Patrician Year (1961): Cardinal Cushing on St. Patrick and the Irish Catholic People
The above video features clips of the opening of the Patrician Year celebrations, 17th March, 1961, marked by Pontifical High Mass in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh. The celebrant was the papal legate, Cardinal James Francis McIntyre, Archbishop of Los Angelus.
Irish state dignitaries were very prominent in attendance, not least President Éamonn de Valera and the Taoiseach [Prime Minister] Séan Lemass. Church prelates and state leaders, escorted by prominent local clergy, walked in solemn procession towards the Cathedral, walking past vast, cheering crowds. President De Valera was seated in a special blue and gold draped prie-dieu, affixed with the national emblem of a golden harp, while Mr. Lemass was also accorded a special prie-dieu. As Cardinal McIntyre entered through the massive oak doors, the cathedral organ thundered out the papal hymn Tu es Petrus, and His Eminence proceeded through the highly colourful and lavishly decorated cathedral to the marble-canopied throne on the Gospel side of the high altar, where he occupied a seat upholstered by white silk, affixed with the papal coat of arms on the reverse. Prelates attending included multitudes of abbots and bishops from all over the world, 50 archbishops and 4 Cardinals: Cardinal McIntyre, Cardinal John D’Alton, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All-Ireland, Cardinal William Godfrey, Archbishop of Westminster, and Cardinal Richard Cushing, Archbishop of Boston.
Cardinal Cushing, Archbishop of Boston, gave the following sermon:
“Their sound has gone forth unto all the earth: and their words unto the ends of the world.” (Psalm 18, Verse 5)
The theme of Ireland’s holy and historic celebration this year has been taken from the text by which the liturgy proclaims the glory and the triumph of all the Apostles. No more appropriate text could have been chosen to commemorate the incomparable Apostle to Ireland and to pay tribute to the apostolic spirit that St. Patrick inspired in the Irish people.
The text proper to the Apostles is deservedly applied to him, for St. Patrick takes his place beside the greatest and most glorious of the Apostles.
For example, in this same year the Church in Rome marks the 1900th anniversary of the coming of St. Paul to the Eternal City, while the Church in Ireland marks the 1500th anniversary of the entrance of St. Patrick upon the eternal reward predestined for him after his labours in Ireland.
The two anniversaries are similar in the memories that they evoke and the thoughts they suggest. The parallels between Patrick and Paul are many and impressive. Both were men who had worn chains and were, therefore, passionately devoted to freedom; Paul wore the chains of a prisoner. Patrick had known those of a slave. Both used their freedom to enslave themselves as the prisoners of the Lord to preach the truth by which men are made free.
Both responded with the total gift of themselves to the call from peoples who needed the Gospel that both preached. Paul heard a voice in the night which beseeched him: Come over into Macedonia and help us! Patrick also experienced the call of voices, the voices of the ancient Irish who called out for the help of his preaching. St. Patrick writes: “And again after a few years I was in Britain with my people…and there I saw in the night the vision of a man…with countless letters….(and) the opening words were the voice of the Irish…and I thought at the same moment I heard their voice: ‘We ask thee, boy, come and walk among us once more’…Thanks be to God, after years the Lord gave to them according to their cry!”
Both St. Paul and St. Patrick preached to pagans the Christian Gospel, and the Faith revealed in and by Jesus Christ, both converted to Christ whole peoples, high born and low, and both communicated to their converts their own missionary spirit.
Both used every device of reason and of rhetoric, every gift of human ingenuity and of divine grace to win the soul of which they became the Fathers in Christ: Paul on Mars Hill and in the Areopagus preaching to the pagan Athenians: Patrick on the Rock of Cashel preaching to the Gaels: Paul boldly appearing before rulers of Greece and Rome. Patrick before the pagan Irish kings; Paul breaking up the images of Diana of the Ephesians, Patrick putting out the pagan idol of Baal on Tara. Paul in many labours and journeyings, Patrick not less — how many and how dramatic are the parallels between these two mighty men of God.
Both exemplify and enrich the meaning of the title that both bear, the magnificent title “Apostle”. The spiritual influence of both has dominated the centuries: “their sound has gone forth into all the earth: and their words unto the ends of the world.”
Both are Catholic in their creed, their vision and their influence. Both are Roman to the core. St Paul is forever linked with Peter in the destiny which gave the Church in Rome two such princely founders and enriched the very soul of Rome with the blood of Apostles so glorious. St. Patrick forever linked the Church in Ireland with the Roman See, reminding his people that just as they were Christians, so they must also be Romans.
St. Patrick and St. Paul! How easily and how justly we associate the names, the memories, the works of the Apostle of Ireland and the Apostle to the Gentiles.
But I think of St. Patrick in terms of other and more ancient Scriptural parallels. I think of him in terms of his resemblance to Moses, who became God’s pioneer and prophet, the Lawgiver of a people destined to illumine and to edify all the world with the doctrine that Moses preached to them, even as the sons and daughters of Old Ireland have been a people scattered throughout the world to preach the Faith of Patrick.
Patrick, as their Lawgiver, might well be called the Moses of the Irish people. Even the physical features attributed to Moses, the majesty of his bearing, make one think of the imposing statues by which our people represent and recall the heroic St. Patrick.
Another parallel of St. Patrick was suggested some years ago by a great Jewish scholar, who spoke of the similarities between the Irish people and the Jews, the kindred nature of their strange destinies as tiny nations called upon by God greatly to aid in the building of His universal Kingdom.
The scholar spoke of the common characteristics of poetic vision and prophetic hope shared by the religious Jew of the Old Law and the devout Irish of the New. He told the story of the Hebrew Patriarch, Jacob.
Jacob, avoiding hatred and cherishing love, was walking a lonely road one night when he was taken unaware by the call of sleep. He laid his head to rest on a stone which, in such weariness, felt as good as a pillow. From this cold stone came Jacob’s vision of a ladder reaching up to God’s own House. “This,” says Jacob, “is the Gateway of Heaven and I knew it not!” And Jacob arose and preached the Kingdom of God, the hope of God and the loving mercy of God by which the Jews were kept a people down through the centuries.
It is symbolic, this scholar pointed out, that the Stone of Destiny, so long cherished by the Irish as the stone on which their monarchs were crowned, is reputed to be the very stone on which old Jacob rested his head.
No one has ever explained how the stone of Jacob’s journey found its way to Ireland and yet it seems fitting that it should have rested here. For surely the parallel between the Irish sense of destiny, the Irish poetic vision and the unflagging pursuit of God’s will by the children of St. Patrick in Christian times and these same qualities in the Old Testament children of Jacob, make the Irish and the Chosen People somehow spiritual kinsmen and identify Patrick as the Jacob of the Irish people.
Patrick avoided hatred and cherished love, as did Jacob. Patrick heard his call from God in a dream as did Jacob. Patrick conceived his mighty work in loneliness by night, as did Jacob. Patrick saw in the rocks of Ireland the Gateway of Heaven, just as Jacob recognised the stone on which he rested his head.
But the clearest and most appropriate parallel between the Patriarchs of the Old Law and the Apostle of the Irish is that between Patrick and Abraham.
The origins of Abraham were obscure: so were those of Patrick. God called Abraham out of his father’s house and the land of his own people, to go into another land to serve another people: so also did God call Patrick.
In the moment when Abraham placed himself at the disposition of God, the Almighty promised him a people who would be faithful to him forever and through whom his name would be brought to the ends of the earth.
And the Lord said to Abraham, Lift up thine eyes, and look from the place wherein thou now art, to the north and to the south, to the east and to the west — and I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth. For in thee shall the nations of the earth be blessed.
Even so was the call to Patrick who, like Abraham, was brought out of his own land to raise up a people who would go to the north and the south, the east and the west, making his spiritual seed as the stars of the sky and the dust of the earth.
Even so has the story of the O’Higgins in South America, the Plunkett in New Zealand, Duffy in Australia, an O’Doherty in Maila, a Hennessy in Hong Kong, an O’Donnell in Spain, Taafe in Austria, the MacMahons and Flynns in France, the Fitzpatricks in Canada, the Welchs, Glynns, Farleys, Sheridans and McCormicks in the U.S., brought into all the nations the national genius and the religious faith for which the Irish are indebted to Patrick.
The Messianic destiny conceived by Abraham at God’s command and perpetuated by the Jews of old, finds its counterpart in the historic missionary destiny which Patrick communicated to the Irish people and by which they have brought the Gospel to the far-flung islands of the most distant oceans, to the loneliest corners of the five continents.
The parallel between Abraham, the Patriarch of the nation chosen to redeem the Gentiles and Patrick, the Apostle of the nation which has been the mother of missionaries to all the world, is echoed in the words by which Patrick himself expressed his conviction that his spiritual seed would enrich the whole world.
Patrick wrote: I am immensely indebted to God, Who granted to me this great grace that through me many peoples should be regenerated by God. It is as if the prophecy made to Abraham had been fulfilled by Patrick, as if the work that prospered under Patrick has been begun by Abraham — as so, indeed, it was.
The Jews think of Abraham as the “lofty Father” of their tribes, such is the popular interpretations of his very name. The Irish see in Patrick the father of all their scattered flock, the popular observance of his feast all round the globe keeps the Irish, wherever they may be, a single family.
Abraham is the physical progenitor of his people, but his historic importance derives from the fact that he is the starting-point of the Old Testament. Patrick is the spiritual father of his people because his preaching is the starting-point of their knowledge of the New Testament. The Jews were wont to speak of God as the God of Abraham; it is no exaggeration to say that the Irish think of their God as the God of Patrick.
Abraham was made mighty by his faith; of him the Scriptures say simply: Abraham believed God…and so powerful was that belief that Abraham would not hesitate to see his own son die rather than repudiate his faith in God. Abraham’s unique faith in God became, for the Jews, the pledge of their privileges as the Chosen People.
Patrick made faith, unqualified and indestructible, the supreme virtue in the thought of his people: it is proverbial that the devout Irishman would prefer to suffer any tragedy rather than deny the faith of Patrick. Such fidelity has been, for the Irish, the title to the unique honour they claim among the nations of Christendom as a people who have never produced a heresy.
To be the seed of Abraham and the children of Abraham, to do the work of Abraham, to merit the promises made to Abraham, to keep the faith of Abraham, to be justified with the faithful Abraham — no Old Testament saint could imagine a greater glory. To be the sons of St. Patrick, to be numbered forever among those justified with the faithful Patrick — no devout among the Irish could know a greater consolation.
Our times can learn many and profound lessons from reflection on Abraham and Patrick, the Patriarch of the Old Law and the Patriarch of the Irish.
Let me mention but a few: the obscure, sometimes bitter, ways of God’s merciful Providence: Abraham and Patrick, the Irish and the Chosen People exemplify these. The immortal majesty which surrounds those however humble their origin, who are called to do the work of God: Abraham and Patrick exemplify this.
The world-wide mission and the service to all humanity which are accomplished by even the smallest nations when these obey God’s call and follow faithfully their spiritual Fathers: Abraham and his Jews, Patrick and his Irish both prove these. The sometimes terrible cost of fidelity to God and to His Will on us: the cost in exile, austere discipline and heart-breaking renunciations; the ancient followers of Abraham and the modern Irish of Patrick understand these.
That God’s Providence assigns vocations to nations as well as to individuals, and that these vocations come to nations through their spiritual chieftains: Abraham and Jews, Patrick and the Irish, demonstrate these truths unforgettably.
That justice and unity in battle for justice: faith and valor in the professor of faith: sacrifice and generosity in the practice of sacrifice: and the things which a people strong, free, and indestructible — of all these truths the personalities of Abraham and Patrick are the pledge and the histories of Ireland and the Chosen People are the proof.
We cannot better prove ourselves worthy of our Patriarch and our Apostle, Patrick, than by resolving not to forfeit the spiritual fruits of the exile, the sorrow, the strife and the struggles to which the spiritual children of Patrick have been the willing heirs these 1,500 years. These trials should have taught us patient faith, sympathetic kindness and the high spirituality of which St. Patrick’s Day is an annual reminder and of which the whole world stands in such tragic need to-day.
Modern Ireland, quite as much as Old Ireland, has demonstrated that it understands these lessons and accepts them in all their implications. I have spoken of the parallel between Patrick and Abraham, between Catholic Ireland and the Israel of Abraham. A French writer makes the same point when he declares the role of Ireland in the life of the Church to have made her “almost a second Palestine,” the seedbed of spiritual life to all people within the boundaries of the visible Church.
In the seventh century, Irish monks working in the spirit of St. Patrick, re-vitalized Christian Europe. In the nineteenth century, devout Irish by the hundreds of thousands, built churches and schools, in the tradition of St. Patrick, all over the world.
During the past ten years almost 4,000 priests, nuns and brothers have left Ireland to carry the truth and grace of Christ, as modern Patricks, along the highways and byways of the world. To these we must add the thousands of nurses, teachers and workers who faithful to the spirit of St. Patrick, are influencing the lives of millions in a world community within which Catholic Ireland, tiny but tenacious, continues to act like the leaven in the Gospel.
The missionary enterprise, as Bishop Conway has pointed out, is one in which the whole nation, every parish and every family, is involved. It is the very heart of the vocation of Ireland.
Of all these things the bell of St. Patrick, rung at the Consecration of to-day’s Mass, is an eloquent dramatic reminder. Ringing again in Armagh, after fifteen full centuries, its sound carried on the radio waves of the world, the bell symbolises the manner in which the sound of St. Patrick has gone forth into all the ends of the earth and the saving words of his missionary people have reached the ends of the world. It proclaims the fidelity of the Irish people to the original missionary vocation of St. Patrick
Wherefore, let the sound of the Consecration bell, the most authentic and oldest Irish relic of Christian metal work, inspire us to unite in thanksgiving to God for the graces of these centuries. Let us rejoice that the Patrician year finds the 110th successor to St. Patrick in the “City of Armagh,” John Cardinal D’Alton, preaching that same faith and praising that same Christ as did St. Patrick so many centuries ago. Let us return thanks to God that the fifteenth centenary of the death of St. Patrick finds Ireland now answering with priests, sisters and lay missionaries the voices that call to her from all over the world as once the voices of the Irish called to Patrick. God grant that she will ever do so!
Posted on March 17, 2011, in Irish History, Missionaries, Papacy, Conversion, St. Patrick, Persecution, Archbishop John Charles McQuaid, Bishop Michael Browne, Cardinal John D'Alton, Judaism, Patrician Year (1961), Cardinal Richard Cushing, Irish Church-State Relations. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.