As we approach the year of events leading up to the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation on Oct. 31, 2017, a resurfacing question will be: Do we celebrate? Repent? Commemorate? Perhaps all three?
This is the first time the centenary observance of the Reformation will occur in an ecumenical era. Since the Joint Declaration of the Doctrine of Justification by the Vatican and the Lutheran World Federation in 1999, we've reached a new stage. We've made more progress in the last 50 years toward healing the wounds of our divisions than we have in the last five centuries.
Top Lutheran theologians participated as observers at the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). The international dialogue between the Vatican Secretariat for Ecumenism and the Lutheran World Federation started in 1967. After five sessions, they came out with the Malta Report in 1972 in which it was clear they decided to take on in the ensuing years a whole range of issues: Scripture and tradition; admission to the Eucharist; justification by faith; church law; ordination.
At a weeklong conference on "Fifty Years of Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue" last July at the Lutheran Institute for Ecumenical Research in Strasbourg, France, Dominican Fr. Hervé Legrand, a participant in the dialogue, gave an overview of the dialogue commission's work.
Discussion on Eucharist and ministry led to a new document in 1978 on "The Lord's Supper." Catholics and Lutherans agreed: Celebration of the Eucharist doesn't "repeat" the sacrifice of the cross or add to its salvific value. In the document, giving Communion under both kinds and preaching at every Mass was asked of Catholics, while a weekly celebration was asked of Lutherans. There is extensive agreement on the real presence under the signs of bread and wine.\