Protestants have been invited to take communion at the first Catholic Mass in a Geneva cathedral since the Reformation, to be held next month.

Driving the news

Swiss Protestant news agency Protestinfo reported January 16 that for the first time since iconoclasts destroyed the Catholic interior of the Saint-Pierre Cathedral in 1535, a Catholic Mass will be held in the now Reformed Protestant Church of Geneva temple this coming Saturday February 29.

The Mass will be celebrated by Pascal Desthieux, Catholic episcopal vicar for the canton of Geneva.

The big picture

The gesture of the Protestants of opening up their church to a Catholic liturgy was the result of at first informal talks in the Protestant parish of Saint-Pierre-Fusterie following an ecumenical ceremony.

The idea then “matured” in the Parish Council, which voted to extend the invitation.

“There was no opposition, which is significant”, said Daniel Pilly, president of the Protestant Parish Council.

“The idea appealed [to us] because it corresponds to our desire to make the cathedral a meeting place for all Geneva Christians. A space that transcends denominational boundaries”.

Go deeper

Though the Protestant cathedral has opened its doors to other denominations before – for Lutherans for confirmations and for Anglicans for carol-singing, for example – the invitation to Catholics to hold the February Mass in the space is special for an even deeper ecumenical reason.

Protestinfo explained it like this:

“If Roman Catholics will be at home in Saint-Pierre on February 29, this will also be the case for Protestants, who, like all Christians, will be welcome at this Mass and welcomed to communion”.

Though it’s frowned upon in Catholic Church law, Pilly confirmed that this practice of intercommunion between Christians of diverse denominations “is nothing exceptional in Geneva”.

Shared Eucharistic hospitality “is already practiced locally in many parishes during ecumenical celebrations where Protestants and Catholics invite each other to the Lord’s Supper and to communion”, the Parish Council President explained.

Why it matters

Protestant cathedral parish authorities also put the invitation to the Catholics to hold a Mass in their space down to the good relationship and trust they have built up with Catholic episcopal vicar Desthieux.

“It [the invitation and acceptance] is a sign that the climate with the Roman Catholic Church [among Protestants] in Geneva is extremely favorable and fruitful”, said Emmanuel Fuchs, president of the Protestant Church in Geneva and also pastor in Saint-Pierre.

“We have made notable progress in terms of ecumenism, in particular with the Joint Declaration, signed in 2017, which recognizes our respective ministries”, the minister added.

Both Fuchs and Pilly agreed that while there are still significant differences between Catholic and Protestant traditions and practice, what unites the two denominations is more important.

“It is a strong sign that we are giving by lending our cathedral: a will to open up, to make Church every one together, to carry the Gospel and to bear witness to our love of Christ”, explained Fuchs.

“As Pope Francis said, ecumenism is achieved by walking. We’re trying to walk together, hoping that when we have walked enough, the obstacles that seem to us today insurmountable will no longer be”, concluded the pastor.

For the record

The shared Catholic-Protestant Mass in Geneva is an important step forward in ecumenism, given a boost this very week by initiatives for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

Not only has the news of the Geneva Mass come to light during that very Week of Prayer, but it has also come just days after Pope Francis, in a private audience with the Reverend Michael Jonas – pastor of the Lutheran Evangelical Community in Rome – “stressed” that “Catholics and Protestants are very close to one another in what they do in their public worship”.

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.