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This hymn was written to be sung to the tune “O Waly Waly” (“How Blessed is This Place”). It proceeds from Jesus’ prayer for the unity of His people, to the Crucifixion by which His Church was born, to the post-Resurrection period in which He was made known to His disciples by signs, wonders, risen saints, open wounds and in the breaking of bread. The heart wrenching yearning of His prayer for the Church is linked to the on-going suffering His Body experiences as a result of our disunities. The sacrifice of the Cross is linked to the healing of this Body through the Love among us by which Christ expects to be lifted up for the healing of the world.
I am grateful for the teachings of Chiara Lubich, foundress of the profoundly effective ecumenical movement Focolare, for the concept that it is only through identification with the Crucifixion – the abandonment of Self in love – that we may effect the restoration of the unity within human relationships and within the Church for which Christ died.
The use of the word agony in Verse 1 is meant to evoke the Agony in the Garden, and the sense of Christ’s “contesting mightily in intense pain of mind and body” for the “prize” of His Church. The giving of “your glory and your name” in this verse is taken from John, Chapter 17, in which His prayer is found.
Verse 3 uses the phrase ‘broken bread’ to establish the centrality of the Eucharist without putting up a barrier in the hymn to inter-denominational usage. In this verse, several other of the ‘proofs’ by which the authenticity of His Resurrection and Lordship were established are given to lead the mind toward the ‘summit and pinnacle’ of such proof: the fact of the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church (again, without the use of phrases that would seem controversial or problematic in inter-church celebrations).
In Verse 4, the congregation enters into the tension of contrast between His prayer, His desire for the wholeness and single-mindedness of His Body, and the reality of the disunity by which we must certainly be continually wounding Our Lord. The opening line consciously evokes the confessional moment within the Mass, once again without any barrier to the heartfelt participation of non-Catholic Christians in the hymn.
That our communion is shattered by pride that prevents unity is the key conception in this hymn. The Catholic ‘closed communion’ is one of the most difficult aspects of ecumenism for non-Catholics to understand and for Catholics to explain clearly. In my experience learning to present this reality in love to non-Catholics, the most effective means has been to express the Catholic Communion as a moment of suffering among Catholics for the very fact that it cannot yet be shared with other Christians. When I show them that we are actually suffering some portion of the brokenness Christ feels in His Body as a result of divisions within the Church, and yearning with each Mass for full unity within that Body, non-Catholic Christians are able to see the ‘closed door’ as a painful Truth instead of as a denial of privilege, or of love.
In Verse 5 the paradox of our oneness in Christ and brokenness in His Body is resolved in hope and shared mission to all peoples who, according to Scripture, will know we are His by our love for one another. Unity, as an expression of our love for each other, of Christ’s love for the world, and of the Love who created us to bear His own image in our particular time and place, is thus the theme of the hymn as a whole – making it appropriate for celebrations of unity within the Catholic Church, or in ecumenical settings.
That We May Be One
Jesus in agony you prayed
Your own as one would ever be.
You gave your glory and your name
To seal your Body’s unity.
Then on the cross your life was spent
To ransom all from evil’s power.
Earth quaked and temple veil was rent;
One Church was born in that dark hour.
Known to your own in broken bread,
In signs and wonders Christ revealed;
By saints new-risen from the dead;
By open wounds, the wounded healed.
We stand before you sorrowful,
Communion shattered by false pride.
We wound your Body and our souls –
The unity for which you died.
Now heal your Church that we may show
Divisions healed by saving grace.
Lord make us one so all will know
The Love who brought us to this place.