and I in you, that they may also be one in us, so the world might believe that it is you who have sent me'.

In our prayer and work for an end to the Church's divisions, Christ prays and works with us. Whenever unity is achieved, it is a sign to convince our world that Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us, the Word made flesh, at one with humanity, at one with the Father and the Spirit.

For Couturier, unity is no competition with winners and losers. The search for unity is nothing less than about the nature of God to seek out and save his people, to make them holy as he is holy, to fill them with love and the prayer that alone can over come our separation and the wounds of centuries.

As people grow in holiness they grow closer to Christ. The path, he realised would need to be the one, so well known to Mary and her Son : the way of humility, reparation and suffering. Patience, a waiting on Christ's will; perseverance, the will to overcome our pride; the growth in an awareness of each others' history, spirituality, faith and worship - these are the tools which will help us to grow closer together.

Seventy years ago, the Abbé Couturier set in motion the Week of Prayer for the Unity of Christians. For twenty years he gave himself totally to this cause. There have been many fruits of this authentically spiritual quest for a unity with 'mutually enriching diversity' (Catholic Lutheran International Commission). Since that moment there has been a great flood of prayer which, as Couturier saw, could not be confined in any way.

If the aim is nothing short of the entire union of Christ with all his people, there can be nothing and no one who stands outside the dominion of the Risen Christ. The unity of Christians is the sign of the unity of all humanity whose flesh Christ took for his own. When the Abbé prayed for the sanctification of all Christians, he prayed too for the sanctification of Jews, Moslems, Hindus. He believed that all the peoples of the world would ultimately come to recognise the love of God shown to us in Jesus Christ more than anything else by the friendship of Christians who genuinely love their neighbour, who pray, who love the world, who do justice and walk humbly with their God.

As Catholics, we can take pride that Paul Couturier, the Apostle of Christian Unity, together with the week of Prayer for the Unity of Christians, are a gift in all affection and humility from us to our Christian brothers and sisters. Today, thanks to this man, Christians from all traditions pray together as once the Master taught his disciples. We unite in witness and action, we teach and learn from each other how we might grow in holiness, we rejoice in each other's strengths and stand by each other in our times of need.

As he launched the Week of Prayer fifty years ago, the Abbé Paul Couturier proposed, as the pattern for all who would love to be united with Christ, the Virgin Mary, hearing the call to embrace her Creator in her womb. Therefore I end with his beautiful meditation on Mary, the Mother of Unity in Christ :

'Let all Christians come to their Saviour with an open soul, attentive to the divine call, in humble abandonment, the attitude of the humble Virgin Mary.

Her answer to the angel is the archetype of the creature's response to the Creator : I am the servant of the Lord. Let it be done to me as you have said.

When the disposition of Christian souls is that of the Virgin, when the answer of the Virgin Mary resounds silently in our souls, the souls of all Christians, this immense, silent cry, guided and dominated by the voice of the Virgin, will be unfurled before the throne of the Eternal in a single irresistible supplication.

And once again, by the action of the Holy Spirit, unity will come to pass'.




led by Dr Timothy Watson, University of Newcastle, and the Communauté du Chemin Neuf, Hautecombe

Bishop: The angel Gabriel announced to Mary that her Son, Emmanuel, would unite God with us. Let us pray that like her may he one with each other, one in Christ, at one with God.

R. We thank the Father whose Spirit inspired Paul Couturier with love for all Christians and a desire for unity. May we all be one, as Christ and the Father are one, that the world may believe. Lord, in your mercy, Hear our prayer.

R. May we he holy as God is holy. As we draw ever nearer to Christ, may we be forgiven the sins of disunity, overcome our separations, and be completely reconciled in charity, which is the herald of truth. Lord, in your mercy, Hear our prayer.

R. We pray for our holy Father, Pope John Paul, our bishop Cormac, and the leaders of all the Churches. May Peter strengthen his brothers. May all Christians discover that the walls of division do not rise as far as heaven, that God's will be done on earth as in heaven. Lord, in your mercy, Hear our prayer.

R. We thank God that the unity of Christians will reveal the coming unity of all creation through Christ his Son, perfect God and perfect man. We pray for all the world, that there may be peace and justice among all people. May all advance on the path to salvation, grow in love and sanctity, and make our conflicts and to pass away. Lord, in your mercy, Hear our prayer.

R. Let us hold before God in silence all our hopes for unity, for peace, and for goodness in the world.........................................

Bishop: Father, your Son prayed that we might all be one. May we see that he is the God who is with us. Grant us grace to be one with him and each other, that the world may believe that you have sent him, our Lord for ever and ever.




During the preparation of the gifts the Choir sang Quae est ista to music by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525-1594)

Quae est ista quae progeditur quasi aurora consurgens pulchra ut luna, electa ut sol, terribilis ut castrorum acies ordinata?

Who is she who comes forth like the rising dawn, beautiful as the moon and majestic as the sun, terrible as an army in full array?



SANCTUS from Mass IX



A great desire of the Abbé's was that all Christians should not fail to prayer the Lord's Prayer together when meeting. In this commemoration according to his own Latin rite, all present sang together the Pater Noster in a true sense of 'Spiritual Emulation'.

Pater noster, qui es in caelis:

sanctificetur nomen tuum;

adveniat regnum tuum;

fiat voluntas tue, sicut in caelo et in terra.

Panem nostrum cotidiannum da nobis hodie;

Et dimitte nobis debita nostra, sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris;

Et ne nos inducas in tentationem;

sed libera nos a malo.



AGNUS DEI Dei from Mass IX

During communion, the Choir sings Ecce virgo concipiet to music by William Byrd (c. 1540-1623)

Ecce virgo concipiet, et pariet filium: et vocabitur nomen eius Emmanuel.

The Virgin is with child and shall bear a son, and she will call him Emmanuel.



ESBVM, SFES and CL wish to thank Cardinal Murphy O'Connor, Bishop Hopes and Mgr Mark Langham, the Administrator of the Cathedral, for their generous invitation and for enabling this Fiftieth Anniversary to be celebrated at Westminster Cathedral.