On Mar. 17, the Catholic Church especially honors Saint Patrick – Catholic bishop, “Apostle of Ireland” and one of the most well-loved and celebrated saints of all time.
From special Masses to parades, the world rejoices on Saint Patrick’s Day.
However, certain joyous feast days – like Saint Patrick’s Day this year – can fall during the penitential season of Lent. Archbishop Paul Etienne issued a “decree of dispensation” to allow area Catholics and those visiting Alaska to eat meat and meat products on St. Patrick’s feast day.
The disciplinary practice of abstaining from meat on the Fridays in Lent is an important dimension of the penitential nature of the season,” Archbishop Etienne stated. “This year, the Feast of St. Patrick, March 17, 2017, falls on a Friday in Lent. Given the many celebrations that occur on this day, in accord with the norm of the law, I herewith grant to all Catholics of the Archdiocese of Anchorage, as well as all present here that day, a dispensation from abstinence from meat and meat products.”
He went on to “encourage all who make use of this dispensation to engage in another sacrificial or charitable act that day.”
When a feast day falls on a day of abstinence from meat, such as a Friday in Lent, local bishops may grant a special dispensation from the church’s law of abstinence for that day.
The great patron of Ireland, Saint Patrick was born in Scotland to Roman parents around 385. His mother was a relative of Saint Martin of Tours. When he was 14 years old, Saint Patrick was kidnapped by an Irish raiding party and taken to Ireland as a slave. For six years in the pagan land, the youth herded sheep for a Druid high priest and chieftain.
Throughout his captivity, Saint Patrick fervently prayed to God. He later wrote: “His fear increased in me more and more, and the faith grew in me, and the spirit was roused, so that, in a single day, I have said as many as a hundred prayers, and in the night nearly the same, so that whilst in the woods and on the mountain, even before the dawn, I was roused to prayer and felt no hurt from it, whether there was snow or ice or rain…”
At age 20, inspired by an angel in a dream, he escaped to the coast and journeyed across the sea back to his family.
In Britain, he studied for the priesthood and was ordained. Later, Saint Patrick became a bishop. For 18 years, he helped Saint Germanus successfully quell the heresies of Paganism and Pelagianism which Christian Britain was battling.
Still, according to The Catholic Encyclopedia, from time to time, Saint Patrick saw visions of the children in Ireland crying to him: “O holy youth, come back to Erin, and walk once more amongst us.”
Eventually, Pope Celestine I gave Saint Patrick the mission of returning to Ireland to draw its people into the fold of Christ’s universal church. For his work, the Holy Father gave the saint many relics and spiritual gifts – as well as the name “Patercius” or “Patritius” – a foreshadow of the coming fruitful apostolate in which Saint Patrick became “the father of his people.”
Saint Patrick arrived at Ireland’s shores on March 25, 433 – on the feast of the Annunciation. While some Irish were happy to hear Saint Patrick preach the Gospel, the chieftains and the Druids – eager to maintain the hold of superstition among the Celts – were up in arms.
There are a number of dramatic accounts of Saint Patrick’s heroic stands against pagan forces. In his work, “Confessio,” Saint Patrick said that he and his companions were seized and carried off as captives 12 times. But the faithful servant of Christ overcame the trials. Saint Patrick and his followers – some of whom were later canonized, too – converted thousands. And he built churches and formed dioceses for his flock in all the provinces of Ireland.
The humble saint is known for his clear, powerful expositions of the principles of the Catholic faith. He even employed the ordinary, little, three-leaved shamrock plant to teach people about the Trinity. When he died on March 17, 461 (some say 460 or 493), the Irish people came to mourn and venerate him. Saint Patrick’s body was wrapped in a shroud woven by Saint Brigid, and his remains were interred where the Cathedral of Down now sits.