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VATICAN CITY (ChurchMilitant.com) - Catholic dioceses in the United States and Canada are officially participating in ecumenical prayer services with Lutherans to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ), a document that some view as unifying and others as erroneous.
Members of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU) signed the JDDJ on Oct. 31, 1999, having chosen Reformation Day for the event.
Reformation Day commemorates German monk and priest Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Cathedral on All Hallow's Eve, marking the beginning of one of the biggest splits in the history of Christendom.
The archdiocese of Milwaukee hosted "a special prayer service for the 20th anniversary of the Catholic-Lutheran Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification" on Wednesday.
The archdiocese of Edmonton will join with Lutherans, Anglicans and other Christian denominations on Nov. 3 to "pray and celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification."
The archdiocese of Vancouver will host an ecumenical prayer service with the British Columbia Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada on Nov. 3 "in commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the JDDJ."
The list of Catholic dioceses and parishes similiarly taking part continues.
These Catholic leaders are following suggestions from Cdl. Kurt Koch, president of the PCPCU, and Martin Junge, secretary general of the LWF, who published a joint letter in September singing the praises of the JDDJ and encouraging these types of ecumenical prayer services.
The letter provides a new service to mark the anniversary, explaining: "It [the service] was first used during a joint worship on Trinity Sunday (June 15, 2019) in St. Pierre Protestant Cathedral in Geneva in the presence of representatives from the Catholic Church, and the Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist and Reformed communions."
The letter continues: "We are proposing that these resources may be used at the local, diocesan and national levels, perhaps in the context of Reformation Day (October 31) or later, and preferably including all five communions associated with the JDDJ."
The new service includes prayers, suggested hymns, Bible readings and excerpts from the JDDJ and other documents.
After an introduction, presiders from different denominations offer prayers. The first presider is Lutheran, the second Catholic, the third Methodist and so forth.
The Catholic prays:
We confess together that all persons depend completely on the saving grace of God for their salvation. The freedom they possess in relation to persons and the things of this world is no freedom in relation to salvation, for as sinners they stand under God's judgment and are incapable of turning by themselves to God to seek deliverance, of meriting their justification before God, or of attaining salvation by their own abilities. Justification takes place solely by God's grace.
After the Gospel is read and a sermon given, a presider says, "We now hear excerpts from the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification and from the Notre Dame Consultation Statement."
One of the sections of the Notre Dame Consultation Statement used during the prayer service calls for more ecumenical celebrations:
We will work to strengthen our witness to the common bond of baptism we share. We propose to work on creating appropriate resources for celebrations of baptism and renewal of baptismal vows where they do not exist already. In a similar way, liturgies to celebrate justification and our common baptism around 31st October, the eve of All Saints, should be offered more widely.
Critics, however, argue that the JDDJ is in error. One website gives a detailed analysis of the errors and spotlights a contradiction with earlier papal instruction regarding formal participation with other Christian denominations:
On such conditions it is clear that the Apostolic See cannot in any way participate in their reunions and that Catholics cannot in any way adhere or grant aid to such efforts. If they should do so, they would give authority to a false Christian religion completely foreign to the one Church of Christ. But could we suffer which would be utterly iniquitous the truth and indeed the divine revealed truth to be brought down to the level of bargains? For it is the safeguarding of revealed truth now that is at stake (Pius XI, Mortalium Animos, 1928).