- Can a Catholic take part in interdenominational prayer services, and what value do they have?
- Catholic may not take part in any active way in a non-catholic service of any kind, be it of one denomination or of several. The reason for this is that a non-catholic prayer service, even an interdenominational one, contains a religious outlook that implicitly is in opposition to Catholicism. Interdenominational prayer services are effectively protestant prayer services and Protestantism (as the name implies) contains tenets that are opposed to Catholicism, even if modern-day Protestants are not themselves anti-catholic. To actively take part in such services is to imply a tacit approval or acceptance of those tenets, which would be to cause scandal in the strict sense of the word.
Passive attendance at such a service may sometimes be justifiable, eg. at a wedding or funeral. In this case it must be clear that one is attending out of consideration for the people concerned – the bridal couple or the deceased, say – and not out of any approval for the service itself. One may sit or stand with the others but nothing further should be done. One can pray privately during the ceremonies. For example by praying the rosary. It can happen that attendance even at such a service may be wrong, for example in the case of a Catholic friend who chooses to marry outside the Church. One needs to weigh up whether he is ignorant or in bad faith. It is best in such cases to speak to a priest whose judgment you trust, before committing yourself.
It can happen, and quite often does, that one is asked to pray with a non-catholic friend or friends (eg in a hospital). There is nothing wrong with that since such a gathering does not constitute a “prayer service”: no one is being asked to give tacit approval to anything. This could even be the opportunity to introduce one’s non-Catholic friends to Catholic devotions like the rosary or the scapular. It is my experience that in our time one makes more converts by simply being good friends with non-Catholics and gradually introducing them to the practice of the Faith, as opposed to giving them all the arguments from Catholic apologetics. The times of informal prayer together are invaluable – swallow your human respect and use them!
As regards the efficacity of interdenominational prayer services, it all pretty much depends on the dispositions of those taking part. A prayer service is not a sacrament, hence of itself it does nothing. Most non-catholics today (and an increasing number of Catholics) have no clear concept of a unique Christ-founded Church; and hence take part in such services in good faith. God sees their goodwill and hears their prayers accordingly, thus perhaps bringing them ultimately to the true Fold.