During this year marking the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation, many Lutheran congregations will plan, or have already planned, worship that focuses on this remarkable milestone. Congregational worship commemorating the Reformation often takes either the direction of a celebration of Luther’s accomplishments, or a joint commemoration with Catholics which uses the anniversary to spur ecumenical dialogue. Below are specific worship planning recommendations for each type of service as offered by Dr. Gail Ramshaw in Commemorating 1517 without dressing up as Luther with a hammer.
To those who are considering using 2017 to celebrate Luther’s accomplishments, I suggest the standard order for Holy Communion as presented in Evangelical Lutheran Worship (ELW), filled to the brim with Luther and Reformation-era hymns. The volume The Sunday Assembly (pages 59, 180-87) gives help here. For an opening confession and absolution, the assembly can sing “Out of the Depths I Cry to You” (ELW #600), Luther’s hymn praying for forgiveness. The Kyrie will be “Kyrie! God, Father” (#409); the hymn of praise “All Glory Be to God on High” (#410); the creed will be Luther’s version of the Nicene Creed, “We All Believe in One True God” (#411); the “Holy Holy Holy” be will Luther’s Sanctus, “Isaiah, in a Vision Did of Old” (#868); a full eucharistic prayer and the Lord’s Prayer will be followed by “Lamb of God, Pure and Sinless” (357). For the hymn of the day, you might choose #505, a reformed translation of “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” For the eucharistic prayer – please remember that Luther’s colleague Philipp Melanchthon praised the eucharistic prayer of the Eastern Orthodox Church – you might select either the prayer from the third or fourth century designated in the ELW as Form XI (ELW p. 69) or the prayer that the Lutheran scholar Luther Reed first published in 1947, designated as Form I. For the final blessing, Luther preferred the use of the Aaronic benediction (ELW p. 114).
2017 as Joint Commemoration
Let me now describe now my preferred option – that Lutherans use 2017 not primarily to celebrate Luther, but rather to commemorate, with Lutherans and Roman Catholics together, our common understanding of past, our collaboration in the present, and our hopes for the future. I hope we Lutherans can worship throughout 2017 as the time that it is: a time of international ecumenical conversation between Lutherans and Roman Catholics, a time of joint resolve to erase errors and to design collaborative projects. Recall that in 1999, the dialogue between Lutherans and Roman Catholics released the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, which stated that the differing denominational emphases did not invalidate the commonalities between the churches on this central theological issue. This Declaration is available as a PDF file on-line. It is a time to forgive each other for past offenses, to rejoice in our common baptism, and to walk together into God’s future.
Those of you who are eager to design your own worship service can be inspired by the three-fold content of the booklet From Conflict to Communion: (1) we celebrate the shared joy we have in the gospel; (2) we acknowledge the pain over failures and sins and our need for repentance; and (3) we pray for the ongoing challenge to bear common witness to Christ throughout the world. That is: joy, repentance, and common witness. Be sure to balance each Lutheran quote or hymn with one written by a Roman Catholic. If you sing “A Mighty Fortress,” you might also appoint the splendid hymn written in 1983 by the Benedictine sister Delores Dufner, “The Word of God is Source and Seed” (ELW 506). “What Is This Place” (ELW 524) by the twentieth-century Roman Catholic Jesuit priest Huub Oosterhuis can be sung next to “Beloved, God’s Chosen” (ELW 648) by Lutheran laywoman Susan Palo Cherwien. The ninth- century chant “Ubi Caritas et Amor,” “Where True Charity and Love Abide” (ELW 642 or 653), would be a welcome addition, grounding our separate voices in their common past.
You might also pray the beloved seventeenth-century prayer for the church (ELW pages 58 and 73): “We pray for your holy catholic church. Fill it with all truth and peace. Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in anything it is amiss, reform it; where it is right, strengthen it; where it is in need, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it, for the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior.”
God bless your commemoration of 1517.
You can find the entire text of Commemorating 1517 without dressing up as Luther with a hammer, a workshop presented by Dr. Ramshaw in July 2015 at the ELCA Worship Jubilee, along with many other resources for Reformation commemorations at https://elca500.org. In addition, the Reformation 500 Sourcebook, available from Augsburg Fortress, is an extensive guide for 500th Anniversary Planning.