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Anglican evensong in the Vatican, January 23, 2024.IARCCUM video screenshot

VATICAN CITY (LifeSiteNews) — A ceremony of Anglican choral evensong took place in St. Peter’s Basilica last night, as part of a series of ecumenical events held during the “week of prayer for Christian unity.” 

Catholic and Anglican clergymen assembled in the Vatican on January 23 to mark one of the key events in the “Growing Together” Ecumenical Summit – evensong, which is the Anglican alternative to the Catholic office of Vespers.

Taking place in the Chapel of the Choir – where the relics of St. John Chrysostom are kept in the altar – the chaplain of All Saint’s Anglican church in Rome, Canon Robert Warren, presided over the ceremony. Male and female servers from Anglican churches took part in the ceremony, while the choir was comprised of the joint forces of singers from All Saint’s Anglican church and the Episcopalian center in Rome St. Paul’s within the Walls.

It marks the second time that Anglican evensong has been held in St. Peter’s Basilica, with the first such occasion taking place in 2017. That initial occasion was awarded greater significance by the Holy See, with the ceremony taking place at the Altar of the Chair of St. Peter in the Basilica. The then-Archbishop Arthur Roche – now prefect of the Dicastery for Divine Worship – preached a homily during the 2017 evensong. Pope Francis was not present at either event.

The “Growing Together” summit is being organized by the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission (IARCCUM) which is “is an official commission of the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church, established to support ecumenical dialogue between the traditions.”

READ: Rome’s understanding of ‘Christian unity’ since Vatican II is wrong and dangerous to souls

IARCCUM was established in 2000 by the then-prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Christian Unity, and is led by Catholic and Anglican co-chairs, and supported by the dicastery and the Anglican Communion Office.

The group’s summit sees Catholic and Anglican prelates come together in “discussion and pilgrimage.” Both Rome and Canterbury are hosting events, with the see of Canterbury being the principal see for Anglicans. 

A statement issued by the Dicastery for Christian Unity about the week-long summit explained that “the bishops will pray, reflect and learn from one another. The aim is to discuss ways of growing together in joint witness and mission in the world.”

Father Martin Browne, OSB, a dicastery official, commented that a “big focus of the ‘Growing Together’ Summit is to celebrate the richness of our traditions and to strengthen our bonds.”

He added that “the rhythm of daily prayer based on the psalms and other scriptural texts is a precious treasure which Catholics and Anglicans share. It’s useful to recall that the Catholic Church’s Ecumenical Directory says that the experience of participating in one another’s liturgical celebrations helps Christians to share more deeply in traditions which often have developed from common roots.”

Continuing, Browne welcomed the event as a positive step in Anglican-Catholic relations:

Sharing in the service of Evening Prayer as it has traditionally been celebrated by Anglicans is an opportunity for Catholics to do just that and to give thanks for their shared tradition of prayer. Choral Evensong is a particularly beautiful expression of our shared tradition and we can be very grateful that we have this opportunity to experience it together in St Peter’s.

As part of the IARCCUM summit, pairs of bishops – one Catholic, and one Anglican – from 27 different countries are given a “commission” jointly by Pope Francis and the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury. The commissioning of bishops takes place on the feast of St. Paul’s conversion, in a ceremony held at the Papal Basilica of St. Paul’s Outside the Walls.

Earlier that same day, the Archbishop of Canterbury will preside at an “Anglican Eucharist” held in the Catholic Basilica of San Bartolomeo in Rome.

Looking ahead to this event, Anglican Communion Office official Dr. Christopher Wells said that “the pairs of bishops, as they commit to shared ministry in every way possible, serve as pioneers on the way to the fullness of unity in faith, order, and witness, which is the Lord’s will.” 

He praised the Catholic-Anglican ecumenical endeavors as showing “the depth of our commitment to the unflagging pursuit of full, visible unity in the body of Christ. As we pray, study, teach, and serve alongside other Christians, the Holy Spirit reshapes our hearts, and what seemed remote or unimaginable becomes real and normal.” 

“Unity is not as hard as we think,” said Wells. “It begins and ends with love of God and one another and subsists in common prayer.”

Contrary to the Vatican’s contemporary approach to ecumenical relations is the Church’s traditional teaching and approach to inter-religious relations. Indeed in Pope Pius XI’s 1928 encyclical Mortalium animos, Catholic participation in Protestant ceremonies or “assemblies” was expressly forbidden. Pius XI wrote:

… it is clear that the Apostolic See cannot on any terms take part in their assemblies, nor is it anyway lawful for Catholics either to support or to work for such enterprises; for if they do so they will be giving countenance to a false Christianity, quite alien to the one Church of Christ.

He added that the Gospel-style of unity involves return to the Catholic Church:

The union of Christians can only be promoted by promoting the return to the one true Church of Christ of those who are separated from it, for in the past they have unhappily left it. To the one true Church of Christ, we say, which is visible to all, and which is to remain, according to the will of its Author, exactly the same as He instituted it.