By Fr. Mark Perkins
Editor's Note: We initially neglected to include Ken Myers' post on the hymn's origins over at Cantica Sacra. It is, like all things at Cantica Sacra, worth your time!
Like all schools in Virginia and many across the nation, the school where I teach has shut its doors for the foreseeable future. Many of the faculty are still on campus for a day or two more, though, as we prepare to launch "distance learning" on Thursday. It is a strange time.
I am fortunate enough to have three parishioners among my coworkers. Along with a few other of our faculty, we just gathered in our auditorium — maintaining physical distance, mind you — to sing "St. Patrick's Breastplate." A prayer of protection attributed to St. Patrick himself as he faced Christ's enemies in pagan Ireland, it is traditionally sung on St. Patrick's Day, of course, but also at ordinations. Nothing quite evokes the gravity of my priestly vocation like that hymn. And because we all participate in Christ's royal priesthood in one way or another, we all fight spiritual battles against principalities and powers, and we all need reminders of the source of our strength, hope, and protection.
Just now many of us are praying for a different kind of protection, but the hymn is no less appropriate when our needs are bodily — doubly so, given the existential fear and spiritual anxiety that bodily danger frequently provokes.
And so, on this strange St. Patrick's Day amidst this exceedingly strange Lent, I encourage you to read "St. Patrick's Breastplate" — to listen to it, to sing it, and most especially to pray it.
I have embedded a beautiful rendition of the hymn below. You will find the words if you follow this link to the YouTube page. (I prefer the setting from the 1942 hymnal for verse 6 — "Christ be with me..." — but it's still wonderful!)
Christ be with you, today and every day!
Fr. Mark Perkins is Assistant Editor of Earth & Altar. He is also Assistant Curate at All Saints Anglican Church, Charlottesville and a full-time history teacher.