Lutheran-Catholic Sacramental Spirituality: Are We Still Divided Over How We Follow Jesus?

As in the case of the dialogue we have already had with the Orthodox tradition, this Lutheran along with other Confessional Lutherans can wholeheartedly endorse the Sacramental spirituality of the Roman Catholic Church (though Lutheran Pietist elements and Lutheran members reflecting a modernist piety might object). Indeed except for the Catholic teaching of transubstantiation (which when compared to the Lutheran position is nothing more than a disagreement inside the family), Lutherans have a view of the Sacraments virtually identical with Catholics (not rejecting the possibility of there being seven [Apology of The Augsburg Confession, XIII.2]).

A Real Presence vision of the Sacraments like Catholics and Lutheran share (Christ coming to us and changing us [Small Catechism]) is essentially related for Lutherans to the prioritizing of salvation and living the Christian life by grace alone! They are means through which God makes us people who want to follow Jesus. In worship, the benefits of God are received (Apology of The Augsburg Confession, IV.49), in Baptism we are born again and begin to live out our baptism (Romans 6; Large Catechism IV.27), and in The Lord’s Supper forgiveness is not only received, but we also become people who are linked to all the faithful, their strengths and their needs (Large Catechism, V.22,70 ; Luther’s Works, Vol.35, pp.50-52,58,59). How about it, Ms. Wassell (Christina): Is this not in line with the Catholic formula of worship, leading to faith, entailing how we live?

There are other ways in which I see our traditions overlapping/converging when it comes to following Jesus. As you seem to advocate, Luther believed that prayer increases our faith and the practice of the Christian life (The Large Catechism, III.2). I noted that in a previous response you highlight the Virgin Mary’s role in enhancing spirituality. With your Catholic heritage, Luther was open to invoking angels and Mary (whom he called the Mother of God) (Luther’s Works, Vol.42, p.113; Ibid., Vol.21, pp.328-3 29). All the saints may pray for us, he claimed (Smalcald Articles, II.25f.).

There are other ways in which our traditions overlap. Many of the other characteristic Catholic themes which I have noted over the years seem to have affinities to the Pietist strand of Lutheranism and also in some cases to Lutheranism’s Dogmatic Orthodox strands. There is place in the Lutheran heritage for something like the Catholic stress on keeping the Commandments (Formula of Concord SD VII; Large Catechism, I.Con), and measuring growth in the Christian life this way (Formula of Concord, SD IV.31-33). Even the affirmation of a synergistic joining of our will with God’s grace so prominent in your tradition (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1996ff.) is not officially rejected in Lutheranism (Formula of Concord, SD II.90).

I have found another profound overlap in our traditions. Is it not true that even the Lutheran passion for affirming justification by grace through faith (Apology of The Augsburg Confession, IV.2) has been deemed a valid Catholic option by Vatican II when it decrees (in Unitatis redingegratio, 31) that “all who have been justified by faith in Baptism, … have a right to be called Christian”? Insights like this have led our churches to affirm a common statement about how we are saved (Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification). There’s a lot in common in our traditions, and our leaders are starting to recognize this.

I just have a few questions to raise with you now at the conclusion to determine how much celebrating of our unity we might do. You refer to the sacrifice of the Mass. To whom is the Sacrifice paid and how is it paid? This could be a deal-breaker for Lutherans if it entails that we
need to pay more sacrifices to god to get Him to love us, for Christ offered the only sacrifice necessary (The Augsburg Confession, XXIV.30ff). But if the Sacrifice of the Mass is a Sacrifice because Christ the one true Sacrifice is Present or is so deemed because it nurtures the Christian life, a life of sacrifice of denying the self and suffering, then we again have much in common (Apology of The Augsburg Confession, XXIV.34).

I resonate with your stated reasons for preferring the traditional Latin Mass. High-Church Lutherans also want the worship leader to face the altar when talking to God. And there is beauty in the chanting/music associated with the Latin Mass. But must the Mass be in Latin, or is your point merely that the liturgy should be done properly? Lutherans have to object if worship is not in the language of the people enabling them to learn the Word of God (Apology of The Augsburg Confession, XXIV.2). Another non-negotiable for Lutherans is the conviction that following Jesus includes a social concern about justice, not just charity, for the poor (Ibid., Vol.9, p.19; Large Catechism, I.7; Amos 8:4ff.).

The Catholic Church, notably in the Americas since the end of Colonialism, has such a rich heritage of espousing justice for the poor (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2408ff.). I appreciate your rationale for not including this theme in your original paper. But I submit that the Catholic commitment to ending structural poverty is not just a function of Vatican II, but can be traced at least back to the 19th century throughout the church with Leo XIII. Did not his encyclical, Rerum Novarum, direct the faithful to seek economic justice through organized labor and by political means? If you concur with me on this point, then you and I have found another area of Lutheran-Catholic agreement.

Finally I turn to the issue of how much freedom the Catholic vision of following Jesus permits. Give the fact that the Sacraments transform recipients, provide them with a mystical and physical union with our Lord, does it not make sense to think of the faithful as becoming people who want to follow Jesus (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1265-1266)? This opens the door to the Lutheran teaching about freedom from the Law (Galatians 3:13; 5:1; Romans 7:4ff; Luther’s Works, Vol.31, pp.333-377), the spontaneity of good works (Ephesians 2:10; Luther’s Works, Vol.31, pp.367-368; Complete Sermons, Vol.1/2, p.316), and a Situational Ethic (Genesis 22; Luther’s Works, Vol.5, p.150; Complete Sermons, Vol.3/1, p.61)? Are these affirmations which could legitimately be made in a Catholic context? If not, why not?