Commemorating the Protestant Reformation

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Tuesday October 31 marked the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. It was precisely on this date when, in 1517, when Martin Luther published his 95 theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg which served as a bulletin board for various announcements that related with academic and church affairs.

Luther’s theses were written in the Latin language and printed on a folio sheet by the printer John Gruenenberg, an entrepreneur in the new print medium that was first ever utilised in Germany around the year 1450. Luther demanded a “disputation on the power and efficacy of indulgences out of love and zeal for truth and the desire to bring it to light.” It was exactly this event that, consequently, initiated a serious of events that finally led to the Protestant Reformation.

To commemorate this specific event the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity together with the Lutheran World Federation saw it appropriate to publish a Joint Statement to mark this important ecclesial event. In their Joint Statement both sides gave thanks for the spiritual and the theological gifts that were reaped thanks to the Reformation. The Joint Statement also recognized the wounds that were inflicted to the Body of Christ as represented by both Catholic and Lutheran sides. “Likewise, we begged forgiveness for our failures and for the ways in which Christians have wounded the Body of the Lord and offended each other during the five hundred years since the beginning of the Reformation until today”.

Furthermore, the Joint Statement acknowledges “the ecumenical journey that [both Catholics and Lutherans] have travelled together during the last fifty years”. It says that “this pilgrimage, sustained by our common prayer, worship, and ecumenical dialogue, has resulted in the removal of prejudices, the increase of mutual understanding and the identification of decisive theological agreements. In the face of so many blessings along the way, we raise our hearts in praise of the Triune God for the mercy we receive”.

A year before Pope Francis and former Lutheran World Federation president, Bishop Munib Younan, in the ancient Lund Cathedral stated together: “Many members of our communities yearn to receive the Eucharist at one table, as the concrete expression of full unity. 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. We long for this wound in the Body of Christ to be healed. This is the goal of our ecumenical endeavours, which we wish to advance, also by renewing our commitment to theological dialogue”.

However, the Joint Statement observed that “among the blessings of this year of Commemoration is the fact that for the first time Lutherans and Catholics have seen the Reformation from an ecumenical perspective. This has allowed new insight into the events of the sixteenth century which led to our separation. We recognize that while the past cannot be changed, its influence upon us today can be transformed to become a stimulus for growing communion, and a sign of hope for the world to overcome division and fragmentation. Again, it has become clear that what we have in common is far more than that which still divides us”.

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