Celebrations and Events
Reformation 500: Joint Lutheran and Catholic Commemoration in Melbourne (28 October 2017)

By David Schütz
Executive Officer, Ecumenical and Interfaith Commission, Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne

(Photographs from this event may be viewed at the bottom of the report

A special Lutheran and Catholic joint commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation took place on Saturday night (28 October) at St John’s Lutheran Church Southgate, featuring messages from Archbishop Denis Hart and Bishop Lester Priebbenow and the presentation of a Bach cantata “O ewiges Feuer, o Ursprung der Liebe” (BWV 34). The service was attended by more than 200 local members of the Catholic and Lutheran churches.

According to an historical legend, on 31 October 1517 in the University town of Wittenberg in Saxony, an Augustinian friar and biblical scholar Dr Martin Luther posted the document which later became known as “The 95 Theses”. This document raised questions about the indulgence campaign which was being promoted by the Archbishop of Mainz and Magdeburg to raise money for the rebuilding of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. This scholarly document ignited a movement that became known to history as “The Protestant Reformation”.

After 500 years, a lot of water has flowed under the Catholic and Lutheran bridge. After many centuries, a new era of ecumenical dialogue has led from ancient conflicts to a renewed desire for the restoration of communion with one another. In Europe, the United States and all over the world, Catholics and Lutherans are commemorating this centenary of the Reformation for the first time together, as we pray for full communion between our separated communities. The service was led by Catholic Archdiocese Episcopal Vicar for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations, Very Rev. Fr Denis Stanley, and Rev. Tom Hoffmann, the pastor of St John’s. A local team of Victorian Catholics and Lutherans adapted the service order from materials prepared by international Lutheran and Catholic commission (from the Lutheran World Federation and the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity) published in the document “From Conflict to Communion”. It was an opportunity for Catholics and Lutherans together to listen, reflect, give thanks, lament, pray and sing together – and to look ahead. The service included thanksgiving for our unity in Christ through the Sacrament of Baptism, repentance for the grave wrongs we have done one another in the past (including forsaking unity and perpetuating divisions), joint confession of the Apostles’ Creed and praying the Lords Prayer together.

The messages from Bishop Priebbenow (available here) and Archbishop Hart (available here - read by Fr Stanley) built upon the Gospel reading from John 15, in which Jesus said “I am the vine and you are the branches” and exhorted us to abide in him. Representatives and leaders of other churches were present, including Bishop Suriel of the Coptic Orthodox Church, Pastor Christoph Dielmann of the German Evangelical Lutheran Church in East Melbourne, and Rev. Sandy Yule of the Uniting Church. A strong feature of the service was music and song. Several of the songs were written especially for the 500th Commemoration by a Benedictine nun based in Minnesota, Sr Delores Dufner. Sr Delores was awarded the Christus Rex award from the Lutheran Valparaiso University’s Institute of Liturgical Studies for her new hymn texts. The St John’s Bach Choir of 20 and Orchestra of 18 was conducted by Mr Graham Lieschke. The Bass and Tenor soloists were John Weretka and Robert Macfarlane, with a sublime aria sung by countertenor Christopher Roache. Organists for the service were Dr Paul Taylor from St Patrick’s Catholic Cathedral and Mr Allan Collyer from St Paul’s Lutheran Church Box Hill.

At the heart of the service were five commitments that the International Commission has called Lutherans and Catholics t begin from the perspective of unity and not from the point of view of division in order to strengthen what is held in common even though the differences are more easily seen and experienced. let themselves continuously be transformed by the encounter with the other and by the mutual witness of faith. commit themselves to seek visible unity, to elaborate together what this means in concrete steps, and to strive repeatedly toward this goal. jointly rediscover the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ for our time. witness together to the mercy of God in proclamation and service to the world. These commitments were read by Mrs Marlene Pietsch and Sr Margaret Smith. As each commitment was read, a candle was lighted. After the Commitments were read, this prayer was prayed by the congregation: Gracious Father, we pray for the church throughout the world. Fill it with all truth and peace.

Where it is corrupt, purify it;
where it is in error, correct it;
where it is superstitious, cleanse it;
where anything is amiss, reform it;
where it is right, strengthen and confirm it;
where it is in want, supply its need;
where it is divided and torn apart, heal its wounds.
Hasten the day of our Lord, when the church will shine with his glory.
In his holy name we pray. Amen.

The service concluded with a blessing given jointly by Fr Stanley and Pastor Hoffmann over the assembled congregation. And after the final organ postlude, the congregation erupted into spontaneous applause!

A joint statement by Archbishop Christopher Prowse (Chairman of the Bishops Commission for Ecumenism and Inter-religious Relations, Australian Catholic Bishops Conference) and Bishop John Henderson (Lutheran Church of Australia) may be read here.

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