March 17, 2009

St. Patrick's Day Rant

Now don't think for a minute that I would be against recognizing and celebrating the immense contribution that Irish-Americans have made to the the flourishing of the Catholic faith in these United States. Still less would I ever have a problem with the veneration of the saints. I don't even have a problem with the stray solemnity* that interrupts the ordinary course of Lent. St. Patrick's Day when I was a student at NUI Galway was one of the most fun things ever.

But...St. Patrick's Day and its attendant celebrations have become a liability to the observance of Lent. I don't think Patrick would approve, and so I suggest that his feast day be moved out of this particular liturgical season.

Before you get all shocked at my outrageous suggestion, let me explain. It's not that there's one day lost during Lent. I'm talking about the few weeks of parades, receptions, parties, and banquets of fraternal organizations. In the parish where I work, which has strong Irish-American roots, I calculate that for the clergy and leading faithful, approximately 12 to 15 percent of the days of Lent are de facto suppressed or superseded by celebrations associated with St. Patrick's Day. This is certainly unacceptable as we try to prayerfully accompany our catechumens through the desert of Lent to the Promised Land of the new life of baptism. Again, I don't think Patrick himself would approve.

"But you can't just move St. Patrick's Day!," you complain. In the last revision of the general Roman calendar, many saints' days were moved around, and hardly anybody remembers what they used to be. So, I propose that we do something to recover our Lent. Praying at his altar today, I'm convinced that St. Patrick would want it that way.

UPDATE: Apparently there are a lot of people for whom St. Patrick's Day induces thoughts of ranting. The exact search term "St. Patrick's Day Rant" has been bringing by a good deal of search engine traffic today.

*Here in the archdiocese of New York, as in many places in the USA, St. Patrick is our titular patron. Thus his day goes from being a Lenten "commemoration" to a full solemnity.


ben in denver said...

Maybe instead of moving St. Patrick's day, the Church could intensify Lent. For example, I can't immagine there would be anything stopping local bishops from making March 16 a day of fast and abstinence.

Perhaps then St. Patrick's day would then be the occasion for both intensifying and taking a break from Lent?

Further, I don't think we use St. Patrick as an opportunity to evangelize.

If on St. Patrick's Day Catholics spent as much time talking about Jesus as they did Ireland, I think the tenor of the whole day would change. St. Patrick was after all a great evangelist, and Lent is a good time preach the good news. What better alms is there than the living water?

Jeanne said...

When I worked in New York City, I had to fight throngs of green clad, drunken revelers who were a menace to themselves and others, all in the name of poor Saint Patrick. Let's celebrate the saint, celebrate the Irish culture, and leave the parties out of it!