Wednesday, 23 April 2014

St. Patrick and His Breastplate

Maybe you have heard about a prayer called St. Patrick's Breastplate which goes like this: "Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me,..." so on and so forth. Maybe you have even recited it a few times or perhaps you keep a nice holy card containing the prayer. If you are like me, maybe you even think that St. Patrick really had a breastplate inscribed with the prayer. Well, did he? And if he did, why the need to be armoured?

Based on what is known about his life from his own writings—which include a Confession—St. Patrick didn't have a military background, nor did he ever spend some time in military training. Before being ordained as a bishop, the Apostle of Ireland was a simple teenage slave that was sent to to the land of the Druids to herd sheep. So we can safely assume that as far as physical armoury goes, St. Patrick did not have a real breastplate.

The original word translated as "breastplate" is the Latin word "lorica", literally armour or breastplate. But it actually refers to incantational prayers traditionally inscribed on the shields or armorial trappings of knights, to be recited before going into battle. So this breastplate, this lorica, is in fact spiritual armour, not unlike the one described in Ephesians 6:11-17.

And yet, while St. Patrick was a prayerful man who is said to pray one hundred times during the day and another one hundred times during the evening, why would he feel the need to compose a prayer specially for his mission in Ireland?

St. Patrick's early adulthood was a period of history that saw the fall of Roman Empire in Western Europe, to be replaced shortly by the Medieval Age. At that time, most of the European continent was already Christian. Ireland was the first land outside the Greco-Roman territory to be evangelised, and the Medieval people considered this mission to be of utmost importance because Ireland was thought to be the "ends of the earth", beyond which only a vast sea exists.

It is no wonder then that St. Patrick composed his "breastplate", for he must have realised not only the importance, but also the dangers and diffculties of his mission on this land of strange paganism. He recognised the intangible though real presence of demonic activities, and he was wise enough to not underestimate them.

Through his lorica, God granted this holy man divine protection and blessing—great mystical armour—and eventually the victory of Christianity over ancient Druidism.

St. Patrick's Breastplate, or the Lorica of St. Patrick, is a beautiful and powerful invocation of Heavenly powers against loads of nasty stuff: from malice and temptations, to the lies of heresy and the spells of witchcraft. These threats still exist today in one form or another, and may even be more dangerous because they are more subtly hidden in modern pleasures, false freedom, and sinister peace.

Below is the full text of the prayer, translated by Kuno Meyer, as found in Fr. Neil O'Donoghue's St. Patrick: His Confession and Other Works.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
of the Creator of creation.

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.

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

I arise today
Through the strength of heaven,
The light of the sun,
The radiance of the moon,
The splendor of fire,
The speed of lightning,
The swiftness of wind,
The depth of the sea,
The stability of the earth,
The firmness of 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 shield to protect me,
God's host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptation of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
afar and near,
alone and in a multitude.

I summon today
All these powers between me and those evils,
Against every cruel and merciless power
that may oppose my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man's body and soul.

Christ to shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that there may come to me an abundance of reward.
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 when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
of the Creator of creation.

O'Donaghue, Fr. Neil Xavier. St. Patrick: His Confession and Other Works. New Jersey, 2009: Catholic Book Publishing Corp.

Unam Sanctam has an interesting article about the Breastplate, and how a certain part of it is often removed, probably because it sounds "unecumenical" (I'm sure you can guess which one). I wholeheartedly agree with what the article says: let's just pray the Breastplate in its entirety and the fullness of its power, as how the Holy Apostle of Ireland himself wrote it and how it is intended to be prayed.