Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Wearin O' The... Red?

Breastplates at the ready, friends -- in three days, the most beloved and celebrated saint's day of the calendar is back again. If you're lucky to be in a town with a big Irish diaspora -- or just a bunch of people who, like your narrator, aspire to Irishness -- the St Paddy's observances have been taking place for the better part of the last three weeks.

For what it's worth, there's no better rite of spring, and the mid-Lenten festivals could never go on long enough... except for those intrepid souls who've sacrificed beer for the season.

Last year, as 17 March fell on a Friday, these pages got a national ball rolling, keeping tabs of the dioceses that granted the legendary 2006 Corned Beef Indult, that the faithful might keep tradition sans mortal sin.

Sorry, I don't know what "without" is in Gaelic. But suffice it to say, it's the beef what made indults fun again.

Devoid of the story for another decade -- Paddymas next falls on a Friday in 2017 -- the US' two largest parades take place in New York and Chicago, both catapulted to megalopolitan status on the strength of the immigration from the Emerald Isle, starting in the time of the the Famine.

In the Windy City, as shown above, the children of Eire famously celebrate by dying the Chicago River green. New York being New York, no such feat is even attempted. Both, however, will have notable faces of American Catholicism helming the festivities as their grand marshals: Cardinal Francis George OMI (three-fourths Irish) will be the first archbishop of Chicago to hold the top slot for its annual parade, and former US ambassador to the Holy See and Boston Mayor Ray Flynn will be the grand marshal of New York's 246th St Patrick's Day blowout.

As Eire's great snake-driver-outer is patron of the nation's de facto cathedral church, the Lenten commemoration is a proper feast in the US' marquee archdiocese, where the day begins with a Solemn Pontifical Mass invariably celebrated by the cardinal-archbishop, who then reviews the passing tide of 150,000 or so from its steps.

They may not dye the rivers green in the Big Apple, but don't be surprised if Flynn gets a bit of static in the form of the "Boston Sucks!" hysteria which is as endemic to Yankee Stadium as the seventh-inning bald eagle release and singing of "God Bless America."

To all celebrating, as Gotham's Cardinal Edward Egan once put it, "The top of the mornin', and the rest of the day." But with the native Chicagoan's 75th birthday less than three weeks away, it might just be the rest of the year that'll reveal whether the vaunted line of New York's Irish archbishops (i.e. all nine of them) will continue into a generation where US Catholicism's majority feast is no longer one of shamrocks in March, but roses in winter.

Happy Paddymas and stay tuned.