A Catholic-Lutheran Service 500 Years After the Reformation


On April 27, 2017, the department of Catholic Theology in Innsbruck (Austria) dedicated its annual Dies facultatis to the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. As usual, the Roman Catholic diocese of Innsbruck co-hosted the meeting as its annual advanced education day for the pastoral and administrative staff: April 27 is the sollemnity of the diocesan patron Saint Peter Canisius (+ 1597), one of the first ever Jesuits and the most important agent of the Counter Reformation in the West of Austria. The Lutheran superintendency co-hosted as well, and also some other academic and ecumenical institutions.

An ecumenical service was to take place at the end of the day, presided by the current Catholic diocesan administrator and the Lutheran superintendent. But how can one celebrate 500 years of Reformation as well as a Counter Reformation patron saint at the end of a day full of arduous academic work?

Here is what we did: A little similar to Vigils or the Office of Readings, we focused on texts by Luther and Canisius that showed us how both traditions are based on the same Jesus Christ. We put a Gospel reading at the beginning so that Luther’s and Canisius’ words were shown to be like patristic comments on the Scripture in the Office of Readings. We asked the former Lutheran superintendent – a well-known woman who had once been honored by the Catholic diocese with the “Medal of Saint Canisius” – to give a short homily after the readings. The opening and concluding parts of the service consisted of several quotations from Luther and Canisius as well. A combined Catholic-Lutheran choir was built and the two conductors found well-fitting choral pieces as musical comments on the readings. Eventually we asked Catholics to read the Lutheran texts and Lutherans to read the Catholic texts. Catholics were provoked to read Luther as an authentic teacher of Christian faith, as well as Lutherans being provoked to read one of the most famous fighters against Protestantism as an authentic witness of faith.

Here is the entire liturgical sequence (all translations made by myself, except where declared otherwise; the service took about 35 minutes):

Opening Hymn

Nun jauchzt dem Herren, alle Welt (known in English as All People that on Earth Do Dwell).

Introductory prayer by Martin Luther

Almighty and eternal God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, give me your Holy Spirit that may enlighten the right faith in my heart, govern, guide, and strengthen me. O Jesus Christ, Son of the eternal Father, give me your Holy Spirit.

Gospel Reading

John 1:1–18


Die Kirche steht gegründet (German adaptation of The Church’s One Foundation)

Reading from Peter Canisius
(Extract from the German Office of Readings on Monday in the 17th week of ordinary time)

All people must comprehensively say thanks to the great and good God, because he gave us the incredibly great gift of the revelation of his word and thus gave us salvatory food for our souls. If we lacked it, we would live the most miserable lives, as wanderers in the desert of this world. We would be like sheep without a shepherd. We would be committed to wild wolves. We would be like children without bread, overwhelmed by hunger. We would go astray or get deluded. We would not be able to understand and to achieve what belongs to a good and beatific life and what is necessary for a human being.

See the Word of God! It is delivered in the Holy Scriptures. It is the wisdom of salvation, the bright lamp, the lantern in the darkness. It is the hidden mystery, the heavenly manna, the pure and real gold! It is the science of the Saints, the teaching in the Spirit and in truth, the clear mirror, the living source, the sealed book. Those who use it in the right way can call themselves “instructed by God”. Through the Word we become spiritual human beings, wise and just, God’s friends and God’s heirs.

Choral piece

Johann Walter (+ 1570): Allein auf Gottes Wort (On God’s Word Alone)

Reading from Martin Luther
(Extract from a homily on John 1:8–9)

Although the Christian Church is dispersed, here and there, among all peoples in the world, from East to West, South, and North, it shall be equal and united on this one issue: that she recognizes Christ alone as her light and that she only knows and preaches Christ, such as we – praise be to God – do here and as we align all our teaching, writing, and preaching with Christ.

The only light is Christ alone, he is able to and he wants to advise and help.

If that happened – and we always stick with it –, all Christians would have the same insight, teaching, and faith, and would teach and preach the same in every place of the world. Our brothers in the Orient would be minded like us. If someone came from Babylon over here and heard our reading or preaching, he would say: I believe the same as you teach, I align myself with Christ, the only light. And he would agree that both of us preach about Christ, the light.

And if I went to a Christian in Turkey and heard him talk about the Christian doctrine and faith, I would say as well: I believe and agree to the same. That is why we all are called Christians after Christ our Lord, so that we shall know – according to our name – that he alone is our light, life, path, hope, and salvation.

Choral piece

Johann Sebastian Bach (+ 1750): Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan (What God Ordains is Always Good)


Instrumental piece

J. B. Lœillet (+ ca. 1720): Adagio from Sonata in Bb for Trumpet and Organ

Lord’s Prayer

Excerpt from the Universal Prayer by Peter Canisius
(English version by Mark Woodruff)

Grant us, O God of peace, a true unity in faith, free of all division and separation. Convert our hearts to true repentance and amendment of life. Kindle in us the fire of Your love; give us hunger and zeal for justice in all things, so that we, as obedient children through life unto death, may be pleasing to You and find favour in Your sight.

We also pray, O God, as You willed that we should pray, for our friends and enemies, for the healthy and the sick, for all Christians in sadness and distress, for the living and the dead.

To You, O Lord, be entrusted whatever we do, whatever our path, our work and our dealings, our living and dying. Let us delight in Your grace here in this world, and attain the next with all Your chosen ones, to praise, honour and extol You in unending joy and blessedness.

Grant us this, O Lord, heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Your beloved Son, Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Choral piece

Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (+ 1847): Verleih uns Frieden gnädiglich (Grant Peace, We Pray, in Mercy, Lord)

Blessing with words from Martin Luther
(From a homily on John 17)

Christ, our Lord, may keep and strengthen us in pure insight and unity of faith until the day of his glorious future. Praise and honor and glorification be to him with the Father and the Holy Spirit for eternity.

Closing hymn

Nun singe Lob, du Christenheit (roughly Now Sing Your Praise, O Christian Folk)


  1. As someone mentioned above, it seems that the distinction between consecration and blessing is salient here. Consecration, by its nature, doesn’t need repetion. Blessing is always open to repetition. I must admit, however, I am only relying here only on my own opinion. But I think others will agree that the two concepts are different and should avoid being conflated.

    1. @Jordan Zarembo:
      I don’t know the different Lutheran customs all over the world, but the Lutheran Church of Austria calls its head bishop and the heads of its regions superintendents. The regions themselves are called either superintendencies or dioceses. (Indeed the word superintendent was created as a Latin translation for Greek episkopos.)
      Generally in the Austrian ecumenism the Lutheran superintendents are regarded as counterparts to the Catholic bishops (the superintendencies/dioceses have almost the same sizes as the Catholic dioceses) while the Lutheran bishop is regarded as counterpart to the president of the Catholic bishops’ conference.
      But all this might be very different elsewhere.

  2. Jordan Zarembo : Aren’t Lutheran superintendents more often styled as bishops today?

    Don’t episcopos and superintendent mean the same thing, someone with oversight?

  3. When I began ecumenical work for our diocese (Savannah) I discovered the term “Judicatory Head” to describe those who were bishops or who held bishop-like offices.

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