Catholic Encyclopedia
Church Fathers
Classics Library
Church Documents
Prayer Requests
Ray of Hope
Social Doctrine

The Life And Writings Of Saint Patrick -Saint Patrick

SINCE the day when St. Patrick in person, with the Staff of Jesus in his hand, the Angel of God before him, and Ireland’s Elders around him, blessed the site of his first Cathedral on Macha’s Hill, Ireland has never witnessed a grander ceremonial than the dedication of the new Cathedral of Armagh by his Eminence Cardinal Logue, on July 24th, 1904. As the Freeman’s Journal truly said next morning, there was nothing in the long and glorious religious records of Ireland, illumined by many a splendid ceremonial, to excel that wonderful celebration in ancient Armagh. Fully five hundred priests of all orders, all the bishops and archbishops of Ireland, the Archbishop of Westminster, the Archbishop of Edinburgh, with seven other prelates from England and Scotland, and one from far Australia, together with a vast crowd of laymen from all parts of Ireland and England, of all ranks, professions, and ages, from England’s premier Duke down to the poor wayfarers from the remotest hills of the North, were present on that great day to do honour to God and our glorious patron, St. Patrick.

What lent special solemnity to the scene was the presence, for the first time in Irish history, of two illustrious Cardinals at the same ceremonial—one the Cardinal Primate, the Comarb of Patrick himself, and the other, Cardinal Vincenzo Vannutelli, Cardinal Bishop of Palestrina, and Legate a latere of his Holiness, Pope Pius X., especially commissioned to represent the Holy Father on this memorable day.

The following sermon, preached on the occasion by the author, will serve as an authentic account of the ceremonial, with all its religious and historical significance, especially in relation to St. Patrick:

“You have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you; and I have appointed you, that you should go, and should bring forth fruit; and your fruit should remain; that whatsoever you shall ask the Father in My Name He may give it you.”—JOHN, chapter 15., verse 16.

May it please your Eminences, my Lords Bishops, Very Rev. and Rev. Fathers, and Dearly Beloved:—We are all assembled here to-day to take part in what is, perhaps, the most sublime and significant function in the majestic ritual of the Catholic Church. The high priest of this Archdiocese has consecrated this beautiful temple, and in the name of all the clergy, and of all the people, and of all Ireland, has given it over to God to be His House for ever—a House of Prayer and a House of Sacrifice, the Throne of His Grace and the Fountain of His Mercy; for, as God Himself has declared, ‘His Eyes and His Heart will be here always.’ Most fitly, too, this new cathedral in this primatial city of Armagh has been dedicated to God under the invocation of our National Apostle, St. Patrick. Under God, St. Patrick is the central figure here to-day, not only as Titular and Patron, but also, in a sense, as the primary founder of this church, for I look upon it as the latest outcome of his apostolic work in Ireland. There is, of course, no other name of saint or hero in our history so dear to the heart of the Irish people as St. Patrick’s. It is a great name in Heaven, for the saints of his family are countless before the throne of God; and his name is a great and living power on earth also, not alone in Ireland, but wherever the children of the Irish race are scattered throughout the world. It is that great name that has built this church here in his own city of Armagh, and it is that name that has brought us all here to-day to bless this building, and give it over for ever to God and to St. Patrick. Wherefore it is of Patrick, and of his life and work in Ireland, that I shall speak to-day before this illustrious assemblage.

If ever there was an apostle outside the twelve and St. Paul, to whom the words of my text are applicable in the fullest sense, that man was St. Patrick. His vocation or call to the ministry was not the ordinary one manifested by special fitness and the voice of superiors; it was a personal supernatural call from God. His commission to preach in Ireland did not come from the Pope merely; it was an extraordinary commission, like that of St. Paul, from Christ Himself; he was called to leave his country to prepare himself for his work, and afterwards preach the Gospel in Ireland. With God’s help he produced abundant fruit, and that fruit has remained in a very marvellous manner. And, lastly, God bestowed upon him not only the gift of efficacious prayer, but all the manifold supernatural powers which Our Saviour promised to the Twelve when sending them forth to preach the Gospel. These are the points to which I wish to chiefly direct your attention. In fact, that verse from St. John sums up the whole history of Patrick’s life; it furnishes the key to his character; it, and it alone, explains his wonderful mission in Ireland.

If we read the Confession of the Saint—a work beyond doubt authentic—with these words of Our Saviour before our mind, we can see the man of God as he really was—humble, penitent, prayerful, of lofty purpose and dauntless courage, heedless of self, zealous for God, passionately devoted to his flock. In the Confession he lays bare all the workings of his heart in rugged language, but with a directness that compels our assent. Yet it is a very wonderful story, which can only be fully understood by those who believe in Patrick’s supernatural life and mission. ‘You have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you,’ said Our Saviour to the Twelve. It was a personal supernatural call, and Patrick declares again and again in the Confession that he received a similar supernatural call to preach in Ireland. He was chosen by God, as Moses was chosen, to bring the Irish people out of the land of bondage into the light and freedom of the Kingdom of God. There were people then, as there are people now, who thought Patrick was mistaken in declaring that it was the Voice of God called him to preach in Ireland. They said, in effect, like the Jews of old, ‘the Lord hath not appeared to thee; yours is a rash and dangerous undertaking, for which you are not fitted by any special training or education.’ And Patrick for a time was sore perplexed; but he heard the voice of the Spirit of God within him clearly speaking to his heart. The Word of the Lord came to him, as it came to the prophets of old, ‘at sundry times and in divers manners,’ but always to the same effect; so that he felt constrained to obey the mandate of the Lord. The angel Victor came to him with letters innumerable calling him to Ireland; the voices of the children from Focluth Wood by the western sea were ever ringing in his ears; the Holy Spirit spoke to his heart, and he was assured in clearest words that ‘He Who gave His Life for him, He it was that spoke within him.’ When certain elders opposed his purpose of going to preach in Ireland, be tells us that the same Holy Spirit encouraged him to persevere in carrying out that purpose, ‘which I have learned from Christ My Lord.’ It has been said that these things are the fancies of an excited imagination, or the promptings of an ardent spirit; but Patrick himself believed, beyond doubt, that it was the Voice of God; and so also do we believe, and Ireland’s history proves it.

‘I have chosen you and I have appointed you.’ The appointment or formal commission to teach only came to Patrick after thirty years of waiting and of preparation; and, like the call, it was supernatural. All the ancient Lives tell us that he got his crozier, the Staff of Jesus, from Christ Himself. St. Patrick says the same in effect. His nephew, Secundinus, who wrote a Hymn in praise of the Saint, the authenticity of which cannot be questioned, expressly says that Patrick, like Paul, had a special mission from God to preach, not to all nations, but to the tribes of Ireland. Of course, besides this extraordinary commission from God, he had also the ordinary commission from the Pope, St. Celestine. All the ancient Lives of the Saint assert it; all our native annalists assert it; the Book of Armagh, the official record of the primatial see, asserts it; the ablest Protestant writers, like Usher, have admitted it. In fact, the ‘Roman Mission’ was never questioned until our own times, and then only for controversial purposes, by certain scholars who had nothing to rely on but a purely negative argument—that if the Pope had sent him to preach in Ireland, Patrick would have certainly mentioned the fact in the Confession. He did not mention it just because it was perfectly well known to those whom he addressed; and, secondly, because his main purpose was to vindicate himself against the charge of rashness and presumption in undertaking a great and dangerous work, for which he was not qualified by early education and previous training. He admits candidly his own unworthiness and want of early education resulting from his captivity in Ireland. His defence is that the task was put upon him, not by man, but by God, that he had a divine mandate to preach in Ireland notwithstanding his unworthiness, for he admits that he was a stone sunk in the mire—and then he appeals to the success of his mission in Ireland as the clearest proof that his commission was divine, and that God was with him in his work. That is precisely what our Saviour Himself gives as the effect of His Own Mission of the apostles—that they should bring forth fruit, and that their fruit should remain. The argument of the Saint was irresistible—his statements were undeniable. He might appeal to the fact that, like Pelagius, he was commissioned by the Pope to preach in Ireland; but that commission in the case of Pelagius did not bring success, because the work was not assigned to him by God. Patrick claimed to have a still higher commission from Christ Himself, and he points to the marvellous fruit of his preaching in Ireland as the clearest proof that God was with him in his work.

But St. Paul, though divinely authorised to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles, ‘went to Jerusalem to see Peter, with whom he tarried fifteen days,’ before he set out on his first public mission. No prelate of the Western Church in the fifth century would dream of setting out to preach in a new territory without the sanction of Peter, that is, the Pope. It was the Pope sent St. Ninian to preach to the Southern Picts, it was the Pope sent Pelagius to Ireland the year before he sent Patrick, and we all know it was the Pope sent St. Augustine to England. Rome was the fountain from which England, Ireland, and Scotland received the faith. Those who adhered to Rome kept the faith; those who broke away from Rome lost it.

‘I have chosen you and have appointed you that you should go and bring forth fruit.’ In fulfilment of this command Patrick, like St. Paul, left home and friends and country and high station and worldly prospects. His country, ‘patria,’ was undoubtedly some part of Great Britain: he says so himself; his parents, or it may be his relations—‘parentes’—were there; and they sought to keep him at home by every means that affectionate ingenuity could devise. When he returned home after his escape from Ireland they received him with the warmest and most sincere affection, and they earnestly besought him, that, after the many tribulations which he had endured, he would never leave them again. When he declared his fixed purpose to obey the divine command, they still implored him with prayers and tears to stay at home; and they offered him large gifts, he says, to induce him to stay with them. But, like St. Paul in similar circumstances, he would not listen to the claims of flesh and blood. He gave up his home, his country, his friends, and broke all the bonds of natural affection that he might hearken to the voice of God that called him away—‘I have appointed you that you should go and bring forth fruit’—that was the only voice he heard—the only voice he obeyed. He went forth in the face of the most formidable difficulties to prepare himself for the task which God had imposed upon him. He had hitherto received no training in the schools of rhetoric or philosophy. He had almost forgotten the provincial Latin which was his mother tongue, and, as he admits himself, he never after acquired it properly. When other youths were at school or college he was herding swine on the hills of Antrim; and he was rather old to begin to learn now. Yet he had to learn much, not only secular knowledge, but moral theology, Scripture, ecclesiastical discipline, and rubrics—all that he was destined to teach afterwards to his clergy in Ireland. His counsellors in Britain thought it a rash and hopeless undertaking; but the Voice of God encouraged him; and the cry of the children from the wild woods by the western sea was ever ringing in his ears.

First, it would appear, he went to the great monastery of Martin at Tours—Martin was his mother’s kinsman—there he was trained in the religious life, and received the clerical tonsure. Thence he made his way to Germanus of Auxerre, scholar, statesman and warrior—no longer, however, leading the armies of Rome, but the soldiers of the Cross. There, under the greatest prelate in France, he made much progress in the sacred sciences, especially in the study of Scripture, with which he shows himself thoroughly familiar, both in its letter and spirit. Thence, by the advice of Germanus, he went further south to the great school of Arles, in which Germanus himself had studied, and from Arles most probably to Lerins, which was itselt the fountain head of the learning of Arles. Finally, by the advice of Germanus, he sought out the great Pope Celestine, but the holy Pontiff at first declined to have Patrick consecrated for the Irish mission, because Pelagius had been sent there already by the Pope. When, however, it was ascertained that Pelagius had given up the Irish mission and died in Scotland, that obstacle was removed, and Patrick was duly consecrated, with the sanction of the Pope, and sent to preach in Ireland.

‘I have appointed you that you should go and bring forth fruit.’ Patrick was a very different man from Pelagius. Both were received in the same hostile spirit by the same savage chief when they landed in the County Wicklow. Pelagius, after some delay, turned and fled to Scotland; but Patrick was a man of courage and resolution, and though driven from Wicklow he was not dismayed or disheartened. After a short stay in Down he resolved to confront the high king with all his fierce chiefs and Druids on the Hill of Tara itself. He had his life in his hands, and he knew it, but trusted in God, and God visibly protected him. The enemies of the Gospel were overthrown, and the Saint received from the high king a reluctant permission to preach the Gospel throughout the whole island. It was a prolonged and laborious apostolate, encompassed with manifold dangers, but fruitful beyond the Saint’s most sanguine hopes. For sixty years Patrick laboured in Ireland, thirty of which he spent in missionary journeys throughout the whole island, and the last thirty he chiefly spent here in Armagh consolidating his work. It is not easy for us now to realise all the difficulties he had to face. There were no roads at the time but mere tracks, there were no bridges, no hotels. For the most part, he and his attendants—his family, as they are called—had to camp out and provide themselves with everything they needed. He had to build his churches, and to write his own books when the original supply was exhausted. He had to make his sacred vessels and altar stones, to train and educate his own clerics, at first in a kind of itinerant school, for all the grades of the sacred ministry; and he had to do all this throughout the whole country, north, south, east, and west. He penetrated through the misty hills and watery moors of Connaught and Ulster, where no Christian voice was ever heard before. We find his bed and his well in the heart of the Twelve Benns in Connemara. He spent a whole Lent on the summit of Croaghpatrick, fasting and praying for Ireland. We find traces of his sojourn in the islands of the great lakes and even of the far western ocean. Twelve times, he tells us, his life was in peril. On one occasion his devoted servant was slain by his side, because he was mistaken for the master. He was often insulted by the unbelievers, and once, at least, he was put in bonds. But he pursued his work undeterred by all these dangers and difficulties. God was with him. What he blessed was visibly blessed by God: what he banned withered up like the fig-tree cursed by our Saviour.

There is no more striking trait in the character of the great apostle than his disinterestedness in preaching the Gospel. He describes it himself in necessary self-defence. ‘Though I baptised so many thousands of men,’ he says, ‘did I ever hope to get from any of them so much as half a scruple? Although the Lord ordained clerics everywhere by my poor ministry, did I not give that ministry gratis? If ever I asked from any of them so much as the price of a shoe, tell me and I will restore it.’ Like St. Paul, he was a burden to no man, and preached the Gospel without hope of earthly reward. His converts, indeed, laid generous gifts upon the altar, which Patrick must have needed, not for himself, but to carry on the work of the ministry. He had to bestow gifts, he says, on the kings, and give wages to their sons to protect him in preaching the Gospel. We know from the example of Daire, who gave Patrick the site of his chief church on yonder hill, how hard it was to manage the wild chieftains of the time. But Patrick’s prudent and steadfast courage conquered them; and from his heart he thanks God again and again, who blessed his labours with such abundant fruit. The whole island became Christian, and the hearts of the people were fervent in faith and strong in grace; ‘the sons of the Scots became monks, and their daughters in crowds became virgins of Christ’—giving up all things for Him, so that the men of Erin, he tells us, who before worshipped idols and things unclean, now became ‘the people of the Lord’ and ‘sons of the Living God.’

How dearly he loved this flock, which he won for Christ at the ends of the earth, he shows by word and deed. He would not leave them even for a short time to visit his friends in Britain, or see the faces of the saints in Gaul once more. When some members of his flock were maltreated by the tyrant Coroticus, he bewails them in the language of a mother robbed of her children, and fiercely denounces the vengeance of God on the tyrant and his accomplices. For their sake he lived and laboured; and for them he was ready to die; nay, even to have his body cast out unburied, to become a prey piecemeal to the dogs and beasts and birds of heaven—he was ready to endure all for his flock if God so willed it.

Such was the Apostle sent by ‘Pope Celestine and by God’s Angel Victor,’ as the Book of Armagh tells us, to convert our fathers to the faith. No wonder the fruit was abundant; and surely it was abiding. ‘I have appointed you that you should go and should bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain.’ Yes, the fruit of Patrick’s preaching has remained in Ireland, I think I might venture to say, as it has remained nowhere else; for nowhere else, where the faith has remained as a nation’s faith, were the trials and persecutions which the people endured for their faith so great and so prolonged as they were in Ireland. I now merely mention the fact that if the fruit brought forth by the preaching of an apostle has remained anywhere, it has remained in Ireland. It is a fact that no one has ever ventured to question. Not so in many places elsewhere. Where are now the great patriarchal churches of the East, founded by the Apostles themselves? Well, they exist, but it is only in name. The Moslem dwells in St. Sophia; the great churches of Cyprian and Augustine are no more; Canterbury has no Divine Victim on its altars; Iona is desolate; the sea-birds nestle in Lindisfarne; Melrose and Fountains Abbey attract tourists who admire their fallen glories; but they have no community of faith or feeling with the holy men who dwelt in their beautiful cloisters. Not so in Ireland. Here, as elsewhere, the material buildings were despoiled or overthrown; yet, thanks to God, all over the country, as in Armagh, they are rising up again in more than their ancient splendour. But the spiritual edifice reared in Ireland by St. Patrick has never been overthrown—and why? Because Patrick built his house upon the Rock, and that Rock was Peter, upon which Christ Himself built His Church. The rain fell and the floods came, and the winds blew, and they beat upon that house, yet it fell not, because it was founded on the Rock.’ In the collections of Tirechan in the Book of Armagh, dating back to the seventh century, we are told that after the death of Pelagius (who was also called Patricius or Patrick) ‘the second Patrick was sent by the Angel of God, Victor by name, and by Celestine, the Pope; in him, Patrick, all Ireland believed.’ Patrick brought the Gospel message from Rome to Ireland. When he heard in the far West of Ireland of the accession of Pope Leo the Great, the Saint sent his own nephew, Munis, from Croaghpatrick ‘with counsel for the Abbot of Rome,’ as the Annals of Ulster tell us; and his messenger brought back the blessing of the Pope on Patrick’s work and the confirmation of his apostolate in Ireland. In the same Book of Armagh there are four dicta or maxims of St. Patrick, which were ever on his lips, and one of them was—‘Ut Christiani ita et Romani sitis’—as you are Christians (built on Christ), so be ye Romans (built on Peter)—you cannot be one except you are also the other. That maxim he inculcated all his life, and with his latest breath, on the Irish prelates and the Irish people; it was inserted amongst his dicta in the official record of his primatial church; and it was never forgotten by Patrick’s bishops or by their successors. In the same Book of Armagh was inserted the famous Canon of Patrick’s Synod, directing appeals in all the causae majores—the most difficult and important causes—to be sent to Rome. The acts of this Synod are recognised as authentic by the most competent authorities; and the Book of Armagh quotes it expressly as decreed by Auxilius, Patricius, Secundinus, and Benignus—the two latter his dearest friends and coadjutors. So we find Patrick by this solemn synodical decree formally directing his successors and the other Irish prelates to transmit the causae majores to Rome, ‘to be decided by the authority of the Apostolic See of Peter, which has jurisdiction over the City of Rome.’

In the seventh century, when such a grave cause arose in Ireland regarding the Paschal controversy, and the Irish prelates were divided amongst themselves, it was unanimously resolved, in accordance with the Canon of St. Patrick, as St. Cummian expressly states, to send delegates to Rome for a final decision of the question. ‘They went as children to their mother;’ they heard the teaching and saw the practice of Rome, which was found to be different from the Irish practice, and when they returned with their report the Roman usage was at once accepted by the Irish Church—Iona alone holding out for some time longer.

During the Danish wars communication with Rome was infrequent and difficult, but certainly did not cease, as I might easily show, if time allowed. No sooner, however, was the Irish Church free to reform herself than at once her prelates turned to Rome for light and guidance. Imar O’Hagan, the teacher of St. Malachi, and one of the authors of that reformation, died on his pilgrimage to Rome. St. Malachi, the great primate who reformed the Church of Armagh and of Down and of all Ireland, went in person to Rome to confer with the Pope, and Innocent II. put his own mitre on his head and his own stole about his neck, thereby constituting him his Legate; and thus with plenary powers sent him back to Ireland. At a later period Christian of Lismore, one of Malachi’s friends and monks, became Papal legate; and so the good work of reformation sped apace under the guidance and by the authority of the Holy See. Another Papal Legate, Cardinal Paparo, the first Cardinal that ever appeared in Ireland, presided at the great Synod of Kells, in 1152—before the Norman ever set foot in Ireland—in which the four Archbishops for the first time received their pallia from the Pope, and the Irish dioceses were determined in number and circumscription practically as they are at present. Since that Synod down to the present day, as everyone knows and admits, the Catholic Church in Ireland continued in most intimate communion with the Apostolic See. When the day of trial came, and the whole weight of the English power was brought to bear on Catholic Ireland in order to destroy the faith, it was communion with Rome that saved it. They were anchored in the Rock, and they clung to it immovable in the fierce storm that swept over them. ’Twas the wine from the Royal Pope that gave them spirit and life in their darkest hours: it was missionaries from Rome that kept the faith alive in the hearts of the people; it was money from the papal treasuries that kept the Irish students in their foreign colleges, and the Irish prelates and priests at home from starving. Therefore, I say that Patrick’s word has remained, because he built his house upon the Rock, and that Rock was Peter, on which Christ Himself declared He built the Church.

But there was, under God, another cause for the perseverance of the Irish people in the Faith, and that was the earnest, persevering, efficacious prayer of Patrick himself. Our Saviour had promised that ‘whatsoever you ask the Father in My Name He will give it to you.’ That promise was a part of Patrick’s commission; he realised it in a way that few saints have ever realised it; and for him it was fulfilled in a very marvellous manner. I have already pointed out that Patrick claimed an immediate divine call, and subsequently a divine commission to preach the Gospel in Erin. He was thoroughly acquainted with the Sacred Scripture, he knew the promise of our Saviour given to the apostles, and he claimed its fulfilment in his own case with the most importunate insistence—‘Whatever you ask the Father in My Name, that He will give you’—there was the promise. He resolved to ask for the preservance of the Irish people in the faith as a nation, and it was granted to him. Such is my view; and it explains what otherwise it is difficult to explain—Patrick’s wrestling in prayer with God on the Holy Mountain during his forty days’ fast on its wind-swept summit. I have heard good men say—theologians, too—why spend the whole Lent on the windy summit of that desolate hill? why so daring in his petitions? why so extravagant in his demands? why so insistent in their iteration? My text explains it all—whatever you—the Apostle of Ireland—ask the Father in My Name, that He will grant you. He cannot refuse it, because it has been promised by infallible Truth. That thought was in Patrick’s mind; more than a mother’s love for his flock was in his heart, and not only for his flock in his own time, but for their children to the end of the world. In prophetic spirit he saw the trials of the future; therefore, with the tears rolling down his cheeks, and the yells of tormented devils sounding in his ears, he besought the Lord for Whom he had suffered so much to hear his earnest, passionate prayers for his flock; and he would not even at the bidding of the Angel, leave the Holy Mountain until he got an assurance from God that they were heard and granted. Then he said ‘Deo gratias,’ and descended like Moses from the Irish Sinai.

There is a strange story told in the old Lives of the Saints that shows how dearly Patrick loved his Irish children. They tell us that he left seven of his own religious family—one on each of the commanding hills that overlook the land—to keep watch and ward over his beloved flock and their children until the day of doom. It is true in one sense at least that Patrick and the saints of his family in heaven have watched over and prayed for Ireland during all the dreadful years of the past, and it may be that God’s Angel Guardians at Patrick’s prayer are stationed by God on those lone summits, to watch over all the hills and valleys of holy Ireland. And he prayed not for Ireland merely, but for all those whom Irish apostles have brought to the faith in many far off lands. I need not tell this learned assemblage of the missionary labours of the Irish saints and scholars during the interval between St. Patrick’s death and the Danish invasions, when they were the greatest christianising and civilizing influence in Western Europe. The same missionary zeal has manifested itself in our time. So that the children of St. Patrick have been the chief means of propagating the Catholic faith throughout all English-speaking countries.

I said in the beginning that I looked upon this splendid temple as the latest outcome of Patrick’s spiritual work in Ireland—that he is, as it were, its primary founder. It is, I think, undeniable. Crolly, a great and good Primate, began the work on a scale of what, at the time, was daring magnificence, that is in 1840, and funds were collected from the clergy and people throughout all Ireland. Then the famine intervened, and the work was arrested. Dixon, learned and laborious, in 1854, took up the unfinished work, and inaugurated it by a Pontifical High Mass within its unroofed walls, which was celebrated in a fierce storm that might be regarded as a symbol of the fiercer storm of persecution from which the Catholics of the North were just then emerging. But the builders weathered both storms; the work went on steadily, large sums coming from America to help its progress. The venerable M‘Gettigan built the twin towers that rise so proudly over this sacred hill, and blessed the church in 1873. Another illustrious son of Old Tirconnell has now completed the work in a style of the highest artistic elegance; and to-day, in presence of the Papal Legate, his Eminence has given it over to God and St. Patrick. Still Patrick is the primary founder. His name is a power wherever the children of the Gael are scattered over the world. The primates I have named got the money to build and decorate this church because they are the spiritual Heirs of Patrick. He lives again in his successors; their voice is the voice of Patrick, their power is the power of Patrick. In the past the prelate who got possession of the insignia of Patrick—his Crozier, his Bell, and his Book—was regarded as the living representative of Patrick, and heir to all his power and privileges. Armagh itself was St. Patrick’s sacred city—a centre of learning and authority for all the land; and it became a place of pilgrimage for all Ireland. The pilgrims deemed themselves happy if they died in Armagh and were buried in its sacred soil. The greatest of the Irish Kings, who fell at Clontarf, not only visited Patrick’s city whilst living, and made rich offerings to Patrick’s altar, but he ordered his body to be taken to Armagh and buried in its sacred soil.

Then succeeded evil days for the ancient faith and the ancient race. There was a time when the Catholics were driven from Armagh as the Jews were driven from Jerusalem; but it has happily passed away. The temple has been rebuilt, the priesthood restored, and the throne of Patrick again set up in his own city. His glory lightens over all those marble altars; his name resounds from this pulpit; it is his voice that has called you here, and it his hand and the Pope’s that will bless you when this sermon is over. This vast assemblage—prelates, priests, and people—have come from afar, but it is one purpose inspires them all, to give glory to God and honour to Patrick and to Patrick’s Heir. Our Holy Father the Pope, successor of that St. Celestine who sent St. Patrick to preach to our fathers, has sent here an illustrious Cardinal all the way from Rome, as his Legate, to preside in this assembly, to bring his blessing to us on this great day, and to show the whole world that this new temple, like that which Patrick first built in Armagh, is built upon the Rock, and that, as we are Christians, so we are Romans, as united and as devoted to the See of Peter now as our fathers have always been in the past. Last night I heard the letter read which Cardinal Vannutelli bears from Our Holy Father the Pope to his Eminence the Cardinal-Primate, and which I have no doubt will be published in a few days. It is a beautiful and touching letter, and shows the ardent affection which Our Holy Father has for the Irish people. It would be impossible to read or to see anything more touching or more beautiful. I believe I can speak in the name of the Prelates here, of the clergy here, and of the people here, when I say that we return to Our Holy Father and to his Eminence the Cardinal Legate our most grateful and heartfelt thanks, and assure them that it is a favour we can never forget, and that the mission of his Eminence to this church to-day has been the means of binding us closer in intimate and loyal Union with the See of St. Peter.

And the Irish Bishops are here to-day to show their love for Patrick, and for the Heir of Patrick, and pay their homage to the Primate of all Ireland. The clergy, secular and regular, are here to-day in greater numbers than I have ever seen before to join their pastors in paying this loving homage to the Chair of our National Apostle. Many Prelates of England and Scotland are here, headed by the successor of St. Augustine, to testify to their union with us in faith and charity, and pay the homage of themselves and of their flocks to the memory of the great Saint who came to us from Britain, and whose spiritual children of Irish birth or blood are to-day the mainstay of their flocks in the Britain of Columba, Augustine, and Bede. In the same spirit, and for the same purpose, we see here to-day countless crowds of the laity of all ranks and conditions in life, from the first of England’s nobles—noblest in blood—but nobler still in unswerving faith and stainless honour—down to the dusty wayfarers, who have come hither from Ulster’s farthest hills and valleys to join in the ceremonial of this great day. Neither Armagh nor any other part of Ireland has ever seen an assemblage like this on a similar occasion. It was a great day recorded in our Annals when Cormac’s beautiful chapel on the Rock of Cashel was consecrated by the Archbishop and Bishops of Munster, and ‘the nobles of Ireland, both lay and ecclesiastical,’ but it was really only a gathering of the South, whilst here to-day we have a gathering of all Ireland. There was another great assemblage when the Abbey Church of Mellifont was dedicated by the primate and the prelates and princes of Meath and Oriel, who gave generous offerings in gold, silver and embroidery for the use of the church; but their numbers were not as great, their offerings were not so large, their character was not so representative, as in this assembly gathered round the Cardinal Primate of Armagh. It is a celebration unique in its character, and will, I have no doubt, be recorded in our national annals down to remotest ages. Nor has this city of Armagh ever seen such a church before. From the beginning it was a city of churches and of schools where Celt and Saxon met together to learn and pray. St. Patrick himself erected probably four churches, and it would appear that at one time there were no less than ten churches in all around the Sacred Hill. The first Cathedral built by Patrick himself on yonder hill, whose foundations he traced and blessed under the guidance of God’s Angel, Victor, was a comparatively small and plain building. It was often destroyed, accidentally or deliberately, by fire, and as often restored. It was often profaned, and pillaged, and used as a barracks or a fortress by the victors. It has long passed from Catholic hands, and early in the last century was restored at great cost by the Protestant primates. But it can no longer vie either in its commanding site, or in grandeur of its proportions, or in the richness of its decorations with this noble temple.

It is no wonder, then, that this primatial city of holy Patrick should rejoice to-day. The ancient land of Oriel is glad. The hills of Old Tirconnell feel a thrill of joy—all Catholic Ireland at home, and the greater Ireland beyond the sea, exult in the advent of this glorious day, which gives over this national temple to God and St. Patrick. And they exult not only in the dedication of this splendid temple, but they also rejoice on this the episcopal jubilee of him who so worthily wields the crozier of St. Patrick. His Eminence is the 109th Primate who has sat in Patrick’s Chair on this Royal Hill—a long and illustrious line including Saints and Confessors and Martyrs—great and holy names like Patrick and Benen, Celsus and Benignus, Malachi and Gelasius, Creagh, Plunkett, and M‘Mahon, whose virtues and sufferings light up our chequered story as with a light from Heaven; but his Eminence is the only one of that illustrious line that sat in Patrick’s Chair clothed in the purple of Rome.

My Lord Cardinal, Primate of All Ireland, and Heir of St. Patrick, we bring your Eminence cordial greetings to-day, not only from our cities and towns but from the remotest hills and valleys of holy Ireland; we offer you our hearty congratulations on this jubilee of your episcopal reign; and we pray God to prolong the life of your Eminence for many years to come. We rejoice that you have been spared to see this great church completed, and given over to God and to St. Patrick on the very crown of this Royal Hill. And looking back to-day from this mystic summit, where the milk-white Hind, ‘so often doomed to death yet fated not to die,’ like Patrick’s hunted stag, has at length found shelter and repose; looking back through the perilous ages that are gone, is it not our duty, one and all, with grateful hearts to give a nation’s thanks to God to-day who guided us with the light of His grace and shielded us with the strength of His arm through the stress and the storm of the past? Not to us, O Lord, but to Thy name give the glory. We have sinned and we have suffered; but thou didst not cast away Thy inheritance, nor make void the prayers of Patrick on the Holy Mountain, nor the blessings wherewith, with uplifted hands, he blessed this primatial city, and his entire flock throughout this land of his love. And do Thou, O mighty Lord, deign to be with us and our children in the future as Thou wast with our fathers through all the terrible past: not on our own works, but on Thy great mercy and on the prayers of our blessed Mother Mary and of all the saints of Erin do we rely. To our father and to their father—our own St. Patrick, the patron of this City and of this Cathedral—we make this day in his own temple a special appeal. He loved his flock, as we know, with a love stronger than death, and we—we love him in return with a deep and tender and abiding love. O great Saint, watch over us, as thou hast watched over our fathers, pray for us as thou didst pray for them on this Holy Hill. May we learn from your bright example to fear the Lord our God, and walk in His ways, and love and serve the Lord our God with all our hearts and with all our souls. So this temple which we thy servants have built on this Holy Hill to the glory of God and the honour of thy name shall stand rooted in the Rock, a memorial for the coming ages of that love for the beauty of God’s House which fills the hearts of thine own people, a memorial of their undying devotion to thee, their Spiritual Father, and a memorial also of that steadfast faith which has conquered the world, and their immortal hopes, which have conquered the grave.

This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. Attribution: Sicarr

Copyright ©1999-2018 e-Catholic2000.com