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First-ever Anglican evensong in Catholic heartland

ROME (SE): For the first time in history an Anglican Choral Evensong will be celebrated at the Altar of the Chair of St. Peter in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome on March 13.

This date has been chosen as it is the nearest available day to the historic feast 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 595AD to evangelise the Anglo-Saxons. He later became the first archbishop of Canterbury.

The director of the Anglican Centre in Rome, Archbishop David Moxon, will preside at the historic evensong, which will begin at 3.00pm. The occasional sermon will be given by English Archbishop Arthur Roche, the secretary for the Congregation of Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments at the Vatican.

The service will be celebrated according to the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and the music led by the world famous Choir of Merton College, which was founded by Walter de Merton at Oxford, England, in 1264.

The choir, made up of post- and undergraduate students, tours regularly, recently visiting Sweden, France and the United States of America. It has been described by Gramophone as “one of the United Kingdom’s finest choral ensembles.”

The celebration of friendship and warming relations between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion comes just five months after Pope Francis and the archbishop of Canterbury, Archbishop Justin Welby, celebrated vespers together at the Basilica of San Gregorio al Celio to mark the 50th anniversary of the foundation of the Anglican Centre in the Eternal City.

It also reciprocates the liturgical hospitality of the archbishop of Canterbury and Dean Robert Willis in welcoming George Cardinal Pell to celebrate a solemn Mass at the high altar in Canterbury Cathedral on 7 July 2015.

Permission for this unique occasion was granted by Angelo Cardinal Comastri, the archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica, during a meeting with Archbishop Moxon and Father Robert McCulloch, the procurator-general of the Missionary Society of St. Columban in Rome.

The celebration of Anglican evensong in the heartland of the Catholic Church follows hot on the heels of a February 26 visit by Pope Francis to All Saints Anglican Church in Via del Babuino in Rome.

In the recent past, noteworthy gestures of deepening ties have been offered by the two Churches towards each other.

In January 2016, an ancient ivory carving, venerated as the head of the crosier of St. Gregory, was sent from Rome to Canterbury during the highly significant meeting of the Anglican Primates.

Then in October 2016, Pope Francis gave Archbishop Welby a wooden crosier which was modelled on that of St. Gregory and which Archbishop Welby has chosen to use during liturgical celebrations in Canterbury Cathedral.

Father McCulloch told the Sunday Examiner, “The gesture reflects the deepening bonds of affection and trust between the Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church.”

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