Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Mulier Fortis

A dear old lady, of the teaching-elocution variety, once told me that she was a Scottish Episcopalian, and that "our church was founded by St Margaret, Queen of Scots". (I forbore to say that my church was founded by Jesus Christ, and that St Margaret had belonged to His church, rather than to hers. In fairness, it is said that she did renew the Church in Scotland with her munificence and her godly ensample.)

Leaving aside this sad memory, I am gladdened by the recurrence of St Margaret's feast: she is indeed a pearl of great price, and a wonderworking patroness of the Scots (so declared by Pope Clement X) - and three out of four grandparents of mine have Scottish surnames and origins, so I count myself, all sinful, among that Celtic company.

As the Lord created in her a most marvellous love of the poor, so may He, at her intercession, make charity increase in our hearts more and more (cf. her collect)!

Reading the day Hours earlier today reminded me of that encomium of womanhood in Proverbs xxxi, 10-31, which is read on feasts of matrons (a better term in English than "neither virgins nor widows"), both at Mass, and in three parts as the First Nocturn Lessons on greater feasts; in the Hebrew, it is an acrostic, known by its opening words as אשת חיל (Eishet chayil):

א Who shall find a valiant woman? far and from the uttermost coasts is the price of her.
ב The heart of her husband trusteth in her, and he shall have no need of spoils.
ג She will render him good, and not evil, all the days of her life.
ד She hath sought wool and flax, and hath wrought by the counsel of her hands.
ה She is like the merchant's ship, she bringeth her bread from afar.
ו And she hath risen in the night, and given a prey to her household, and victuals to her maidens.
ז She hath considered a field, and bought it: with the fruit of her hands she hath planted a vineyard.
ח She hath girded her loins with strength, and hath strengthened her arm.
ט She hath tasted and seen that her traffic is good: her lamp shall not be put out in the night.
י She hath put out her hand to strong things, and her fingers have taken hold of the spindle.
כ She hath opened her hand to the needy, and stretched out her hands to the poor.
ל She shall not fear for her house in the cold of snow: for all her domestics are clothed with double garments.
מ She hath made for herself clothing of tapestry: fine linen, and purple is her covering.
נ Her husband is honourable in the gates, when he sitteth among the senators of the land.
ס She made fine linen, and sold it, and delivered a girdle to the Chanaanite [i.e., the merchant].
ע Strength and beauty are her clothing, and she shall laugh in the latter day.
פ She hath opened her mouth to wisdom, and the law of clemency is on her tongue.
צ She hath looked well to the paths of her house, and hath not eaten her bread idle.
ק Her children rose up, and called her blessed: her husband, and he praised her.
ר Many daughters have gathered together riches: thou hast surpassed them all.
ש Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: the woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised.
ת Give her of the fruit of her hands: and let her works praise her in the gates.

The three proper lessons for his feast (read as one, abbreviated, in the '62 Breviary) may be consulted here. It mentions, intriguingly enough, that, having been born in Hungary to Anglo-Saxon royalty (who were well-connected on the Continent, and did travel an awful lot), she perforce fled England after the Invasion, but was cast up in Scotland, there to be wooed and won by King Malcolm III.

St Margaret died in 1093, on the 16th of November, and was canonized in 1251. May she pray for us!

NB I find that in Scotland, even according to the Traditional Rite, her feast is kept on her dies natalis, the 16th of November, with a proper Mass...

Her sacred remains, buried at Dunfermline, were saved by the Catholics during the Protestant profanations of the sixteenth century: apparently her body was taken to rest at the Escorial Palace in Spain, while the Jesuits secured her head, which was kept by them at Douai - no doubt to the encouragement of the seminary priests trained there.

And I almost forgot to post the office hymn for matrons, written by Silvio Cardinal Antoniano (1540-1603), which is one of my favourites:

Fortem virili pectore
Laudemus omnes feminam,
Quæ sanctitatis gloria
Ubique fulget inclita.

Hæc sancto amore saucia,
Hujus caduca sæculi
Dum calcat, ad cælestia
Iter peregit arduum.

Carnem domans jejuniis,
Dulcique mentem pabulo
Orationis nutriens,
Cæli potitur gaudiis.

Rex Christe, virtus fortium,
Qui magna solus efficis,
Hujus precatu, quæsumus,
Audi benignus supplices.

[Jesu, tibi sit gloria,
Qui nos beatæ servulæ
Sperare das suffragia
Et sempiterna præmia.]

Deo Patri sit gloria,
Ejusque soli Filio,
Cum Spiritu Paraclito,
Nunc, et per omne sæculum. Amen.


Praise we the woman who, endued
With high heroic fortitude,
Hath won renown that shall not die,
A place among the saints on high.

Such holy love inflamed her breast,
She would not seek on earth for rest,
But, strong in faith and patience, trod
The narrow path that leads to God.

Restraining every froward sense
By gentle bonds of abstinence,
With prayer her hungry soul she fed,
And thus to heavenly joys hath sped.

O Christ, the strength of all the strong,
To whom alone high deeds belong,
Through her prevailing prayer on high
In mercy hear thy people's cry.

[Sweet Jesu, to thee glory be,
Who givest us to hope and see
Won by thy blessèd handmaid's prayer
Reward to last for e'er and e'er.]

All praise to God the Father be,
All praise, eternal Son, to thee,
Whom with the Spirit we adore
For ever and for evermore. Amen.

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