Catholic-Lutheran Ecumenism: Seminar on the Way

Pray Tell readers will be heartened to hear of this new initiative. At the most recent meeting of the North American Academy of Liturgy, there was a new seminar titled “On the Way.” Thanks to convener Gordon Lathrop, professor emeritus of liturgy at Luther Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, for promoting this important ecumenical work, and for sharing this report with us.

  • Gordon W. Lathrop, convener pro-tem
  • Participants: John Baldovin, Kim Belcher, Joseph Donnella, Benjamin Durheim, Virgil Funk, Jon Gathje, Dirk Lange, Jennifer Lord, Bruce Morrill, Melinda Quivik, Carl Rabbe, Anthony Ruff, Martin Seltz, David Turnbloom, Paul Westermeyer
  • Visitors: Cory Dixon, Ken Hull, Pekka Rehumaki, Brook Thelander
  • Invited guests: Jim Puglisi, Kathryn Johnson, Kevin Strickland, John Weit

The Seminar on the Way, which met for the first time in Vancouver, is devoted to discussing issues dividing the Lutheran and the Roman Catholic churches, as outlined in the shared document Declaration on the Way, seeking to discover whether liturgical practice and liturgical studies may be of assistance in resolving or mitigating these issues. After an initial orienting discussion, six papers were presented and discussed. Observations from the Reformed perspective and from the perspective of the international Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogue and plans for 2019 concluded our first meeting.

The Seminar began with a consideration of the charge given to mutual study by the joint statement of the Lutheran World Federation and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity at the conclusion of the year of common commemoration of the Reformation. We then invited the comments of two guests, Kathryn Johnson, an ecumenical officer of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and one of the drafters of Declaration on the Way, and Jim Puglisi, director of Centro Pro Unione in Rome and former Minister General of the Friars of the Atonement. The fifteen “Remaining Differences” articulated by the Declaration were then considered, and the group brainstormed possible liturgical-theological matters that we might explore as offering further “Reconciling Considerations.”

The discussion of papers followed and took the majority of our time. The six papers were these:

  • Paul Westermeyer, “Eucharistic Fellowship: An Autobiographical Approach”; Virgil Funk, “Shared Communion . . . Revisited”;
  • Bruce Morrill, “Symbol and Sacrifice: Problems in Roman Catholic Theology and Practice, Official and Popular”;
  • Gordon Lathrop, “Sacrifice as a Word that Cracks: One Liturgical Consideration Moving Forward”;
  • Benjamin Durheim, “Just Liturgy: Connecting Theological Ethics and Liturgical Practice”;
  • John Baldovin, “The Twentieth Century Reform of the Liturgy: Outcomes and Prospects.”

Four of the papers were paired, with Westermeyer and Funk and then Morrill and Lathrop presenting together, then having a chance to respond to each other before the general discussion ensued. The Seminar later determined that it would like to proceed in this way in the future, with paired papers enabling direct dialogue.

Westermeyer and Funk helped us to begin with the cri de coeur of many people in our time as we seek for shared eucharist, turning then to the actual and canonical situation in our churches.

Morrill and Lathrop moved into the theological and liturgical discussion of “eucharistic sacrifice,” one of the most vexing issues dividing Roman Catholics and Lutherans. Morrill invited us – as he has invited his students and his church – to consider the entire action of the eucharist, and not simply the priestly acts, as a “meal sacrifice,” celebrating covenant. Lathrop, following the work of David Power, urged that for the New Testament neither the cross of Christ nor the Christian life nor the eucharist can be called “sacrifice” literally. These rather are metaphors, and metaphors – as we know from liturgical practice generally – surprise us and reorient us in the world. Ecumenical help can be found in a recovery of metaphor.

Durheim’s paper then invited us to make use of virtue ethics to consider the ways in which liturgical practice is or is not itself just, concluding with using these considerations to ask what “intermediate steps” might enable our assemblies to grow gradually and responsibly in ecumenical exchange and hospitality.

Finally, Baldovin used liturgical reform in all of our churches to consider how we have received gifts together and from each other. As a case in point, he outlined the Lutheran recovery of eucharistic praying and then directly engaged and responded to one particular set of Lutheran objections to that recovery as found in the work of Oliver Olson.

In the last session of the Seminar, Jennifer Lord, who had been a full participant in our work, responded to what she had heard from the point of view of Reformed theology and practice, and Dirk Lange reported to us about the work of the international Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogue, giving us also some background on the liturgy of common prayer held in Lund in October of 2016. The plan had been to ask a similar response from an Anglican perspective, but Neil Alexander, a member of the Seminar, was unable to attend due to weather delays.

The Seminar asked Tom Schattauer and John Baldovin to serve as co-conveners for the coming three years. We also proposed paired papers on ordination (Joseph Donnella and Jim Puglisi) and on eucharistic sacrifice again (Max Johnson and David Turnbloom), and stand-alone papers on baptism (Tom Schattauer) and on ELCA sacramental practice (Melinda Quivik, Martin Seltz, and John Baldovin).



  1. Wonderful! Oh, how I wish my little tribe of Lutheranism (LCMS) was of the disposition to join these conversations seriously….not merely to reassert what we “have always believed, taught and confessed” to a humble listening and consideration of those nuances we most likely don’t truly understand but really have no need to be challenged. SIGH!

    1. My wife and I had the privilege of spending 3 weeks at the Centro Pro Unione back in 2003. It was a beautiful experience, but I also realized that the Church of the Sacraments of Initiation for me really didn’t know what to do with me now that. I was I Lutheran Pastor. No matter how long our discussions went into the night, the only consistent response was “Come Home”. Perhaps that is a place and population to start with as those of us from both Traditions are in a unique position to give both Communions the perspective of what we see and have experienced. I continue to pray that the process of dialogue of mutual respect and reverence for each other’s journeys can be dealt with. I never “left” the Catholic faith I was nurtured in, I found myself able to answer the Call of the Church to be both Presbyter and Husband…..

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