Traditionally, St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated with shamrocks and the “Wearin’ o’ the Green.” It’s also known for parades and consumption of green beer in large quantities.
But, who was St. Patrick, and why is he celebrated?
St. Patrick is one of Christianity’s most well-known figures. Yet, as popular as he and his holiday remain, much of his life remains unknown. There are plenty of stories associated with Saint Patrick but many are simply legend with little, or no, basis in truth. That includes the most famous story about his banishing of the snakes from Ireland.
Patrick was born in Britain to wealth parents near the end of the fourth century. But at the age of 16 was captured by a group of Irish raiders and taken to Ireland to work as a slave. After six years he was able to escape and return to his family. In his captivity he worked much of his time as a shepherd away from people where he grew in his faith.
During his captivity, Patrick wrote:
"The love of God and his fear grew in me more and more, as did the faith, and my soul was rosed, so that, in a single day, I have said as many as a hundred prayers and in the night, nearly the same." "I prayed in the woods and on the mountain, even before dawn. I felt no hurt from the snow or ice or rain."
Patrick later wrote that a voice, which he believed to be the voice of God, told him a dream it was time to leave Ireland.
After returning to Britain he believed another vision told him to return to Ireland as a missionary. He studied for 15 years and became a cleric and returned to Northern and Western Ireland as an ordained Bishop. Not much is known about the actual places he worked.
Having spent six years in Ireland, Patrick was familiar with the Irish culture and language. He incorporated into his teaching of Christianity the traditional rituals of the Irish. He used the bonfires that the Irish were using to honor their gods as a celebration of Easter. The sun was an important Irish symbol which Patrick incorporated into the symbol of the cross, creating what is now known as the Celtic cross. It is said that he used the shamrock to teach about the concept of the Trinity.
Patrick preached all over Ireland for forty years. He lived in poverty most of his life and lived as a humble and gentle man totally devoted to God.
March 17 is believed to be the date of St. Patrick’s death and is celebrated as his feast day. Because in the early days of the Church were confirmed by the local church. Because of this, St. Patrick was never formally canonized by a Pope. Regardless, several Christian churches consider him a Saint in Heaven and he is widely venerated in Ireland and elsewhere.
Although it has never been proven, Saint Patrick is said to be buried at Down Cathedral in Downpatrick, County Down along with St. Brigid and St. Columba.
This prayer is attributed as The Prayer of St. Patrick.
I arise today
Through the strength of heaven;
Light of the sun,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of the wind,
Depth of the sea,
Stability of the earth,
Firmness of the rock.
I arise today
Through God's strength to pilot me;
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's hosts to save me
Afar and anear,
Alone or in a mulitude.
Christ shield me today
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.
I arise today
Through the mighty strength
Of the Lord of creation.