What with today being the extremely popular St. Patrick’s Day, I thought it might be fun to write a brief post about this famous Christian and this holiday in his honor.
Patrick was a Briton who lived somewhere on the West Coast of Great Britain in the 400’s AD. (For simplicity, I’d like to say he was English, except the Anglo-Saxons had only just begun to arrive in the area, and Patrick was of the earlier post-Roman British people-group.) Around the age of 16 he was captured by Irish raiders (not unlike Vikings!) and sold into slavery in Ireland. Naturally he was very resentful, but during this time serving as a shepherd the Christian faith of his family took hold of him and became his own. After six years God gave him a vision about how to get home, and he escaped and caught a ride on a ship back to Britain. The trip home was dangerous and they were stranded away from civilization for nearly a month, and he evangelized the crew during that time.
Finally back home, Patrick didn’t stay too long. He studied Christianity, was ordained a Priest, and gathered up a group of people to come with him back to Ireland to bring the Gospel to them. This was not an immediately popular mission goal among his British brethren, but as God’s work through him in Ireland became more and more apparent over the years, he was consecrated a Bishop and became known as an “Apostle to the Irish.” One of the main missional strategies Patrick and his team employed was forming monastic communities in villages and towns in which Christians would live holy lives of worship, work, and service in the midst of the community – a strategy that is beginning to be rediscovered and valued in the United States today. Meanwhile, the legacy of the Irish church proved its mettle as they played instrumental roles in re-evangelizing Britain after the Anglo-Saxons invaded, as well as sending successful missions to Frisia, northern Germany, Denmark, and some of the Nordic regions.
This holiday is a real testimony to the power of liturgy at its finest: it’s not a “major feast day” in the Christian calendar because Patrick wasn’t in the Bible. Yet, even as a “lesser feast day,” his commemoration by the people, especially among the Irish, has remained strong. As a result St. Patrick’s Day is upgraded to a “major feast” status not only in Ireland but also in the Boston area and other such places where the Irish have emigrated over time. That’s what I mean by the power of liturgy – the Church has naturally by its common memory clung to this saint’s story, without top-down enforcement one way or the other!
Getting past the green clothes, green food, green beer, leprechaun pictures, and other cultural celebrations, if you want to reclaim a Christian celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, here are some thoughts. First of all, he wrote a prayer that has survived to this day; it’s called Saint Patrick’s Breastplate, and is a vivid example of spiritual warfare in one’s personal prayer life. You can find a direct translation of it here, and a hymn version of it here.
Additionally, here is an example of a Collect (an introductory theme prayer) for St. Patrick’s Day, followed by some Scripture readings that might be read at a worship service held in his memory.
Almighty and ever-living God, we thank you for your servant Patrick, whom you called to preach the Gospel to the people of Ireland: We ask that you would raise up, in this and every land, witnesses and evangelists of your Kingdom, so that your Church may make known the boundless love given to us in Jesus Christ our Lord, for the honor and glory of your Name; through the same, your Son, Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.
1 Thessalonians 2:2b-12 (the laborious toil to share the Gospel in love)
Psalm 97 (idols are worthless, for God reigns over all gods)
Matthew 28:16-20 (make disciples of all nations)
Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!