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Pope Francis next to a statue of Martin Luther placed in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall. October, 2016.

January 21, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – On January 10, Pope Francis granted a private audience to Reverend Michael Jonas, pastor of the Lutheran Evangelical Community in Rome. In a subsequent interview with the official website of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD),, Jonas reports on his conversation with the Pope, saying that the Pope “stressed” that “Catholics and Protestants are very close to one another in what they do in their public worship [Gottesdienst].”

He also reported that the Pope then referred to an incident where a Catholic priest helped a Lutheran minister in celebrating a liturgy of the word for his Lutheran community.

This interview with had sparked interest both in German-speaking and English-speaking outlets.

The minister’s claim that the Pope told him that the Catholic Mass and a Lutheran worship service are very similar is causing a stir in some Catholic circles.

Lutheran teaching holds that Christ is present “in, with, and under the consecrated bread and wine, meaning that both Christ’s body and blood and the bread and wine are present from the consecration until the end of the ceremony, at which point Christ’s presence departs. Lutherans do not explain how Our Lord thus manifests Himself, with some rejecting the terms “consubstantiation” and “transsubstantation” alike.

Catholic teaching is that at the consecration, the bread and wine are completely transformed into Christ’s body and blood, which retain only the appearance and physical properties (“accidents”) of bread and wine. Unlike Lutherans, Catholics understand that Christ’s body and blood remain after the Mass is concluded, which is why He is reposed in the tabernacle and exposed for Eucharistic Adoration.

According to the Catholic Church, only validly ordained priests can confect the Eucharist. Therefore, the Catholic Church teaches that bread and wine used by Lutheran ministers in Lutheran ceremonies undergoes no miraculous change, remaining bread and wine.

Adding to the differences between the Catholic Mass and the Lutheran worship service, Lutherans do not pray for the Pope and the bishops of the Catholic Church, nor do they invoke the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mother and of all the saints. 

LifeSiteNews reached out to Reverend Jonas, asking him for confirmation of this earlier interview and for clarification concerning a passage of the interview which seems to indicate that it was the Pope himself who had once helped out with the public worship of a Lutheran pastor in the north of Europe. 

However, in response to LifeSite's request, Dr. Jonas clarified that the Pope told him that “he experienced [in the Baltics] that, from the side of the Catholics, one helped out Lutherans with their liturgy of the word.” That is to say, a Catholic priest helped out a Lutheran minister by presiding over a Lutheran liturgy of the word. 

As the comments by Dr. Jonas indicate, this comment was made by Pope Francis in a positive sense and with respect to the closeness of Lutherans and Catholics in their public worship, rather than in a negative sense. The Pope has not “explicitly” said that he himself had once replaced a Lutheran minister, Jonas explained to LifeSiteNews, thereby correcting his earlier interview. Jonas says now from the way the Pope talked about this incident, it was not clear whether he himself performed that Lutheran liturgy of the word or, rather, another Catholic priest. 

Dr. Jonas is the pastor of the same Lutheran Evangelical Community which Pope Francis had visited in November of 2015. During that visit, Pope Francis caused “controversy by appearing to suggest that a Lutheran wife of a Catholic husband could receive Holy Communion based on the fact that she is baptized and in accordance with her conscience,” in the words of Rome Correspondent Edward Pentin. 

During a question and answer session at that meeting, a Lutheran woman had told the Pope that her husband and she cannot receive together Holy Communion because she is not Catholic. The Pope first answered with the words: “It’s a problem each must answer, but a pastor-friend once told me: 'We believe that the Lord is present there, he is present. You all believe that the Lord is present. And so what’s the difference?' — 'Eh, there are explanations, interpretations.' Life is bigger than explanations and interpretations. Always refer back to your baptism. 'One faith, one baptism, one Lord.' This is what Paul tells us, and then take the consequences from there. I wouldn’t ever dare to allow this, because it’s not my competence. One baptism, one Lord, one faith. Talk to the Lord and then go forward. I don’t dare to say anything more.”

Not long after this incident, in January of 2016, a group of Finnish Lutherans received Holy Communion at St. Peter's Basilica. They had come to a Holy Mass with their bishop, Samuel Salmi, who had had a private audience that day with Pope Francis. During that Mass, after the Lutherans had approached the communion rail with their arms crossed in order to ask for a blessing, the priest insisted on giving them Holy Communion. The Finnish bishop later told Kotimaa 24 that “I myself accepted it [Holy Communion],” adding that “this was not a coincidence,” and that is was not a coincidence either when, two months earlier, the Pope had seemed to accept the idea of a Lutheran woman receiving communion with her Catholic husband. 

Reverend Jonas, when meeting with Pope Francis on January 10, also spoke about the refugee crisis in Europe, the importance of ecumenism, and the loss of faith in Europe. This he told Vatican News. Speaking about the rising secularism in Europe, the Pope said that it was important to learn to proclaim the Gospel in “very elementary forms,” Jonas explains and then continues: “He [the Pope] also made this for me very impressive statement: 'The danger of the churches is the empty moralism.' That we tell people how one should do things and that we erect big moral edifices of thought but then are defective when it comes to the concrete implementation and the witness. Here, we should perhaps return to simple signals of mercy that are understandable for all.”

When Jonas invited Pope Francis to come and visit the Lutheran Evangelical community in Rome again, the Pope answered: “I am always available to you!”

This article has been updated.

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Dr. Maike Hickson was born and raised in Germany. She holds a PhD from the University of Hannover, Germany, after having written in Switzerland her doctoral dissertation on the history of Swiss intellectuals before and during World War II. She now lives in the U.S. and is married to Dr. Robert Hickson, and they have been blessed with two beautiful children. She is a happy housewife who likes to write articles when time permits.

Dr. Hickson published in 2014 a Festschrift, a collection of some thirty essays written by thoughtful authors in honor of her husband upon his 70th birthday, which is entitled A Catholic Witness in Our Time.

Hickson has closely followed the papacy of Pope Francis and the developments in the Catholic Church in Germany, and she has been writing articles on religion and politics for U.S. and European publications and websites such as LifeSiteNews, OnePeterFive, The Wanderer, Rorate Caeli,, Catholic Family News, Christian Order, Notizie Pro-Vita, Corrispondenza Romana,, Der Dreizehnte,  Zeit-Fragen, and Westfalen-Blatt.