There are few Saints today more misunderstood and maligned than the saint we celebrate each year on March 17th. Many “celebrate” this feast by getting drunk on beer dyed green and other such nonsense, and how far this is from this saint who spent most of his life performing the most incredible penances and living one of the most austere lives ever recorded in human history. Catholics too miss the point entirely and often have Masses offered in Irish Gaelic, which is most absurd. The Mass Saint Patrick brought with him and which he used to convert the land of the pagan Druids (that would later become known as the Island of the Saints) was the Rite of Mass of Rome which was of course entirely in Latin.
The end result of the work of Saint Patrick is so astounding that there is no equal to it in history. No other Saint who single-handedly converted a nation: not Saint Remigius (France), nor Saint Boniface (Germany), nor Saint Leander of Seville (Spain), and not even the glorious Apostles Saints Peter and Paul (Italy) and has it remained on the whole actually Catholic to this day. For more than one and half millennia the work Saint Patrick did has endured. It is no wonder that it is said that one Lent he went up on top of a mountain in Ireland and stayed there until Easter praying and doing penance, and at the end of which he was given a choice by God to have whatever he wanted and he asked to have the privilege of judging the Irish people himself at the end of time and it was granted to him.
Few know the real Saint Patrick yet we have his own autobiography and some of his writings which you can read in a free e-book here.
The Liturgical Year
Dom Prosper Gueranger, O.S.B.
Saint Patrick, Apostle of Ireland
Bishop and Confessor
The Saint we have to honour to-day is the Apostle of that faithful people, whose martyrdom has lasted three hundred years ;—it is the great St. Patrick, he that gave Erin the Faith. There shone most brightly in this Saint that gift of the Apostolate, which Christ has left to his Church, and which is to remain with her to the end of time. The Ambassadors or Missioners, sent by our Lord to preach his Gospel, are of two classes. There are some who have been entrusted with a small tract of the Gentile world; they had to sow the divine seed there, and it yielded fruit, more or less according to the dispositions of the people that received it: there are others, again, whose mission is like a rapid conquest, that subdues a whole nation, and brings it into subjection to the Gospel. St. Patrick belongs to this second class; and in him we recognize one of the most successful instruments of God’s mercy to mankind.
And then, what solidity there is in this great Saint’s work! When is it that Ireland receives the Faith? In the 5th century, when Britain was almost wholly buried in paganism; when the race of the Franks had not as yet heard the name of the true God; when Germany had no knowledge of
Christ’s having come upon the earth; when the countries of Northern Europe deeply slumbered in infidelity;—yes, it was before these several nations had awakened to the Gospel, that Ireland was converted. The Faith, brought to her by her glorious Apostle, took deep root and flourished and fructified in this Isle, more lovely even by grace than she is by nature. Her Saints are scarcely to be numbered, and went about doing good in almost every country of Europe; her children gave, and are still giving, to other countries, the Faith that she herself received from her beloved Patron. And when the 16th century came with its Protestantism; when the apostasy of Germany was imitated by England, Scotland, and the whole North of Europe, Ireland stood firm and staunch: no persecution, however cleverly or however cruelly carried on against her, has been able to detach her from the Faith taught her by St. Patrick.
Let us honour the admirable Apostle, chosen by God to sow the seed of his word in this privileged land; and let us listen to the simple account of his labours and virtues, thus given in the Lessons of his Feast.
Patrick, called the Apostle Patritius, Hiberniae dictus of Ireland, was born in Great Britain. His father’s name was Calphurnius. Conchessa, his mother, is said to have been a relation of St. Martin, Bishop of Tours. He was several times taken captive by the barbarians, when he was a boy, and was put to tend their flocks. Even in that tender age, he gave signs of the great sanctity he was afterwards to attain. Full of the spirit of faith, and of the fear and love of God, he used to rise at the earliest dawn of day, and, in spite of snow, frost, or rain, go to offer up his prayers to God. It was his custom to pray a hundred times during the day, and a hundred during the night. After his third deliverance from slavery, he entered the ecclesiastical state, and applied himself, for a considerable time, to the study of the Sacred Scriptures. Having made several most fatiguing journeys through Gaul, Italy, and the Islands of the Mediterranean, he was called by God to labour for the salvation of the people of Ireland. Pope Saint Celestine gave him power to preach the Gospel, and consecrated him Bishop. Whereupon, he set out for Ireland.
It would be difficult to relate how much this Apostolic man had to suffer in the mission thus entrusted to him: he had to bear with extraordinary trials, fatigues, and adversaries. But, by the mercy of God, that land, which heretofore had worshipped idols, so well repaid the labour wherewith Patrick had preached the Gospel, that it was afterwards called the Island of Saints. He administered holy Baptism to many thousands: he ordained several Bishops, and frequently conferred Holy Orders, in their several degrees; he drew up rules for virgins and widows, who wished to lead a life of continency. By the authority of the Roman Pontiff, he appointed Armagh the Metropolitan See of the whole Island, and enriched that church with the Saints’ Relics, which he had brought from Rome. God honoured him with heavenly visions, with the gift of prophecy and miracles; all which caused the name of the Saint to be held in veneration in almost every part of the world.
Besides his daily solicitude for the churches, his vigorous spirit kept up an uninterrupted prayer. For it is said, that he was wont to recite every day the whole Psaltery, together with the Canticles and the Hymns, and two hundred prayers ; that he every day knelt down three hundred times to adore God: and that at each Canonical hour of the day, he signed himself a hundred times with the sign of the Cross. He divided the night into three parts: the first was spent in the recitation of a hundred Psalms, during which he genuflected two hundred times: the second was spent in reciting the remaining fifty Psalms, which he did standing in cold water, and his heart, eyes, and hands lifted up to heaven; the third he gave to a little sleep, which he took laid upon a bare stone. Being a man of extraordinary humility, he imitated the Apostles, and practiced manual labour. At length, being worn out by his incessant fatigues in the cause of the Church, powerful in word and work, having reached an extreme old age, he slept in the Lord, after being refreshed with the holy Mysteries. He was buried at Down, in Ulster, in the 5th century of the Christian era.
The following Sequence, in honour of our Saint, is taken from an ancient Manuscript Missal, published by Messingham, in his Florilegium Insulae Sanctorum, Paris, 1624 :—
Laeta lux est hodierna,
Qua conscendit ad superna
Vir Dei Patricius.
Qui praelatus in hanc lucem
Puer bonus Christi crucem
Humo pressit signum crucis,
Fons erupit, donum lucis
Caeco nato praebuit.
In mel aquam convertebat,
Quo nutrici, quae languebat,
A piratis venditur,
Fit custos porcorum:
Aurum quo redimitur
Opprimens per triduum
Satan hunc vexavit:
Sed Helias artuum
Deprimit a vitiis,
In montis cacumina
Scandit et jejunat;
Sub Germani disciplina,
Documentis et doctrina
Hic a Papa Caelestino
Doctor est, nutu divino,
Balat hircus ventre furis,
Fur punitur plagis duris,
Et ejus successio.
Fugiens mortem sago tectus
Obiit ante, post revectus
Pellit ab Hibernia,
Et Jesum suspiciens
Transit Pater ab hac luce
Signis plenus, Christo duoe,
Lucis ad palatium.
Ubi nobis, prece sua,
Confer, bone Jesu, tua
Pietate gaudium. Amen.
Joyful is the light of this day’s feast, whereon Patrick, the man of God, ascended to heaven!
When yet in the early dawn of life, the holy youth devoutly venerated the cross of Christ.
He made the sign of the Cross on the ground: a fount gushed forth upon the spot, and with its waters he gave sight to one born blind.
He turned water into honey, and by it restored his nurse to health.
He was led captive by pirates, and was made keeper of swine : but the Saint found a piece of glittering gold, and with it bought his freedom.
For three days did Satan harass him with bodily injuries; but Elias healed him, and gave him back his strength.
His soul was vigorous in grace, and, like Moses, he restrained his body from vices by fasting.
He ascends a high monntain, and there he fasts. He throws ice upon a fire, and it burns as though it were wood.
He puts himself under the care and teaching of Germanus, and studies under him the maxims of the Gospel.
Pope Celestine, by a divine inspiration, sends him to teach salvation to the people of Hibernia.
The thief, that had stolen a goat, was discovered by its bleating; and he and his family were punished with a severe scourge.
A man had covered himself with a cloth, and asked to be restored to health. He was first punished with real death, and was then restored to life by Patrick’s prayer.
He drew together, by his prayer, all venomous reptiles, and drove them from Hibernia’s shore.
At times, he saw the heavens opened; and as he gazed above, he saw the Lord Jesus.
Our Father passed out of this world, under the guidance of Christ; and, glorious by his miracles, he was taken to the courts of heavenly light.
Mercifully grant unto us, O good Jesus! by his intercession, that we may enter into joy. Amen.
The following Antiphons and Prayers are taken from the Officium Sancti Patricii, Paris, 1622 :—
Ant. Veneranda imminentis diei solemnia, laeta mente, concelebrat fidelium turma; quo beatus praesul Patricius, deposita corporali gleba, felix migravitad regna coelestia.
Ant. Ave Praesul egregie, Pastor gregis Hiberniae! O Patrici, Praesul pie, nostrae custos familiar, funde preces quotidie, pro nobis, Regi gloriae.
Ant. Benedictus sit Dominus universorum, qui suam visitavit plebem per beatum Patricium, cujus prece absolvamur a vinculis criminum, et requie perfruamur cum illo Beatorum.
Ant. The Faithful people, with glad souls, celebrate the venerable solemnity of this day’s Feast; wheron the blessed Pontiff Patrick laid aside the burden of mortality, and joyfully took his flight to the heavenly kingdom.
Ant. Hail illustrious Pontiff! Pastor of Hibernia’s flock! O Patrick! holy Bishop! the guardian of our people! pray for us daily to the King of glory.
Ant. Blessed be the Lord of all, who hath visited his people by blessed Patrick; by whose prayers may we be loosened from the bonds of our sins, and come to the enjoyment of rest of the Blessed, together with him.
Another favourite Antiphon, used in the ancient Proper Office of St. Patrick, was composed of the words spoken to him by the Angel:
Ant. Hibernenses omnes clamant ad te pueri: Veni, sancte Patrici, salvos nos facere.
Ant. All the children of Ireland cry out to thee: Come, O holy Patrick, and save us!
We conclude these Liturgical extracts with a Prayer from an ancient manuscript Breviary of Armagh.
Deus, qui beatum Patricium Scotorum Apostolum tua providentia elegisti, ut Hibernenses gentes, in tenebris et in errore gentilitatis errantes, per lavacra regenerationis filios Dei excelsi efficeres: tribue nobis quae sumus, ut ejus intercessionibus ad ea quae recta sunt quantocyus festinemus. Per Dominum.
O God, by whose providence the blessed Patrick was chosen to be the Apostle of the Irish; that thus the people of Hibernia, who had gone astray in darkness and in the errors of the Gentiles, might be made children of the Most High by the laver of regeneration: grant, we beseech thee, that by his intercession, we may hasten without delay to the paths of justice. Through, our Lord.
Thy life, great Saint! was spent in the arduous toils of an Apostle; but how rich was the harvest thou didst reap! Every fatigue seemed to thee light, if only thou couldst give to men the precious gift of Faith; and the people to whom thou didst leave it, have kept it with a constancy, which is one of thy greatest glories. Pray for us, that this Faith, without which it is impossible to please God, (Heb. 9:6) may take possession of our hearts and minds. It is by faith that the just man liveth, (2 Hab. 2:4) says the Prophet, and it is Faith that, during this holy Season of Lent, is showing us the justice and mercy of God, in order that we may be converted, and offer to our offended Lord the tribute of our penance. We are afraid of what the Church imposes on us, simply because our Faith is weak. If our principles were those of Faith, we should soon be mortified men. Thy life, though so innocent, and so rich in good works, was one of extraordinary penance: get us thy spirit, and help us to follow thee, at least at an humble distance. Pray for Erin, that dear country of thine, which loves and honours thee so fervently. She is threatened with danger even now, and many of her children have left the Faith thou didst teach. An odious system of proselytism has disturbed thy flock; protect it, and suffer not the children of Martyrs to be Apostates. Let thy fatherly care follow them that have been driven by suffering to emigrate from their native land: may they keep true to the Faith, be witnesses of the True Religion in the countries they have fled to, and ever show themselves to be the obedient children of the Church. May their misfortunes thus serve to advance the Kingdom of God. Holy Pontiff! intercede for England; pardon her the injustice she has shown to thy children; and, by thy powerful prayers, hasten the happy Day of her return to Catholic Unity. Pray, too, for the whole Church; thy prayer, being that of an Apostle, easily finds access to Him that sent thee.