October 21, 2016

That All May Be One / Fr. Rick Ginther

Oct. 31 prayer service to mark Catholic-Lutheran dialogue

Fr. Rick GintherOn Oct. 31, All Hallows Eve, members of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), the Catholic Church and other international Christian leaders will gather for prayer together in Lund and Malmö, Sweden.

Just 50 years ago, such an ecumenical gathering for prayer would have been unimaginable. For 450 years, Catholics and Lutherans had been at war—a war of theological words and mutual condemnations.

Much has changed in 50 years, some of which I have noted in earlier columns.

But why at this moment will such a momentous event occur?

That date, closest to Reformation Sunday, opens a year of worldwide joint ecumenical commemoration of the Reformation. Nearly 500 years ago, in 1517, Martin Luther “posted” his 95 theses in Wittenberg, Germany. Protestants and Catholics mark this moment as the start of the Protestant Reformation.

The yearlong commemoration will begin with a common prayer service in the Lund (Lutheran) Cathedral. It will be based on the recently published Catholic-Lutheran “Common Prayer” liturgical guide.

The prayer service will be led by Pope Francis, LWF President Bishop Dr. Munib A. Younan and LWF General Secretary Rev. Dr. Martin Junge. A public event will follow in Malmö, at which leaders from the Lutheran Church of Sweden and the Diocese of Stockholm will co-preside.

Anniversaries are often celebrations. Some anniversaries are sad commemorations—9/11, for example. Still others are more complex. The 500th anniversary of the Reformation is one of the more complex.

The “Introduction to the Common Prayer for the Ecumenical Commemoration” states: “The … commemoration … reflects in its basic liturgical structure [the] theme of thanksgiving, repentance and common witness and commitment, as developed in ‘From Conflict to Communion. Lutheran-Catholic Common Commemoration of the Reformation in 2017.’ (Report of the Lutheran-Roman Catholic Commission on Unity)

The introduction continues: the four themes “mark the singing and the praying as we commemorate the gifts of the Reformation and ask forgiveness for the division that we have perpetuated. Thanksgiving and lament, however, do not stand alone: they lead us to common witness and commitment to each other and for the world.”

A joint press release by the LWF and the Pontifical Commission for the Promotion of Christian Unity states: “The joint ecumenical event … will highlight the solid ecumenical developments between Catholics and Lutherans and the joint gifts received through dialogue.”

“The LWF is approaching the Reformation anniversary in a spirit of ecumenical accountability,” says LWF General Secretary Junge.

“I’m carried by the profound conviction that by working toward reconciliation between Lutherans and Catholics, we are working toward justice, peace and reconciliation in a world torn apart by conflict and violence.”

Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Commission for the Promotion of Christian Unity, explains further: “By concentrating together on the centrality of the question of God and on a Christocentric approach, Lutherans and Catholics will have the possibility of an ecumenical commemoration of the Reformation, not simply in a pragmatic way, but in the deep sense of faith in the crucified and resurrected Christ.”

The Oct. 31 event will be transmitted live by CTV (Vatican Television Center) on the Vatican website at vatican.va. It begins at 10:30 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time. I will be glued to my laptop screen that Monday morning, praying in thanksgiving for the providence of God in this ecumenical age!

(Father Rick Ginther is director of the archdiocesan Office of Ecumenism. He is also pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Indianapolis.)

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