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I have noticed some denominational Christians (Episcopalians, Lutherans) engaging in joint community oriented prayer services for Thanksgiving in the United States that involve Islamic, Hindu and other religious leaders. What is the Catholic position on holding joint “Thanksgiving” prayer services - especially with non theistic religions?

If it’s ok to pray with non theistic religious leaders, how would that justification be grounded in an understanding of Acts 17? Would only prayers couched in the form of Paul’s Easter oriented speech on Mars Hill be appropriate?

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  • BTW, Lutherans that still follow historic Lutheran doctrine do not look favorably on syncretism.
    – Matthew
    Nov 23 at 17:33
  • @Matthew, well with various religions being acknowledged on the same level as manifestations of the Divine, it does make one wonder if the apostle Paul could get away with praying in a modern venue something like what is recorded in Acts 17, "He has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”
    – Jess
    Nov 23 at 21:12
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I would be very careful engaging in such events. There have been popes in recent years who have had interfaith prayer services, but as far as I know, these are always done with Catholics running the show. There are a few things to keep in mind.

  1. We must be praying to the true God. It is okay to pray with Christians, Jews, and Muslims because we all believe in the Supreme God of the Universe, YHWH. We all direct our prayers to that supreme Divine Being, even if we have slightly different ideas about His commands for how we are to live our lives, different understandings of His attributes, etc. When faiths beyond these three get involved, you have to be certain you are not praying to any false gods.

  2. We can't engage in false worship. This one is far more broad. Participation in any formal liturgical setting that is not Catholic is typically off limits. I think some theologians would make exceptions for things like Protestant weddings (when neither party is a baptized Catholic, eg in case you converted from protestantism to Catholicism and your protestant sibling is getting married that their protestant church). We cannot attend Jewish and Islamic worship, and definitely not anything pagan. This sort of thing is distinct from an interfaith meeting with the goal of petitioning the Lord for something or thanking Him for some good (eg an end to war, etc).

This article may help further your understanding on this topic

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It is forbidden for Catholics to engage in communicatio in sacris—joining non-Catholics in their false worship or prayer:

1917 Canon 1258 §1 It is not licit for the faithful by any manner to assist actively or to have a part in the sacred [rites] of non-Catholics.

cf. Dom Augustine's A Commentary on the New Code of Canon Law on '17 Can. 1258

This law is expressed in the 1983 code, in the section "Delicts against religion and the unity of the Church," as:

1983 Can. 1365 A person guilty of prohibited participation in sacred rites (communicatio in sacris) is to be punished with a just penalty.

cf. this commentary on '83 Can. 1365

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  • Is the Catholic position on holding joint “Thanksgiving” prayer or perhaps “world peace” prayer to be considered praying in a “sacred Rite”?
    – Ken Graham
    Nov 23 at 19:33
  • @KenGraham Fr. Thomas Crean O.P. has written an interesting article: "Praying With Non-Catholics — Is it Possible?"
    – Geremia
    Nov 24 at 22:36

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