By Melissa Ramirez Cooper, Associate Director, ELCA Publications and Public Relations
Drawing on 50 years of national and international dialogue, Lutherans and Catholics have made available Oct. 30 Declaration on the Way: Church, Ministry and Eucharist – a unique ecumenical document that marks a pathway toward greater unity between Catholics and Lutherans.
“Five hundred years ago wars were fought over the very issues about which Lutherans and Roman Catholics have now achieved consensus,” said the Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). “Church, ministry and Eucharist have been areas of disagreement and even separation between our two churches, and we still have work to do both theologically and pastorally as we examine the questions. The declaration is so exciting because it shows us 32 important points where already we can say there are not church-dividing issues between us, and it gives us both hope and direction for the future,” she said.
“Pope Francis in his recent visit to the United States emphasized again and again the need for and importance of dialogue,” said Bishop Denis J. Madden of the Archdiocese of Baltimore and Catholic co-chair of the task force creating the document. “This Declaration on the Way represents in concrete form an opportunity for Lutherans and Catholics to join together now in a unifying manner on a way finally to full communion.”
At its heart are 32 “Statements of Agreement” where Lutherans and Catholics already have points of convergence on topics about church, ministry and Eucharist. The document also indicates differences that remain.
The declaration seeks reception of the Statement of Agreements from The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU). The LWF is a global communion of 145 churches in 98 countries worldwide. The ELCA is the communion’s only member church from the United States.
The conclusion of the declaration invites the PCPCU and the LWF to create a process and timetable for addressing the remaining issues. It also suggests that the expansion of opportunities for Lutherans and Catholics to receive Holy Communion together would be a sign of the agreements already reached. In addition, the declaration urges Catholics and Lutherans at local levels to connect in “a deeper commitment to Christ and greater engagement and collaboration with one another,” according to the declaration’s executive summary.
Earlier this month the ELCA Conference of Bishops – an advisory body of the church -received and unanimously affirmed the Statements of Agreements. ELCA bishops requested that the ELCA Church Council accept them and forward the entire document to the 2016 ELCA Churchwide Assembly, the denomination’s highest legislative body. The statements were also unanimously affirmed by the Bishops Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.