Westminster Abbey’s Choir sang for Pope Benedict XVI, with the Cappella Musicale Pontificia ‘Sistina’, the Sistine Chapel Choir, at the Papal Mass marking the Solemnity of St Peter and St Paul in St Peter’s Basilica, Rome, on Friday 29th June, a historic occasion of great significance for Anglican-Catholic relations.
The service was broadcast live across the world and was the first time in its 500-year history that the Sistine Chapel Choir had sung alongside another choir during a service.
The Abbey Choir was invited to Rome by Pope Benedict XVI, following his visit to the UK in September 2010, during which he attended an ecumenical service of Evening Prayer at Westminster Abbey. This reciprocal visit is a further fruit of the Pope’s visit to Great Britain and is a powerful symbol of the communion already achieved between the Anglican and Catholic churches.
The Dean of Westminster, The Very Reverend Dr John Hall said: ‘It is not hard to detect behind this invitation from His Holiness a papal project to restore some of the Church’s musical tradition to the liturgy. The experience of participating in these liturgies in Rome has enriched the Abbey and its Choir and the Anglican tradition of worship.’
The Papal Mass is an important annual liturgy presided over by Pope Benedict XVI, during which the Pallium (an ecclesiastical vestment symbolising Papal authority) is imposed on new Metropolitan Archbishops from around the world.
The night before, Thursday 28th June, Westminster Abbey’s Choir and the Sistine Chapel Choir combined to give a private recital in the Sistine Chapel in the Holy See.
Both choirs began by singing Palestrina’s Tu es Petrus and Magnificat.
The Abbey choir then sang O Clap Your Hands (Gibbons), Hear My Prayer (Purcell), I Love The Lord (John Harvey), Hymn to the Mother of God (Tavener), and Laudibus in Sanctis (Byrd).
The Sistine Chapel Choir sang Tu es Petrus (Mawby). The composer, Colin Mawby, was in the audience. Both choirs then sang Palestrina’s Credo.
The concert was attended by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, SDB, Cardinal Secretary of State to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, who said afterwards that the concert was ‘a tangible sign of our will to walk side by side.’
On Wednesday 27th June, the Abbey Choir performed a Concert of Sacred Choral Music in the Papal Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore. Over 1,000 people attended the free concert. The Abbey will hold Solemn Evensong on the Feast of St Peter tonight in Santa Maria sopra Minevra. His Eminence Cormac, Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, Archbishop Emeritus of Westminster, Cardinal Priest of Santa Maria sopra Minevra will preach.
The Choir then travels to the Abbey of Montecassino to sing First Vespers on Saturday 30th June and Sunday Mass with the monks on 1st July.