For the first time ever, Anglican Choral Evensong will be celebrated at the altar of the Chair of St Peter in St Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican next month. The music will be sung by the renowned Choir of Merton College, Oxford.
Permission for this unique occasion was granted by Cardinal Angelo Comastri, Archpriest of St Peter’s Basilica, during a recent meeting with Archbishop David Moxon, the Director of the Anglican Centre in Rome, and the Archbishop of Canterbury’s representative to the Holy See.
In a statement, the Anglican Centre said: “The gesture reflects the deepening bonds of affection and trust between the Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church.”
Five months ago Pope Francis and Archbishop Justin Welby celebrated Vespers together at the Basilica of San Gregorio al Celio in Rome.
March 13 has been chosen as the nearest available day to the historic feast day of St Gregory the Great, who has become an unofficial patron of relations between the two churches. St Gregory was the Pope who sent St Augustine to England in 595 to evangelise the Anglo-Saxons and who became the first Archbishop of Canterbury.
The invitation to celebrate Evensong at St Peter’s also reciprocates the liturgical hospitality of the Archbishop of Canterbury and Dean Robert Willis in welcoming Cardinal George Pell to celebrate Solemn Mass at the High Altar of Canterbury Cathedral in 2015.
Merton College Choir will be following in the footsteps of Westminster Abbey choir, which has sung previously in Rome with the choir of the Sistine Chapel – a collaboration that has grown out of closer ties between the two traditions, in particular following Pope Benedict XV1’s visit to London in September 2010.