Saturday, January 24, 2009

Story Behind Text of the "Prayer of St. Francis"

Vatican newspaper says prayer for peace attributed to St. Francis was modern creation
By ARIEL DAVID Associated Press Writer
10:26 AM EST, January 23, 2009
VATICAN CITY (AP) — A simple prayer for peace attributed to St. Francis, widely quoted by leaders and cherished by many Christians, probably had nothing to do with the medieval friar.The Vatican's newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, reported this week that the prayer that begins with "Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace," first appeared in France at the start of the 20th century and became popular during World War I.U.S. President Bill Clinton quoted the prayer, attributing it to St. Francis, to greet the arrival of Pope John Paul II in 1995, and captured its appeal for millions of faithful."His prayer, carried to this day in the pockets, the purses, the billfolds of many American Catholics and revered by many who are not Catholics, is a simple clarion to unity," Clinton said as he welcomed the pope at Newark International Airport.
Mother Teresa led the audience in the prayer when she accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 and that same year Margaret Thatcher cited it when she took office as Britain's prime minister."I would just like to remember some words of St. Francis of Assisi," she said before quoting: "Where there is discord, may we bring harmony. Where there is error, may we bring truth. Where there is doubt, may we bring faith. And where there is despair, may we bring hope."But L'Osservatore this week concluded that Thatcher was actually quoting from a French prayer, first printed in a Catholic weekly in 1912.The "Simple Prayer" — as it also is known— was then republished on the front page of the Vatican newspaper in 1916 at the request of Pope Benedict XV, who appreciated its message of peace in the midst of World War I.The exact author remains unknown, but it is written "in the spirit of the saint," said Giovanni Maria Vian, the newspaper's editor.Vian said the prayer was probably attributed to St. Francis because between the two world wars it was popularized by a French Franciscan who printed it on cards with the image of the saint on the back.To church historians and insiders it was no mystery that the peace-loving St. Francis, who lived a life of poverty and preached love for all creatures in 13th-century Italy, was not the prayer's author."Francis spoke the Italian of the 1200s, he didn't use this kind of language," historian Alberto Melloni told The Associated Press. "It's clearly inspired by Franciscan themes, but Francis himself is not the author."Melloni, who teaches the history of Christianity at the University of Modena, said there was no organized "deception" in attributing the text to the saint, but it was popular tradition that made the connection between the prayer and "a feeling of devotion that recalled Francis' figure."

My comments - It is important to keep in mind then that this prayer is not a product or invention of anything controversial or fringe and thus is free to be used and cherished among those who attend the Ordinary Form as well as those who attend the Extraordinary Form. Musical possibilities for the Extraordinary Form did not cease in 1965. While it is true that much of what was released after that year is not suited for the Extraordinary Form, the text of the Prayer of St. Francis (supplicatory in nature) and the melody (arguably Gregorian in some respects, certainly closer than most modern hymns to this venerable style the Church has as Her own) is in no way to be dispensed because it would be an abuse to include such in the repertoire. Hymns such as this one make a particularly good variance for choirs just beginning with the Extraordinary Form as there are only so many times Ave Verum and Ecce Panis Angelorum can be sung without boredom.

In my personal experience, I stuck hard and fast for nearly a decade as a choir organizer to the pre-1965 musical selections and to a great extent remain in this mindset, however, as willed by the Holy Father, I allow for compatibility where the rubrics of the Mass, and rubrics governing the choir are not dispensed from.

The Prayer of St. Francis then, not belonging to the various fringe movements of the 1960's is a wise choice in my opinion for novice choirs and indeed its melody can be utilized for other choral projects. In the works as a treat for those in Springfield is an Ave Verum to the melody of the Prayer of St. Franicis. We can only hope and pray that other such music that fits the clear cut norms established for the Extraordinary Form continue to pop up in modern choral books so that more continuity and sharing may occur. This is about unity, not division, where it can be had, we must strive for it, where we must hold our ground, we do so, never betraying liturgical and doctrinal principle.