May They Be One! Will 2013 Be the Year of a Lutheran Ordinariate?
The teaching of the Catholic Church is rooted in an ecclesiology of communion.
The heart of the Gospel message is that in and through Jesus Christ, authentic unity with God - and through Him, in the Spirit, with one another- is not only possible but is the plan of God for the entire human race. The Church is the way. It was not the Lord's plan that she be divided. It is His Plan that she be restored to full communion.
WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) - On January 21, 2013, the Alessandro Speciale, writing for La Stampa's Vatican Insider, wrote an article which caused quite a stir. It concerned comments made by Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller, the Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the faith. Those comments seem favorable to the possibility of the establishment of an Ordinariate structure for groups of Lutherans, should they seek to come into the full communion of the Catholic Church.
The article caused a negative reaction in some institutional Lutheran circles. It also set the Society of St Pius X (SSPX) abuzz. This double reaction was not unlike the reaction which occurred back when the idea began to be floated that groups of Anglicans might indeed seek full communion - and before the issuance of Pope Benedicts Historic apostolic constitution making it a reality. Remember the uproar from some Anglican Leaders? Remember the outcry from the SSPX?
Yet, consider the historic and miraculous turn of events which we have lived though as the Holy Spirit moved to bring healing to the divisions in the Christian community. The Pope of Christian Unity, Benedict XVI, issued an apostolic constitution setting forth the vehicle for the establishment of Ordinariates for groups of former Anglicans to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church while maintaining certain aspects of their patrimony.
Back in 2009 I reported on the tragic situation which had befallen the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America as its leadership has allowed that community to veer into heresy and abandon orthodox Christian doctrine concerning marriage and sexual morality based on a vote. I did so because I believe that as a Catholic I should be concerned about other Christians who are struggling within the communities which descended from the Protestant Reformation which are abandoning orthodox Christian doctrine. Though the article was generally well received, there were some disapproving comments.
They ranged from a reader who wondered why such an article was "even published on a Catholic Web Site", to others which used the term "schismatic" in reference to all Protestant Christians. Some objected to my use of the term, "orthodox' to distinguish those Lutherans who adhered to what C.S. Lewis would have called "Mere Christianity" by accepting the fundamentals of the Christian faith and those who have succumbed to heresy.
Something similar happened when I reported on the assault on the basics of Christian doctrine within the Anglican/ Episcopal communities when the notion that a path to full communion for whole groups was only "in the wings" and being decried by many and belittled by others.Well, look at what the Holy Spirit has done, working through a courageous Pope with a heart that beats with the Heart of jesus for the healing of the Body of Christ.
Lutheran Pastors, as individuals, have been making the move home to the Catholic Church for years.Some have sort ordination to the Catholic priesthood. In July of 2010 I reported that Peter Kemmether, a married then 62 year old father of four children was ordained to the Holy Priesthood. Fr. Peter was granted a dispensation from the canonical discipline of celibacy attached to priestly ordination in the Roman Catholic Church. He had been a Protestant Pastor who came into the full communion of the Catholic Church as the fruit of a sincere search for the fullness of the Christian faith.
The German Bishop who ordained him was Bishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller. So, I was not surprised to read the article concerning now Archbishop Müller's comments on the possibility that the Holy See might consider such an ordinariate - if groups of Lutherans made such a request. He, and the Pope he serves so well, both hail from Germany. They are well aware of the situation facing Lutheran Christians in that nation. They have been exposed to a very "high church" form of Lutheran liturgical expression.
The American Lutheran communities are generally more "low church", but not always. I recently received a copy of a letter recently sent from a group of Lutherans in the United States which was written on December 12, 2012 and addressed to Cardinal Kurt Koch of the Pontifical Council Promoting Unity seeking just such a possible path to full communion for a group of Lutherans. I have reason to believe there are others, both here and abroad, and they will multiply.
In December of 2012, Zenit News published a wide ranging and insightful interview with the Cardinal which can be read in its entirety here. Here is an excerpt:
"ZENIT: You are the president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. The dialogue with Protestants is, in fact, very important in Germany. In your opinion, what progress has been made recently in Germany and what can be expected concretely from the Synod?"
"Cardinal Koch: The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification signed in August of 1999 was undoubtedly a great step forward in the ecumenical dialogue with Lutherans. The task remaining now is to discuss the ecclesiological consequences of this Joint Declaration. What is clear, in fact, is that the Evangelicals have another understanding of the Church in regard to Catholic Christians. It's not enough to recognize one another mutually as a Church. What is needed, rather, is a serious theological dialogue on what constitutes the essence of the Church."
"ZENIT: Is a solution similar to the Anglicanorum coetibus for Anglicans possible for Evangelical Christians?"
"Cardinal Koch: Anglicanorum coetibus was not an initiative of Rome, but came from the Anglican Church. The Holy Father then sought a solution and, in my opinion, found a very broad solution, in which the Anglicans' ecclesial and liturgical traditions were taken into ample consideration. If similar desires are expressed by the Lutherans, then we will have to reflect on them. However, the initiative is up to the Lutherans."
Pope Benedict XVI is the Pope of Christian Unity. He has placed the commitment to the full communion of the Church at the forefront of his Papacy. This is evident in his love, respect and repeated overtures toward our Orthodox brethren, whom we recognize as a Church and whose priesthood and Sacraments we also recognize.
However, this love is also evident in his outreach to the separated Christians of the Reformation communities of the West. On the 4th anniversary of the death of his predecessor, John Paul II, Pope Benedict reminded us of John Paul's passionate commitment to the full communion of the Church. That teaching is summarized in the Encyclical Letter "May they be One" (Ut Unum Sint).
To be Catholic is to enter into the prayer of Jesus for the Unity of His Church. In Pope Benedict XVI's first Papal message he signaled his commitment to this kind of unity: "Nourished and sustained by the Eucharist, Catholics cannot but feel encouraged to strive for the full unity for which Christ expressed so ardent a hope in the Upper Room. The Successor of Peter knows that he must make himself especially responsible for his Divine Master's supreme aspiration. "
"Indeed, he is entrusted with the task of strengthening his brethren (cf. Lk 22: 32). With full awareness, therefore, at the beginning of his ministry in the Church of Rome which Peter bathed in his blood, Peter's current Successor takes on as his primary task the duty to work tirelessly to rebuild the full and visible unity of all Christ's followers. This is his ambition, his impelling duty."
The teaching of the Catholic Church is rooted in an ecclesiology of communion. Blessed John Paul II wrote: "It happens for example that, in the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount, Christians of one confession no longer consider other Christians as enemies or strangers but see them as brothers and sisters. Again, the very expression "separated brethren" tends to be replaced today by expressions which more readily evoke the deep communion linked to the baptismal character which the Spirit fosters in spite of historical and canonical divisions."
"Today we speak of "other Christians", "others who have received Baptism", and "Christians of other Communities". The Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism refers to the Communities to which these Christians belong as "Churches and Ecclesial Communities that are not in full communion with the Catholic Church. The broadening of vocabulary is indicative of a significant change in attitudes" There is an increased awareness that we all belong to Christ."(#42)
John Paul also wrote: "Relations between Christians are not aimed merely at mutual knowledge, common prayer and dialog. They presuppose and from now on call for every possible form of practical cooperation at all levels: pastoral, cultural and social, as well as that of witnessing to the Gospel message. Cooperation among all Christians vividly expresses that bond which already unites them, and it sets in clearer relief the features of Christ the Servant".
"This cooperation based on our common faith is not only filled with fraternal communion, but is a manifestation of Christ himself. Moreover, ecumenical cooperation is a true school of ecumenism, a dynamic road to unity. Unity of action leads to the full unity of faith: "Through such cooperation, all believers in Christ are able to learn easily how they can understand each other better and esteem each other more, and how the road to the unity of Christians may be made smooth. In the eyes of the world, cooperation among Christians becomes a form of common Christian witness and a means of evangelization which benefits all involved." (#40)
I embrace the Catholic claim that the fullness of truth is found within the Catholic Church and carry a burden to see the prayer of Jesus recorded in St. John, Chapter 17, answered. There is a connection. Into a world that is fractured, divided, wounded, filled with "sides" and "camps" at enmity with one another, the Church is called to proclaim, by both word and deed, the unifying love of a living God.
The heart of the Gospel message is that in and through Jesus Christ, authentic unity with God - and through Him, in the Spirit, with one another- is not only possible but is the plan of God for the entire human race. The Church is the way. It was not the Lord's plan that she be divided. It is His Plan that she be restored to full communion. Let us take our lead from the clear teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. These paragraphs are in the section entitled "Wounds to Unity":
"817 In fact, "in this one and only Church of God from its very beginnings there arose certain rifts, which the Apostle strongly censures as damnable. But in subsequent centuries much more serious dissensions appeared and large communities became separated from full communion with the Catholic Church - for which, often enough, men of both sides were to blame." The ruptures that wound the unity of Christ's Body - here we must distinguish heresy, apostasy, and schism - do not occur without human sin: Where there are sins, there are also divisions, schisms, heresies, and disputes. Where there is virtue, however, there also are harmony and unity, from which arise the one heart and one soul of all believers.
818 "However, one cannot charge with the sin of the separation those who at present are born into these communities [that resulted from such separation] and in them are brought up in the faith of Christ, and the Catholic Church accepts them with respect and affection as brothers . . . . All who have been justified by faith in Baptism are incorporated into Christ; they therefore have a right to be called Christians, and with good reason are accepted as brothers in the Lord by the children of the Catholic Church."
819 "Furthermore, many elements of sanctification and of truth" are found outside the visible confines of the Catholic Church: "the written Word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope, and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, as well as visible elements." Christ's Spirit uses these Churches and ecclesial communities as means of salvation, whose power derives from the fullness of grace and truth that Christ has entrusted to the Catholic Church. All these blessings come from Christ and lead to him, and are in themselves calls to "Catholic unity."
820 "Christ bestowed unity on his Church from the beginning. This unity, we believe, subsists in the Catholic Church as something she can never lose, and we hope that it will continue to increase until the end of time." Christ always gives his Church the gift of unity, but the Church must always pray and work to maintain, reinforce, and perfect the unity that Christ wills for her. This is why Jesus himself prayed at the hour of his Passion, and does not cease praying to his Father, for the unity of his disciples: "That they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be one in us, . . . so that the world may know that you have sent me." The desire to recover the unity of all Christians is a gift of Christ and a call of the Holy Spirit."
As we end the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity my sincere prayer is that more overtures come from groups of Lutherans in the coming year. May They Be One! Will 2013 Be the Year if a Lutheran Ordinariate? I certainly hope so.
Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for December 2013
General Intention: Victimized Children. That children who are victims of abandonment or violence may find the love and protection they need.
Missionary Intention: Prepare the Savior's Coming. That Christians, enlightened by the Word incarnate, may prepare humanity for the Savior's coming.
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