Wednesday, 17 March 2021

The Apostolate of Saint Patrick

To celebrate the feast of Saint Patrick, I offer the reflections of one of the great Irish churchmen of the nineteenth century, Patrick Francis, Cardinal Moran (1830-1911). This native of Leighlinbridge was a man of tremendous energy who, in between fulfilling the duties of first a priest, then a bishop and finally of Cardinal Archbishop of Sydney, managed to produce a series of important books on the history of Ireland, its saints and its martyrs. We can see these scholarly interests reflected in his 1889 Saint Patrick's Day homily below, where we are offered not only a stirring vision of Saint Patrick and his apostolate, but of the entire golden age of the 'Celtic church' and of its missionary saints. The sacrifices of the later Irish martyrs are also not forgotten. Speaking some sixty years after Catholic Emancipation the Cardinal is filled with hope and confidence for the future as he addresses his Irish emigrant audience who also have their part to play in the continuation of the apostolate of Saint Patrick:



We take the following report of an address delivered on St. Patrick's Day by Cardinal Moran, from our contemporary the Sydney Nation. His Eminence entered the pulpit, and gave the text of his discourse as follows:—

Arise, arise, put on thy strength, O Sion, pat on the garments of thy glory, O Jerusalem; loose the bonds from off thy neck, O captive daughter of Sion. How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, and that preacheth peace, of him that showeth forth good, that preacheth salvation, that saith to Sion, Thy God shall reign." (Isaias, chap. 52). 

He said:— These words were addressed by the prophet of old to the children of Israel, who, though seated by the pleasant waters of Babylon, were weighed down with sorrow in the bondage of slavery. They would not intone the songs of their fathers, for they were in an alien land; but now the prophet summoned them to tune their harps and chant their gladsome anthems of rejoicing, for the day of their freedom was at hand. The same words were addressed by the Apostle to the faithful who were called from spiritual death to life in Imperial Rome, and from age to age they have never ceased to find an echo in holy Church as nation after nation was gathered into the saving fold of Christ. And what shall I say of the joyous anthems of thanksgiving and praise which were caught up by the choirs of angels, and were re-echoed through the wide-spreading plains of Ireland when her apostle, St. Patrick, landed upon her shores, and when, through his preaching, the light of the faith shone upon her green hills never more to set. Beautiful, indeed, was the message of this Apostle of salvation, this missioner of peace. And those anthems of thanksgiving shall never cease. At 10,000 altars the feast of St. Patrick is kept to-day with solemn pomp; the Church loves to proclaim his praise, the hearts of his children are thrilled with joy, and the nations whose lamp of faith was kindled at Erin's shrines are made partakers of their rejoicing.

 [The preacher, after sketching the eventful career of St Patrick in Ireland, and pointing out the special fruits of his apostolate, thus proceeded]:

The time was now come that he should rest from his labours. He was as Saul when the summons came to enter into his eternal reward. This was the first Church which he had founded in Ireland. It was now destined to be the place of his repose. St. Bridget was privileged to prepare the shroud to enshrine his remains. To her and her virgin companions he addressed sweet parting words on the glory of the blessed, and the joys of paradise. Bishops and priests, whom he had formed to virtue and led to the sanctuary, gathered round him for his last blessing. He exhorted them to peace, forbearance, and charity. At the hands of a loved disciple, St. Thassack, he received the viaticum of eternal life, and praying a blessing upon the Irish Church, and again and again repeating the words which were so familiar to him during life, "Deo Gratias," - 'Thanks to Thee, O God, for all Thy wondrous' mercies," he rested in peace. The whole clergy of Erin kept vigil around his hallowed remains for seven days; but what with the chant of the religious choirs and the fragrance of paradise, and the heavenly light that lit up the sanctuary, and the melody of the angels, the whole time seemed to them to be but one short hour.

St. Patrick had gone to his reward, but his apostolate did not cease, and through his prayers the fruitfulness of heavenly blessings which he bestowed upon his spiritual children shall be their inheritance till the end of time. It is recorded in one of the lives of the Saint that in an ecstacy of prayer he asked of God a ninefold share of reward for the chosen people whom he had led to Christ. And this manifold reward was granted in the triple merit of their heroism of sanctity, the triple merit of their zeal in spreading the light of divine truth, and the triple merit awarded by the nations of Christendom for their unparalleled fortitude in enduring martyrdom for the faith. Thus the apostolate of St. Patrick was complete. It was complete in that he had gathered the whole nation of Ireland into the fold of Christ. It was complete in that during his lifetime, the convents and cloisters and sanctuaries were filled with chosen bands of the sons and daughters of Erin, and priests and bishops whom he had himself trained to piety ministered with devotedness among the people whom he loved. It was complete in the peaceful triumph achieved by Divine truth, for, though St Patrick had himself to suffer a great deal at the hands of wicked men, yet the sword of persecution was not unsheathed against the Church, and the princes and chieftains and people alike embraced the faith. It was above all complete in the perfection of sanctity which adorned the Irish Church. From the chill spell of the winter of idolatry, Ireland had passed almost without a springtime into the summer glow of spiritual life, and the land which St. Patrick found immersed in the darkness of paganism was at the close of his apostolate an island of saints. Everywhere the profane altars of superstition were overthrown and the idols forsaken. Religion triumphed and the blessings of God filled the land. The people in crowds hastened to satiate their thirst at the fountains of mercy, the divine lessons of life and light were caught up with joy, the anthems of piety resounded through every smiling valley of Ireland, and those ornaments of virtue, temperance, charity and peace, each one of which, when distributed among the nations of Christendom, suffices for the privileged blessedness of a Christian people, were all blended and entwined to form the peerless aureola of Ireland's sanctity.

 One of the ancient Irish writers has described under poetic imagery, the marvellous conversion of the nation. The daughter of Lir— it is thus he designates the people of Erin—was held captive under Druidical spell for 400 years. Clothed in the snow-white plumage of the swan she moved silent and solitary over the waters of Lough Foyle. St. Patrick, arriving on the shores of the lake, erected his altar to offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving and praise. At the moment of the elevation, when the tinkling of the little bell was heard over the still waters, the spell of enchantment was broken, and the fair daughter of Lir arose once more in the full grace and bloom of youth, and arrayed in heavenly comeliness.and enlightened by divine faith, knelt for the Saint's blessings at the altar of God. Thus was the blessing of heaven set as a seal on the apostolate of St. Patrick. The hills, and valleys, and glens of Erin were lit up with the light of the Gospel and the various tribes of the nation, with a heroism and fervour, and devotion, and gratitude never surpassed in the history of the Church, embraced the Catholic Faith, and were gathered into the one true fold.

For 300 years after the advent of St. Patrick the lamp of faith burned brightly throughout the length and breadth of the land. Ireland was the joy of Christendom, an island of saints, a shrine of piety, a garden of the Christian virtues, a sanctuary of civilisation and learning. Happy was it for Europe that Divine Providence had thus prepared a home for religion in the hearts of the Irish race. Triumphant barbarism was very soon to trample down the pride of Imperial Rome, uprooting its civilisation and transforming its most favoured province into a desolate and barren wilderness. The Saxons will ravage Britain with fire and sword. The Franks will occupy the fruitful territories of Gaul, Atilla and his Huns shall plunder Italy. Goths, Allemanni, and Burgundians shall lay waste the other fairest districts of Christendom, till it may seem that Europe can never again rise from the fetters of barbarism, and that her sun of civilisation and learning has for ever set. It was then that the Island of Saints entered upon her mission as the burning and shining light of the Western world. Her Church in those days has been likened to the luminous beacon of some lofty lighthouse planted on a rock amid the foaming surge of the ocean and casting us light over the dark sea to guide the mariner in his course. Venerable Bede writes that the sons of the Anglo Saxon Knights and Thanes proceeded in crowds to the Irish schools, to be trained in the paths of knowledge— human and divine. Others came from France and Switzerland, from Germany and Italy. Even from the remote monasteries of Egypt and the East men bent their pilgrim steps towards Erin to trim at her sanctuaries their lamp of faith, and to perfect themselves in the knowledge of divine truth and in the science of the saints.

And from the schools and monasteries of Ireland innumerable missionaries fearlessly went forth on the arduous mission to renew the spent glories of civilisation, and to revive the Christian life of Europe. So many were these missionary bands that a French writer a thousand years ago cried out in astonishment, "All Ireland with her train of saints and sages is migrating to our shores." And what was the work in which the zealous missionaries were engaged, I will allow another eloquent Frenchman of our own day to answer: "It was to preach the gospel to unbelievers; to reanimate Christians crushed under barbarian invasions; to arouse to nobleness, degenerate souls; to raise up powerful races; to rekindle the extinguishing torch of arts and of letters; to carry everywhere the light of science and of faith." The missionary field of the saints and scholars of Erin in those days embraced almost the whole of Europe, from the Orkneys to the Thames— from the shores of the Channel to the sources of the Rhine and the banks of the Danube. They penetrated to the southernmost provinces of Italy; they bore the Gospel northwards, over stormy and icy sea, even to the Faroe Islands and the shores of Iceland. Austria honours St. Colman as her patron; St. Kilian, with a chosen band of assistants, evangelised a great part of France, and penetrating thence into the heart of Thuringia, laid deep the foundations of the Holy Church, which he cemented with his blood. Need I name St. Columbanus and St. Gall, St. Cathaldus of Taranto, St. Donatus of Fiesole, St. Romuald of Mechlin, St. Virgilius the Apostle of Corinthia; St. Boniface, whom all Germany salutes as patron and apostle. When I was proceeding from Rome to Ireland a few months ago I turned aside from the direct road to visit the relics of St. Fridolin at Seckingen. He is still honoured there as chief patron. His memory is still cherished by his devoted children, and new honours are every day decreed to his name. Suffice it to say that more than 300 of the Irish missionaries of those days have received the honours of the altar —a well-deserved tribute to their heroic devotedness and self sacrifice—from the grateful churches of Christendom. Nor was it a mere passing breath of sanctity that was thus wafted from the shrines of Ireland to the nations of the continent. The schools and monasteries and other institutions founded by those missionaries continued for centuries to reflect lustre on the fair name of Ireland as centres of enlightenment and bulwarks of morality and piety. Who is there that can pretend to enlightenment at the present day, and not feel grateful to the Irish Monastery of Bobbio, which jealously guarded the literary treasures of Greece and Rome in perilous times, and handed them down in safety to us? From that Irish Monastery went forth two of the greatest Pontiffs of the middle ages, Sylvester the Second and Hildebrand, who did so much to stimulate the practice of Christian virtue, and to revive the sacred and polite studies throughout Europe. The Monastery of St. Gall, on the shores of Lake Constance, was a pharos of light for all Germany. Luxeuil and Fontaines were for centuries like fruitful vines, whose religious fruit gave joy to the dioceses and monasteries of France. 

Nearer to their parent home, need I recall the island sanctuaries of Iona and Lindisfarne. A classic writer in England has in fond admiration linked together the names of Iona and Marathon ; but how far more glorious and beneficent than the battlefields of worldly strife were the achievements of the saintly armies of the Celtic monastery, whose long roll of heroes and victories is inscribed in the imperishable pages of the Book of Life. Lindisfarne, the Holy Island of North Britain, vied with Iona in the fruitfulness of sanctity. Its missionaries evangelised the whole territory from the Humber to the Thames, and continued for twelve generations to lead innumerable souls to Christ. When the tide of ruin swept over Christendom in the fifth and sixth centuries, many names of invading tribes and peoples were heard for the first time in Europe, and they were the symbol of everything that was rude and barbarous. All that has been changed. Those same tribes and peoples have for more than a thousand years been the synonym for Christian enlightenment and chivalry. Whence came this marvellous change? The world is indebted for it to the Irish Missionaries and saints who bore with them to the continent the blessing and the fruitful zeal of their own apostle; and who can wonder if to-day these regenerated nations of Christendom rejoice whilst offering their tributes of gratitude and praise to the Island of Saints and to St. Patrick from whose bright sanctuary were reflected upon them of old the quickening rays of civilisation and Christian virtue.

There was a wreath yet wanting to mark the victory of Ireland's faith, the crown which is granted only to the Church and nation that have won the triumph of martyrdom. St. John Chrysostom, in one of his eloquent discourses, remarks that like the purple radiance which at morning's dawn marks the victory of light over darkness, even so peerless in beauty must be the wreath merited by the heroism of the martyrs. And what shall I say of Ireland's sufferings for the faith, a nation's martyrdom which was without a parallel in the history of the Church. The persecution which her people suffered for the faith was the most intense and most prolonged ever endured by any Christian nation. The broken arches, the burned shrines, the ivy-clad walls, the moss-grown ruins, the whole land thrice confiscated, tell the tale of Ireland's endurance in the cause of truth and justice. Other churches may point with pride to the blight array of names which they have added to the roll of the martyrs of Christ. It is Ireland's glory that she has offered to God a whole nation of martyrs. When some years ago an illustrious Irish bishop was asked for relics of saints, be with deep emotion, replied, "I have no relics of saints on whose sanctity the Church has as yet set the seal of her authority; but go to the first roadside cemetery that you shall meet, and take a handful of its hallowed dust, for it is the resting-place of martyrs of Christ." And how terrible was that martyrdom. For three centuries death, exile, or the prison was the birthright of the Irish Catholics; and every means that the power and wealth of this world could wield, or which the perverted ingenuity of man could devise, was availed of to corrupt their fortitude and destroy their faith. But Ireland continued true to the faith and to the teaching of St. Patrick. The oak in the forest, when the tempest rages around it, casts deeper its roots in the genial soil. It was even so that the Catholic faith, amid the trials and storms of persecution, struck deeper its sacred roots in the hearts and the affections of the Irish people. Many were the branches that were torn from the parent trunk, and were borne by the violence of the storm to distant lands. But they did not wither or decay. They took root in every land. They have grown with the vigour of the tree planted by the running streams, and, under the blessing of heaven, they have been clothed with comeliness, with blossoms of peace, with fruits of charity and mercy, and they have yielded to those around them a saving shade.

Now that the era of persecution for the faith has closed, what do we see? We see the whole people of Ireland unshaken in its devotedness to the divine faith preached by St. Patrick, and as fervent in works of charity and in every exercise of religion as were their fathers in the golden age of piety. Renewed in strength, like the eagle, the Church of Erin stands erect in all the freshness of her youth, with the seal of heaven on her brow. Her colleges and schools, her convents and monasteries, churches and cathedrals, and myriad institutions of piety and charity, proclaim a living faith and a devoted generosity which maybe rivalled, but cannot be surpassed. Her missionaries have again gone forth to most distant lands, the heralds of the Catholic faith. I should rather have said that the whole nation has been impressed with the missionary spirit of its apostle. Wherever the true Irish emigrant finds a home, churches are sure to spring up and schools shall be erected, and piety shall abound. Like the children of God described by the Psalmist, they may go forth in sadness, and weep when casting their seeds. With sorrow they forsake their mother-land, its green hills, its fairy glens, the friends so dear to them, the acre of God where their fathers sleep. But wherever they go they cast the seed of the Catholic faith, and that sacred seed produces fruit an hundredfold." Coming, they shall come with joyfulness, carrying their sheaves." (Psalm 123.) The children of Ireland are true to the traditions of their Apostle, and to the piety of their fathers. In England and Scotland, in Canada and the United States, in our own fair Australian land— thanks to those sons and daughters of St. Patrick— nourishing churches have arisen, full of vigour and life, radiant with charity and faith, and worthy of the golden days of Christendom. May we not say that heaven has set us seal upon the fruitfulness of St. Patrick's apostolate? Oh, that that apostolate may ever be the prize inheritance of his children! The time is at hand when the blessings of freedom and just laws shall remove the clouds of gloom and sadness that still cast a shadow over the dear old land of the West. May the blessing of St. Patrick be with his people in the days of their prosperity and freedom. In whatever land their lot may be cast may they love their country as their fathers loved it, may they be fervent in hope and charity, and may their lamp of faith never be extinguished. Thus shall the apostolate of St. Patrick continue to be the inheritance of his children, and the Celtic race, on which it was his mission to set the seed of heaven, shall be in the future, as it has been in the past— the consolation of holy church and the glory of Christendom.

THE APOSTOLATE OF ST. PATRICK.,New Zealand Tablet, Volume XVII, Issue 1, 26 April 1889

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Monday, 1 February 2021

'After her victory Saint Brigit departed this life..'

After her victory saint Brigit departed this life amid choirs of patriarchs and prophets and apostles and martyrs and all the holy men and virgins and amid the ranks of angels and archangels to the eternal diadems of the heavenly kingdom, to the heavenly Jerusalem, to the kingdom without end where everlasting rewards are bestowed through Our Lord Jesus Christ together with the Father and Holy Spirit through endless ages. Amen.


S. Connolly, ed. and trans., Vita Prima Sanctae Brigitae: Background and Historical Value, JRSAI, Vol. 119 (1989), p.49.

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Sunday, 31 January 2021

Saint Bridget in Ireland

Tomorrow will be the feast of Saint Brigid and the article below describes for an expatriate audience many of the folk customs associated with the feast in the old country, some of which take place on the previous evening. It has been taken from an Australian newspaper of 1919 where it appears to have been syndicated from an American Catholic publication, the Ave Maria. In common with many other pieces on this theme at this time, the writer laments the passing of these traditions, in particular the falling popularity of the name Brigid and notes the adaptation of the homely diminutive 'Biddy' into the rather more polished-sounding 'Bidelia' by the younger generation.  In the nineteenth century 'Biddy' represented the stereotypical Irish peasant girl on music-hall stages and in popular culture so perhaps by 1919 she had had her day. I have never seen the name Bidelia before nor have I come across the other diminutive 'Jetty'. I have though encountered a surprising number of writings on this theme and wonder if it points to an underlying anxiety about the cultural influences of the host nation to which Irish immigrants were naturally subject. This writer ends by linking the folk customs of Saint Brigid's day with those of the eve of the feast of All Hallows and concludes that they are ultimately harmless:
St Bridget in Ireland
Of all the saints whom the Irish honour, St. Patrick is first and foremost in their affections, but there is another that is held in fond esteem and veneration: Saint Bridget, whose death occurred in the year 528. She is called the Patroness of Ireland. 
Old customs are rapidly vanishing in Ireland. Yet still the colleen, on the 1st. February, rises very early in the morning, and churns before the sun climbs in glory over the eastern hill; and if she has finished her work by that time, and hears the lark sing, then folk say that she will have success in all her doings for the year. For the lark is the bird of St. Bridget, ever since it was wont to awaken her in good time for Matins. To all who on the morning of her festival, hear its strains, it is a good omen for the year, also a sign of fine weather. 
Most of the oldtime customs associated with "Biddy's Day" — for so the Irish, with that apparently over-familiar, yet deeply reverent and reticent, trait of theirs, term the festival— are fast dying; but in remote places little girls still carry round a "bredogue" — a large doll resembling the "Morena" of the  Hungarian children,  and supposed to represent St. Bridget or Bride. 
In far-lying countrysides the folk usually place before their doors a mat made out of peeled rushes, in order that the Saint may come and kneel there to pray for the family. This they also do if there is illness in the dwelling. Irish girls born in February were formerly almost invariably named after the Saint. But to-day the name is no longer in such great favour, and some young women on whom the name has been bestowed have changed it into Bidelia. In the North of Ireland, as in Scotland, Bride is a popular form of the name; and the homely contraction of "Jetty" takes the place of the "Biddy" or "Bridgie" of the other parts of the island. 
On the eve of St. Bridget a silken riband is still occasionally placed on the windowsill in honour of the Saint; and is left out all night, during which time it is popularly supposed to grow longer. It is afterwards kept as a panacea for headaches, the cure being worked thus: the riband is drawn thrice round the patient's head, the following words being repeated at each round, "In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen!" and then the silk is knotted round the patient's head. 
These are a few of the customs in honour of St. Bride, of Bridget, that still linger in the Green Isle, where many kindly folk still put out a plateful of victuals on All Hallow Eve, for the wandering spirits of the dead and all the strange hosts of beings so real to the Irish peasant. If the griddle-cake and bowlful of milk, and the bit of bread and cheese, have vanished by the morning into the maw of some hungry beggar or even cat or dog, the donors are the better of it, and no one is the worse. — "Ave Maria."

 W.A. Record (Perth, WA : 1888 - 1922), Saturday 22 March 1919, page 8

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Tuesday, 9 June 2020

Apostle of Scotland and Patron of Ireland

Today is the feast of Saint Colum Cille and to mark the occasion I reprint below a newspaper article from 1905.  The author, who signs himself only as 'J.B.', presents a picture of Saint Colum Cille as an all-conquering heroic figure who is not just a great saint but also a great patriot. Indeed the land of Ireland, from which he now lives in exile, is so holy that the very breezes which blow there were like 'Zephyrs of Paradise' to him. The article is thus very typical of the romantic, nationalist view of Ireland and its saints found at this time. It packs in many of the tropes from Columban hagiography and ends with a prayer from the liturgy. May I wish everyone the blessings of our tertiary patron's feast!

Saint Columbkille.

Saint Columba Abbot, Prince, Priest, Apostle of Scotland, and Patron of Ireland, was born at Gartan, in the County Donegal, in the year 521, and died at Iona in the year 595. "He was," says Alban Butler, "one of the greatest Patriarchs of the Monastic Order in Ireland, and the Apostle of the Picts". He was surnamed Columbkille from the great number of Monastic Cells of which he was the founder. "Columba," said St. Fintan, "is not to be compared with philosophers and learned men, but with Patriarchs, Prophets, and Apostles. The Holy Ghost reigns in him; He has been chosen by God for the good of all. He is a sage among sages, a king among kings, an anchorite with anchorites, a monk of monks."

He was forty-three years old before he left Ireland for Iona, and in the meantime, according to Usher, he founded a hundred Monasteries. According to O'Donnell he founded as many as three hundred. "Venerated at home for his sanctity and wondrous miracles," writes Cardinal Moran, "he is ranked with St. Patrick and St. Bridget amongst the chief patrons of Ireland, whilst abroad the grateful piety of those whom he evangelised has awarded him the aureola of Chief Apostle of Caledonia. It is true that many years before the Mission of Columba others had preached the faith in Dalriada and the southern districts of Alba, but in consequence of continual wars and predatory incursions piety had again grown cold, and the light of truth was well nigh spent. He it was that revived there the spirit of piety, and renewed the fervor of Christian life. The Northern Picts, however, had never yet received the Gospel; but now that sanguinary and untameable race, which Imperial Rome could not subdue, was conquered by the Irish missionary. Before St. Columba elided his glorious career the whole nation was gathered into tho one true fold. Their glens and forests, their almost inaccessible mountains, and their distant islands were studded with Christian Churches and Monasteries, and resounded with the praise of the Most High. Pict and Scot hailed him with the utmost enthusiasm, regarding him as an angel in human form. His shining virtues won the admiration of all, for he rejoiced with them that rejoiced and wept with them that wept. He was a great Saint and a great Patriot, entering deeply and warmly into everything that affected the weal of Clan Nial or the honor of Erin. The very breezes that blow on the fair hills of holy Ireland were, to him like the Zephyrs of Paradise, and all his life he retained for Ireland the passionate tenderness of an exile. "Death," he said, "In faultless Ireland is better than life without end in Albyn." "Young traveller,'" he exclaims to a monk revisiting Ireland, "take my heart with thee and my blessing. Carry my blessing across the sea. If death should come upon me suddenly it will be because of my great love of the Gael." The birds that winged their flight across he took up tenderly, caressed, and fed until they were able to return to sweet Ireland, where they were born.

A great consolation was vouchsafed to him in a vision, and he foretold that long years after his death his remains should be conveyed across the sea and deposited in the same tomb with Saints Patrick and Bridget. "They shall bury me first in Iona, but by the will of the living God it is in Down that I shall rest in my grave with Patrick and Bridget, the spotless." Three bodies in one grave, and so it happened. From an old Latin poem we learn that in Down "Three Saints one grave do fill, Patrick, Bridget, and Columkille." Deeply as he loved his native land Columba was satisfied with his cell of exile, his stone pillar, his meagre food, his almost superhuman labor and austerities.

When he left Ireland and settled in Iona he was then in the prime of life. Twelve companions, amongst them two first cousins and an uncle, accompanied him in his voyage. For 30 years after he was the legislator and the Captain of Christianity In those Northern regions. The King of the Picts received baptism at his hands. The kings of the Scottish Colony, his kinsmen, received the Crown from him on their accession, to the Throne. The islet of Iona was presented to him by one of these Princes. Here he and his companions built with their own hands their parent house, and from this Hebridean Rock in after times was shaped the temporal and spiritual destinies of many tribes and kingdoms. Formed by his teaching and example there went out from it Apostles to Iceland, to the Orkneys, to Northumbria, to Man, and to South Britain. A hundred Monasteries in Ireland looked to him as their Patriarch. His rule of monastic life was sought for by chiefs, bards, and converted druids. Clients seeking direction from his wisdom or protection  through his power were constantly arrlving or departing from his sacred isle. He had the gift of seeing men's souls— how they stood before God. On one occasion he foretold to his brethren the immediate arrival of a Pictish Chief, who was very aged, who had preserved intact the laws of nature, and who was now coming to receive the grace of faith and baptism, after which would follow a happy death. Soon the skiff arrived, the chief came ashore, and all else happened as foretold.

Like all great saints he was severe to himself and indulgent to others. His activity was incessant. Not a single hour of the day did he leave unoccupied without engaging either in prayer or in reading, or in writing, or in some other work. His fastings and watchings also were unwearied.  From his boyhood (according to his cousin, St. Adamnan) he had been brought up under Christian training in the study of wisdom, and by the grace of God he so preserved his body and the purity of his soul that though dwelling on earth he appeared to live like the Saints in heaven. He was angelic in appearance, graceful in speech, holy in work, with talents of the highest order, and consummate prudence. Ho was beloved by all for a holy joyousness ever beaming on his countenance revealed the joy and gladness with which the Holy Spirit filled his inmost soul.

 The Commentator of the Feilire of Aengus describes his appearance as that of a man well-formed, with a powerful frame. His skin was white, his face was broad and fair and radiant, lit up with large grey luminous eyes. His large and well-shaped head was crowned, except where he wore his frontal tonsure, with close and curling hair. His voice was clear and resonant so that he could be heard at the distance of fifteen hundred paces, yet sweet with more than the sweetness of the bards. His father, Feidlam, was descended from one of the eight sons of the great Niall of the Nine Hostages, who was Supreme Monarch of Ireland from the year 379 to 406, and his mother, Ethnea, belonged to the Royal family of Leinster. An old life of the Saint states that he was offered the Throne of Leinster and refused to accept it.

Before his death St. Columkille paid one visit to his beloved Ireland and made a comparatively long stay. At length he returned to Iona, where far into the evening of life he waited for his summons to the beatific vision. Death found him at the ripe age of almost eighty years stylus in hand tolling cheerfully over the vellum page. It was the last night of the week when the presentiment of his end came strongly upon him. "This day," he said to his disciple and successor Dermid, "Is called the day of rest, and such it will be for me, for it will finish my labors." Laying down the manuscript he added, "Let Baithen finish the rest."Just after Matins on the Sunday morning he peacefully passed away in the midst of his brethren. His feast is kept on tho 9th of June, and on Tuesday last the Church addressed to him the following prayer in which She wished her children to join :— "Let the intercession of the Blessed Abbot Columba, we beseech Thee, Oh Lord, commend us to Thee, that what by our own merits we are unworthy to receive we may obtain by his patronage, through Christ our Lord. Amen." J. B.

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Tuesday, 17 March 2020

The Story of Saint Patrick - A Legend in Verse

To celebrate Saint Patrick's Day, below is a poem describing his life by a nineteenth-century priest ministering to an Irish expatriate congregation working in the heavy industries of England. The introductory paragraph tells us that the writer, Father George Montgomery, wanted to foster devotion to Ireland's patron among the young and so adopted the form of street ballads, then popular in industrial towns and cities. Father Montgomery was an interesting character, this blog tells us that he was a convert from Protestantism in the heady days of the Tractarian movement. This perhaps explains his desire to emphasize in the poem that Saint Patrick had Papal approval for his mission. So on this day, let's honour the memory of this hard-working Black Country priest as well as that of our hard-working patron, Saint Patrick, as we enjoy The Story of Saint Patrick - A Legend in Verse:



The Story of S. Patrick.

A Legend in Verse, by the late Rev. G. Montgomery, of Wednesbury.

[The following story, in verse, of the life of S. Patrick, here given in a somewhat abridged shape, was written in moments of leisure snatched from the laborious duties of a missionary priest, placed in the heart of the mining and iron-working district of South Staffordshire. Its writer had in view mainly the instruction of the young of his flock, to whom he wished a knowledge of the history of the Patron Saint of their native country to become a household possession. The better, as he thought, to secure this end, he has given his lines the form of the popular ballads often heard in the streets, sung or recited by ballad street-singers. We ask a prayer, for the honour of S. Patrick, for the repose of the writer’s soul, who is now passed away from the scene of his former labours by a death accelerated through the cares and troubles of his mission.]

Patrick, our Erin’s famous saint, the subject of this lay.
Was born in greater Brittany, the Church’s lessons say;
Nigh years three hundred and threescore from that great day of mirth,
When Angels sang the Saviour born, we date Saint Patrick’s birth.

He had not sixteen summers seen, when, lo, a pirate band,
Ruthless, on deeds of plunder bent, approached Taburnia’s strand.
Then, marching from their mooring place, by a bold captain led,
They to Taburnia’s peaceful homes with evil purpose sped.

They sacked the homes, they swept the fields, they bore the youths away;
They captured, with his sisters twain, our Patrick on that day.
They put to sea, this heathen crew, they gained the Irish soil;
They spread themselves along the beach, and there displayed their spoil.

A wealthy chieftain came to buy, to him was Patrick sold,
But what befel the little maids the legends have not told.
We trust that God, at Patrick’s prayer, took up the children dear,
To be in joy with Saints above, safe from distress or fear.

The steward of Saint Patrick’s lord now sent the lad to keep,
Upon a far wild pasturage, his master’s flock of sheep.
There, heedless of the frost and snow, and of the driving rain,
He rose before the light to pray upon the open plain.

He for his people did deplore, that they in sin were found,
Whereby their homes had been despoiled and they in exile bound.
For he who loves, the Scripture saith, shall pardon crave for sin,
And so did Patrick’s prayer avail the souls of men to win.

Now Patrick, by decree of God, was soon at large to be,
Yet twice again was captive ta’en, and twice again set free.
Thus oft was he by sorrow tried, as gold is tried in fire,
That from his heart God’s love might burn as dross all base desire.

For God had chosen him to teach, and by his zeal to save,
The very Pagan race with whom he once had lived a slave.
But he who goes the faith to preach, should be with knowledge fraught,
So Patrick humbly went to those by whom he might be taught.

He crossed to Gaul, he visited the great Saint Martin there,
And studied long with Saint Germain, the Bishop of Auxerre.
He learned all holy discipline, and piously he took
Most earnest care to be well versed in knowledge of God’s book.

But Patrick knew that ere he sought the heathen’s hearts to move,
He must commission have from Rome, at Rome his faith approve.
For Christ on Peter built His Church, surnaming him The Rock:
To Peter gave the keys, and said, “ Thou, Simon, feed My Flock.”

And every Christian ought to know that in the See of Rome
Peter doth ever live and speak, and ever hath a home.
So thither Patrick bent his steps, and found of Peter’s line
The prince who sat on Peter’s Throne, by name Pope Celestine.

This holy Pope he caused our Saint awhile in Rome to bide,
Then with full power he sent him forth a Legate from his side.
With holy haste our Saint proceeds unto Hibernia’s shore,
Eager to bless the land he loved, and gift it from God’s store.

’Twas on a glorious Easter Day, at Tara’s famous hall,
Saint Patrick met the Irish king, the bards and chieftains all.
“I come,” quoth he, “a humble man, the strong and proud to face.
In the Name of the Blest Trinity to bring you truth and grace.

"Let God arise, and let His foes scattered before Him be;
Let them that hate Him, like thin smoke, at His bright presence flee.”
Chanting these words the Saint dispersed the demons of the air,
Who then, with purpose fell, swarmed in the Court of Leogaire.

And God was with Saint Patrick’s work, and blessed all that he wrought,
Whereby the champion gained at last the prize for which he fought.
The people flocked to be baptised; pastors o’er all the land
Were consecrated and ordained by Patrick’s own right hand.

To many maids and widows, too, he gave the sacred veil,
And gathered them in order due within Religion’s pale.
And by the right he had from Rome, our Saint made this decree.
That in the city of Armagh the primate’s chair should be.

Thus he who once as slave did keep a farmer’s fleecy flock,
As Prelate great for Christ did fold the faithful Irish flock.
And God in mercy granted him before his course was run,
To see his loved Hibernia for Christ and Mary won.

Satan since then has often tried, with all his force and guile,
To seize again the land he lost when Patrick blessed our isle.
But quite in vain are all his wiles to change her steadfast will,
For Ireland's heart unfailing cleaves to God and Mary still.

And Erin’s faith hath well withstood the scoffer's biting gibe,
The scaffold, sword, and prison cell, and often-proffered bribe.
So let all pray that in this land, this holy faith may last,
By virtue of Saint Patrick’s prayer, till time itself is past.

The Monthly Magazine Of The Holy Rosary; Under The Direction Of The Dominican Fathers, Volume 1, 1872-1873, 211-214.

Content Copyright © Trias Thaumaturga 2012-2018. All rights reserved.

Saturday, 1 February 2020

The Mary of the Gael

Today to celebrate the Feast of Saint Brigid we have an account of our national patroness from the 1920s which was among a stash of interesting historical pieces I discovered at the online collections of the National Library of Australia.  It seems that the Australian press syndicated articles from the religious press around the world - the one below originated in the Catholic Pictorial, a publication I am unfamiliar with. The article is unattributed but the author has brought together the usual mix of modern poetry and episodes from medieval hagiography to present an edifying portrait of Saint Brigid and her meaning for the Irish people. It would have readily translated to the Irish diaspora in Australia where the presence of the redoubtable Patrick Francis, Cardinal Moran, as Archbishop of Sydney from 1884 to 1911, had resulted in his securing a relic of Saint Brigid for his adopted country. So, whether you are in Ireland or Australia or anywhere else in the world marking Lá Fhéile Bríde, Beannachtaí na Féile ort!


The Mary of the Gael.

The beauty of the King hath set thy soul on
A radiant rapture glows with thy eyes, thy
soul's desire
Leans up in ecstasy unto the angels' choir,
The beauty of the King hath set thy soul on

The beauty of the King hath caught and
chained thy heart.
No one, no one on earth can tear thy soul
From the great glowing love that binds thee
to His Heart,

The very fibres of thy soul are love, should love depart
Life too must fly with it.
 Thou livest in His Heart,
The beauty of the King hath caught and chained thy heart.

The beauty of the King hath set thy soul on flame,
A wondrous gladness brims within thy heart.
His sacred Name
Is honey to the lips which eagerly proclaim
The wonders of His love which set thy soul
on flame.

After the name of the glorious Apostle St. Patrick, there is none so dear to the hearts of the scattered Gael as that of St. Brigid. Saints and poets have sung her praises down the centuries, and bestowed on her the glorious title of 'Mary of the Gael.'

Faughart, near Dundalk, in the County of Louth, claims the honor of being her birthplace. Her parents were born Christians and descendants of the Kings of Ireland. From the beginning it was quite plain that Brigid was a child of grace, and that God had marked her out for some wonderful career.

She was instructed by St. Mel and made great progress in virtue, and in the love of God. By degrees she came to understand the vanity of earthly things, and the supreme importance of laboring for a heavenly inheritance. Looking up to Heaven one day the child said, 'This shall be mine,' and her life was one long effort to attain it.

When she made known her determination to leave the world and consecrate her life to God, all were against her. Her father and brothers were angry, and Brigid was sorely persecuted and tried. At the age of sixteen she said farewell to family and friends,' and accompanied by seven companions, received the religious1 veil from the hands of St. Macaille. This holy Bishop was their master in the spiritual life, and he took an interest in their temporal welfare and built a convent for them.

When the great day of their profession came, Brigid ,and her companions knelt before their humble altar to make their vows to the King of Kings. At that hour we are told that a bright light shone round our saint proclaiming her sanctity and her religious destiny as the light of Ireland. Her fame spread far and wide, and number of holy maidens came to join her Community. The time was at hand when she could go forth through the land to assist and console the heart of Ireland's aged apostle.

Holy Recollection.

It would be a mistake to think that in her external labors, she forgot for a moment the recollection and devotion of a consecrated religious life. Her miracles and works were extraordinary, but her constant union with God was still more wonderful. She herself confessed to St. Brendan, 'The Son of the Virgin knoweth that from the hour I set my mind on God I never took it from Him.'

Though a shining example of all virtues, mercy and love of the poor and suffering were the chief characteristics of her life. One day the Bishop gave a beautiful discourse on the Beatitudes. Each of the sisters chose one for a special devotion. Brigid herself chose mercy.

Every page of her life testifies to her love for the afflicted of all kinds, and most of her miracles were worked in favor of the poor. With good reason one of our modern poets writes: —

'O Saint thou favorite of the poor,
The wretched, weak and weary,
Like Mary's was the face she bore,
Men called her 'Erin's Mary.'

In her lowliness and humility she washed the feet of lepers and travelled far and wide to release poor captives. Her sweetness and pity softened and charmed all, and every prison door was opened to her. Her apostolic labors extended over the four provinces, and everywhere she succeeded in founding convents. In these the young women were taught everything necessary to make them worthy of a new Christian nation.

What she loved herself she and her nuns taught to others, namely, constant piety, early rising and hospitality. St. Brigid was offered many suitable places for her foundation. Soon one was chosen, and there amid great rejoicings her church and convent were commenced. A giant oak spread out its strong branches to protect as it were the little Community that now nestled in its shade. Hence the name of that ever-glorious foundation Kildare — 'The church of the Oak.'

Like that giant oak, Brigid's monastic settlement beginning in this humble way, grew in beauty and strength mid storm and shine. Kildare grew to be a great school from which went forth teachers to Ireland, England and Scotland.

Great masters assembled at Kildare to teach science and art, and while students learned these, they also drank in virtue and piety. Besides St. Patrick, to whom Brigid was a most dear child, there were many other illustrious saints and bishops who were united to her in the closest friendships and often came to ask her wise counsel.

She assisted at the death-bed of St. Patrick. At his desire she had made his winding-sheet and brought it with her to wrap round his holy body.

After his death St. Brigid redoubled her efforts in the interests of the Irish Church, and worn out with labors she breathed forth her, pure soul to God on the first day of February, 525, at the age of eighty-seven.

Though many centuries of storm and strife have passed over the Irish race since the land was hallowed by the footsteps of St. Brigid, still her holy life and example are daily producing fruit in the Church. To-day thousands of the daughters of Erin are giving up, as she did, friends, home and country to carry on the glorious apostolate begun so long ago under the great oak at Kildare.

—'Catholic Pictorial.'

ST. BRIGID. (1926, December 16). Freeman's Journal (Sydney, NSW: 1850 - 1932), p. 47. Retrieved December 19, 2017, from

Content Copyright © Trias Thaumaturga 2012-2020. All rights reserved.

Thursday, 22 March 2018

The Bachall Ísu at the Founding of Armagh

Although in recent days we have been looking at the Bachall Ísu in relation to Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin, it was once the prized possession of the Chuch of Armagh. The following vignette, taken from the Leabhar Breac Homily on Saint Patrick, depicts the Bachall Ísu as being present when Saint Patrick founded Armagh itself:
On the night thereafter Patrick beheld in a vision Victor, an angel, coming to him with Ireland’s elders along with him, and they marked out the city in his presence, and the place of the temple and of the kitchen and of the guest-house. And he went right -hand- wise round the rampart, and Patrick behind him with his Bachall Ísu— Jesu’s Staff — in his hand, and Ireland’s elders a-chanting around him.

Patrick afterwards built the city in the same wise as it had been shown to him. And the angel said to him: “Abundant will God’s grace be in this place and upon every one who shall do good therein.” The angel said to Patrick, “ God will heal for thee here twelve persons every Saturday and seven every Thursday, so long as the perfect faith of the menfolk abideth.” Overmany to recount and declare are all the wonders and miracles which Patrick wrought round about Armagh.
Whitley Stokes, ed. and trans., The Tripartite Life of Patrick with Other Documents Relating to that Saint, Vol. II (London, 1887), 474-475.

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