Monday 24 March 2014

Saint Patrick and the Irish - an unbroken bond

We conclude this octave of posts in honour of Saint Patrick as we began, with a quotation from Father Robert Mc Nally, S.J.:

The greatest single tribute to this venerable saint, who personally impressed his people to a degree perhaps unequaled by any other national apostle, is the unbroken bond that still unites him to his people. One thousand five hundred years after his death, St. Patrick is still cherished by the Irish both at home and abroad with a reverence scarcely excelled by that given to any other saint of antiquity. Perhaps the ultimate explanation of this firm adhesion of the Irish race to St. Patrick is found in his prayer:

May God never permit it to happen to me that I should lose His people which He purchased in the utmost parts of the world. I pray to God to give me perseverance and to deign that I be a faithful witness to Him to the end of my life for my God.

Robert E. McNally, S.J., 'St. Patrick: 461-1961' in America, March 18, 1961.

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Sunday 23 March 2014

Hymn to Saint Patrick

Last year I reproduced some hymns in honour of Saint Brigid taken from a compilation for children by the (in)famous 'Nun of Kenmare', Mary Frances Cusack. I turned back to this volume to see how Saint Patrick was featured and again found the same mixture of historic sources combined with contemporary compositions. Saint Patrick, however, is much less well-represented in this hymn book than either of our other two national patrons and I found this surprising. For our primary patron is allotted only two hymns, one ancient and the other modern, whereas Saint Brigid has six in her honour and Saint Colum Cille five. In her translation of Saint Sechnall's hymn, Cusack struggled to retain its alphabetical character, but as the text is already available at the blog here, I instead reproduce the contemporary composition. I won't pretend it has any special merit, as with many hymns of the Victorian era there is an emphasis on the Irish as a long-suffering people who cling to their faith in spite of persecution and poverty.  The first verse contains a reference to Ireland's 'martyred hosts' which I can only assume is a reference to those who suffered for the faith during the Reformation and Penal times, for the introduction of Christianity to Ireland was a bloodless affair. Verse three alludes directly to poverty but counsels patience and acceptance on the part of the poor. As with the Hymn to Saint Brigid, in 1868, twenty years after the 'year of revolutions' of 1848,  the then Archbishop of Westminster, Henry Edward Manning, granted an indulgence for the recitation of this Hymn to Saint Patrick. The Church was offering the spirit of the Beatitudes as its prescription for coping with poverty, reminding the reader that it is the meek who will receive their reward in heaven. Indeed, the final verse specifically exhorts the reader to pray for rich men as well as poor and for priests and nuns, sentiments in sharp contrast to those contained in the outlook of contemporary European radicals. Overall, my impression is that this hymn is not concerned with the Saint Patrick of the fifth century but rather with his patronage of Ireland as it was in the author's own day.


St. Patrick, for our country pray, 
Our ever faithful land, 
Whose martyred hosts so gloriously 
Before God's great throne stand; 
Look down upon thy children here,
Look down upon our race, 
And bless, dear Saint, this little isle 
And each one's native place. 

Chorus — From foes without, from fears within. 
From every evil, every sin, 
St. Patrick, set us free. 

Oh, hear us, Patrick, while we pray, 
Thou art our own dear Saint, 
Uphold the weak, protect the young. 
Strengthen the souls that faint; 
Thou know'st how we are tempted still — 
Thou know'st how we are tried — 
Thou know'st that we are faithful too, 
Whatever ills betide. 
Chorus. — From foes without, &c., &c. 

Oh, help our poor in patient love 
To bear their suffering life, 
To think of that great victory 
Which Cometh after strife; 
Keep from them all revengeful thoughts 
Whene'er they suffer wrong- 
The meek alone are crowned in heaven. 
And heaven will come ere long. 

Chorus, — From foes without, &c., &c.  

We are thy children, blessed Saint, 
The children of thy love, 
We know how mighty is thy prayer, 
How it was heard above; 
Pray for us now, for priest and nun. 
For rich men and for poor, 
That to the end, however tried, 
Our faith may still endure. 

 Chorus, — From foes without, &c., &c.* 

 Haily Mary. 

* " We hereby grant an Indulgence of Forty Days to all who shall devoutly recite the Hymn of St Patrick, with one Hail, Mary. 


 "Archbishop of Westminster,  February 20th, l868."

Sister Mary Francis Clare, Cloister Songs and Hymns for Children (London and Dublin, 1881), 154-155.

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Saturday 22 March 2014

To Saint Patrick - a prayer from Connacht

We continue the octave of posts in honour of Saint Patrick with the text and translation of a prayer collected in the west of Ireland by Douglas Hyde:

Do Naomh Pádraig

A Pádraig atá i bParthas Mhic Dé gan locht,
A bheir sláinte le do ghrásta
Do'n té a bhíos bocht,
Tháinig mé ann do láthair-se
A's mé lag gan lúth,
Tabhair árus dom i bParthas
'n áit a bhfeicfidh mé thú.


 Patrick in the Paradise of God on high, 
 Who lookest on the poor man 
 With a gracious eye. 

 See me come before thee 
 Who am weak and bare, 
 O help me into Paradise 
 To find thee there. [1]

[1] Literally. Patrick who art in the Paradise | Of the Son of God without fault | Who givest help with thy grace | Unto him who is poor | I have come into thy presence | And I weak without activity | Give me a dwelling in Paradise | Where I shall see thee.

Douglas Hyde, ed. and trans., The Religious Songs of Connacht: A Collection of Poems, Stories, Prayers, Satires, Ranns, Charms, etc., Volume II, (Dublin and London, 1906), 228-229. 

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Friday 21 March 2014

Saint Patrick and the Miraculous Yield of Milk

Alongside the scholarly works about Saint Patrick and the devotional items published in the Victorian religious press, our national apostle also flourished in popular tradition. I'm currently reading an anthology of folklore, translated from a collection first published in Irish in 1952. The tales have a distinctly religious flavour and so the three patron saints of Ireland are well represented. I was interested by the following episode featuring Saint Patrick, as miracles involving milk are more usually Saint Brigid's domain. This one was collected in County Mayo and as the notes remind us, 'A common theme in folktales is an abundance of food being given to a poor household after a visit from a saintly person'. Particularly enjoyable is the obvious anachronism of the men sowing potatoes, centuries before this crop was introduced to Europe:

70. The Miraculous Yield of Milk

At the time Saint Patrick was going around working miracles, he came in to an old woman on a fine spring day. The old woman was very good-hearted. He asked her for something to drink and she said she had very little, that the cow was nearly dry but whatever drop she had she'd give him, and welcome. She told the servant-girl to go out and milk the cow for whatever drop she might have; and she was taking a small vessel with her.

'Bring a fine big vessel with you', said Saint Patrick.

She was very surprised at that, but she brought a can with her and the girl didn't leave the cowshed until she had filled the can from the cow. There were three or four men working there, sowing potatoes, and she called them in so that they could drink their fill of milk, more than they ever drank from a single cow in their lives before. And they were very pleased with the amount they got to drink.

Before that time, cows never gave more than the full of their horns of milk.

Seán Ó Súilleabháin, editor, Miraculous Plenty- Irish Religious Folktales and Legends, (Dublin, 2012), 166-167.

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Thursday 20 March 2014

'A Living Holocaust to the Almighty' - the Ascetical Regime of Saint Patrick

We continue the Octave of posts in honour of Saint Patrick with this account of his ascetical practices from Volume III of Canon O'Hanlon's Lives of the Irish Saints:

The course which the saint held in his devotion, as it was most admirable, so did he continue it daily, without any intermission. Every day was he wont to recite devoutly the whole Psalter, with Canticles, Hymns and St. John's Revelation; besides these, he offered two hundred other prayers. Three hundred times in the day, with genuflections, did he prostrate himself in prayer and adoration, before God; and, in singing the canonical hours, he was accustomed to bless himself a hundred times, with a sign of the Cross. Moreover, it was his custom every day to celebrate Mass, with great devotion and reverence ; neither did he omit to preach constantly to the people, nor to teach his disciples. The night-time, which he divided into three parts, was spent in a most holy and austere manner. The first part of it he employed, in reciting twice fifty Psalms, and in making two hundred genuflections ; the second part, he passed immersed in cold water, his heart, eyes and hands being directed towards Heaven, while saying the third quinquagenary of Psalms, with other prayers. The third part, he allotted to his sleep, having for his bed a bare stone, with another stone serving for a pillow. He scarcely allowed himself any rest, and he preferred, for the sake of mortification, such an uncomfortable posture. His loins were girt with a rough and coarse hair-cloth, steeped in cold water, to keep his body in due subjection, lest it should rebel against the spirit. His fasts were frequent  and long continued, while he lived on the coarsest food, and offered himself, as a living holocaust, to the Almighty. Moreover, he remained, from Shrovetide until Easter without food.

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Wednesday 19 March 2014

The Soul of Saint Patrick

Below is the text of a late nineteenth-century article on Saint Patrick, one of many to appear in the popular Catholic press of the Victorian era. This one is interesting, however, because it concentrates on the actual writings of Saint Patrick. As was pointed out in an earlier post here, it was only in the nineteenth century that Saint Patrick's letters appeared in English translation and became accessible to the general reader. The anonymous author used the poetic translation of the Belfast-born antiquary Sir Samuel Ferguson (1810-1886). Towards the end of the article he alludes to the notion of the Irish as an especially chaste people, something we owe to the teaching of our national apostle. It's all a far cry from the row over gay and lesbian participation in the big Saint Patrick's Day parades in the US this year!


The soul from Patrick's body toil-worn at last departed,
God's angels all the night sang round it unceasing.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Together they ascended to Jesus, the Son of Mary.

Hymn of Fiacc.

NOTHING so builds up the interior man as coming in contact with the soul of a Saint. Men change through the different ages. The manners of the time of St. Patrick would seem to us as grotesque as his language would be difficult. But souls are always much the same, with capacity for love and sorrow, for desires lofty as the heavens and low as the nethermost earth.

Fortunately something has remained to us of St. Patrick which lays bare the working and aspiration of his soul. Concerning the dates and events of his life there has been much dispute among the learned. But all have agreed that the two curious documents called the Confession and the Epistle to Coroticus are his genuine productions. [1] They resemble each other too much not to be from the same hand. Full of sympathy and as poetic as they are mystical, the one in its earnest humility and the other in its still more earnest remonstrance against wrong done to Christian souls, they lay open to us the inmost heart of the Saint. We say "heart," because it is not merely the workings of his mind that are set down before us, but the sincere affections of the soul. All this is done with constant reference to the religious ideas which impelled him along his difficult way of life.

The thought which seems to have impressed most deeply the soul of the Saint is that he has been guided to his present life by the Spirit of God. He comes back again and again on this thought as did St. Paul. "It is not I, but the Spirit of God that worketh in me."

Thus he says of himself to Coroticus, who was doing a great wrong to Christian converts:

Not for mine own delight: 'twas God that stirred
That strong solicitude within my heart,
That, of the hunters and the fishermen
Whom He aforetime for these latter days
Had pre-appointed, I too should be one.

And he gives as the reason of writing his Confession that it is only a fit return for the favors bestowed on him by God.

. . . And therefore now
I will not hide, nor could I, were it fit
To hide, such boons, such graces, as my Lord
Has deigned me here in my captivity.
And this my poor return: that having attained
The touch and apprehension of my God,
I should with high exalted heart, in face
Of all that lives below all skies, confess
That other God nor was, nor is nor shall be :
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
One God in Trinity of Holy name.

This thought overrules him. Telling of God's Providence which has led him step by step to his high calling, he lets drop precious details of his own history. In this leading of Providence he sees the clear reason and justification of his desertion of his own race. This he boldly brings up to Coroticus, who seems to have been an only half-Christianized kinglet inclined for his own selfish purposes to leave his Christian brethren a prey to the pagan Picts and Scots.

What! Was it then without God's promises
Or in the body only that I came
To Ireland? Who compelled me? Who me bound
In spirit that I should no more behold
Kindred or early friend ? Whence came the sense
Inspiring me with pity for the race
That once were mine own captors? I was born
Noble; my father a Decurio;
That privilege of birth I have exchanged
(I blush not for it, and I grudge it not)
For benefit of others, bartered so
In Christ and given over to a race
Extern to mine, all for the glorious hope
Ineffable of that perennial life
Which is in Jesus Christ, our Lord.

He speaks of the sorrows of his early captivity, after he was carried away to Ireland as a slave, with patience and thanksgiving; for by this way of sorrows he has been led to his present calling wherein he has been able to do something for his Lord.

. . . Before my happy humbling came,
I was as is a stone that, in deep mire,
Lies on the highway: and He came, Who can,
And in His pity thence did lift me up
And set me on the wall-top. ...
. . . Not, indeed, that I
Was worthy that my Lord His servant poor
Should so far favor, after all the toils,
The hardships heavy, and the captive years
Borne 'mongst this people; should bestow such grace
As till I came to Ireland I nor knew
Nor ever hoped.

He looks back over the commonplace unending toil of those youthful days, no longer with a sense of their wretchedness, but with thankful heart because of what God then wrought in him.

. . Herding daily here,
And often in the day saying my prayers,
Daily there more and more did grow in me
The fear of God. And holy fear and faith
Increased in me, that in a single day
I've said as many as a hundred prayers,
And in the night scarce fewer ; so that oft
In woods and on the mountain I've remained,
And risen to prayer before daylight, through snow,
Through frost, through rain, and yet I took no ill,
Nor was there in me then aught slow as now,
For then the Spirit of God within me burned.

It is touching to note the humility of the Saint who, at the very end of his glorious career, counts himself as slow in comparison with the devotion of the days when he was a boy, a wretched slave -

For then the Spirit of God within me burned.

The special call which came to him from the Divine Voice, after he had escaped from slavery and returned once more to his family and the comforts of a Roman military post, resembles not a little the voice which came by day and night to Saint Paul - Come over to Macedonia and help us. The calling of St. Patrick has been told a thousand times, but never more impressively than in his own simple words :

. . . I found myself at home
Amongst the Britons with my family,
Who all received me as they might a son,
And earnestly besought me that at length,
After these many perils I had borne,
I never more would leave them. It was there
In a night vision I beheld a man
Coming as 'twere from Ireland. Victor he.
Innumerable letters bore he : one
He gave to me to read. I read one line,
"The voices of the Irish," so it ran.
And while I read, methought I heard the cry
Of them that by the wood of Focluth dwell,
Beside the Western Ocean, saying thus,
"Come, holy youth, and walk amongst us, come!"
All with one voice. It touched me to the heart,
And I could read no more; and so awoke
Thank God at last Who, after many years,
Has given to them according to their cry !

Whenever he speaks with authority, it is always as one who has this authority from the vocation God has given to him. Thus he begins to Coroticus :

I, Patrick - I, a sinner and unlearned,
Here in Hibernia constituted Bishop,
Believe most surely that it is from God
I hold commission to be that I am,
A proselyte and pilgrim, for His love,
Here amongst savage peoples. He Who knows
All things, knows also if this be not so.

This special call seems to have been borne in upon his soul by something of that high divine action which was used in the case of St. Paul. " I will show unto him what great things he must suffer for My name's sake." The story of the voices of the Irish calling to him in his sleep is paralleled, in later times, in the life of the great Apostle of the Indies, St. Francis Xavier. In his life we read that, whilst at the University of Paris, dreaming of the literary distinction to which his family and his undoubted talent entitled him, in sleep he bore with toil and suffering an Indian upon his shoulders over rock and torrent. As is probably the case with all the supernatural vocations which somehow transcend the ordinary call to help in the saving of souls, a special grace of God seems to have wrought a peculiar union between the destined Apostle and his Master Christ. St. Patrick is everywhere conscious of this grace; and he gives us details from his own life as wonderful as those we read in the writings of the most mystical Saints. It will be noticed, too, that his uncertainty concerning the definite manner of such wonderful action of the Divinity on his soul is quite like that of St. Paul who, when carried to the third heaven, knew not "whether he were in the body or out of the body."

And, on another night, I know not, I,
God knows, if 'twas within me or without,
One prayed with words exceeding exquisite
I could not understand, till, at the close,
He spoke in this wise "He Who gave His soul
For thee is He "Who speaks." I woke with joy.
And once I saw Him praying, as it were
Within me, and I saw myself as though
Within myself, and over me, that is
Over the inner man, I heard Him pray
Strongly with urgent groans, myself the while
Amazed, and wondering who should pray in me,
Till, at the very ending of His prayer,
He showed, a Bishop. I awoke and called
To memory what His Apostle says :
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
"The Lord our Advocate doth plead for us."

This conscious indwelling of his Master Christ in the depths of his soul sustained him through many trials. Doubtless the personal love of Jesus Christ is necessary to the most ordinary practice of the Christian faith. The martyrs, as has often been said, did not die for any ideal truth, but for a Person in Whom they believed and hoped and Whom they loved more than life itself.

In the career of St. Patrick a peculiarly bitter trial seems to have come upon him, concerning which he says:

. . . Some certain of my seniors came
Against my toilsome, hard Episcopate,
And made impeachment of me for my sins.
In that day truly I was tempted sore
To fall both now and everlastingly
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
They found me, after thirty years,
To charge me with one word I had confessed
Before I was a deacon. In my grief
And pain of mind I to my dearest friend
Told what I in my boyhood, in one day,
Yea, in one hour had done: because as yet
I had not strength : I know not, Heaven knows,
If, at that time, I yet had fifteen years.

With the strange contrition which great Saints by reason of their completer light conceive concerning the slight or few sins of their youth, St. Patrick goes on humbly to attribute the sufferings of his slavery to this sin, whatever it may have been. Then, with a surprising burst of faith, he beholds the road from sin through chastisement to his present glorious calling:

I had not yet believed the living God
Even from my childhood; but remained in death
And unbelief till sore chastised I was
By hunger, nakedness, and enforced toil
Daily in Ireland - for I came not here
Self-sent until, indeed, I almost sank.
Yet these were rather boons to me, because,
So chastened by the Lord, I now am made
What once was far from me, that I should care
Or labor for the weal of others, I
Who then took no thought even for myself.

It is probable that those he calls his " seniors " did not take quite the same view of the case. Even estimable men may be lacking in the discretion of spirits, which is after all a free gift of the Holy Ghost ; and they may unconsciously be swayed by natural feelings of jealousy which prompt them to exaggerate the least fault in men who are most nearly faultless. St. Teresa quaintly remarks that if the members of your community once get the idea you are a Saint, they will expect such great things from you that in the end they will make you a martyr. But in the midst of his trouble St. Patrick felt again, and in a new manner, the abiding presence of his Master with him.

On that same day when these my elder ones
Rebuked me, in a vision of the night,
I saw a script against me, and no name
Of honor written; and the while I heard
That voice within make answer, "We are here
Ill-styled by men, stripped bare of dignity."
It was not "Thou art here ill-styled", it said,
But "We," as if the Speaker joined Himself
Incorporately with me, and the voice
Were His Who once said, Whoso toucheth thee,
Toucheth as ''twere the apple of Mine eye.

This sense of his union with Christ in working for the Irish people crops out constantly.

. . . With fear and reverence
Faithful in heart and uncomplainingly
I serve this people, to whom the charity
Of Christ assigns me, for my rest of life,
If I be worthy; that, with humble heart,
And truthful lips, I teach it, in the faith
And measure of the Holy Trinity.

With the faith of the Holy Trinity St. Patrick's mission began and ended; and the same may be said of the faithful people he left behind him.

A last thought, to show how his spirit has remained among the Christians he formed, may be taken from the Confession. In the midst of their wretchedness and poverty and forced ignorance, the Irish people have become known throughout the world for the love and practice of purity. How beautiful is the chaste generation in glory. This, too, is the great ideal of St. Patrick for his people.

Now the Irish, who in former days
Had but their idols and their rites unclean,
Nor aught knew of the Lord, have late become
The Lord's own people. And the sons of Scots
And daughters of their kings, now sons of God
Are counted, and vowed handmaidens of Christ.
And one bless'd Scotic lady nobly born,
A most fair person whom myself baptized,
Came soon thereafter making her report
Of intimation by a messenger,
Sent her from God, with His admonishment,
That virgin she should live and nearer Him.

The violation of this high ideal by Coroticus, who had exposed the Christian flock to the lawless violence of the pagans, is the burden of St. Patrick's complaint.

Lord, ravening wolves have eaten up Thy flock,
Which here in Ireland had such fair increase,
Sons of the Scots and daughters of the kings,
Now holy monks and handmaidens of Christ,
So many, past my counting.
And he reproaches the faithless chieftain:

Thou slayest and sellest into extern lands
Which know not God, my Christians, and dost cast
Christ's baptized virgin members into shame.
What hope canst thou, so acting, have in God?

This was the last message of holy love for God and man of him who described himself, humbly

A proselyte and pilgrim for His love
Here amongst savage peoples.

[1] The recent translation of Sir Samuel Ferguson, in his posthumous work The Remains of St. Patrick, Apostle of Ireland, is here followed with slight modifications.

THE MESSENGER VOL.VI (xxvi), 1891 184-191.

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Tuesday 18 March 2014

Saint Patrick as the Apostle to the Irish

We begin a series of posts to celebrate the Octave of the Feast of Saint Patrick with a view from the 1960s of the Jesuit scholar, Robert Mc Nally, in which he describes the development of the relationship between our national apostle and his people:

In the later legend of St. Patrick, his official relation to his people is variously interpreted, developed and magnified. For example, Sechnall, in his beautiful little hymn St. Patrick, Teacher of the Irish, preserved in the Antiphonary of Bangor, relates St. Patrick to Ireland as St. Peter to Rome: 
Constant in the fear of God and steadfast in his faith,
On him the Church is built as on Peter;
And his apostleship has he received from God—
The gates of Hell will not prevail against him.
Both Tirechán and Muir-chú in the Book of Armagh picture him as the new Moses, the spiritual leader of a new chosen people. Muir-chú's representation of him as the prophet Daniel before the pagan king of Babylon is built on the confrontation of St. Patrick and King Loegaire at Tara. But the noblest expression of St. Patrick's relation to the Irish is found in the letter which this "poor exile for the love of God" directed against Coroticus and his half-Christian soldiers. "For them," he writes, "it is a disgrace that we are Irish." These words reveal the cosmopolitanism of a perfect foreign missionary, who can identify himself racially with the people to whom he is communicating the universalism of Christianity.

Robert E. McNally, S.J., 'St. Patrick: 461-1961' in America, March 18, 1961.

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Monday 17 March 2014

Exultent filii matris ecclesie - A medieval hymn for the Feast of Saint Patrick

Let the sons of mother church rejoice and let us,
their fellows sing a hymn today.
The glorious feast day of Patrick, a day of light and joy, has come.

While the world held him in the chains of the flesh
he abounded with many miracles.
He was a source of healing for the Irish people
through the nourishment of his holy teaching.

He spread abroad the seeds of the faith
He banished serpents from Ireland.
He gave the lame to walk, the blind to see, and to him the people sing.

The power of a new miracle is revealed.
The goat is recognised in the belly of the thief 
through the sound of its bleating.
People marvel at the virtue of the servant of God.

Honour and devotion to the unbegotten Father,
praise to only begotten Son of God;
equal praise to the Spirit Paraclete
for ages unending.


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