Cathedral event Jan. 21 marks close of local Reformation commemoration

| January 4, 2018 | 5 Comments

On Jan. 21, Archbishop Bernard Hebda will join with two local Lutheran bishops to mark the close of an ecumenical year of prayer marking the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, which began with the publication of Martin Luther’s “95 Theses” in 1517. Ahead of the event, The Catholic Spirit asked Father Erich Rutten, pastor of St. Peter Claver in St. Paul and chairman of the Archdiocesan Commission for Ecumenism and Interreligious Affairs, about what the commemoration has meant for the relationship between the Catholic and Lutheran churches.

Q. What do you think has come from the joint Catholic and Lutheran commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, both internationally and locally?

A. Both Catholics and Lutherans have intentionally used the word “commemoration” for this event. It has been an opportunity for what Pope John Paul II called a “healing of memories.” In other words, both sides have tried to look more objectively at what happened during the Reformation, acknowledge faults on both sides, ask forgiveness, and look for ways to move forward in greater unity. Locally, this has offered opportunities for our communities to come together in each others’ home churches. Archbishop Hebda preached at Central Lutheran and ELCA Bishop Patricia Lull will preach at our Cathedral. These things would have been unimaginable 50 years ago. This anniversary year has been an opportunity to get to know each other better and begin to call each other friends.

Father Erich Rutten

Q. Are there areas of Catholic-Lutheran dialogue that have come to the fore? How are they being addressed?

A. There are various levels of dialogue between our communities — at the international level overseen by the Vatican, at the national level overseen by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and at the local level overseen by Archbishop Hebda and the Archdiocesan Commission for Ecumenism and Interreligious Affairs. In the state of Minnesota, our Catholic Bishops and ELCA Bishops meet fairly regularly and discuss all kinds of theological and practical issues. Each level may be looking at different issues. This year, the Catholic and ELCA Bishops of Minnesota reflected together, during this anniversary year, on the question of how the Catholic and Lutheran traditions each view the virtue of mercy. The usual conclusion is that we have far more in common than we have differences.

Q. How might this commemoration shape Catholic-Lutheran dialogue going forward?

A. While important differences remain, both sides seem to continue to have a more and more generous relationship with the other. Since the signing of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, the relationship is less dependent on agreeing one hundred percent on everything. I think we are now more interested in exploring how we can work together to advocate for justice and peace, and how we can simply get to know each other better.

Archbishop Bernard Hebda joins the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America bishops — Bishop Patricia Lull (center) of the St. Paul Area Synod and Bishop Ann Svennungsen (left) of the Minneapolis Area Synod — Oct. 31, 2016, for a viewing of the ecumenical prayer in Lund, Sweden, with Pope Francis and leaders of the Lutheran World Federation. Seated in the second row is Father Erich Rutten, pastor of St. Peter Claver in St. Paul and chairman of the archdiocese’s Commission on Ecumenism and Interreligious Affairs. Courtesy Luther Seminary

Q. There are Catholics who think the commemoration has been too positive on the part of the Church, and that not enough attention has been paid to the Reformation’s negative aspects, namely Christian schism. What do you think of that concern?

A. At the Last Supper, Jesus’ dying prayer was that all his followers would be one. It is our very important responsibility to do all we can to build unity. The point of this year of Commemoration has been for both sides to acknowledge their sins, ask forgiveness, and look for ways to move forward in greater unity. The Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Lutheran World Federation recently published a very good resource called “From Conflict to Communion.” It represents an effort to tell the story of the Reformation in a fair and balanced way. It also declares very strongly the commitment of both sides to continue to work toward unity.

Q. Why would you encourage Catholics to attend the final local commemoration event Jan. 21?

A. The coming of the kingdom of God is God’s work, but God can only do this with our involvement and our help. Achieving Christian unity is primarily a spiritual activity. Many Church documents repeatedly say that prayer is the soul of all true ecumenism. So, there is no better way to strive for unity that to pray together to Jesus for the same unity that he prayed for. It is the evil one who wants to divide and conquer the Church. I promise that anyone who comes to this prayer event will walk away with a renewed sense of the importance of praying together and working together for the salvation of our world.

Closing prayer service

Archbishop Bernard Hebda will join Minnesota Lutheran leaders 7 p.m. Jan. 21 at the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul for the closing event of a year of prayer commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Archbishop Hebda and Lutheran Bishop Anne Svennungsen will co-lead the service. Lutheran Bishop Patricia Lull will preach.

The prayer service will include music from the National Lutheran Choir. Representatives of Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis and Lutheran Social Services will attend, and a freewill offering will be taken to support their efforts to end homelessness in the Twin Cities.

The event is organized by the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the Minneapolis Area Synod and St. Paul Area Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. In January 2017, the archdiocese and synods hosted a similar event opening the year of prayer at Central Lutheran Church in Minneapolis. Both events were held during the annual International Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Jan. 18-25.

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