Below is the instruction on the Feast of Saint Brigid as published in a nineteenth-century edition of the work of Father Leonard Goffine (1648-1719). The author was a German Norbertine priest who published his Handpostille oder Christkatholische Unterrichtungen auf alle Sonn und Feyer-tagen des ganzen Jahrs (brief commentaries in the form of question and answer on the Proper of the Mass, principally on the Epistle and Gospel of the day) in the 1680s. The work was translated into English and went through a number of editions, the content changing as it did so. In the 1880 edition there is a full account of Saint Brigid's life, followed by the texts of the Mass for her feast day and Goffine's question and answer commentary. The entry was illustrated by a picture of the saint which I have also reproduced, but I note that she is shown wearing the distinctive headdress of the Order of Saint Bridget of Sweden. Interestingly, the frontispiece to Canon O'Hanlon's 1877 Life of Saint Brigid also depicts our patroness in the Swedish Brigittine headdress, although the illustration was not reprinted when he reproduced the text of this biography in Volume II of his Lives of the Irish Saints. This leads me to wonder if these illustrations were inserted by the printer rather than the author, as I am sure that Canon O'Hanlon would have known that the metal crown is unique to the order of Saint Bridget of Sweden, whose founder lived nine hundred years after our Irish patroness.
INSTRUCTION ON THE FESTIVAL OF ST. BRIDGET, VIRGIN.
ABBESS, AND PATRONESS OF IRELAND.
ST. BRIDGET was born at Fochard, in Ulster, soon after Ireland had been blessed with the light of the faith. It was about the year 453 that she saw for the first time the light of this world. Her parents, Dubtach and Bronchessa, were both Christians. By her father she was lineally descended from "Con of the Hundred Battles," and her mother, Bronchessa, was descended from the noble house of the O'Connors.
Bridget spent her early years in Connaught, and was reared by a nurse who fortunately for her, was a Christian. She grew up beautiful in appearance, but still more so in her heavenly virtues, her meekness, humility and sweetness of manner. Her mother and her nurse carefully instructed her in the Christian religion; and deeply impressed upon her young mind the goodness and mercy of Jesus, and the loving tenderness of His holy mother Mary. And when told not to offend Jesus or Mary, with childlike simplicity she would ask how she could please them, and when told, would reply that she would never do anything to offend them. Thus were the purest impressions made on her infant mind, and as she grew in years, she became rich in all the Christian virtues.
Bridget, even when a child, accustomed herself to prayer and pious works, and loved to retire in solitude to commune with God. She was exceedingly modest, and the least indelicacy of word or action hurt her tender soul very deeply. No wonder she was admired and loved by everybody.
Our saint was never more happy then when she found ways and means to assist the sick and the poor. Her charity knew no bounds. One time when visiting the sick neighbors, (she was then only nine years of age) it happened that she had nothing to relieve the wants of the needy; so she gave them the jewels from a precious sword which the king of Leinster had given her father, as a token of his good will and liking for his valiant service. The king heard of this and was angry, and shortly afterward came to a banquet in her father's house, and calling the little maid he asked her how she dared to deface the gift of a king in such a manner as she had done the gift to her father. She fearlessly replied that she had given the jewels to a better king than he was, "whom” she continued, "finding in such extremities, I would have given all that my father has, and all that you have, yea, yourself too and "all you have, were it in my power to give them, rather than Christ or His children, the poor, should starve." The king was so touched with her answer that he said to her father that his whole possessions would not be an equivalent for his daughter; and that he should let her have her own way in future, and not restrain the extraordinary graces God had conferred on her. He then gave Dubtach another sword more valuable than the former, as a mark of the esteem he entertained for him and his daughter.
When Bridget approached maturity, her father wished that she should wed a certain young man. Our saint was astonished at such a proposal, and firmly refused, and told her father that she was resolved to consecrate her virginity to God. All her relations opposed this resolution for a long time, but seeing that Bridget was determined they finally consented, and allowed her to choose her state of life. She made known her intention to several pious virgins, all of whom resolved to accompany her. Bishop Mel, nephew and disciple of St. Patrick, gave her the veil. It is said that she made her vows in the sixteenth year of her age.
Bridget's first community was established at Bridget's-Town or Ballyboy, near Ussna Hill. Her community soon became celebrated for its piety and charity. The poor flocked around her, and even the sick came from afar to be cured by St. Bridget's prayers. Several bishops requested her to establish communities in their dioceses. She visited Munster and established several convents there. While there she cured by her prayers a man who had been blind for years. Then she passed into the county Waterford, and established in the neighborhood of the present village of Tramore a community of nuns. We next find her in the county of Limerick establishing convents.
Society in Ireland in pagan times was divided into freemen and slaves; the former regarded the latter as beings of an inferior order, and treated them as mere chattels, as is the case in all slave countries even in our own times. The Catholic Church endeavored from the beginning to abolish this barbarous custom, and finally succeeded. St. Bridget labored hard to obtain the freedom of poor culprits, or at least to mitigate the bitterness of their captivity.
Her numerous miracles and the respect and veneration entertained for her, gave power to her influence, which seldom failed in gaining the boon of mercy. St. Bridget was great in miracles, great in Christian charity. She shares with St. Patrick the glory and sanctity of being the first to bring the pious young virgins of Ireland into conventual communities. Her success in this holy work was wonderful, for soon religious establishments of the kind extended over all the land. Thus she aided powerfully the work of St. Patrick in christianizing the inhabitants of Ireland. No wonder that after her death many churches were dedicated to God under her name. A portion of her relics was kept with great veneration in a monastery of regular canons at Aburnethi, once the capital of the kingdom of the Picts. Her body was found with those of SS. Patrick and Columba, in a triple vault in Down-Patrick, in 1185. The head of St. Bridget is now kept in the church of the Jesuits at Lisbon.
The Introit of the Mass reads: Thou hast loved justice, and hated iniquity: therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows. My heart hath uttered a good word: I speak my works to the King. (Ps. xliv.) Glory be &c.
PRAYER OF THE CHURCH. Graciously hear us, O God of our salvation: that, as we rejoice in the festivity of the blessed Bridget, Thy virgin, we may be instructed in the affection of a loving devotion. Through, etc.
LESSON, (ii Cor. x. ry-xi. i, 2.) BRETHREN, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord. For not he that commendeth himself is approved; but he whom God commendeth. Would to God you could bear with some little of my folly, but do bear with me. For I am jealous of you with the jealousy of God. For I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.
EXPLANATION. The Apostle exhorts the Corinthians to avoid all self-praise and vainglory. To acknowledge our merits, however, is not wrong, provided we attribute such merits to the grace of God, giving all honor to Him, who works the good in us. Self-praise is no proof that we are faithful servants of God; we are no more than what we are in the eyes of God. St. Paul indeed endeavors to draw the attention of the Corinthians to his dignity and merits, but does it to honor God, and to save for Christ those whom he had by their conversion to Christianity brought to Christ as a spouse to her bridegroom; he speaks of his dignity, and is jealous to oppose the heretics who tried to lessen his influence by decrying his merits, and who endeavored to make the Christians abandon the true faith. When self-praise proceeds from a motive of honoring God and saving the souls of our neighbors it is allowable.
GOSPEL. (Matt. xxv. i 13.) AT THAT TIME, Jesus spoke to his disciples this parable: The kingdom of heaven shall be like to ten virgins, who, taking their lamps, went out to meet the bridegroom and the bride. And five of them were foolish, and five wise: but the five foolish, having taken their lamps, did not take oil with them, but the wise took oil in their vessels with the lamps. And the bridegroom tarrying, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight there was a cry made: Behold, the bridegroom cometh, go ye forth to meet him. Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise: Give us of your oil, for our lamps are gone out. The wise answered, saying: Lest perhaps there be not enough for us and for you, go you rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves. Now whilst they went to buy, the bridegroom came: and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage, and the door was shut. But at last came also the other virgins, saying: Lord, Lord, open to us. But he answering, said: Amen, I say to you, I know you not. Watch ye, therefore, because you know not the day nor the hour.
Who is the bridegroom?
Christ the Lord who has united Himself to His Church, and enters into an intimate union with every soul of the faithful who keeps His commandments.
Why is the kingdom of heaven compared to virgins?
Because virginity is similar to the integrity of holy faith. Only those who preserve the faith inviolate will enter the kingdom of heaven.
Why does Christ make mention of “ten" virgins?
The number ten was in ancient times made use of to express a whole. Here according to SS. Jerome and Ambrose all the faithful are to be understood. This is evident from the words of Christ who says of the virgins that they had lamps. The lamp signifies the light of faith. This holy faith is infused into the soul in baptism.
Who are the wise and who the foolish virgins?
The wise are all those of the faithful who not only believe in the doctrine of Christ, but also live according to the faith, performing good works; the foolish are those Christians who have indeed the true faith, but not the works according to the faith.
What is understood by the oil?
It means good works, especially works of charity.
Without good works our faith does not shine forth, is, therefore, not burning light, but dead as St. James says: "Faith without works is dead."
What mean the vessels that contain the oil?
Our conscience, which is the seat and receptacle of good works.
What does His coming at midnight signify?
It signifies the time when we least expect; for who would suppose the coming of the bridegroom at that unexpected hour when every one is asleep! Let us, therefore, be careful that we are not wanting in faith and good works, let us take warning also from the words of Christ to be ever ready, as we know not the day nor the hour when we shall be called upon to appear before our Judge.