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Canadian Catholics and Lutherans plan commemoration of Reformation

By Deborah Gyapong
Canadian Catholic News


OTTAWA (CCN) — Catholics need not be concerned about plans to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, says Archbishop Richard Gagnon of Winnipeg.

Commemoration is not celebration, he said. “The commemoration notion is a deliberate choice of words.”

Gagnon has been part of a working group formed by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Canada overseeing the production of a joint study guide entitled “Together in Christ — Lutherans and Catholics Commemorating the Reformation.” It will be released in January 2017.

The five-part guide is meant to help Catholic and Lutheran parishes discuss the historical and theological dimensions of the Reformation, as well as the ecumenical advances of the past 50 years, according to a CCCB news release.

The CCCB announced the publication of the study guide Oct. 19, prior to Pope Francis’ Oct. 31 trip to Sweden to mark the Reformation’s 500th anniversary in a joint commemoration by the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation (see related story).

The word “commemoration” comes from an international joint document published in 2013 by the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Lutheran World Federation, the archbishop said.

“That document is an exploration of the whole Reformation question,” he said. “It is a way to look at the events of the Reformation through the eyes of the Lutherans and Catholics together.”

“You are exploring the Lutheran point of view and the Catholic point of view together,” he said. “And you are noting and recognizing the faults committed by both sides on this issue.”

The document is a “re-look at history, at the person of Martin Luther and the Catholic leaders of the time,” he said. “When you consider the Reformation from this point of view, it can hardly be called a celebration, but you can commemorate the event that did happen.”

From these perspectives, you “can look at it to see some positive things that happened,” he said. “There’s nothing to celebrate but God brings good from difficult situations. That is how it is looked at.”

The Canadian joint study workshops focus on five different themes that can stand alone or be done as a series, the archbishop said. “The themes deal with remembering together the Reformation and why we need to commemorate its 500th anniversary.”

“The second session is an historical sketch of the Reformation itself, to gain appreciation for the actual historical facts,” he said. The third session examines the doctrinal issues that came into play such as justification by faith; the eucharist and an understanding of the nature of the church.

The fourth session is on the relations between Catholics and Lutherans in the years from the Reformation leading up to the Second Vatican Council, Gagnon said. The last session examines the years after the council and looks ahead to the future.

Dioceses will be organizing sessions based on the study guides using both Lutheran and Catholic facilities, he said. The sessions have “a prayer component as well.”

Gagnon said the working group had a good ecumenical spirit and provided a respectful environment. “For each member, it’s been a moment of education, of learning, and appreciation for the gift of unity that Christ prayed for.”

“I haven’t studied the Reformation since my seminary days,” said the archbishop. “I think most Catholics, most Christians probably, don’t think about the Reformation that much. That’s why these study guides are also educational.”

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