On Mar. 17, the Catholic Church especially honors St. Patrick – Catholic bishop, “Apostle of Ireland” and one of the most well-loved and celebrated saints of all time. From special Masses to parades, the world rejoices on St. Patrick’s day.
In an interview with the Catholic Anchor, Anchorage Archbishop Roger Schwietz recalled the annual revelries in his hometown of St. Paul, Minn. While a student in the Christian Brothers’ military prep high school there, he marched with the school’s drill team in the city’s St. Patrick’s day parade.
However, certain joyous feast days – like St. Patrick’s day this year – can fall during the penitential season of Lent.
Archbishop Schwietz explained that as long as the feast day is on the church’s calendar of feasts, the faithful may celebrate the feast in Lent. He added that when the feast day falls on a day of abstinence from meat, such as a Friday in Lent, the local bishop may grant a special dispensation from the law of abstinence for the celebration.
Archbishop Schwietz noted that in the past, when St. Patrick’s day has fallen on a Friday and at the request of St. Patrick’s Church in Anchorage, he has given a dispensation to the parish for its celebration that includes a traditional Irish meal of corned-beef and cabbage.
This year, St. Patrick’s day — as well as the often-celebrated St. Joseph’s day — take place on a Tuesday and Thursday, respectively.
The great patron of Ireland, St. Patrick was born in Scotland to Roman parents around 385. His mother was a relative of St. Martin of Tours. When he was 14 years old, St. Patrick was kidnapped by an Irish raiding party and taken to Ireland as a slave. For six years in the pagan land, the youth herded sheep for a Druid high priest and chieftain.
Throughout his captivity, St. Patrick fervently prayed to God. He later wrote: “...His fear increased in me more and more, and the faith grew in me, and the spirit was roused, so that, in a single day, I have said as many as a hundred prayers, and in the night nearly the same, so that whilst in the woods and on the mountain, even before the dawn, I was roused to prayer and felt no hurt from it, whether there was snow or ice or rain...”
At the age of 20, inspired by an angel in a dream, he escaped to the coast and journeyed across the sea back to his family. In Britain, he studied for the priesthood and was ordained.
Later, St. Patrick became a bishop. For 18 years, he helped St. Germanus successfully quell the heresies of paganism and Pelagianism which Christian Britain was battling. Still, according to The Catholic Encyclopedia, from time to time, St. Patrick saw visions of the children in Ireland crying to him: “O holy youth, come back to Erin, and walk once more amongst us.”
Eventually, Pope Celestine I charged St. Patrick with the mission of returning to Ireland to draw its people into the fold of Christ’s universal church. For his work, the Holy Father gave the saint many relics and spiritual gifts.
St. Patrick arrived at Ireland’s shores on March 25, 433 – on the feast of the Annunciation. While some Irish were happy to hear him preach the Gospel, the chieftains and the Druids – eager to maintain the hold of superstition among the Celts – were up in arms.
There are a number of dramatic accounts of St. Patrick’s heroic stands against the pagan forces.
In his work, “Confessio,” St. Patrick said that he and his companions were seized and carried off as captives 12 times. But the faithful servant of Christ overcame the trials as he and his followers converted thousands, built churches and formed dioceses across all of Ireland.
The humble saint is known for his powerful expositions of the principles of the Catholic faith. He even employed the ordinary, little, three-leaved shamrock plant to teach people about the Trinity.
Upon his death in the late 5th century, the Irish people came to mourn and venerate him. St. Patrick’s body was wrapped in a shroud woven by St. Brigid, and his remains were interred where the Cathedral of Down now sits.
Printed with permission from the Catholic Anchor, newspaper for the Archdiocese of Anchorage, Alaska.