Wednesday 1 February 2023

'The Queen Mother of the Irish Church': A Sermon for Saint Brigid's Day


Marking Saint Brigid's Day 2023 with a sermon delivered in 1915 at Saint Brigid's Church in the Northbridge district of Perth, Western Australia. If nothing else, these stirring, vintage sermons make us aware of how much has changed over the course of the last century. The Venerable Archdeacon Smyth paints a picture of Ireland as a nation faithful like no other, whose people withstand the wiles of proselytisers and whose women are renowned for their virtue.  Saint Brigid he describes as 'the glory of the Irish race' and 'the Queen Mother of the Irish church' and he concludes by urging his expatriate audience to 'invoke her aid with the prayer "St. Brigid, patroness of Ireland, pray for us."' Amen to that and the blessings of the feast to all!

ST. BRIGID— The Mary of Ireland

A Special Day at St. Brigid's, West Perth

Sermon by Archdeacon Smyth

Monday last being the feast of St. Brigid, patroness of West Perth parish, a Missa Cantata was sung at St. Brigid's Church on Sunday last. Last year was celebrated, by a general Communion of the children, the silver jubilee of St. Brigid's schools. Twenty-six years ago the first Catholic school was opened in the parish. It had a small beginning, but in the brief span: between then and now the parish has made rapid strides, and to-day St. Brigid's owns one of the finest blocks of Church buildings that can be found in any Catholic diocese. The parishioners have good reason to be proud of them, and the genial and zealous rector of the parish should draw consolation, in the midst of many worries and exacting duties, from the fact that a fine spirit of faith is to be found in the parish. The feast day of its patroness was observed as a special day, and the Masses were largely attended. The choir, under  the baton of Father Kearin, at the Missa Cantata, which was sung by Father D. B. Verlin, rendered Ravenello's Mass, which was composed in honour of St. Joseph Callasanctius, a saint who had a special devotion for the Mother of God and which was not inappropriate to the feast day of St. Brigid, the Mary of Ireland. The music and the singing gave additional solemnity and devotion to the ceremony.

In the evening the church, was thronged with an expectant congregation, who came to hear a panegyric on the saint by the Venerable Archdeacon Smyth, of Bunbury. It was an eloquent and forceful review of the life-work of the saint, and a fine tribute to the fidelity of the Irish people to the ancient faith.

The Sermon

Taking for his text, "Be just and you shall have everlasting remembrance," the Archdeacon said: The words of the Royal Prophet were as trite as they were true. No man, unless he be just and acceptable to  God, would live in everlasting memory. Our instinct alone told us that fact. And so it was that in the affairs of time we give honour to the just, and we love to cherish the memory of the righteous. Hence the Catholic Church clings to and holds in benediction the memory of those righteous ones who by the sanctity of their lives and their charity have shed a lustre upon the world. Nations and governments are grateful to those who have served them, perhaps not wisely, but too well, and we find them raising costly monuments to their memory — statues of bronze and marble — carved columns and brass tablets, and in other ways with all the magnificence that wealth and human art could employ giving expression to their gratitude and seeking to perpetuate their memories. But how often were such efforts  vain and futile. The years roll, away and time showed that nothing remained of those great ones but the  shadow of a name. Only in the spiritual world, when the Church of  God takes possession of a memory  inspired and sweetened by virtue, only, then did that memory remain and become a permanent legacy to
the world. Where were the memories of the great ones of the Greek and Roman Empires? — where the memories, of Alexander, Cyrus, and Napoleon, meteors who flamed for a moment of time , and passed away—where are they? Who cared! Yet the names of the Patricks and Brigids and the saintly ones of the Church whose lives were devoted to religion and to the inculcation of charity and virtuous living remain. Time passes and centuries roll away, their names live. How true of the Apostles who spread the light of the Gospel and the seed of God; they saw their work of sacrifice and love blossom into fruitfulness that gave new pages to history and glory to the nations. And so it was that out of the centuries that evening came to them the name of St. Brigid, the patroness of their parish, one of the elect of God called by Him to be the glory of the Irish race. They had dedicated everything to her.

Their past and their present enshrined the memory of her whom the Church remembers as the Queen  Mother of the Irish Church — the Mary  of Ireland, and whose feast they would celebrate on the morrow. There was no need to review the story of her life. They all knew her zeal, her righteousness and her love of virtue. Of Royal stock, her supernatural life gave promise of great sanctity. God opened to her mind the future of the great Church she and Patrick founded and nursed and cared for. She saw its failures, its long night of persecution, and its ultimate triumph. Favoured with great personal beauty, she had all the needs that wealth could give her, and she had all the graces of excellent teaching — but above all it was in her beauty of soul she excelled. Her humility, her wisdom and her virtue raised her above all her contemporaries. Her beauty she kept for God; no royal gifts could win her in marriage; she flew to the cloister and consecrated her life to Him. In eloquent words the preacher told how she established her first convent— the Cell of the Oak, and how through many labours and vicissitudes she  worked to bring the little children of Ireland to the feet, of Christ, and through her zeal and her wisdom became the patroness of art and learning. How throughout the land she went at the invitation of Bishops to spread the name of Jesus and to sow the seed of the Christian virtues so that the women of Ireland might be known the world over for their love of chastity. Her name, continued the preacher, is perpetuated in the names of Irish places and her memory, lives in the people's hearts. The ignoramuses of the time may rail at the name of Brigid, but with the Irish race it will always be a holy name. Her long and fruitful life,  from the moment she commenced her missionary work unto the day when at the age of 75 at Kildare she gave it back to her Creator, was one filled with labour, sacrifice and charity. Having, seen in vision by the favour of Almighty God the fruitfulness of her work, how she must, have revelled at the splendor of her labors for the Irish Church and the richness of the harvest of virtue that was to be reaped from the seed of her teaching. So it is that the womanhood of Ireland, treasuring the virtue taught to them by the glorious life of Brigid, had become the mothers of a host of Irish saints. Since her death fifteen centuries had rolled away, and many changes had come over Ireland— her language had been near to being forgotten— customs had vanished, even the physical features of the country, had changed— all things had changed only the Faith that St. Brigid had helped to plant.

Everything perishes but the work of God. Many a nation had been given a privilege as great as the Irish  people, but none have remained so faithful. The day of wrath and persecution came and they grew ashamed of the old faith. But the Irish Church remained in the face of every danger faithful to the teachings of Brigid and Patrick; its women have been the most faithful, and virtuous throughout the ages.

Ireland is a beacon light which beckons to the world with the admonition, "Come here and admire God's work." Her children faced the rack, the scaffold, and the dungeon for their faith. The curse of the reforming invaders tore up her sacred books, broke down her altars, burnt her manuscripts, destroyed her art treasures, and made desolate the land; yet, hunted, proscribed though the Irish were, they kept the Faith. The green sward of Ireland is fertilised by human blood shed for the faith of Jesus Christ planted by Brigid and Patrick. In swift and telling words the preacher sketched the horrors of the famine years and the wiles of the souper to win the starving Irish from their allegiance to the, ancient faith, and recited a touching instance of the fidelity of a little boy, who with his mother was dying of hunger within reach of the souper's kitchens. The mother, tempting him to save himself by accepting the soup of the proselytiser, he, cried, "Mammie, let us go to God — let us die together." Such was the marvellous fidelity which characterised the Irish exiles in founding the Church in the Great Republic of  America, and here in Australia.

Keep the faith, said the preacher in conclusion, love the faith of Patrick and Brigid; show your loyalty to it; it must never be sullied or tarnished or mixed with sin. Love St. Brigid for her purity. Invoke her aid with the prayer "St. Brigid, patroness of Ireland, pray for us." Transmit the faith to your children, and so, being loyal to her, St. Brigid will be with  you in life and in death.

"ST. BRIGID--The Mary of Ireland" The W.A. Record, 6 February 1915.

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