Celebrating Saint Patrick

Celebrating Saint Patrick

The historic church chose St. Patrick because he was an extraordinarily good missionary. He was not Irish but was sent to the Irish to evangelize and he did so by melding Celtic spirituality with the Christian religion, allowing each to flourish. 

Celebrating St Patrick at Church

As a member of two different Episcopal communities named for this saint, I am always interested in the ways we incorporate the life of St. Patrick into our congregations, whether through liturgics or fellowship.

In one of my former parishes, the Sunday closest to his feast day is the annual Bishop’s visit and the 17th is a holy day of observation, with its own mass. At the other, the Sunday before is joyfully celebrated with a pageant and, as it always falls during Lent, an occasion for flowers on the altar.

Interestingly, the latter is perhaps one reason St Patrick’s Day became common in the United States, as it offered communities the chance to lighten the fasting load of Lent. (Of course, that begs the question, why Patrick and not Joseph, whose feast is two days later??)

Reflecting on Saint Patrick

We seem celebrate Saint Patrick in an unusual way. It has become the most American of holidays, where everyone wears green and eats corned beef and cabbage. Cities and towns across the country host parades and there is an awful lot of drinking. 

I don’t have a problem with any of this. But the truth is, none of it reflects the life and impact of St Patrick.

What do we do with Patrick, and with all the saints who have gone before us? As Episcopalians we do not venerate or ask saints for intercessions; we do not believe they are any closer to the heart of God than we are. We do believe that they lived exemplary lives, lives that made a difference, lives that matter even today. 

I have a long-time interest in connecting the lives of saints into my own life, asking in particular, “What is it this member of the Church can tell me about the in-breaking of God’s economy, more about following Jesus myself?” Other questions we might ask include:

  • Why did the historic church pick this person to hold up?
  • If the saint were alive today, what would they look like? What would they be doing? Would we be friends??
  • Do I share anything in common with this saint?
  • What are the qualities they exhibit that I can emulate?
  • How can I tell this person’s story in today’s vernacular, in a way that might make a difference for someone else?

The Historic Patrick

The historic church chose St Patrick because he was an extraordinarily good missionary. He was not Irish but was sent to the Irish to evangelize and he did so by melding Celtic spirituality with the Christian religion, allowing each to flourish. 

Because St Patrick’s Day is so non-religious and celebrated in so many communities, it’s also worth noting that in honoring St Patrick, we also honor the thousands of Irish immigrants the world received during the Irish famine of the mid-19th century. America has not always honored the Irish immigrant experience, and it is worth reading about the ways in which Americans have vilified Irish immigrants…and thinking about how we currently treat newcomers to our shores. 

St Patrick left an extraordinary record of his daily work. Raised in a Christian family, he was not particularly religious until he was captured and sold as a slave. His dependence on God deepened and he drew from that wellspring of connection for the rest of his life. James Keifer writes, “An aspect of Patrick’s thought that shows very clearly through his writings is his awareness of himself as an unlearned exile, a former slave and a fugitive, who has learned the hard way to put his sole trust in God.” 

St Patrick’s Breastplate

St Patrick’s Breastplate, a hymn commonly sung on the Sunday closest to his feast day, and also at ordinations and consecrations, was not written by Patrick but in honor of him. It is an invocation, wrapping the reader in the Trinity–its mystery and its lived expression. This translation is from the 20th c German scholar Kuno Meyer:

I arise today 
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the threeness, 
Through confession of the oneness 
Of the Creator of Creation. 

I arise today 
Through the strength of Christ’s birth with His baptism, 
Through the strength of His crucifixion with His burial, 
Through the strength of His resurrection with His ascension, 
Through the strength of His descent for the judgement of Doom. 

I arise today 
Through the strength of the love of the Cherubim, 
In the obedience of angels, 
In the service of archangels, 
In the hope of the resurrection to meet with reward, 
In the prayers of patriarchs, 
In prediction of prophets, 
In preaching of apostles, 
In faith of confessors, 
In innocence of holy virgins, 
In deeds of righteous men. 

I arise today 
Through the strength of heaven; 
Light of sun, 
Radiance of moon, 
Splendour of fire, 
Speed of lightning, 
Swiftness of wind, 
Depth of sea, 
Stability of earth, 
Firmness of rock. 

I arise today 
Through God’s strength to pilot me: 
God’s might to uphold me, 
God’s wisdom to guide me, 
God’s eye to look before me, 
God’s ear to hear me, 
God’s word to speak to me, 
God’s hand to guard me, 
God’s way to lie before me, 
God’s shield to protect me, 
God’s host to save me, 

From snares of devils, 
From temptation of vices, 
From every one who shall wish me ill, 
Afar and anear, 
Alone and in a multitude. 
I summon today all these powers between me and those evils, 

Against every cruel merciless power that may oppose my body and soul, 
Against incantations of false prophets, 
Against black laws of pagandom, 
Against false laws of heretics, 
Against craft of idolatry, 
Against spells of women and smiths and wizards, 
Against every knowledge that corrupts man’s body and soul. 

Christ to shield me today 
Against poison, against burning, 
Against drowning, against wounding, 
So there come to me abundance of reward. 

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, 
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, 
Christ on my right, Christ on my left, 
Christ when I lie down, 
Christ when I sit down, 
Christ when I arise, 
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me, 
Christ in the mouth of every one who speaks of me, 
Christ in the eye of every one who sees me, 
Christ in every ear that hears me. 

I arise today 
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity, 
Through belief in the threeness, 
Through confession of the oneness 
Of the Creator of Creation. 


Charlotte Hand Greeson is a Building Faith editor. She loves celebrating saints’ days.

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