Bless, O Lord, us your servants
who minister in your house.
Grant that what we may sing with our lips,
we may believe in our hearts, and what
we believe in our hearts, we may show forth in our lives.
We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Chorister’s Prayer in its most common form was first published by the School of English Church Music in 1934 in the Choristers’ Pocket Book. No indication of its origin was given there and it has been assumed by many that this may have been the work of Sir Sydney Nicholson and/or Cosmo Lang, Archbishop of Canterbury and a keen supporter of Sir Sydney and of the School of English Church Music as the RSCM was then called.
The prayer does however have origins which extend back at least to the 4th century, for the tenth canon of the fourth council of Carthage (c 398 AD) decrees that cantors should be blessed with the words Vide, ut quod ore cantas, corde credas, et quod corde credis, operibus comprobes (“See that what thou singest with thy lips thou dost believe in thine heart, and that what thou believest in thine heart thou dost show forth in thy works”)(1).
The same Latin text is also used in the Pontificale Romanum of 1595/6 in both the form for admitting a psalmista or cantor and also at the ordination of priests. The earliest English versions seem to date from the 1840’s with two, one for use before and a second version for use after Divine Service, published in a booklet entitled Historical Notices of the Office of Choristers 1848 by Revd James Millard. Within a few months the ‘after service’ version of that prayer also appeared in the journal The Parish Choir(2) – “Grant, O Lord, that what I have said and sung with my mouth, I may believe in my heart; and what I may believe in my heart, I may steadfastly fulfil, though Jesus Christ our Lord” and this identical prayer was published again in The Choir and Musical Record Almanack(3) in 1866.
It may be that Sir Sydney modernised the language of The Chorister’s Prayer(4), but we who pray these words weekly carry on a tradition of many centuries and hopefully we both ‘steadfastly fulfil’ and also ‘show forth’ the tenets of our faith in our lives and music.
From the Royal School of Church Music website. For more about the RCSM