Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue Studies Eucharist, Purifying Souls for Heaven in Ongoing Discussion

April 2, 2009 By Public Affairs Office

WASHINGTON—The U.S. Lutheran-Roman Catholic Dialogue continued its study of the Eucharist and the meaning of purifying souls for entry into heaven, during its March 12-15 dialogue at St. Paul's College, Washington.

It was the seventh meeting of Round XI in the historic relationship that began in 1964 at the end of the Second Vatican Council. The meeting began with a prayer service to remember Cardinal Avery Dulles, a member of the dialogue in the 1960s and 1970s, who died December 12, 2008.

The dialogue has been exploring beliefs and practices related to Eternal Life in Jesus Christ since it began the current round in 2005. At the recent session, participants reviewed early drafts regarding the purgation, or purifying of souls, of sinners before entering heaven, as well as ancient and medieval practice of offering prayers for the deceased. Each was a matter of disputed practice during the Lutheran Reformation, making current discussions all the more crucial.

"The dialogue provides an important table for discussion and understanding about significant issues that have historically polarized us. There are many moments [during the meetings] when bridges of understanding bring us closer together in our common confession of the faith that we share," said the Rev. Donald J. McCoid, executive for ecumenical and inter-religious relations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA).

Drafters already had presented texts treating biblical perspectives on heaven, hell, the soul, and other topics related to the theme.

"Clearly, the topic will be one of interest to readers when this round of the dialogue is completed and the report is published, perhaps in 2011. We hope that the report will serve as a resource for study and reflection in parishes throughout our churches," said the Rev. Lowell G. Almen, Lutheran co-chair of the dialogue and first secretary of the ELCA following the meeting.

Bishop Richard Sklba, auxiliary bishop of Milwaukee, and former chair of the U.S. Bishops' Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, said the dialogue "has moved to a key moment in the preparation of its final report, namely the harvesting of the rich scholarly research provided during the earlier meetings of this Round XI, and the integrating of many perspectives into a single cohesive document."

"One of the fascinating aspects of this Round XI of the Evangelical Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue has been our new appreciation for the manner in which each Church has developed over the past four centuries and changed its liturgical practices," he said. "An enormous amount of historical evolution has occurred in the expression of our faith and our hope of eternal life!"

The Lutheran-Roman Catholic Dialogue in the United States began in 1965. "This dialogue has been among the most productive efforts of our bishops' ecumenical committee," said Father James Massa, Executive Director of the Secretariat of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the USCCB. "True to its tradition, the dialogue's current round on 'the last things' (eschatology) has yielded remarkable scholarship and theological convergences."

The next meeting will take place in Washington, October 15-18. At that time, participants will examine a complete draft of the common statement and decide the contents and format of a publication that may include the statement as well as a series of papers that have been presented over the course of this round.

Other Catholic participants in the dialogue include the co-chair, Bishop Sklba; Jesuit Father Joseph A. Fitzmyer, professor emeritus of The Catholic University of America, Washington; Father Massa; Margaret O'Gara, Ph.D., University of St. Michael's College, Toronto; Christian Brother Jeffrey Gros, Memphis Theological Seminary, Memphis, Tenn.; Christian David Washburn, PhD, Saint Paul Seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota; Jesuit Father Jared Wicks, John Carroll University, University Heights, Ohio; and Sister Susan Wood, a Sister of Charity of Leavenworth, Marquette University, Milwaukee.

Dialogue members from the ELCA include the Rev. Dr. Lowell G. Almen, co-chair of the Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue, Chicago, Ill.; Rev Theodore W. Asta, Associate to the Bishop (Ecumenism and Administration) New England Synod – ELCA; Rev. Stephen J. Hultgren, assistant professor, Department of Theology, Fordham University, Bronx, N.Y.; Rev. Donald J. McCoid; Rev. Marcus J. Miller, president, Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, Columbia, S.C.; Rev. Winston D. Persaud, Wartburg Theological Seminary, Dubuque, Iowa; Rev. Cheryl M. Peterson, assistant professor of systematic theology, Trinity Lutheran Seminary, Columbus, Ohio; Michael J. Root, Ph.D., professor of systematic theology and dean, Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, Columbia, S.C.; Rev. Paul A. Schreck, associate, ELCA Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Relations, Chicago, Ill.

The dialogue also includes two participants from The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod: Rev. Dr. Samuel H. Nafzger, director of Church Relations and assistant to the president; and Rev. Dr. Dean Wenthe, president, Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Ind.