This evening, I received an email from a concerned parish visitor who was responding to a pair of area ecumenical Thanksgiving services being promoted in our bulletin:
Dear Father. I was severely shocked and disappointed to see this in a CATHOLIC bulletin. I am a devout Roman Catholic visiting family in the area. Not only is this confusing to to parishoners. It is outright contradicting to Church doctrine. You have beautiful homilies, and seem to be a devout priest ! Which is why I’m so confused and outright shocked !!! I will also be emailing the Bishop to address this issue with him. God bless [F]ather. And may the Sacred Heart [guide] us both ! [-Signed-]
In case there is wider confusion and concern on this subject, here is the reply I sent.
Thank you for your note. Properly representing our Catholic Faith and preventing scandal are important to me and I’m glad you wrote me.
The Catholic Church calls Protestants our “separated brethren.” This is because we are united as brothers and sisters in Christ though, at the same time, divided in non-trivial ways. (I hope this teaching of the Church is clearly reflected through my preaching, for I believe our Lord desires all of his disciples and all people to come into full communion with his Catholic Church.) While Catholics and Protestants are certainly not in full communion with each other, we share and revere many of the same elements of Christian Prayer, Scripture, and Tradition. Without compromising on the truth, the Church allows Catholics to come together with other Christians for ecumenical prayer events such as the upcoming Thanksgiving gatherings you saw advertised in the bulletin.
This evening, I spoke with Mr. Christopher Carstens, our (solidly orthodox) diocesan director of liturgy, regarding your concerns. He confirmed that these ecumenical events are not condemned by the Church. In fact, The Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism promulgated by St. Pope John Paul II in 1993 states that, “In liturgical celebrations taking place in other Churches and ecclesial Communities [i.e, Protestant churches], Catholics are encouraged to take part in the psalms, responses, hymns and common actions of the Church in which they are guests. If invited by their hosts, they may read a lesson or preach.” (#118) The upcoming area Thanksgiving ecumenical services are celebrations of this sort, consisting of scripture readings, psalms, prayer responses, hymns, and talks (without common communion.) And so, Catholics may feel welcome to take part.
Through our participation in such ecumenical events and gatherings, while remaining firmly and unabashedly Catholic, I hope that our separated brethren may be drawn from (perhaps) prejudice against Catholicism, to curiosity, to understanding, to attraction, and finally into full communion with Mother Church. Sharing the truth with love and showing love informed by truth through encounters like these will be key to the reunion of all Christians.
Thanks again for writing me with your concerns, which are hopefully now relieved.
Fr. Victor Feltes