A Celtic Meditation: The Breastplate of St. Patrick
By Mary Daly, RSM
The Celts had a prayer for everything, for going to bed, for rising from bed, for kindling the fire, for putting out the fire. There were prayers for planting, for harvesting, for walking along the road. One particular type of prayer was the breastplate prayer. It was a prayer you put on like a protective cloak. Those of us old enough to have worn the religious habit are familiar with one example of such a prayer. When donning each part of the habit an appropriate prayer was said. One robed oneself in grace as well as in clothing.
An especially beautiful breastplate prayer is the Breastplate of St Patrick. Tradition says that Patrick was protected from outlaws as he recited this on his way to greet the King. The outlaws heard only the cry of deer as Patrick and his followers passed by. Sean Davies has set to music this adaptation of the longer version.
THE DEER'S CRY
The Breastplate of St. Patrick
I arise today
Through the strength of heaven:
Light of sun,
Radiance of moon,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of wind,
Depth of sea,
Stability of earth,
Firmness of rock.
I arise today
Through God's strength to pilot me:
God's eye to look before me, God's wisdom to guide me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to protect me,
From all who shall wish me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone and in a multitude.
Christ 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 when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every one who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every one who speaks of me,
I arise today.
The opening words, “I arise today” may also be translated, “I bind unto myself today” which gives us a clear and intimate sense of the power of this prayer.
Consider what I am binding or wrapping myself in. First of all it is nature itself, its strength, its light, its splendor, speed, depth, stability, firmness. What a wonderful preparation to meet the day’s challenge! But that is not enough. No, I go more deeply and bind to myself the very strength of God. I put on God’s eye with which to look out on my day. Ah, to look on my day as God looks upon it! Then, I have God’s wisdom to guide me and I consider it is God’s very path that I travel protected by God’s own self.
Even that is not the end of my ritual of clothing. No, I now bind unto myself, wrap myself in the presence of Christ in me, before and behind me, above and below me, on my right and on my left. I am surrounded, inundated, shielded and utterly protected with the presence of God, the presence of Christ and the power of Divine Love. Is this not the truth of God’s presence with us as we journey through God’s world in the doing of God’s business?
But even more. Consider God wrapping Godself in me! God putting me on, using my strength, my wisdom, such as it is, walking my path, shielded by my presence. Think of me in God, on God’s right and left, above and below God, with God no matter how God is, God’s shield protecting God. What could it mean!
What a gift this is! How marvelous to be so reminded of it!