First Anglican Evensong celebrated in St Peter's Basilica

St Peter's - image: JS/ICN

St Peter's - image: JS/ICN

Source: VIS/Vatican Radio

An ecumenical milestone was reached at the Vatican this evening (Monday 13 March) as a traditional Anglican Choral Evensong was celebrated for the first time in St Peter's Basilica.

The choir of Merton College, Oxford sang music written by William Byrd at the time of the Reformation, as well as contemporary compositions and well-loved Anglican hymns. The liturgy and readings came from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.

This celebration came just two weeks after Pope Francis' visit to the Anglican parish church of All Saints and five months after the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury celebrated Vespers together at the Rome Basilica of St Gregory on the Caelian Hill.

Anglican and Catholic bishops and clergy gathered together at the altar below Bernini's great bronze sculpture holding the Chair of St Peter. Archbishop David Moxon, Director of the Anglican Centre in Rome, presided at the liturgy. Significantly the celebration took place the day after the Anglican Church traditionally marked the feast of St Gregory the Great. (The Roman Catholic Church celebrates this feast on 3 September). It was St Gregory, who according to tradition, said, after seeing a group of blond English slaves in the market place: "they are not Angles but angels'. Pope Gregory sent Augustine, prior of a Benedictine monastery in Rome, to evangelise the English in the year 597.

English Catholic , Secretary of the Vatican's congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, spoke about St Gregory in his sermon, highlighting his humility, courage and missionary spirit.He said: "I think Gregory was a very courageous man in his own time and I think that speaks to us here still today, that despite the difficulties, to be outgoing, just as Pope Francis and Archbishop Welby have been saying, to proclaim the Gospel with joy.."

The celebration ended with a procession to the tomb of St Gregory to pray for the whole Christian church and for the spirit of wisdom on its leaders - a fitting way of marking the fourth anniversary of Pope Francis' election to the Chair of St Peter.

Bishop David Hamid of the Anglican diocese in Europe,said: "This is building on what popes and archbishops have been saying for some time...the daily prayer of the Church is something which unites us, it goes back to our common Benedictine roots and we in the English Church owe much to the Benedictine mission sent by Pope Gregory...we are very grateful for the closeness which is becoming evident in our two traditions which is enabling this kind of common prayer....."