2017 marks the 500th anniversary of Protestant Reformation begun by Martin Luther in Wittenberg, Saxony-Anhalt, Germany. To mark the occasion the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the World Council of Churches’ Commission on Faith and Order issued jointly a prayer service  for use in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity that culminated on January 25. The introduction to the prayer service gives the background and recommendation for use and is quoted here in part.
The traditional period in the northern hemisphere for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is 18-25 January….Mindful of the need for flexibility, we invite you to use this material throughout the whole year to express the degree of communion which the churches have already reached, and to pray together for that full unity which is Christ’s will….
After extensive, and sometimes difficult, discussions, the churches in Germany agreed that the way to commemorate ecumenically this Reformation event should be with a Christusfest – a Celebration of Christ. If the emphasis were to be placed on Jesus Christ and his work of reconciliation as the center of Christian faith, then all the ecumenical partners of the Evangelical Church in Germany (Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Baptist, Methodist, Mennonite and others) could participate in the anniversary festivities.
Given the fact that the history of the Reformation was marked by painful division, this is a very remarkable achievement. The Lutheran-Roman Catholic Commission on Unity has worked hard to produce a shared understanding of the commemoration. Its important report, From Conflict to Communion, recognizes that both traditions approach this anniversary in an ecumenical age, with the achievements of fifty years of dialogue behind them, and with new understandings of their own history and theology.
In addition to psalms, hymns, and prayers, the service provides a very moving call to confession of sins. The sins form a litany of woes that, taken together, historically have built up walls between Christian denominations. As the reader can tell from the enumerated sins, they are both collective and individual actions, which serve still to isolate and persecute others. Consider each in turn.
- Lack of love
- Hate and contempt
- False accusation
- Broken communion
- Religious wars
- Abuse of power
The makers of the ecumenical prayer service liken these sins to stones that form walls of division. Christian unity comes by way of removing the stones and thereby dismantling the walls. The service ends with the following prayer.
Gracious God, we pray for our churches. Fill them with all truth and peace. Where faith is corrupted, purify it; where people go astray, redirect them; where they fail to proclaim your Gospel, reform them; where they witness to what is right, strengthen them; where they are in need, provide for them; and where they are divided, reunite them. Let us pray to the Lord.
Gospel purity, proclamation, witness, reliance on Providence, and reunion – these are tools that are given by God in order to keep us from the quarry of the social and personal sins named above. This Christian call to unity has prophetic ramifications for everyone. International Holocaust Remembrance Day was observed last Friday, reminding us of the endpoint of past religious profiling. Pope Francis at last November’s consistory warned the College of Cardinals of the sins of separation both personal and communal. Today’s blog ends with his prescient warning.
Ours is an age of grave global problems and issues. We live at a time in which polarization and exclusion are burgeoning and considered the only way to resolve conflicts. We see, for example, how quickly those among us with the status of a stranger, an immigrant, or a refugee, become a threat, take on the status of an enemy. An enemy because they come from a distant country or have different customs. An enemy because of the colour of their skin, their language or their social class. An enemy because they think differently or even have a different faith. An enemy because… And, without our realizing it, this way of thinking becomes part of the way we live and act. Everything and everyone then begins to savour of animosity. Little by little, our differences turn into symptoms of hostility, threats and violence. How many wounds grow deeper due to this epidemic of animosity and violence, which leaves its mark on the flesh of many of the defenceless, because their voice is weak and silenced by this pathology of indifference! How many situations of uncertainty and suffering are sown by this growing animosity between peoples, between us! Yes, between us, within our communities, our priests, our meetings. The virus of polarization and animosity permeates our way of thinking, feeling and acting. We are not immune from this and we need to take care lest such attitudes find a place in our hearts, because this would be contrary to the richness and universality of the Church. 
photo credits: Wikimedia Commons