Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 8, 1999
RCs, Lutherans take step on road to unity
By LELLA BLUMER
Special to the WCR
With songs, tears of joy and handshakes, Catholics and Lutherans in St. Albert marked the international signing of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification Oct. 31.
Members of St. Albert Catholic, Holy Family Catholic, and St. Albert Evangelical Lutheran churches held a service of reconciliation at St. Albert Catholic Church to celebrate the agreement.
"Today we can shake hands and look each other in the eye and say 'Now it's official,'" Pastor Bill Flath said after the service, referring to the bond that already exists among the three congregations.
"It opens us to a personal relationship with each other - it gives all of us official consent to celebrate the faith together that we have been celebrating individually."
Father Karl Raab of Holy Family Parish agreed. "It's celebrating and confirming what's always been here."
Oblate Father George LaGrange of St. Albert Catholic Parish, who presided at the service, called it an event "which hopefully marks the beginning of a journey to union of all Christian faiths."
The service was held the same day as representatives of the Lutheran World Federation and the Vatican signed the agreement in Augsburg, Germany -- exactly 482 years after Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of a German church.
The issue of justification was at the heart of the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther protested the Catholic view that human good works played a role in winning salvation. Luther claimed that faith alone was the key to salvation.
In the Joint Declaration, the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation define justification as "the forgiveness of sins, liberation from the dominating power of sin and death . . . acceptance into communion with God."
The document states that "By grace alone, in faith in Christ's saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works."
For the more than 400 participants at the St. Albert service, it was a time to emphasize common ground rather than the differences that still exist. A joint choir made up of members from all three parishes filled the church with song.
Those gathered for the service broke into lengthy applause as Raab, Flath and LaGrange shook hands after signing copies of the Joint Declaration.
The service itself moved some participants to tears as Catholic and Lutheran representatives asked forgiveness from God and their brothers and sisters "for all prejudices, offensive words, reproaches without foundation, reprehensible gestures, or sheer indifference oftentimes, by which we, or our forbears, have offended them."
"It's removed so many reservations in my heart," beamed Lil Lewis of St. Albert Evangelical Lutheran Church after the service.
"It's an incredible positive step forward for Christian unity," said Louise Lohmann of Holy Family Parish.
Pope John Paul used his midday Angelus address at the Vatican Oct. 31 to highlight the importance of the document.
The agreement on justification is "a milestone along the not easy road of the re-establishment of full unity among Christians," the pope said.
In Wadena, Minn., the Rev. Marilyn Breckenridge said justification - "or how sinful human beings are made acceptable to God - is the heart of Lutheran doctrine."
"It's a radical doctrine which runs counter to culture which says: 'You get what you deserve,"' she said.
The signing ceremony in Germany began with a penitential service in Augsburg's Catholic cathedral. Catholics and Lutherans asked for forgiveness for not always having chosen the way of unity within their churches and within their lives.
Then, participants walked in a half-mile procession to the Lutheran Church of St. Anne for an ecumenical prayer service.
At the end of the service, the declaration was signed by Cardinal Edward Cassidy, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity; German Lutheran Bishop Christian Krause, president of the Lutheran World Federation; and by other Catholic and Lutheran participants.
Cassidy told an Oct. 29 press conference it was an honour to sign the agreement on behalf of the Vatican.
"If on the day of judgment I have nothing else to present to the Lord when he asks me, 'Did you do anything good during your life?' I can say I signed the joint declaration," the cardinal said.