Monday is March 17th, the Feast of Saint Patrick, Patron Saint of Ireland. I’m guessing many of you might have already known that. I’m also guessing many of you aren’t thinking of Patrick himself, or his role in the conversion of the Irish people to Christianity. No, many of you (I guess) are getting ready for some kind of celebration that involves large quantities of Guinness, “Green”beer, wearing green, shamrocks and the like. But, what do these things have to do with the day and the Saint himself?
Although his life is mostly a mystery, due no doubt to the number of legends and tales told about him (no, he did not rid Ireland of snakes) he was an actual Bishop in the Christian church who lived and ministered in Ireland in the 5th Century C.E. He was born in Britain to wealthy parents, was kidnapped by Irish raiders when a teen and lived and worked in Ireland until he escaped six years later. His faith was what kept him alive during his captivity and when back in Britain he enrolled in a course of study to become a priest. Fifteen years later he was ordained and sent back to Ireland to work with the small group of Christians there to introduce Christianity to the Irish who were still practicing pagan religion. (Please note that the word pagan in this context does not refer to people of no faith, but to people who worshipped nature, seasons and gods in various ways. Today we might call this “indigenous religion.”)
Saint Patrick died on March 17, 460 C.E. It wasn’t until the 17th Century that Saint Patrick’s Day was made an official Feast Day in the Roman Catholic Church. Today the celebration crosses religious lines and is also a secular holiday although not an official holiday in the United States.
Since the day falls within the Christian season of Lent, which is a time of penance, and fasting in preparation for Easter it became an opportunity to “suspend”the usual practice of abstinence from drinking alcohol and engage in a little “partying.”My hope is that whatever way in which you may or may not celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day you do it safely and in moderation!
As Saint Patrick brought the Christian message to non-Christians he had a wonderful practice of first getting to know the people, coming to an appreciation for their existing faith and then showing how the symbols of their pagan faith could be re-signified to gain insight and understanding about the Christian faith. For example, according to history.com“he used bonfires to celebrate Easter since the Irish were used to honoring their gods with fire. He also superimposed a sun, a powerful Irish symbol, onto the Christian cross to create what is now called a Celtic cross, so that veneration of the symbol would seem more natural to the Irish.”
Saint Patrick is also credited with using a shamrock to explain the Christian idea of the Holy Trinity.
Blue was the first color associated with Saint Patrick, but the wearing of green shamrocks on his day led to a more prominent use of the color green. In the United Irish Uprising of 1798 the traditional use of wearing green shamrocks was made into to political symbol when the members of the uprising wore green uniforms.
I’ll leave you with a couple of Irish blessings.
“May you have warm words on a cold evening, a full moon on a dark night, and the road downhill all the way to your door.”
And, “May you live to be a hundred years,
With one extra year to repent.”
Happy Saint Patrick’s Day to you all.