Last week, I shared a report from Sandro Magister about a Lutheran group in Rome receiving Holy Communion at a Catholic Mass after a meeting with Pope Francis. Some commenters later questioned how accurate the story was. In a followup from LifeSiteNews, we hear a bit more detail about what happened:
A group of Finnish Lutherans were offered Holy Communion by priests at a mass held in St. Peter’s Basilica following a meeting with Pope Francis on January 15, according to a report by the Finnish periodical Kotimaa 24.
Lutheran bishop Samuel Salmi was visiting the Vatican as the head of a delegation that included a youth choir that was to perform there. Salmi says he met privately with Pope Francis.
After the personal audience with the pope, the delegation was present at a celebration of the Catholic mass. According to Salmi, at the time of communion the non-Catholics placed their right hands on their left shoulders, a traditional way of indicating that they were ineligible to receive the Eucharist. However, the celebrating priests insisted on giving them communion.
Salmi told Kotimaa 24 that “I myself accepted it [Holy Communion].” He added that “this was not a coincidence,” and nor was it a coincidence when last year the pope seemed to accept the notion of a Lutheran woman receiving communion with her Catholic husband. The original article, written in Estonian, was translated for LifeSiteNews by Voice of the Family’s Maria Madise.
At that time the pope acknowledged that “explanations and interpretations” of communion may differ between Catholics and Lutherans, but “life is bigger than explanations and interpretations.” He advised the woman to “Talk to the Lord and then go forward.”
“At the root of this there is, without a doubt, the ecumenical attitude of a new Vatican,” Salmi told Kotimaa 24. “The pope was not here at the mass, but his strategic intention is to carry out a mission of love and unity. There are also theological adversaries in the Vatican, for which reason it is difficult to assess how much he can say, but he can permit practical gestures.”
I submit to you that this is a feature, not a bug.
Many of you are already aware of the upcoming joint celebrations of Catholics and Lutherans on the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation — a topic I’ll be covering more here in the coming days. Today, we got word that Pope Francis himself intends to lead a common worship service with Lutherans in a Lutheran cathedral:
Pope Francis will travel to Sweden in October for a joint ecumenical commemoration of the start of the Reformation, together with leaders of the Lutheran World Federation and representatives of other Christian Churches.
The event will take place on October 31st in the southern Swedish city of Lund where the Lutheran World Federation was founded in 1947. While kicking off a year of events to mark the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, it will also highlight the important ecumenical developments that have taken place during the past 50 years of dialogue between Catholics and Lutherans.
The one-day event will include a common worship service in Lund cathedral based on a Catholic-Lutheran “Common Prayer” liturgical guide, published earlier this month by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU) and the Lutheran World Federation (LWF).
The commemoration in Lund follows on directly from the publication in 2013 of a joint document entitled ‘From Conflict to Communion’, which focuses on the themes of thanksgiving, repentance and commitment to common witness. While asking for forgiveness for the divisions of past centuries, it also seeks to showcase the gifts of the Reformation and celebrate the way Catholics and Lutherans around the world work together on issues of common concern.
One of the “gifts of the Reformation” were Martin Luther’s obscene slurs for the pope, and the papacy in general. It’s a fascinatingly self-loathing thing to watch a pope go out of his way to celebrate a man who would have so despised being commemorated by “the Hellish Father in Rome,” as he liked to call the pope.
Sad to say, I don’t think this is the last we’re going to hear about Holy Communion given to Lutherans in the coming months.
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher and Executive Director of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have seven children.