History of Hymns: “Make Me a Channel of Your Peace”
“Make Me a Channel of Your Peace,” Prayer of St. Francis, adapt. Sebastian Temple;
The Faith We Sing, No. 2171
Make me a channel of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring your love.
Where there is injury, your pardon, Lord,
And where there’s doubt, true faith in you.*
“Make Me a Channel of Your Peace” by Sebastian Temple (1928-1997) is a musical setting of the well-known Prayer of Saint Francis. The prayer is widely attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi, but these words never appear in any of his writings. This prayer was widely publicized during World War I and World War II and has frequently been used during times of war to encourage peace throughout the world.
The first appearance of the prayer occurred in France in 1912 in a small spiritual magazine called La Clochette (The Little Bell), published in Paris by a Catholic association known as La Ligue de la Sainte-Messe, "The Holy Mass League,” founded by a French priest, Father Esther Bouquerel (1855-1923). The prayer bore the title of "A Beautiful Prayer to Say During the Mass” and was published anonymously. The author could possibly have been Father Bouquerel himself, but the identity of the author remains a mystery. The prayer was sent in French to Pope Benedict XV in 1915. This was soon followed by its 1916 appearance, in Italian, in the Osservatore Romano. Around 1920, the prayer was printed by a French Franciscan priest on the back of an image of St. Francis with the title “Priere pour la paix” ("Prayer for Peace”), but without attribution to the saint. Between the two world wars, the prayer circulated in Europe and was translated into English. One such translation appeared in 1936 in Living Courageously, a book by Kirby Page (1890-1957), a Disciples of Christ minister. Page attributed the text to St. Francis of Assisi. During the Second World War and immediately after, this prayer for peace began circulating widely as the Prayer of St. Francis; and over the years, it has gained a worldwide popularity with people of all faiths.
The text of this prayer is about transformation—the movement away from darkness to light, from despair to hope. The words of this prayer also have similarities to the writings of the prophet Isaiah in Chapter 61, where negatives become positives through the transformative work of God. Because of its use of broadly inclusive language, the words of this “peace prayer” have been adopted by many religions throughout the world.
Sebastian Temple is considered one of the most influential folk mass composers in the Catholic Church. Temple, who was born in South Africa, later moved to London, where he worked for the BBC News Service. In 1958, he moved to America, converted to Catholicism, and joined the Franciscan Third Order. “Make Me a Channel of Your Peace” has become one of Temple’s most loved compositions. It was included as part of his first collection of liturgical music, Happy the Man, songs about St. Francis of Assisi. This hymn is very well known in England, as evidenced by its use in several national events. It was used in the funeral service of Princess Diana in 1997 and as part of the religious wedding ceremony of Prince Albert II of Monaco to South African Charlene Wittstock in 2011. It is also the anthem of the Royal British Legion and is included in the Legion’s Annual Festival of Remembrance. Sinéad O'Connor included it on her Princess Diana tribute album, and Susan Boyle of Britain’s Got Talent fame included it as part of her performances. Temple died in 1997, shortly after this hymn first gained worldwide recognition after its inclusion in the funeral service of Princess Diana.
“Make Me a Channel of Your Peace,” written in 1967, has appeared in twenty-six hymnals, including The Faith We Sing. This hymn was composed in the ballad and guitar style typical of 1960s folk music. After Vatican II permitted the use of languages other than Latin in worship, a number of Roman Catholic composers adopted this style, sometimes fusing it with a chant style. The accompaniment suggests the use of guitars, but accompaniment on piano or organ is also possible. It can be sung by a solo voice, a full choir, or by a congregation.
This hymn would be appropriate for use in worship when the theme of the day centers on world peace or service to others. Its use in popular music circles makes it appropriate for both contemporary and traditional worship settings. The familiarity of the text and the folk-like feel of the melody make it a great and long-lasting contribution to the hymnody of the church.
*Copyright © 1967 OCP Publications. Used with permission. All rights reserved.
For further reading:
CY. "Sebastian Temple." The Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology. Canterbury Press, http://www.hymnology.co.uk/s/sebastian-temple.
JRW. "Make me a channel of your peace." The Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology. Canterbury Press, http://www.hymnology.co.uk/m/make-me-a-channel-of-your-peace.
“Make Me a Channel of Your Peace.” Hymnary.org, https://hymnary.org/text/make_me_a_channel_of_your_peace
About this week’s writer:
Kevin Flannagan is the Music Director at Hazel Green United Methodist Church in Hazel Green, Alabama.
This article is provided as a collaboration between Discipleship Ministries and The Fellowship of United Methodists in Music and Worship Arts.
For more information about The Fellowship, visit UMFellowship.org/Hymns.