Tomorrow is the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, and the papal Mass marking the day will include an extraordinary musical collaboration—at Pope Benedict’s invitation, the Choir of Westminster Abbey will join the Sistine Chapel Choir for the Mass, and will, according to Dr. John Hall, Dean of Westminster, “sing music from the tradition of the Church of England.”
Writing in L’Osservatore Romano, Hall describes how this remarkable collaboration came about, as well as the musical and ecumenical significance of the event:
This unprecedented invitation from the Pope for a Choir to sing with the Sistine Chapel Choir at a papal liturgy is one of the fruits of the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the United Kingdom in September 2010 and in particular to his visit to Westminster Abbey for an ecumenical service of Evening Prayer. During that service, the Pope became acquainted with some of the rich tradition of liturgical music which is an important part of the worshipping life of the Abbey. He heard the Choir and we were pleased to send His Holiness afterwards, at his request, a selection of Compact Discs made by the Organists and Choir of the Abbey.
Throughout the past 450 years, the Collegiate Church of St Peter Westminster, still universally known as Westminster Abbey, has maintained the tradition of choral music as part of its daily liturgical offering. In Westminster Abbey, the Choir sings eight services a week: Matins, the Eucharist and Evensong on Sunday and a daily Choral Evensong (apart from one day when Evening Prayer is said publicly). During choir holidays, either the Lay Vicars (the singing men) of the Abbey Choir or visiting choirs maintain the pattern. The liturgical music sung in Westminster Abbey draws on the entire European tradition of church music including plainsong, and music of the Latin and English traditions since the 16th century.
It is my prayer that this visit of Westminster Abbey to Rome will be blessed by the grace of God and move us forward on the long and winding road towards full visible unity, a goal to which both the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury remain committed.
The full article, here, has more details about the Westminster Abbey Choir’s itinerary for its trip to Italy, as well as some background on the Abbey and its unique position in the Anglican Church.
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