ANGLICAN choral evensong is to be celebrated in St Peter’s Basilica, at the Vatican, in Rome, for the first time in the church’s history, next month. Permission was granted by the Archpriest of St Peter’s, Cardinal Angelo Comastri, during a meeting with the director of the Anglican Centre in Rome, Archbishop David Moxon, who is to preside over the service on 13 March.
The service of evensong from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer will be said at the altar of the Chair of St Peter, with music sung by the choir of Merton College, Oxford. “[It] comes from the Benedictine Offices of vespers and compline, which was turned into evensong by Cranmer,” the associate director of the Anglican Centre, the Revd Marcus Walker, said. “So, in a way, that Benedictine tradition is coming home.”
The date was chosen for its proximity to the feast day of Pope St Gregory the Great, on 12 March, he said, who has become an “informal patron” of relations between the Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church. Pope St Gregory sent St Augustine to England in 595 to evangelise the Anglo-Saxons. St Augustine went on to become the first Archbishop of Canterbury. The service will conclude with a procession to the tomb of St Gregory.
About 400 are expected to attend, with a “significant” presence from the Rome community and the Vatican, besides Anglicans from across the world. The Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments at the Vatican, Archbishop Arthur Roche, will preach.
Archbishop Moxton said: “This service is yet another sign of Anglicans and Roman Catholics sharing their common heritage, and recognising that what unites us is greater than what divides us.”
It comes five months after Pope Francis and the Archbishop of Canterbury officiated at vespers at the Basilica of San Gregorio al Celio to mark the 50th anniversary of the Anglican Centre (News, 6 October).
Last year, the ivory crozier-head of St Gregory was lent to Canterbury as a “gesture of support” to the Anglican Communion during the meeting of the Anglican Primates (News, 8 January 2016). In October, Pope Francis gave Archbishop Welby a wooden crozier, again modelled on that of St Gregory, and which the Archbishop uses during liturgical celebrations in Canterbury Cathedral.