Joint commemoration of the Reformation planned

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The Archdiocese of St. Louis and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America will host a Lutheran-Catholic Joint Commemoration of the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis on Sunday, Oct. 29, with an ecumenical prayer service at 7 p.m.

Martin Luther posted his "95 Theses" on a church door Oct. 31, 1517. It marked as the beginning of what is known as the Protestant Reformation. While the Reformation fractured Western Christianity, Catholics and Lutherans have been committed to dialogue the past 50 years in an effort to restore full unity.

Also as part of the commemoration, a panel discussion will be held at 9:30 a.m. Monday, Oct. 30, at the Aquinas Institute of Theology. Both these events will be led by bishops from the national Lutheran-Catholic dialogue, Bishop Denis Madden of the Archdiocese of Baltimore and Bishop Donald McCoid of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

In preparation for the anniversary, the archdiocesan Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs and a core group of Lutheran pastors initiated parish-based, lay dialogues to encourage greater unity of the churches. The sessions allowed people to get to know one another as neighbors and learn about their connections and differences.

Archbishop Robert J. Carlson of the Archdiocese of St. Louis and Bishop Roger R. Gustafson of the Central States Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America stated in a joint letter that the dialogue follows the example of Pope Francis, the Lutheran World Federation, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. "Our most loving Lord calls us to remember God's tremendous mercy. Only in that merciful light can we remember together our history and work to mend our divisions," they wrote.

James Comninellis, outreach and resources coordinator of the archdiocesean Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs Office, said part of commemorating the Reformation is "repenting for the way our communities have mistreated each other."

Commemorate — not celebrate in this case — means "to remember together our past," both in strengthening each other and learning to heal, he said.

Efforts to share the Gospel are impeded when Christians can't get along or don't interact, Comninellis said, echoing statements from St. Francis. "Even if we can't be in full communion with each other or agree on social teachings, we can acknowledge where we do agree," Comninellis said.

Both Rev. Martin Junge, general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation and Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, said earlier this year that the biggest breakthrough in Lutheran-Catholic relations was the signing in 1999 of the "Joint Declaration on Justification," or how people are made righteous in the eyes of God and saved. But before eucharistic sharing and full unity are possible, they said, further agreement must be found on Catholic and Lutheran understandings about the church, the Eucharist and ministry.

Cardinal Koch said marriages between a Protestant and a Catholic are a pastoral concern for both churches, particularly in finding ways to encourage continued church participation and in dealing with the question of going to Communion together.

Reconciliation, especially focusing on the 500th anniversary of the beginnings of the Reformation, was stressed during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, celebrated in January in St. Louis. Leading up to the commemoration, the archdiocese and the Lutheran group will build a home for a client of Habitat for Humanity. Comninellis' office sponsors a "Meeting Our Neighbors" program, with reciprocal visits planned to Lutheran Church of the Atonement, 1285 N New Florissant Road in Florissant, at 4:45 p.m Saturday, Sept. 23, and to St. Philippine Duchesne Church at 4:15 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 7. The visits will include questions and answers on Lutheranism on Sept. 23 and Catholicism Oct. 7, and prayer services and refreshments both days.

Dialogue in St. Louis also continues with the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, which focuses on academics and involves faculty of Kenrick-Glennon Seminary and Concordia (Lutheran) Seminary. The Missouri Synod isn't part of the Lutheran World Federation. 

What Pope Francis says

As the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation approaches, "Catholics and Lutherans can ask forgiveness for the harm they have caused one another and for their offenses committed in the sight of God," Pope Francis said.

Meeting with representatives of the Lutheran World Federation and members of the Catholic-Lutheran international theological dialogue in late 2015, Pope Francis said commemorations in 2017 of the beginning of the Reformation must take place in a spirit of dialogue and humility.

While the Reformation fractured Western Christianity, he said, for the past 50 years Catholics and Lutherans have been committed to dialogue in an effort to restore full unity.

"Together we can rejoice in the longing for unity which the Lord has awakened in our hearts, and which makes us look with hope to the future," Pope Francis said. "Patience, dialogue and mutual understanding" will be necessary as the two communities seek to overcome what separates them.

While theological dialogue is important, he said, the key to unity lies in prayer and trying to follow more closely the teachings of Jesus.

A 120-page document marks the progress in Catholic-Lutheran relations over the past 50 years and maps the remaining steps needed to achieve full unity.

The "Declaration on the Way" was prepared by a joint task force of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs and the Chicago-based Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which has more than 3.7 million members in 9,300 congregations across the United States.

Auxiliary Bishop Denis J. Madden of Baltimore, the Catholic co-chairman of the task force, said Pope Francis on his recent U.S. visit and throughout his papacy has emphasized "a culture of dialogue" that is reflected in concrete form in the new declaration.

It concludes by asking the Lutheran World Federation, a global communion of 145 churches in 98 countries, and the Pontifical Council on Promoting Christian Unity to jointly "receive, affirm and create a process to implement" the 32 statements of agreement outlined in the declaration.

— Catholic News Service 

Lutheran-Catholic Joint Commemoration

WHAT: an evening ecumenical prayer service and the following morning a panel discussion on the 500th anniversary of the Reformation with Bishop Denis Madden of the Archdiocese of Baltimore and Bishop Donald McCoid of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

ECUMENICAL PRAYER

WHAT: 7 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 29

WHERE: Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis

4431 Lindell Blvd., St. Louis

PANEL DISCUSSION

WHAT: 9:30 a.m. Monday, Oct. 30

WHERE: Aquinas Institute of Theology

23 S. Spring Ave., St. Louis

RSVP (314) 792-7177 or jamescomninellis@archstl.org

More Information: www.archstl.org/ecumenical/events 

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