Catholics and Lutherans have made another step toward joint commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017 by issuing common liturgical guidelines for ecumenical services to mark the occasion.
The guidelines, in a booklet called “Common Prayer,” provide a template for an ecumenical service, complete with suggested prayers, appropriate hymns and themes for sermons.
Catholic leaders in Luther’s home country of Germany, where interest in the anniversary is strongest, at first balked at the idea of “celebrating” what Lutherans there had already named the “Reformationsjubiläum” (Reformation Jubilee).
But detailed talks between the Lutheran World Federation and the Vatican produced a 93-page report titled “From Conflict to Communion” in 2013 that announced they would mark the anniversary together and presented the Reformation as the start of a shared 500-year journey rather than a single and divisive historical event.
The latest guidelines say all services should stress the concepts of thanksgiving, repentance and common commitment, with the main focus on Jesus. The guidelines were presented Monday (Jan. 11) by the Geneva-based Lutheran federation and the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.
The Reformation, which began with the publication of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses in 1517, divided Western Christianity as Protestants broke away from Roman Catholicism and formed their own churches. Until about 50 years ago, the two sides observed each other with suspicion across a deep theological divide.
But ecumenical discussions in recent decades have reached such a reconciliation that theologians recently suggested they explore the possibility of sharing Communion, which the Catholic Church does not allow with other Christians.
When a Lutheran woman married to a Catholic asked Pope Francis about this during his visit to her church in Rome last November, he said he couldn’t decide the question but hinted strongly that he supported it.
“It is a question that each person must answer for themselves … there is one baptism, one faith, one Lord, so talk to the Lord and move forward,” he told the congregation, which broke out in applause.
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