Praying St. Patrick's Breastplate

Perhaps the dearest thing about my Irish ancestry is that I was born in March, and named for St. Patrick himself,whose feast day is commemorated this weekend. A 5th-century saint, St. Patrick's legacy is firmly rooted in Church history, despite the commercialized hoopla that occurs on and around March 17th.

Some criticize the ribald and secular devotion to St. Patrick's Day, complaining it has nothing to do with the call to holiness that Patrick preached back in his day, but I suspect that Patrick—while standing against sin and debauchery—might use such a day to point to the deep need we all have for joy and fellowship.

For the Christian, joy in all its flavors—silly or sublime—is a supernatural spillover from the graces of baptism. Indeed, baptism creates a profound connection to the deepest joys and fellowship of the Holy Trinity, felt most palpably by mere mortals in the presence of Christ.

Patrick, as evidenced by his preaching and his prayers, knew the source of his joy.

The parable of a three-leafed shamrock illustrating the relationships of the Three-in-One God has been long attributed to St. Patrick's preaching, a kind of Creed in miniature. Besides the shamrock, Patrick's legacy includes his devotion to prayer, specifically calling upon the Trinity, and drawing near to Jesus in our midst.

St. Patrick's Breastplate is a powerful Trinitarian prayer and I highly recommend its efficacy, especially in Lent. Whenever I feel I may be faltering, or dealing with any kind of difficulty, oppression, or spiritual battle, it invigorates me. I invite you to pray it and reflect on it.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through the belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness
Of the Creator of Creation.

With its five-time refrain, I arise today, this prayer repeatedly calls upon the power of the resurrection found in the promise of baptism. It wastes no time establishing the central mystery of Christian faith, invoking the might of the Blessed Trinity. Each invocation begs for greater power.

I arise today
Through the strength of Christ's birth with his baptism,
Through the strength of his crucifixion with his burial,
Through the strength of his resurrection with his ascension,
Through the strength of his descent for the judgment of Doom.

You'll hear the word through ten times in the course of this prayer. Need help getting through this day, this Lent, this year? There is no active avoidance here regarding the problems of life. With St. Patrick's Breastplate, we march through them, but not alone. Strength comes to us from the graces and merits gained by the mission of Jesus. The entire life of Christ is a perpetual source of strength for us, from our baptism to the grave and beyond.

I arise today
Through the strength of the love of Cherubim,
In obedience of angels,
In the service of archangels,
In hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In prayers of patriarchs,
In predictions of prophets,
In preaching of apostles,
In faith of confessors,
In innocence of holy virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

Note another word—in. Christians hail from a holy heritage, a heavenly in-crowd—a great "cloud of witnesses" (Cf. Heb. 12:1). We are not detached from salvation history, we are living in it, and we need a third eye to see just who and what we are in the midst of!

This portion of the prayer calls upon the living Hosts of heaven and the Communion of Saints, just as done in the Mass. St. Patrick wisely invites us to pray, in this moment, in our placeas Church Militant on earth in union with the Church Triumphant in heaven. These verses let us dwell on the miracle of existence beyond death, pondering the majesty of an eternal destiny, and being joined to the Trinity and all the occupants in heaven.

I arise today
Through the strength of heaven:
Light of sun,
Radiance of moon,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of wind,
Depth of sea,
Stability of earth,
Firmness of rock.

Glimpses of the wonders of God are all over Creation. Awakened by resplendent beauty a human heart can often turn its gaze toward the things of heaven. Though we are creatures, we can detect the bigger reality that is God. Our delight in Creation ought to beckon a delight and a trust in our Maker, Who in and through Christ, dared to make Himself one with his Creation.

3/14/2012 4:00:00 AM
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    About Pat Gohn
    Pat Gohn is a Catholic writer, speaker, and the host of the Among Women Podcast and blog. Her book Blessed, Beautiful and Bodacious: Celebrating the Gift of Catholic Womanhood is published by Ave Maria Press.