Saturday, March 15, 2008

"O Glorious Saint of Erin"

In further notes from the Calendar Confusion desk, Beannachtaí na Féile Phádraig!

To clarify, that's "Blessed St Patrick's Day" in Gaelic. And, no, it's not a greeting given in advance.

As most already know, the earliest Holy Week since the 1850s has seen the Apostle of Ireland bumped from his usual feast-day alongside the aforementioned St Joseph. While the former was mostly marked yesterday in those places where he's patron of a diocese or parish, Patrick's universal celebration on the 17th is, for this year, liturgically nonexistent. However, after a lengthy discernment process among the Irish bishops, the Emerald Isle marked the feast of its patron today... albeit only 'til the Vigil hour, upon which Palm Sunday takes precedence.

Ergo, the time for Irish potatoes and green beer is already past. Gratefully, however, the spiritual nourishment provided by the Behan brothers, Van Morrison, Damien Rice, The Frames, The Pogues et al. are oft of a level of mournful beauty that's ideal for good Holy Week meditations.

Last week, while on whirlwind tour of that extension of Ireland they call Boston, your narrator was taken up to the tomb of its first great patriarch, William Henry O'Connell, who shepherded Eire's diaspora into the American mainstream by consolidating the community's clout and amplifying his own stature as its head to the brink of omnipresence.

Beantown history buffs might want to make a visit before the monument disappears. At least for the time being, the nation's third cardinal remains buried beneath the grandiose stone chapel on the compound where he presided over what became Stateside Catholicism's lodestar. Years of discussion between the prelate's survivors and the archdiocese continues on; the removal of O'Connell's bronze coffin (said to be buried beneath 15ft of concrete) is a condition of Boston College's $165 million acquisition of the old Brighton Chancery.

Speaking of Irish music, a book of hymns "penned" by O'Connell -- and dedicated to the children of the Boston church -- included an ode to Patrick... which generations of its schoolkids can still intone from (forced) memory.

As a dual tribute, the lyrics:
O glorious Saint of Erin whose wondrous work and word
Implanted deep in Irish hearts the faith of Christ the Lord,
O'er all the earth thy children thy sweet protection claim,
And loyally they keep the love of dear Saint Patrick's name.

For centuries thy people have bowed beneath the rod
Of cruel wrong, but never yet have they forsaken God;
For Ireland's faith has never failed and in her darkest night,
Her children brave have kept that Faith and struggled for the right.

The seed which thou hast planted now blooms in ev'ry clime;
Thy tears and pray'rs, Saint Patrick dear, have made its strength sublime:
While other nations bartered their God for pow'r and gold,
The Faith of Erin still remains as loyal as of old!
For the record, while the Holy Cross Hymnal bore O'Connell's name, legend holds that its actual authorship is more likely attributable to a Protestant layman described as one of the cardinal's "travel companions."

'Nuff said -- God love Ireland, on to Holy Week.