Joint commemoration of the Reformation a 'milestone,' says Lutheran leader

Press conference following Common Prayer and Together in Hope event. Rev. Dr Martin Junge and Kurt Cardinal Koch sit at the right of the panel. Photo: LWF/Albin Hillert
Press conference following Common Prayer and Together in Hope event. Rev. Dr Martin Junge and Kurt Cardinal Koch sit at the right of the panel. Photo: LWF/Albin Hillert

Remaining differences need to be addressed with a view to unity

(LWI) - The first Joint Catholic-Lutheran Commemoration of the Reformation at global level represents a landmark in ecumenical relations, according to The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) General Secretary Rev. Dr Martin Junge.

“This was a milestone, not just in our bilateral relations but also an ecumenial milestone,” said Junge at the conclusion of the joint commemoration, held on 31 October in the neighboring cities of Lund and Malmö in southern Sweden.

The two-part commemoration began with a Common Prayer at Lund Cathedral, during which leaders of the two traditions, including Pope Francis as head of the Roman Catholic Church, gave thanks for the witness to the gospel, repented for past divisions and committed themselves to common witness and service in the world.

Kurt Cardinal Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU), pointed out it had been the first common commemoration of the Reformation in 500 years. “It is a new beginning,” he said

Doctrine of justification

One of the “cornerstones” of the Reformation commemoration was the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ), signed by the Catholic Church and the LWF in 1999, said Junge. The agreement affirmed that justification is based on faith alone, thereby nullifying mutual condemnations by Catholics and Protestants dating from the Reformation era.

“Because we were able to come together on doctrine that once divided us as it did, we were in a position of envisaging this commemoration as a milestone on our path from conflict to communion,” the LWF general secretary said.

He welcomed the possibility of the World Communion of Reformed Churches becoming a signatory to the JDDJ in 2017, saying it would create a totally new dynamic and new potential for working together.

Eucharist, a key open question

Koch underlined the need to continue discussions between Lutherans and Catholics about the Church, the Eucharist and ministry—“the three open questions in our dialogue.”

Both the LWF general secretary and PCPCU president acknowledged that Lutherans and Catholics had not yet reached agreement on the central issue of sharing the Eucharist, or Holy Communion, and the pain this caused for families  coming from the two Christian traditions.

While agreement on full eucharistic communion requires deeper theological study, Junge and Koch spoke of the need to find pastoral solutions for couples where one is Lutheran and the other Catholic.

“It is around the Lord’s table where people in our communities experience the fragmentation of the church the hardest, and that requires a response,” said Junge.

Ethical issues

Koch warned that while it had been possible to deal with many issues of faith and doctrine in ecumenical dialogue, ethical issues — especially about the beginning and end of life, and on family, marriage and gender -  were now divisive issues within and between churches.

Deeper discussion on such issues are needed for the sake of the “future of the dialogue,” he said.

Junge said the LWF, as a communion of churches working in different contexts and exposed to different pastoral and theological questions, faces challenges for its journey together.

“What is very important is that communions learn to identify their disagreements, and to engage over their differences with a view to unity,” said Junge. “I think what we have done today is not only a strong encouragement to strengthening relationships between communions but also a very strong encouragement for relationships within communions.”


Freelance writer Stephen Brown covered the Joint Catholic-Lutheran Commemoration in Sweden.


Joint statement

Photos and video

More about the Joint Commemoration