Elena Malloy

Five hundred years ago yesterday, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg church, commencing the Protestant Reformation. But on Tuesday night, Catholics and Lutherans joined one another in prayer at the Yale Divinity School’s Marquand Chapel.

The service, which was entirely student-run, was put together by the Lutheran Student Organization and the Roman Catholic Fellowship, both student organizations at the divinity school. Stressing unity, students from both organizations condemned past discord and expressed a shared commitment to healing the divide.

“We’re attempting to emphasize commemoration over celebration,” said Mike Lally DIV ’18, co-president of the Roman Catholic Fellowship. Lally added that the objective of the joint service was to recognize that enmity exists, to reflect on it and ultimately to overcome it.

The planners had long hoped to organize a significant event to mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

“We knew since last May that the [500th anniversary of the] Reformation would be on a Tuesday, our normal day for worship, and that we wanted to do something special,” said Tom Busteed DIV ’18, the worship coordinator for the Lutheran Student Organization.

Over the last century, Protestants and Catholics have made significant progress, Busteed said, and one of the goals Tuesday night was to “honor the ecumenical conversations” of the recent past. Catholics and Lutherans coming together in prayer signals a major step forward in the process of binding a centuries-old wound, according to Busteed. Twenty years ago, an ecumenical service would not have been possible, he added.

Lutherans and Catholics were not the only denominations represented at the service. Busteed said all student organizations at the divinity school, including non-Lutheran Protestant ones, were invited.

One of the attendees, Ken Kline DIV ’18, said he thought the idea behind the service was remarkable. Kline, who is a student at the divinity school in addition to being a practicing minister, had never been to a service that used Compline liturgy before last night. Compline, also known as Night Prayer, dates back to before the Reformation and is shared by Catholics and Lutherans.

Another attendee, Bob Menditz DIV ’86, was visiting campus on Tuesday to see a display of Reformation-related texts at the Beinecke Library when he heard about the service. He was intrigued by its ecumenical nature and decided to attend.

Much of the evening was dedicated to reflection. Busteed said attendees were encouraged to contemplate the question: “What does tonight mean?”

For Lally, that meant looking inwards. During the service, he said that a recent Catholic service he attended at St. Thomas More Chapel ended with a traditionally Protestant hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” He said he was upset at the time and chose not to sing. But after reflecting on those initial feelings, he said he realized that Catholics and Protestants have much more in common than not and should focus on developing unity rather than sowing division.

Students at the Yale Divinity School were not the only ones attempting to bridge the Catholic-Protestant divide yesterday. The Vatican and the Lutheran World Federation published a joint statement in commemoration of the Reformation.

Max Graham | max.m.graham@yale.edu