Should Catholics Celebrate the Protestant Reformation?

by Melannie Svoboda SND on October 23, 2017

On October 31, 1517, a German monk named Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of his Catholic Church. His Theses denounced some of the evils he saw in the Church. The Church excommunicated Luther and branded him a “heretic.” Thus began what is commonly called the “Protestant Reformation.” The Catholic Church responded to Luther’s accusations with a Counter Reformation of its own. These actions eventually led to religious wars that plagued Europe for centuries. On all sides, individuals were accused of heresy and, in some cases, imprisoned or burned at the stake.

Martin Luther

Fast forward 499 years to October 31, 2016. In Lund, Sweden, the World Federation of Lutheran Churches kicked off their year of celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. And who was present at their prayer service? None other than Pope Francis!

The Pope’s presence at this event was quite remarkable—both for the fact that he was invited and the fact that he accepted the invitation. His presence raised more than a few eyebrows—both Catholic and Lutheran! But it clearly demonstrated just how far Catholics and Lutherans have come toward reconciliation since those burnings-at-the-stake days. This movement toward reconciliation began in earnest in the 1960’s when the Second Vatican Council promoted ecumenism, that is, the dialogue among the various Christian Churches and among other faith traditions. Since then, both Catholic and Protestant theologians have been quietly working behind the scenes to address issues of division and issues of oneness.

Pope Francis

In 2015, one such task force of Catholics and Lutherans produced a document called the “Declaration of the Way.” It established 32 points of agreement between Catholics and Lutherans. Jans-Martin Kruse, pastor of the Lutheran Church in Rome, says, “We find we have lots of things more in common than we thought before.” The Catholic Bishop Denis Madden of Baltimore underscored the importance of these meetings with one another: “We need the encounter of dialogue to understand that the other person has something of value for me to hear.”

What were some of the changes in the Church that Luther desired? He wanted “ordinary” people to read the Scriptures. But in his day the Catholic Church, afraid of private interpretation of the Bible, discouraged this practice. Luther also wanted the faithful to receive both the bread and wine of the Eucharist—not the practice at that time for the laity. He wanted a married clergy and the ordination of women. He had questions about papal authority.

In an informal interview, Pope Francis praised Martin Luther for being a “great reformer.”  The Pope acknowledged that the Catholic Church of Luther’s day “was not a role model. There was corruption, worldliness, greed, and lust for power. Luther protested against these things.”

Bishop William Gafkjen, chair of the Evangelical Lutheran Conference in America, has been impressed by the tone of the Catholic-Lutheran dialogue. He said, “I see it as a profound witness to a troubled world that tends to shout at each other across great chasms, with accusations and innuendos.” But this group of Catholics and Lutherans who have deep differences, have moved beyond shouting at each other. He concludes, “We try to speak to the best and look for the best in each other, rather than misrepresenting or accusing each other.” This is certainly a lesson for all of us, not so?

That we all may be one…

Today let us pray for all Lutherans and Catholics and their attempts at reconciliation. And let us pray for all Christians that we may work to heal the divisions among us. And may we Christians reach out to our brothers and sisters of other faith traditions—Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and others—as we join in praying and working together to build a better world.

Have you had any experience with ecumenism?

If you’re Catholic, have you seen in yourself a change in attitude toward non-Catholics over the years? If so, what change have you seen? What accounts for this change?

If you’re not Catholic, have you seen in yourself a change in attitude toward Catholics over the years? If so, what change have you seen? What accounts for this change?

I’m offering two short videos today. The first is the story behind the famous hymn, “The Church’s One Foundation” that many of us are familiar with. The second is the singing of the actual song with the lyrics. You can listen to either one or both!

Here is the hymn:

Please share your thoughts below. We’d love to hear from you!

PS: Coming Attractions… I’m giving a few talks soon that you might be interested in:

Nov. 11, Saturday: 10:00 – 2:00: “Wonder, Courage, Hope: Three Essential Virtues for the Spiritual Life”; at the Sisters of Notre Dame, Thousand Oaks, California. This day is for Sisters of Notre Dame, their Associates, and the Sisters of the L.A. diocese. For details call 805-496-3243 or check their website: https://sndca.org.

Dec. 2, Saturday: Advent Day of Prayer: Marillac Center, Leavenworth, KS: 913-680-2342; visit their website for details.

Dec. 11, Monday – 7:00 pm – 8:00 pm: Advent Talk on Courage, Love, and Hope; St. Paschal Baylon Parish, Highland Heights, OH; check website for details.

Feb. 24, 2018, Saturday: Retreat Day from 10:00-4:00; St. Peter Church, Naples, FL 239-775-9576; visit website for details.

Feb. 26, Monday evening: talk on hope at Espiritu Santo Parish, Safety Harbor, FL 727-726-8477. check website for details

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Kathleen Magiera October 23, 2017 at 4:56 am

Sr. Melannie,

I participate in an ecumenical prison ministry called Keryx. It has taught me to be more respectful of other Christian traditions as we minister to the men together.

In fact our upcoming retreat is October 26-29. Please keep us in prayer.

Kathleen

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John Hopkins October 23, 2017 at 5:30 am

Good Morning, Sr, Melannie…..

Such a fascinating topic! And a beautiful one! How time can smooth the edges of enmity. At Holy Ghost church in Whitman, Ma, we receive both the body and the blood of Jesus, and, of course, since Vatican II, we Catholics have been encouraged to read our Bibles — two things, as you’ve noted, Luther insisted upon. Now, if we could only get women priests. What a blessing that would be! And what about this: all the men who left the priesthood to marry, why not let them help out at parishes to say Mass and hear confession. I bet they’d gladly serve in that capacity. If necessary, the church could be very low-key about it so as not to cause “scandal.” PS: You are a busy woman! PPS: Once retired, I’m now back as a long term sub. Please pray for me.

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Tina October 23, 2017 at 4:10 pm

Dear Sr Melannie,
This is one of my favorite topics! I am Catholic and my husband is Jewish. One of my dear friends is a Rabbi. He has taught me so much about spirituality and all that we have in common. Sharing both religions has been enlightening and enriching for me. Always look forward to reading you each week.
Tina

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Stephanie October 23, 2017 at 8:22 pm

Thank you for sharing this post! I am a convert to Catholicism. During RCIA, I was struck again and again by the many similarities between Catholics and Protestants. I truly believe we hold much in common. Our respective faiths rest on the central event of Christ’s death and resurrection. There are differences to be sure, but I think we’ve spent so much time looking at those differences that we often fail to see the many commonalities. It is encouraging to read about the progress being made. I will say a prayer of thanks on Reformation Sunday, thanking God for his reforming work in the church, now and then!

Stephanie

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Vera October 25, 2017 at 7:50 pm

Years ago, a dear priest colleague of mine used to remark that Martin Luther might have been the best Catholic ever…a comment meant to imply that Luther’s taking the scandalous practices of the Roman Church to task was indeed quite necessary. Luther apparently paid a tremendous price for his convictions yet modern Church practices would seem to embrace some of his ideas and ideals. Fascinating subject…you always provide food for thought, Sister Melannie…love your weekly newsletter! Blessings!

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Tom October 27, 2017 at 3:10 pm

Ordained in 1967 and sent to Akron, Ohio, the northern tip of the Bible Belt, I experienced the earliest days of ecumenism. What wonder days they were. I am making note of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in Sunday’s homily.

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