St Patrick’s Breastplate
By Br Gabriel Theis, O.P. | As often absent-minded creatures, we need good and simple prayers to focus on the important things in life. The famous ‘Breastplate’ by St Patrick helps us to balance our orientation towards Christ with the love for our neighbour.
Some time ago, Fr John Farrell – our student master here at Blackfriars – gave a very good homily on the necessity of simple prayers: He told us that because of our feeble and often absent-minded nature, as human beings we have to resist the prideful thought that we can always come up with our own prayers (at least that is what I remember of his homily – you see, my absent-mindedness kicked in). Instead, he insisted, we should rely on good and simple prayers that have come to us through our tradition.
Now this tradition often works in mysterious ways. Some days ago, I came across a beautiful piece of music based on an apparently rather famous prayer by St Patrick. Although the Irish and English monks are quite important for the German Church (they evangelised our country from the 7th century on, the most famous of them being St Boniface, the ‘Apostle of the Germans’), I have to admit that I barely knew anything about St Patrick besides that he was a rather legendary figure at the beginning of Irish monasticism and is nowadays commonly associated with his modern-day disciples’ obsession with green beer.
However, I now learned about this beautiful prayer attributed to him – his so-called ‘breastplate’, i.e. a protection prayer for all kinds of affliction. St Patrick’s feast day won’t be until the end of March, but I wanted to share it now before I might forget it (my absent-mindedness again!). It struck me with its focus on God, but also the connection it makes between our love for Christ and the right attitude in encountering our neighbour: “Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me, Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.”
The original is quite extensive, but there are established shorter versions like this one:
“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 see before me,
God’s ear to hear me, God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me, God’s way to lie before me,
God’s shield to protect me, God’s host to secure me –
against snares of devils,
against temptations and vices,
against inclinations of nature,
against everyone who shall wish me
ill, afar and anear,
alone and in a crowd…
Christ, be 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 where I lie, Christ where I sit,
Christ where I arise, Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.
Salvation is of the Lord.
Salvation is of the Lord.
Salvation is of the Christ.
May your salvation, O Lord, be ever with us.”
Image: Celtic Cross