Which hymn, written by an English woman religious who lived most of her life in the Liverpool region, and which is usually sung to a melody by a former Master of the Music at Westminster Cathedral, has probably been more popular among protestants than Catholics?
Yes, you’ve got it. It is . . .
. . . Lord, for tomorrow and its needs I do not pray
The lady religious involved was Sr Mary Xavier of the Soeurs de Notre Dame de Namur (Sybil Partridge, 1856-1917), who was born in London but served in the Sisters’ poor schools in the Liverpool area, living in the convent and pupil teacher centre at Mt Pleasant, Liverpool (now part of Liverpool John Moores University). She died in Ormskirk, just outside Liverpool.
The authoress, who desires to remain anonymous, informs me that this poem was written in 1877, and was first printed in the English Messenger of the Sacred Heart (Jan. 1880, p. 20, and signed “S. M. X.”). It has been widely used, but generally altered and abridged. The full and correct form is in her In Hymnis et Canticis. Verses Sacred and Profane, by a Sister of Notre Dame (S. M. X), 1903, p. 28. These Verses were mostly written at Liverpool, for the students of the Liverpool Training College.
If the hymn was written in 1877, then Sister M. Xavier wrote it at the ripe age of 21!
The composer is of course Sir Richard Runciman (R.R.) Terry (1865-1938), first Master of Music at Westminster Cathedral, founder of the Westminster Cathedral Choir and one of the eminent names of 20th century English sacred music.
You may be wondering why this makes an excellent hymn for Lent? Well, look at the words and they give some clues:
Keep me, my God, from stain of sin
Let me duly pray
Let me be kind in word and deed
Let me be slow to do my will
Help me to mortify my flesh
Let me no wrong or idle word unthinking say
Give me thy sacraments divine
Well, that looks like a recipe for a very good Lent, in my humble opinion.
Some may say that all these apply to Christians on any day, not just on days of Lent. Well, true, but the thing about this hymn is it focuses on our ideal behaviour as Christians, rather than on doctrine or praise of God. This makes it very suitable for Lent, I think.
Also, the words just for today, repeated throughout the hymn at the end of every verse, I suggest, are therefore meant to be very significant in Sister’s view. It points out that we should attend to our Lenten or Christian lives one day at a time and should therefore not approach even Lent as one long desolate stretch of almost 6 weeks, granted with Sundays off. We should regard each day of Lent as a “separate Lent” in itself, and happily attempt overcoming the different hurdles presented each day by our own selfishness. Excellent advice. A sort of “look after the days and the lives will look after themselves” approach?
Please use it yourself as a prayer each day for the second week of Lent and see if you think it is a very helpful hymn for the season, as I certainly do.
As a concession to Toads, Sir Richard’s tune is almost a happy one. There is no absolute need for Lent to be lugubrious, even though Toads may solemnly wish it was. They just need to get out more (just teasing!).
Of course, we can see this hymn too as the kind of prayer that dear Sister Mary Xavier must have personally prayed often herself in the total gift of her life and love to God. Sister Xavier saw that each day was enough to keep her busy all by its own, just like a day of Lent.