Munhall service to help bridge divisions between Catholics, Lutherans (PA)

The domed, incense-filled sanctuary reverberated with prayers intoned in centuries-old Byzantine chant and, less typically, with an a cappella rendering of the Lutheran anthem, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”

Hundreds of area Catholics and Lutherans gathered Tuesday night at St. John the Baptist Byzantine Catholic Cathedral in Munhall for the first in a series of services marking the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. That Reformation is commonly dated to the Oct. 31, 1517 posting by a German priest, Martin Luther, of a document protesting Catholic teachings and practices. It set in motion a massive schism between Catholic and newly formed Protestant churches, often with deadly results in Europe’s religious wars.

Tuesday night’s service, however, saw members of the two traditions singing and praying together, a sign of the dramatic improvement in relations over the past 50 years. Catholics and Lutherans have signed on to numerous official documents seeking to narrow the gap between them. A 1999 document issued by the Vatican and the Lutheran World Federation — which represents many but not all Lutheran communions — found that although they don’t entirely agree on “justification,” or how God saves people from their sins, their differences are no longer considered occasions for mutual condemnation. Luther’s doctrine of justification by faith alone was a flashpoint of the Reformation.

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