Westminster Cathedral Choir School celebrated the feast of its patron St Gregory the Great, by restoring the medieval practice of the Boy Bishop [in 2005]. Joseph Attaman, accompanied by two Boy Canons, and robed in cope, delivered a sermon at the end of the patronal Mass.
The custom of the Boy Bishop varied from Cathedral to Cathedral, some celebrating it at the feast of St Nicholas, others on Holy Innocents. In each Cathedral, however, the (adult) Bishop would vacate his seat for the fully attired chorister to take over from him. The chosen boy was surrounded with magnificent ceremonial: at York, the Boy Bishop was taken in procession around the diocese, visiting churches and monasteries, while at Gloucester he received lavish gifts from the nobility. The Boy Bishop would always preach a sermon, which attracted huge crowds. One such sermon survives at Gloucester condemning the wicked behavior of the children in the choir school! The practice was banned at the Reformation, but in recent years has been revived in Gloucester and Hereford Cathedrals. Here at Westminster, with our keen sense of continuity with English medieval Catholicism, it is good to see an ancient tradition reborn with such enthusiasm.
This is the order used at Westminster Cathedral, London. The ceremony could also be used for the boy bishop celebrated on St. Nicholas Day, December 6.
Boy Bishop at Westminster Cathedral
London, Westminster, England
Photo: Westminster Cathedral
Used by permission
After the concluding prayer, the candidate comes forward and sits in the faldstool. The celebrant stands near him and says this prayer:
Lord, who hast set before us the example of children,
that we may learn of them
the ways of wisdom and purity of heart;
grant to this thy son
that, like the young prophet Daniel,
his eloquence may lead his elders into the ways of truth.
Give him faithfulness,
That, like the boy Samuel, he may hear your divine prompting.
We ask this though Christ, our Lord.
The candidate is vested as Boy Bishop by his attendants in a cope. A mitre is palced upon his head, and then removed.
The Headmaster of the Choir School says:
I am still young, and you are old,
And I am shy, afraid to tell you what I think . . .
But great age does not give wisdom,
Or longevity sound judgement.
So I ask you for a hearing;
Now it is my turn to tell you what I know. Job 32. 6,9
The Boy Bishop delivers a short sermon
He concludes with this prayer:
Lord God, who raise up the lowly
And set aside the mighty,
Receive our praise, and bless us with your presence.
May the prayers of St Gregory
Who, seeing the children of this land,
Was led to establish the faith in England,
Guide our school, and our families in the ways of truth.
We ask this through Christ, our Lord.
We ask Our Lady, who raised the infant Jesus,
To look upon us, her children, as we pray
Hail Mary . . . .
The celebrant gives the final blessing.
The Boy Bishop processes with the celebrant to the sacristy.
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From Westminster Cathedral, London, England. Used by permission.