The annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity begins today.
Our prayers for unity are especially fervent in 2017, the five hundredth anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation with Luther’s 95 thesis objecting to problems in the Catholic Church. Luther was a Catholic priest, monk, and theology professor who set out not to split his Church, but to reform it. But tragically, because of faults on all sides, it did come to a split.
It is great reason for rejoicing that the commemoration of 1517 is being celebrated by both Catholics and Protestants in an ecumenical spirit.
There is this, for example. LifeSiteNews reports (though they’re not too happy about it) that the Vatican’s Philatelic and Numismatic Office will be issuing a postage stamp in 2017 to commemorate Martin Luther. That’s a first.
The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity offers “Resources for The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and Throughout the Year 2017.” The entire resource is well worth reading. Here’s a key passage:
The Lutheran-Roman Catholic Commission on Unity has worked hard to produce a shared understanding of the commemoration. Its important report, From Conflict to Communion, recognizes that both traditions approach this anniversary in an ecumenical age, with the achievements of fifty years of dialogue behind them, and with new understandings of their own history and theology. Separating that which is polemical from the theological insights of the Reformation, Catholics are now able to hear Luther’s challenge for the Church of today, recognizing him as a “witness to the gospel” (From Conflict to Communion 29). And so after centuries of mutual condemnations and vilification, in 2017 Lutheran and Catholic Christians will for the first time commemorate together the beginning of the Reformation.
Catholic recognition of Luther as a “witness to the gospel” is also reason for rejoicing.
Let us give thanks for the Second Vatican Council, which has opened new pathways and made possible the ecumenical progress of the last half century. And let us not stop where we are now, much less where we were when Unitatis redintegratio was issued in 1964.
As Pope Francis said, when asked about Lutheran participation in Catholic Communion:
Talk to the Lord and go forward.