Around 435, Patrick was commissioned, perhaps by bishops in Gaul and perhaps by the Pope, to go to Ireland as a bishop and missionary. Four years earlier another bishop, Palladius, had gone to Ireland to preach, but he was no longer there. Patrick made his headquarters at Armagh in the North, where he built a school, and had the protection of the local monarch. From this base he made extensive missionary journeys, with considerable success. To say that he single-handedly turned Ireland from a pagan to a Christian country is an exaggeration, but is not far from the truth.
Almost everything we know about him comes from his own writings, available in English in the Ancient Christian Writers series. He has left us an autobiography (called the Confessio), a Letter to Coroticus in which he denounces the slave trade and rebukes the British chieftain Coroticus for taking part in it, and the Lorica (or "Breastplate" a poem of disputed authorship traditionally attributed to Patrick), a work that has been called "part prayer, part anthem, and part incantation." The Lorica is a truly magnificent hymn, found today in many hymnals (usually abridged by the omission of the two stanzas bracketed below). The translation into English as given here is by Cecil Frances Alexander, whose husband was Archbishop of Armagh, and thus the direct successor of Patrick. She published nearly 400 poems and hymns of her own, including the well-known "There is a green hill far away," "Once in royal David's city," "Jesus calls us; o'er the tumult," and "All things bright and beautiful, All creatures great and small."
The beautiful prayer of St. Patrick, popularly known as "St. Patrick's Breast-Plate", is supposed to have been composed by him in preparation for a major victory over Paganism. The following is a literal translation from the old Irish text:
I bind to myself today The strong virtue of the Invocation of the Trinity:I believe the Trinity in the Unity The Creator of the Universe.
I bind to myself today The virtue of the Incarnation of Christ with His Baptism, The virtue of His crucifixion with His burial, The virtue of His Resurrection with His Ascension, The virtue of His coming on the Judgment Day.
I bind to myself today The virtue of the love of seraphim,In the obedience of angels,In the hope of resurrection unto reward, In prayers of Patriarchs, In predictions of Prophets, In preaching of Apostles, In faith of Confessors, In purity of holy Virgins, In deeds of righteous men.
I bind to myself today The power of Heaven,The light of the sun,The brightness of the moon,The splendour of fire,The flashing of lightning,The swiftness of wind,The depth of sea,The stability of earth,The compactness of rocks.
I bind to myself today God's Power to guide me,God's Might to uphold me,God's Wisdom to teach me,God's Eye to watch over me,God's Ear to hear me,God's Word to give me speech,God's Hand to guide me,God's Way to lie before me,God's Shield to shelter me,God's Host to secure me,Against the snares of demons,Against the seductions of vices,Against the lusts of nature,Against everyone who meditates injury to me, Whether far or near, Whether few or with many.
I invoke today all these virtues Against every hostile merciless power Which may assail my body and my soul,Against the incantations of false prophets, Against the black laws of heathenism, Against the false laws of heresy, Against the deceits of idolatry, Against the spells of women, and smiths, and druids, Against every knowledge that binds the soul of man.
Christ, protect me today Against every poison, against burning,Against drowning, against death-wound,That I may receive abundant reward.
Christ with me, Christ before me,Christ behind me, Christ within me,Christ beneath me, Christ above me,Christ at my right, Christ at my left,Christ in the fort,Christ in the chariot seat,Christ in the poop [deck],Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me, Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.
Propers for Patrick - Patron of Ireland, Missionary, Bishop and Confessor
O ALMIGHTY God, who in thy providence didst choose thy servant Patrick to be an apostle to the people of Ireland, to bring those who were wandering in darkness and error to the true light and knowledge of thee: Grant us so to walk in that light, that we may come at last to the light of everlasting life; through the merits of Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord. Amen.
The Epistle - 1 Thessalonians 2:2-12.
WE were bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God with much contention. For our exhortation was not of deceit, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile: but as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts. For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloke of covetousness; God is witness: nor of men sought we glory, neither of you, nor yet of others, when we might have been burdensome, as the apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children: so being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us. For ye remember, brethren, our labour and travail: for labouring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God. Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe: as ye know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father doth his children, that ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory.
The Gospel - St Matthew 5:43-48.
YE have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.
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