Patrician Year (1961): Cardinal D’Alton’s Pastoral Letter
Cardinal D’Alton enters Croke Park on the final day of the Dublin Congress, 25th June, 1961
The following letter from Cardinal John D’Alton, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, was read out in all the churches of the Archdiocese of Armagh on Sunday, 12th March, 1961:
In a few days time Ireland will begin the solemn commemoration of the fifteenth centenary of the death of St. Patrick. Here in St. Patrick’s own city of Armagh the Irish people, represented by dignitaries from the four provinces of the land, will give thanks to God for the Saint who came to us over fifteen hundred years ago and brought us the gift ‘more precious than gold,’ of the Catholic faith. On that day too, Ireland will be joined by Cardinals, Archbishops and Bishops from all over the world who are coming to share our joy and to unite with the Irish people in giving thanks to God for all that He has done for Ireland through Saint Patrick and for the Church through Ireland.
Above all, the occasion will be crowned with the presence of the special Legate, His Eminence Cardinal McIntyre, whom our beloved Holy Father is graciously sending to us to preside, in his name, over the solemn ceremonies. The successor of Pope Celestine who, over fifteen hundred years ago, sent his missionary to pagan Ireland, to-day sends his own Legatus a latere to an Ireland which has remained faithful through the centuries to the words of her great Apostle: ut Christiani ita et Romani sitis.
Many of you, dearly beloved brethren, will be present in Armagh on this solemn and historic occasion in the life of the Irish Church. But I would exhort all of you to be present in spirit and to unite yourselves in prayer and thanksgiving with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass which shall be offered by the Legate of the Holy Father on that morning. We have so much to be thankful for. We are one of the oldest Christian nations on earth. We received the precious gift of faith long before many of the nations of Europe and, in fact, it was missionaries from Ireland who later brought the faith to them at a time when we won the proud title in Europe of “The Island of Saints.”
By God’s grace we were spared the ravages of heresy and schism amongst our people during the upheavals of the sixteenth century; by His mercy we were strengthened to endure bitter and prolonged persecution in the centuries which followed. To-day when the Holy Father looks towards Ireland, he sees a deeply religious people, united to him and to their Bishops and priests in the unity of the Church, a people whose strong faith has resisted the corrupting influence of so much in the modern world, and a people which is facing its national problems with courage and resolution, without, however, succumbing to the materialistic outlook on life which is so widespread today. Above all he sees a nation which in its vocations to the priesthood and the religious life is one of the richest in the world and which, in the missionaries which it sends forth year after year remains true to its historic vocation in the Church and brings to his paternal heart as he himself has recently told us ‘a special consolation and joy.’
All this, dearly beloved brethren, is reason for humble thankfulness on our part to Almighty God. It would be foolish and wrong if it gave rise in us to any feelings other than those of gratitude and humility. Saint Patrick has given us an example in this respect which, as a nation, we should strive to emulate. At the end of his Confession, that most moving document in which his great soul appears before us in all its grandeur and humility, he says:
“But I beseech those who believe and fear God, whosoever shall have deigned to look at or receive this document, which Patrick the sinner, as is obvious, wrote in Ireland, let no one ever say that it was I in my ignorance who did whatever little I have done or taught, that is pleasing to God; but think and let it be truly believed, that it was the gift of God. And this is my confession before I die.”
On the coming great feast let our hearts echo the humility of our great apostle; let the prayer on our lips be: ‘No to us, O Lord, but to Thy name be the glory.’ And as we humbly thank God for His goodness to us in the past let us implore His protection and His blessing on ourselves and on our beloved country in the years to come. We shall need the sustaining hand of God in the future if we are to ‘walk worthily in the vocation’ in which we have been called. We lived in a world in which many ignore the teachings of Our Divine Master, a world whose corrupting influences come to us across the seas in many forms. Therefore let us put on the armour of God: the shield of faith and the breastplate of justice, that breastplate of which Saint Patrick’s hymn speaks so beautifully:
“I arise to-day
through the strength of Christ 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 coming anew to judge mankind.”
In that strength alone will Ireland arise. May God, through the intercession of St. Patrick grant her that strength in the years to come and may Our Lady shelter her beneath her mantle.