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Pope asks Westminster Abbey choir to sing in Rome

By on Wednesday, 7 March 2012

The Westminster Abbey choir sang for Benedict XVI during his visit in 2010 (PA photo)

The Westminster Abbey choir sang for Benedict XVI during his visit in 2010 (PA photo)

Pope Benedict XVI has invited Westminster Abbey’s choir to sing at St Peter’s Basilica in June.

Following their performance during the Pope’s visit to Britain in September 2010, Pope Benedict has invited them to sing alongside the Sistine Chapel Choir on the feast of St Peter and St Paul, which will be broadcast across the world.

The two choirs will sing at First Vespers in the Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls on June 28 and together again the next morning in the Vatican basilica during the papal Mass. The choirs will mark a significant point in the history of ecumenism as it will be the first time in 500 years that the Sistine Chapel Choir has sung with another choir.

It was also announced yesterday that the Sistine Chapel Choir will sing in Britain for the first time in May. The Pope’s personal choir will perform at Westminster Cathedral on May 6.

Dr John Hall, the dean of Westminster Abbey, said: “This is a wonderful invitation, a fruit of the memorable visit of Pope Benedict to Westminster Abbey, when the abbey choir played its significant part in the ecumenical liturgy. I am heartened by this sign of the Holy Father’s wish to receive from the rich Anglican tradition that informs the daily worship at Westminster Abbey. It is more than ever important that Christians of different traditions pray together and receive from each other.”

Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, also expressed his delight with the invitation. He said: “I am delighted that the abbey choir will be taking part in the celebration of St Peter’s day in Rome. St Peter is the patron of the abbey; and celebrating together his apostolic witness and example is a powerful reminder of the call that our churches share to be faithful to the apostolic fullness of the Gospel today, ‘so that’, says St Peter, “in all things praise may be given to God through Jesus Christ.’”

Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster described the invitation as a “generous ecumenical gesture” from the Holy See and also expressed his excitement that the Sistine Chapel Choir will be singing at Westminster Cathedral.

Mgr Massimo Palombella, director of the Sistine Chapel choir, said he was looking forward to the concert immensely. He said: “I have long admired the quality and precision of the English sound and it will be a joy, too, to be able to develop closer ties with Maestro Martin Baker, whose magnificent work cultivating the place of the choir at the service of the liturgy is exemplary.”

  • ralvernaz

    This is wonderful news, a gracious invitation. The two choirs have a rich history, tradition, and a unique style of singing that developed in large part to the past 500 years. It will be an exciting experience for each choir to sing in the other’s sacred space. And, even more so (I should think), to sing together as one choir -both from the artistic stand point, as well as from the historical.

  • Morevm

    We have to be careful though when we are open to non-catholics serving musically in catholic churches to protect ourselves from making easy openings for Eucharist-ic sacrilege when we don’t let them know they can’t recieve and why. They might feel so welcome socially that they want to recieve “the bread” everybody eats to show comm-’union’.  My cousin’s Protestant boyfriend wants to recieve the eucharist on their wedding day as a symbol of the unity between our religions.  Of course he believes it’s just bread.

  • ATLR

    What a load of old shit. Your point is essentially informed by a mean-spirited playground bully: “you can’t have MY bread because it’s special to ME, go get your own”. You seem to miss the point totally; instead choosing to focus your attention on a relatively small area. I fully expect to be flamed for this comment: why can Christians not be Christian to one another? I think, in fact, this is precisely the point of the Abbey’s Dean, too.

  • person

    Think of it this way… God is so holy that we think it is disrespectful, for anyone to receive him without having recently received a reconciliation. Think of the burning bush… God told Moses to take his sandles off out of respect, we have changed a lot since then but God hasn’t. Also we don’t make this up to be jerks there is a sound basis for this belief.

  • Martinwheaton

    Oh good formal heretics singing at a major Roman Basilica. Just what the Church needs.To what end? What are the already confused and disorientated remnant to make of this ‘lets all affirm each other’ gathering? Fellow Christians? You see, that’s the problem. They don’t believe what the Church believes – in fact we don’t know what they believe because the only real theological identity they hold as a group is their diversity of belief. How are we to preach the truth, from theology to morals, while acknowledging other groups that contradict us? The Church may do as she wishes in this regard because she alone is endowed with the authority. But she can longer make a claim to hold both faith and reason.

  • Paul Halsall

    Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
    Guilty of dust and sin. But quicked-ey’d Love, Observing me grow slack

    From my first entrance in, Drew near to me, sweetly questioning,

    If I lack’d any thing.
    A guest, I answer’d, worthy to be here:
    Love said, You should be he. I the unkinde, engrateful? ah my deare,

    I can not look on thee. Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,

    Who made the eyes but I?
    Truth Lord, but I hav marr’d them: let my shame
    Go where it doth deserve. And know you not, sayes Love, who bore the blame?

    My deare, then I will serve. You must sit down, sayes love, and taste my meat:

    So I did sit and eat.

  • Arnesahlstrom

    Our wonderful Pope Benedictus XVI knows exactly what he is doing; ever since he was elected Pope he has demonstrated very clearly that the mucic in the catholic church needs a thorough revitalization. A friend, one of the country’s most skilled organists in the Protestant church, asked me why the music in the Cath. Church “was so bad”. This was many years before Pope Benedict became Pope.  As converts to the great cath church, the often incredibly low standard of music, if there is any at all, in “ordinary churches” during mass was a great shock. Apart from cities like Vienna and Rome etc. we can only testify, with enormous grief, that either there is no music/song at all, or an elderly woman is yelling(especially in southern parts of Europe!). Someone with a beautiful, trained voice, the very few times this would occur, will attract lots of positive reactions, but also harsh criticism, since the only thing they have been told and learnt to appreciate is extremel mediocre and “home made” so called music. Pop “music”,in fact more or less what you would hear in a Pentecostal church.(Sorry, but it’s true). Our fantastic pope knows that inviting a choir of a truly great standard as the Westminster Abbey’s choir to Rome is, apart from being a wonderful experience for the choir, also will serve as a great inspiration to the choirs in Rome. After the Vatican II, Gregorian chant, Palestrina, Orlando Lasso, etc was gradually thrown out, although the council documents clearly expressed that this kind of music was to be considered superior, to be given a great and undisputed place in the liturgy. The pope has warned that ignoring the church’s great music treasures and traditions ( by admitting solely, or almost solely, simple music) means ignoring the liturgy. We sometimes use to say that the only great thing the Protestant church still has, is the music. The Anglican church, too, has a very rich tradition in music (but has, sadly, become more Protestant and liberal) world famous choirs of the highest standard. The catholic church, under pope Benedict  now tries to (God bless him!) save and reintroduce as much as can be saved, of the cath. church’s enormously rich heritage over the centuries. And- excuse me, but I find it hard to understand why some comments are so harsh and negative; isn’t  it great that a choir of this indisputable standard is invited to sing in Rome? And that the Sixtine choir will sing in Britain, later on. I think this is a wonderful initiative by the Pope. Choirs need this stimulation, this fruitful exchange. The Pope, with his great, brilliant intellect, himself playing the piano very well, knows what he is doing- and remember that his elderly brother for many years was the leader of world famous boy’s choir Regensburger Domspatzen. The only thing which makes me sad is that I wo’nt be able to be in Rome when they are singing in the S.t Peter’s Basilica.


  • Caroline

    Music in catholic churches is in general extremely banal, especially south of the Alps. At least outside the big cities. Especially in Spain and Italy. Usually, the “choir”, if there is any, consists of a group of yelling ladies, many of which are nice but evidently not gifted with any kind of beauty in their voices Usually, the parish priest seems to have recommended more or less anyone to sing in the “choir”.  It is a real torture listening to the horrendous noise produced in innumerable churches in Southern Europe. Trained voices seem taboo. Amateurs have hijacked the field of music and the liturgy has been badly affected. Shrieky and unworthy noise has robbed the sacred liturgy not only of beauty but also of the feeling of sanctity one immediately senses when listening to the truly great gregorian chant, perfectly suited for the liturgy. 
    I pray and hope that pope Benedict’s great knowledge of beautiful and uplifting music will shine through the current decline.
    I have to say, though, that watching and listening to the choirs in S:t Peter’s Basilica, it is very evident that the standard has improved considerably, compared to 2004 and before. There is a warmth in the timbre, especially in the mens’ voices, very human and appealing.