by MARTIN de JONG
Wellington’s Sacred Heart Cathedral was packed for a Lutheran-Catholic Ecumenical Service on June 4 commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, as part of a series of worldwide events.

Left: Jane Knackstedt (right) with daughters Olivia (left) and Anna (with candle) with one of five candles lit from the Paschal Candle and carried to the altar to represent five imperatives found in the From Conflict to Communion Report of the Lutheran-Roman Catholic Commission on Unity.
Left: Jane Knackstedt (right) with daughters Olivia (left) and Anna (with candle) with one of five candles lit from the Paschal Candle and carried to the altar to represent five imperatives found in the From Conflict to Communion Report of the Lutheran-Roman Catholic Commission on Unity.

In a rare move, the congregation entered the cathedral through the main doors between the pillars. The usual entrance is through a modern foyer at the side of the church.

Cardinal John Dew, Archbishop of Wellington, said this was “because of this unique occasion and because we wanted to honour you as the honoured guests that you are”.

As people entered, Cardinal Dew stood with Lutheran Bishop Mark Whitfield to sprinkle baptismal water on the congregation from the font in the centre of the church. There was a minor kerfuffle and laughter near the end of the sprinkling ceremony, as Bishop Whitfield’s sprinkler fell apart and the free end flew off, nearly hitting someone. “I hope it wasn’t a Catholic,” said Bishop Whitfield later in the service, wondering if he’d just set back inter-church relations 500 years.

Neither Catholic cardinal nor Lutheran bishop had compared notes before their reflections at the service,  but they were reading virtually from the same page.

Reflecting on the Gospel reading from John 15 where Christ speaks of the true vine and the branches, Cardinal Dew said that until Vatican II opened a door to dialogue from the Catholic side, “we were unable to see ourselves as branches of the one vine”. But over the last 50 years, “we have been rediscovering what we have in common and it all begins in Baptism”.

Bishop Whitfield noted people had come in from outside, then “we came in here and things changed. We came in here and we met at the font. We met at our Baptism. It was at that beautiful place of Baptism that we were no longer marked by our differences, but by our common grafting into Christ. We are people of Christ, grafted to the vine”.

The candles on the altar.
The candles on the altar.

A Lutheran from Whanganui, Robert Scott, said the service was great, but the real progress would be “in the trenches” as people from different churches got together over coffee, discussions, and working together at the local level.

The real test is “whether we lay down our lives for each other, for our friends”. The service also marked the beginning of official Roman Catholic — Lutheran dialogue in New Zealand.

In a statement a few days before the service, Cardinal Dew noted that “over several years we have had dialogues with the Anglicans, Presbyterians and Methodists, those bi-lateral dialogues are now extended as we officially start working, praying and discussing with the Lutherans as we continue to work towards Christian unity”.

Bishop Whitfield said in the statement that he looks “forward to Roman Catholics and Lutherans working together to seek avenues of practical pastoral cooperation and support, and to explore joint worship and ecumenical hospitality for the sake of strengthening a joint witness to the Gospel in Aotearoa-New Zealand”.

The New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference has recently appointed Fr Tom Rouse of the St Columban Mission Society to join Fr James Lyons, parish priest at Sacred Heart Cathedral, on the Catholic-Lutheran Dialogue Commission.

The Lutheran Church of New Zealand representatives on the dialogue will be Pastor Jim Pietsch and Dr Petrus Simons.

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