Catholics and Lutherans to worship together at Reformation anniversary

Martin Luther, founder of Germany's Protestant (Lutheran) Church, nailed his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg. Religion News Service file photo

Martin Luther, founder of Germany's Protestant (Lutheran) Church, nailed his 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg. Religion News Service file photo

PARIS (RNS) 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.

The “Common Prayer” booklet stresses the shared beliefs between Roman Catholicism’s 1.2 billion members and the 75 million Lutherans around the world and advises readers that its recommendations can be adjusted according to the country and language in which they are used.

The section on repentance admits the post-Reformation wars of religion caused “the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people” and undermined the gospel message. “We deeply regret the evil things that Catholics and Lutherans have mutually done to each other,” it says.

“This common prayer marks a very special moment in our common journey from conflict to communion,” the Rev. Martin Junge, general secretary of LWF, and Cardinal Kurt Koch, head of the Vatican’s ecumenical department, said in a joint letter accompanying the guidelines.

The booklet suggests that ecumenical services have two presiders, one Catholic and one Lutheran, and several prayer readers of both faiths.

They should use hymns known to both Catholics and Protestants, such as “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” -- originally written for a Lutheran church in Germany -- or meditative chants such as “Veni Sancte Spiritus” from the ecumenical community of Taizé in France.

Readers are told to cite passages in “From Conflict to Communion” that explain why Catholics and Lutherans should gather in prayer, and presiders are instructed to lead a prayer that laments “that even good actions of reform and renewal had often unintended negative consequences.”

For a Gospel reading, it suggests John 15, in which Jesus compares himself to a vine and says his followers are its branches. The service should include recitation of two common prayers, the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer.

(Tom Heneghan writes about religion from Paris)


  1. It sounds “nice” but I wonder just where it would lead. All of the “major” churches seek some kind of unity however I was a Lutheran for most of
    my life and I am now an Episcopalian and there are attempts to “unite” the
    two in various services and clergy. Episcopalians have far more in common with
    RC’s then Lutherans, especially when Lutherans have a different concept of
    “real presence” and it’s lack of presence after the use in a service. It would be
    hard, at best to imagine a Roman Catholic/Lutheran service then a Roman
    Catholic/Episcopal one. Its a matter of doctrine and just who is ordained,
    as well as the understanding of Word and Sacrament, etc. etc.

  2. Nice….I’d like to see a joint service in which one of the celebrants is a woman….let’s see if it flies

  3. I’m with you, Mr. Bockstael. One of the clergy should indeed be a woman.

    Ms. Lundeen, I applaud the efforts of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to forge more common bonds with other Christian denominations. Those bonds are about Jesus Christ and his forgiving and redeeming work. As this article tells u, that is the focus of this celebration.

    Those who choose to focus on doctrinal differences, such as yourself, are free to associate and worship with only those who follow the same narrow ridge. I do not understand why one would do so. It surely seems like missing the entire forest while searching for a few particularly correctly suited trees, but if that’s your faith, have at it.

  4. Please Catholic haters reading this,do you really think almighty God would allow the catholic faith to prosper and survive for 2000 years just so that billions of people would follow the churches teachings and be condemned to a eternal hell and separation from God? Please, I am not Catholic, but I do respect their teachings and consider them to be Christians in every sense of the word. Just about everything I read about Catholic doctrine can be backed up by a reasonable interpretation of scripture. We all might not agree but who is to say they are wrong and certain others of us are right?

  5. The working together of these two church bodies is a major milestone.

    Luther initially was more tolerant than the prevailing view of the Roman Church regarding the Jews. As he aged, he became disillusioned when the Jews would not convert to the Evangelical Church (Luther’s preferred name for the new church) His later views on Jews has been denounced by modern Lutheran leaders. In the 16th century, the Spanish Inquisition was going full force and it was not an era for tolerance. The Roman Church was no model of tolerance for any deviation from its perception of truth or its control on society. It was an era of absolute power and ideas that were not up for compromise.

    In the US, seven presidents owned slaves including some of the heroic founding fathers. Many a hero has his or her flaws, but we need to look at their accomplishments.

    My question is will they have a joint communion in the shared service?

  6. Your comments are very interesting! I remember well when the Episcopalians and Lutherans in the US entered into joint communion a few years ago that a friend of mine, a Lutheran minister, lamented to me that he was gravely concerned about it because Episcopalians don’t believe in the real presence and their statements about the Eucharist were just a mask hiding their true Protestant beliefs that it is merely a memorial and not the real presence of Christ. He believed that Catholics were being duped by Episcopalians in the ecumenical dialogues because of this.

  7. Long live the memory of the contributions of Martin Luther.

  8. The Catholic Church does not recognize the ordination of female clergy. This could do more harm than good, especially if it turns out that the female cleric is a lesbian.

  9. What about the RC church’s quiet support of the Nazi holocaust? How about the church’s steadfast claim that Jews are Christ killers when he was actually crucified by Romans? Please, open your eyes.

Leave a Comment