Pope, Lutheran leaders begin Reformation commemoration with prayer

By Cindy Wooden

LUND, Sweden (CNS) — Urging
Catholics and Lutherans to take decisive steps toward unity, Pope Francis
nevertheless offered no new openings to the idea of sharing Communion before
full unity is achieved.

“We Christians will be
credible witnesses of mercy to the extent that forgiveness, renewal and
reconciliation are daily experienced in our midst,” the pope said Oct. 31
during an ecumenical prayer service in the Lutherans’ Lund cathedral, which was
built as a Catholic cathedral in the 11th century.

With the prayer service, Pope
Francis and leaders of the Lutheran World Federation launched a year of
activities to mark the 500th anniversary in 2017 of Martin Luther’s efforts to
reform the church.

For Pope Francis and the Vatican,
Catholics are called to commemorate the event by focusing on concrete ways to
express and strengthen the doctrinal agreements reached by Catholic and
Lutheran theologians over the past 50 years. The most appropriate way to mark
the anniversary, they said, was with common prayer and renewed commitments to
working together to help the poor and promote justice.

The Lutherans agree, but many also
saw the joint commemoration as a moment to recognize that the joint agreements
on issues of faith over the past 50 years mean it is appropriate now to expand
occasions when eucharistic sharing is possible.

The Catholic Church has insisted
that regular sharing of the Eucharist will be possible only when divided
Christians have attained full unity.

In his homily at the Lund
cathedral, the Rev. Martin Junge, general secretary of the Lutheran World
Federation, expressed his hope for shared Communion sooner.

While in the past Catholics and
Lutherans sometimes carried stones to throw at each other, he said, that is no
longer possible “now that we know who we are in Christ.” The stones
cannot be used “to raise walls of separation and exclusion” either,
he said.

“Jesus Christ calls us to be
ambassadors of reconciliation,” he said, using stones for “building
bridges so that we can draw closer to each other, houses where we can meet
together and tables — yes, tables — where we can share the bread and the
wine, the presence of Jesus Christ who has never left us and who calls us to
abide in him so the world may believe.”

A joint statement signed in Lund
by Pope Francis and Lutheran Bishop Munib Younan, president of the Lutheran
World Federation, said, “Many members of our communities yearn to receive
the Eucharist at one table as the concrete expression of full unity.”

Particularly referring to
Catholic-Lutheran married couples, the two leaders’ statement said, “We
experience the pain of those who share their whole lives, but cannot share
God’s redeeming presence at the eucharistic table. We acknowledge our joint
pastoral responsibility to respond to the spiritual thirst and hunger of our
people to be one in Christ.”

However, they did not authorize
further opportunities for shared Communion, but expressed longing “for
this wound in the body of Christ to be healed. This is the goal of our
ecumenical endeavors, which we wish to advance, also by renewing our commitment
to theological dialogue.”

Pope Francis began the service
praying that the Holy Spirit would “help us to rejoice in the gifts that
have come to the church through the Reformation.” In an interview released
Oct 28, he said those gifts were greater appreciation of the Bible as God’s
word and an acknowledgement that members of the church are called to a process
of ongoing reform.

The service was punctuated with
music from around the world, including a Kyrie or “Lord Have Mercy”
in Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke. Catholic and Lutheran leaders took turns
asking God’s forgiveness for maintaining divisions, “bearing false
witness” against each other and allowing political and economic interests
to exacerbate the wounds in the body of Christ.

Lutheran Archbishop Antje Jackelen
of Uppsala, the first woman to serve as primate of Sweden, read the Gospel at
the service.

In his homily, Pope Francis
insisted that Catholics and Lutherans must “look with love and honesty at
our past, recognizing error and seeking forgiveness.”

The division among Christians, he
said, goes against Christ’s will for his disciples, weakens their ability to
serve the world and often makes it difficult for others to believe Christianity
is a religion of peace and fraternity.

The Gospel reading at the service,
from John 15, was about Jesus being the vine and his disciples being the
branches. In his homily, Rev. Junge said that too often over the past 499
years, Catholics and Lutherans saw each other “as branches separated from
the true vine, Christ.”

Yet, he said, “Jesus never
forgot us, even when we seemed to have forgotten him, losing ourselves in
violent and hateful actions.”

After 50 years of
Catholic-Lutheran dialogue, Rev. Junge said, “we acknowledge that there is
much more that unites us than that which separates us. We are branches of the
same vine. We are one in baptism.”

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