Several years ago I wasn’t much looking forward to the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. In previous centennial celebrations of the Reformation, Lutherans retold their story of their beginnings in order to justify their existence—which always included a critique of the Roman Catholic Church. Catholics, for their part, accused Lutherans of causing a tragic schism in the church. Even “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” has been called the battle hymn of the Reformation, suggesting an anti-catholic bias.
Since I have a passion for greater understanding and unity between Lutherans and Catholics, it has been a delight to note that nearly every significant Reformation occasion in the Chicago area this year has been or will be with Roman Catholics. After fifty years of dialogue between Lutherans and Catholics we can proclaim that there is more that unites us than divides us. A major document, From Conflict to Communion: Lutheran-Catholic Common Commemoration of the Reformation, invites us to use this occasion for each church to repent of the hostility we have had toward each other while marking the faith we have in common.
The Reformation is dated to October 31, 1517 when Martin Luther allegedly nailed 95 theses to a church door in Wittenberg, Germany. Yet in 1999 Lutherans and Catholics published a joint declaration on the doctrine of justification, in essence, saying there is no longer disagreement over the very thing that divided us 500 years ago. Catholics and Lutherans both declare that we are justified by faith and through grace. A recent Declaration on the Way is a litany of 32 areas of agreement between Catholics and Lutherans in this country and cover topics of church, ministry, and eucharist.
So this Reformation anniversary will be different. A year ago Pope Francis and Lutheran Federation leaders gathered in Lund, Sweden to kick off the Reformation anniversary with a service of common prayer. Holy Trinity member, Aana Vigen, has written a love letter by a Lutheran to Pope Francis. It may surprise some that several Lutheran theologians have written that a reformed papacy is not beyond the realm of Lutheran thinking. After all, Martin Luther didn’t want to divide the church.
Interestingly, the major conference in the Chicago area this month isn’t being held at a Lutheran institution, but at Loyola University. It’s called That They May Be One: Reformation and the Spirit of Christian Unity. Holy Trinity member Aana Vigen and I are participating and it is free and open to the public.
Martin Luther was a monk and priest in the Catholic church before he was excommunicated. As a sign of unity, Holy Trinity will have Anthony Ruff, a Benedictine monk from St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, MN as our guest preacher on Reformation Sunday! You will not want to miss this festive once-in-five-hundred-years liturgy.
Finally, where will I be on Reformation evening, October 31? The major Chicago service will be at Holy Name Cathedral. The liturgy will be led by Archbishop Blase Cupich and Bishop Wayne Miller and will include a renewal of the covenant between the two churches. You are invited to attend as well.
Now that October 2017 is here, I can’t tell you how excited I am to mark the Reformation in a spirit of ecumenism and unity!