Lutherans and Catholics jointly commemorate Reformation’s 500th anniversary

Lutheran Bishop Roger Gustafson and Bishop James V. Johnston, Jr. of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph together bless those assembled at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception Sept. 29 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. (Marty Denzer/Key photo)

By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Associate Editor

KANSAS CITY — Several hundred people gathered at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception Sept. 29 for a Catholic-Lutheran prayer service commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Kansas City-St. Joseph Bishop James V. Johnston, Jr., Kansas City, Kansas Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann and Bishop Roger Gustafson of the Central States Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America joined in the common prayer service.

In their invitation to area Catholic and Lutheran pastors, the bishops wrote, “… together we Catholics and Lutherans will pray with our Savior Jesus that we may be one. We will acknowledge together both the pain of history and the hope that we share in Christ. …”

In the second half of the 20th century, knowing that the 500th anniversary of the Reformation was approaching, Catholics and Lutherans began conversations on reunion. As 2017 drew closer, talks between the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Lutheran World Federation produced a report in 2013 titled “From Conflict to Communion” announcing that they would mark the anniversary together and providing guidelines — “Common Prayer,” for the commemoration.

“Common Prayer” stresses the beliefs shared between 1.2 billion Roman Catholics and 75 million Lutherans world-wide. Its section on repentance admits the post-Reformation wars of religion caused “the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people” and undermined the gospel message.

That regret was stressed in the Sept. 29 Commemoration service presided over by Bishop Johnston and Bishop Gustafson. Archbishop Naumann and Rev. Dr. Mari Larson, pastor of Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita delivered sermons.

Evelyn Dubey of Advent Lutheran Church in Olathe, Kan., and Sister of Charity of Leavenworth Loretto Marie Colwell, director of Seton Center in Kansas City, Mo., were readers.

The service began with both presiders asking the blessing of the Holy Trinity on the service and participants.

Prayers and readings emphasized that, “We deeply regret the evil things that Catholics and Lutherans have mutually done to each other.”

The second part of the service, a mutual look back in time, repented the conflict and hatred and expressed gratitude for “the gifts received and rediscovered” as the two traditions were mutually explored in recent decades.

In his homily following the Gospel reading of the vine and the branches, Archbishop Naumann said, “True ecumenism, never involves a watering down of deeply-held convictions. Acknowledging what … separate[s] us … through the perspective of the more significant powerful beliefs and shared values … unite[s] us.”

He reflected that, “… the Reformation is not something we … Catholics can celebrate. For us, it will always be a reminder of the tragic fracturing of the Body of Christ. We can … prayerfully commemorate with you … a tremendously significant event in the history of Christianity. Indeed … we must commemorate it, lest we forget the lessons … learned and repeat the mistakes … We are honored … to observe this commemoration with you whom we consider … very much our brothers and sisters in Christ.”

He continued, “… the events of the 16th century remind us when … ordained ministers of the Church fail to … live lives of integrity … modeled on the selfless love revealed in Jesus, we impair the credibility of the Church and … obscure the truth and beauty of the Gospel ….”

In going forward, Archbishop Naumann said, “Pope Francis in Sweden … in a similar commemorative service invited Catholics and Lutherans to observe the anniversary … with … renewed spirit and … recognition that Christian unity is a priority because … much more unites us than separates us.

“Pope Francis invited both Catholics and Lutherans to confess and lament before Christ that we ‘… have wounded the visible unity of the Church. … While the past cannot be changed, what… and how it is remembered can be transformed. We pray for the healing of wounds and … memories that cloud our view of one another. We emphatically reject all hatred and violence, past and present, especially that expressed in the name of religion. … We recognize that we are freed by grace to move forward towards the communion to which God continually calls us.’

“… let us acknowledge … that apart from Jesus we can do nothing. … cherish our shared love for the Word of God, Jesus Christ, and the Bible, God’s Holy Word and the written revelation of His love for humanity. Let us be united in our … passion to bring the love of Jesus to the … world. Let us … realize the prayer of Jesus for His disciples,’ … that they may all be one as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they may be in us, that the world may believe you sent me.’ (John 17:21)

“… Let us … encourage and support each other as we … proclaim to an … unbelieving … society the truth that Jesus is Lord. Together, let us be witnesses of His joy!”

Rev. Dr. Mari Larson recalled meeting Mary Bernadette, a Catholic, when they were both nine years old. The two girls grew up “in a reformed and reforming world” … when “for the most part, each religious entity … believed that it, and only it, possessed the real Truth.

“… I vividly remember that,” she said. “… in the context of our Gospel …, it was as if there was a Lutheran Jesus vine over here, a Catholic Jesus vine out here, a Baptist Jesus vine over there… and Methodist and Presbyterian and Episcopal and so on. We each had our own Jesus, and ours was certainly the RIGHT one …

“dividing Jesus … wasn’t and isn’t ever correct. And if a study from Gordon-Conwell Seminary is accurate, we have divided Jesus into at least 41,000 denominational pieces when there is actually only one Jesus vine and, through the ages, billions of branches, because we … are the branches Jesus is referring to.”

She said Luther didn’t intend to divide the church, but that’s what happened. “Since the beginning of the Reformation, the chasm … has grown, and we, the body of Christ, have broken into more and more pieces, over the content of those theses, certainly, but also over the color of the new carpet in the parish hall and the words we use to describe God … .

“…this movement has not been esoteric. Some reforms removed obstacles; but others built them. And … many have seen … Christian in-fighting, … and simply walked away from the church … choosing instead to be … ‘spiritual but not religious,’ … cutting away … other branches of the Jesus vine in order to have the ‘real’ Jesus to themselves.”

“Luther’s … phrase, ‘simul justus et peccator,’ … simultaneously justified and sinners … also applies to bigger issues of the Reformation … some … reforms succeeded in drawing us closer to God, many also pulled us not only from God but from our brothers and sisters as well. … Luther wasn’t the only one. Many voices … pull us in one way or another.

“But … we are learning that … we can stand together, pray together, learn from each other, and work together for the sake of Jesus Christ. We can acknowledge that … significant differences remain but … no need for vast chasms of separation. … people are hungry and together we can feed them. … together bring good news to those in prison. We can … join hands in prayer for the sick. We can welcome the stranger together. Our differences … need not divide us more than they already have.”

After the Apostles Creed, six people approached a group of candles in the sanctuary. Teresa Albright of Visitation Church; Rev. David Strommen of Redeemer Lutheran Church, Olathe; Father Joseph Arsenault, Sanctuary of Hope Retreat Center, Kansas City, Kan.; Heather Yerion-Keek, St. James Lutheran Church, Kansas City; Rev. Donna Simon, St. Mark Hope and Peace Lutheran Church, and Ben Babaran, St. James Catholic Church, both in Midtown Kansas City, recited commitments toward greater communion between Catholics and Lutherans, then each lit a candle.

The Our Father was said and then Bishop Johnston and Bishop Gustafson blessed the congregation together.

The bishops hope, as they wrote in the invitation, “this …will be the first step on the way to deeper unity and partnership in the Gospel here in Kansas City.”



  1. October 15, 2017 at 1:07 am #

    Reunification would be wonderful. However, I don’t see a mass conversion of Lutherans to the Church happening. And, unfortunately, statistics show that for every one convert to the Church, six Catholics leave. All of our bishops need to make teaching the faith in its entirety a priority. Once you learn the faith, what mass is, what (Who) the Eucharist is, and discover the infinite profundity of the faith, you will never leave. It’s beautiful. It transforms the heart from stone to flesh, and it’s filled with love and the deep desire for the conversion of sinners, so that no one will be lost to hell.

  2. October 15, 2017 at 11:22 pm #

    MDK66 — it’s easy to get down thinking of all those leaving, but take heart! I know of some many faithful Catholics and organizations that are trying to reach out to those who are, that I’m inspired and hopeful for the future, even as I work to try to plant seeds in my “little field of faith” as well. In my personal circles, just this year, I’ve seen four people come into the Church – some from unexpected corners, and several others on the journey (this is all God, not me). If you haven’t already, check out the Coming Home Network International. Read the conversation stories — same group that does The Journey Home on EWTN. They’re wonderful and keep me joyful

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December 02, 2020
The Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph