Anglican Choral Evensong will be celebrated at the altar of the Chair of St. Peter in St. Peter’s Basilica next month. The music will be sung by the Choir of Merton College, Oxford.
Permission for the first-time service was granted by Cardinal Angelo Comastri, Archpriest of St Peter’s Basilica, during a recent meeting with Archbishop David Moxon, director of the Anglican Centre in Rome and the Archbishop of Canterbury’s representative to the Holy See.
“The gesture reflects the deepening bonds of affection and trust between the Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church,” the Anglican Centre said in a statement.
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, an unofficial patron of relations between the two churches. St. Gregory was the pope who sent St. Augustine to England in 595 to evangelize the Anglo-Saxons. He became the first Archbishop of Canterbury.
The invitation to celebrate Evensong at St. Peter’s 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 follow in the footsteps of Westminster Abbey Choir, which has sung previously in Rome with the choir of the Sistine Chapel. That collaboration has grown out of closer ties between the two traditions, in particular since Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to London in September 2010.