Tuesday, September 09, 2008

September 9: Constance and her Companions, Martyrs

Sr. Constance was a nun of the Episcopal Sisterhood of St. Mary. From the Martyrs of Memphis icon page at Flickr, where you can see the icon itself:
Constance and her companions

Memphis suffered periodic epidemics of yellow fever, a mosquito-borne viral infection, throughout the 19th Century. The worst of the epidemics occurred in the summer of 1878, when 5,150 Memphians died. During this time, the Cathedral was considered the “religious center of the city,” because the doors remained open and the Sacraments were always available.

Five years earlier, a group of Episcopal nuns from the recently formed Sisterhood of St. Mary arrived in Memphis to take over operation of the St. Mary's School for Girls, which was relocated to the cathedral site. When the 1878 epidemic struck, a number of priests and nuns (protestant and catholic), doctors, and even prostitutes stayed behind to tend to the sick and dying. The Episcopal nuns' superior, Sister Constance, three other Episcopal nuns, and two Episcopal priests are known throughout the Anglican Communion as "Constance and Her Companions" or the "Martyrs of Memphis." Added to the Episcopal Church's Lesser Feasts and Fasts in 1981, their feast day (September 9) commemorates their sacrifices. A traditional Anglican prayer memorializes the Martyrs in this way:

We give thee thanks and praise, O God of compassion, for the Heroic witness of Constance and her companions, who, in a time of plague and pestilence, were steadfast in their care for the sick and the dying, and loved not their own lives, even unto death. Inspire in us a like love and commitment to those in need, following the example of our Savior Jesus Christ...

Episcopal nuns and priests who died from the epidemic

* Sister Constance (neé Caroline Louise Darling, b. Medway, Mass., 1846), superior of the work at Memphis, headmistress of St. Mary’s School for Girls.
* Sister Thecla, sacristan of St. Mary’s Cathedral and its school chapel, instructor in music and grammar (English and Latin)
* Sister Ruth, nurse at Trinity Infirmary, New York
* Sister Frances, a newly professed nun given charge of the Church Home orphanage
* Rev. Charles Carroll Parsons, rector of Grace Episcopal Church, Memphis; former U.S. Army artillery commander, West Point alumnus and professor; served with classmate Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer in Kansas, defense counsel in Custer's 1867 court-martial trial.
* Rev. Louis S. Schuyler, assistant at Holy Innocents Episcopal Church, Hoboken, New Jersey

Approximately 30 Roman Catholic priests and nuns died during the same plague.

Here's the Collect of the Day, for Constance and Her Companions:
We give you thanks and praise, O God of compassion, for the heroic witness of Constance and her companions, who, in a time of plague and pestilence, were steadfast in their care for the sick and the dying, and loved not their own lives, even unto death. Inspire in us a like love and commitment to those in need, following the example of our Savior Jesus Christ; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

From Hymn-melodies for the whole year from the Sarum service-books, "On the Feast of several Martyrs (or Confessors)":
1st Ev. & M. Sanctorum meritis
   At 1st Ev. ... ... ... 51
   At Matt. ... ... ... . 52
   At 1st Ev. & Matt. ad libitum ... ... ... 53
   On Simple Feasts of the lowest class throughout the year (1 Ev. & M.)............ 54
[Matt. (York) Eterna Christi munera Et (Martyrs only) 61]

Lauds & 2nd Ev. Rex gloriose martyrum
   At L. (except in Xmas & Paschal-tides) ... 25
   At 2nd Ev. (& L. when no 2nd Ev.) ... 49 '
   During Xmas-tide ( L. & 2nd Ev.) ... 27
   On Simple Feasts of the lowest class throughout the year (L.) ... ... ... 6 or 55

So, at first Evensong (the Vespers on the eve of the feast), we could sing Sanctorum meritis, which is given at Cyberhymnal as "The Triumph of the Saints." LLPB sings it as "The Noble Deeds of Saints (MP3)." Here are the words from the former (translated by J.M. Neale), which are definitely close enough to the latter:
The triumphs of the saints,
The toils they bravely bore,
The love that never faints,
Their glory evermore—
For these the Church today
Pours forth her joyous lay;
What victors wear so rich a bay?

This clinging world of ill
Them and their works abhorred;
Its withering flowers still
They spurned with one accord;
They knew them short lived all,
How soon they fade and fall,
And followed, Jesu, at Thy call.

What tongue may here declare,
Fancy or thought descry,
The joys Thou dost prepare
For these Thy saints on high?
Empurpled in the flood
Of their victorious blood,
They won the laurel from their God.

O Lord most high, we pray,
Stretch forth Thy mighty arm
To put our sins away
And shelter us from harm;
O give Thy servants peace;
From guilt and pain release;
Our praise to Thee shall never cease.

That's a nice tune; it's #51 from Hymn melodies:

Or (if we were singing Mattins in York, or wanted a different hymn to sing at Lauds or 2nd Evensong), we'd go with "The Eternal Gifts of Christ the King" (mp3), about which I've posted several times; in Latin, this hymn is Aeterna Christi Munera. I've linked to the St. David's Compline Choir version of this before; here it is again, using a different tune (MP3), and here are the Oremus words, translation J.M. Neale:
The eternal gifts of Christ the King,
the apostles' glory, let us sing,
and all, with hearts of gladness, raise
due hymns of thankful love and praise.

For they the Church's princes are,
triumphant leaders in the war,
in heavenly courts a warrior band,
true lights to lighten every land.

Theirs is the steadfast faith of saints,
and hope that never yields nor faints;
and love of Christ in perfect glow
that lays the prince of this world low.

In them the Father's glory shone,
in them the will of God the Son,
in them exults the Holy Ghost,
through them rejoice the heavenly host.

To thee, Redeemer, now we cry,
that thou wouldst join to them on high
thy servants, who this grace implore,
for ever and for evermore.

Here's the chant score:

Finally, for both Lauds (Morning Prayer) and 2nd Evensong (the Vespers of the feast day itself), we'd sing Rex gloriose martyrum, to two different tunes. This is sung as "O Glorious King of Martyr Hosts (MP3)" by LLPB. The hymn is 6th Century originally; here are the English words, from Oremus:
O glorious King of martyr hosts,
thou crown that each confessor boasts,
who leadest to celestial day
the saints who cast earth's joys away.

Thine ear in mercy, Savior, lend,
while unto thee our prayers ascend;
and as we count their triumphs won,
forgive the sins that we have done.

Martyrs in thee their triumphs gain,
confessors grace from thee obtain;
we sinners humbly seek to thee,
from sins offense to set us free.

All laud to God the Father be,
all praise, eternal Son, to thee;
all glory, as is ever meet,
to God the holy Paraclete.

And here is the chant score; it's #49 above:

Interestingly, there's an individual Wikipedia entry about this hymn.

Here is a page at anglicanhistory.org, with links to several articles about Constance and her Companions. God bless the memory of the Martyrs of Memphis, and their Sisters today of the Episcopal Community of St. Mary; we sing these hymns in their memory and in their honor today.

FYI, the Community of St. Mary's publishes The Monastic Diurnal Noted, the breviary they use themselves in their recitation of the Divine Office.

Sr. Constance (from the Cathedral of St. Mary, Memphis):

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