View From Rome
16 March 2017
View from Rome
Earlier in the day there had been a cool breeze, but by mid-afternoon Rome was basking in spring sunshine, allowing a brilliant white light to stream through Bernini’s window of the Holy Spirit in St Peter’s Basilica as the choir of Merton College, Oxford, began singing the introit to evensong. Catholic and Church of England clergy processed in together to the hymn “O Praise ye the Lord” before taking their seats at the altar beneath the throne of St Peter, the wooden chair used, according to tradition, by the first Bishop of Rome.
This was history in the making. For the first time, an Anglican liturgy was being celebrated at the heart of the Roman Catholic Church. In his sermon the Yorkshire-born Archbishop Arthur Roche, secretary of the Vatican’s liturgy department, told us that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit symbolised by the dove depicted in the window above them breaks down barriers so that “the unthinkable can be made possible”.
A few years ago it would have been unthinkable to celebrate a liturgy written by the English Reformation’s hero Thomas Cranmer in the bosom of the Roman Catholic Church. Yet on Monday a 300-strong congregation of Anglican visitors, Catholic clergy, seminarians and diplomats stood next to the tombs of popes singing “Dear Lord and Father of Mankind” and reciting prayers from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.
Such a quintessentially English liturgy celebrated in Rome could have felt strange but it didn’t. Much credit must go to Archbishop David Moxon, director of Rome’s Anglican Centre, who had been given special permission to hold the service in St Peter’s. A New Zealander who studied theology at Oxford, Archbishop Moxon’s courteous and scholarly approach has helped build bridges with the Vatican since he arrived almost four years ago.
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