St. Patrick’s Day as we now know it is the product of the modern trend to make everything in life light and frivolous—even religion. The atmosphere in Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day is very different now from what it was ten or fifteen years ago. St. Patrick’s Day in Roman Catholic Ireland used to be a sacred religious observance. The island was a quiet sanctuary as Catholics started the day at Mass; bars and shops were closed and business stopped.
The Roman Catholic Church boasts that the “Church” in Ireland “survived the Reformation intact,” and there is a lot of truth in this boast. It must admit, however, that it has not survived the onslaught of secularism with the same resilience. In 1995 Dublin held its first St. Patrick’s Day Festival and throughout Ireland St. Patrick’s Day has become a family carnival of parades and pop concerts, and for some, an unrestrained revel of drunkenness, violence, and vandalism.
Reformed Protestants in the North of Ireland generally ignored this holiday. Recognizing that the memory of Patrick had been hijacked by Rome, Protestants, refusing all of the abhorrent homage paid to men, chose to celebrate the ancient saint quietly and with the same reserved reverence that any other saint of God deserves in any age. Now, in the new and peaceful and increasingly secular Northern Ireland, Protestants are gate crashing the Roman Catholic celebrations and parading in the Cathedral City of Armagh.
But let’s take a second look at all of this and see who’s coming and going in this mélange of religion and revelry. The Roman Catholic Church’s doctrine of Dulia pays homage to a certain chosen few whom the church has deemed worthy of the title “Saint” with a capital “S.” These Saints are given a special day of celebration. Part of this veneration includes the Invocation of the Saints—praying to the saints. A special honour is given to Mary, of course, in the doctrine of hyperdulia.
This doctrine shows contempt to the common believer (as though God shows favoritism). More importantly, it was rightly regarded by the Reformers as “idolatry” and the holidays to saints as “corruptions” and “inventions.” Luther, in his Treatise on Good Works said, “Would to God that in Christendom there were no holidays except the Sunday.” John Calvin, in his Brief Form of a Confession of Faith stated, “I abominate the superstition which some have devised of applying to saints, male and female, as a kind of advocates for us with God.” This has been and remains the position of the Reformed Church.
Judging by the self-effacing manner with which Patrick writes his Confession, I have no doubt he would be horrified at this deification of man that Rome practices, not to mention the reveling that goes on in his name. It is clear Patrick certainly would refuse any overtures to beatify him—were he given the choice.
We are right to remember Patrick, but let us remember him with the same humility and purpose with which he regarded himself, desiring instead to exalt his Saviour. Insofar as he leads us to Christ in the ministry of his writings let us thank the Lord for Patrick and his testimony.
Remember also, dear Roman Catholic reader, that even the angels—those agents who are commanded to serve us—are never commanded to receive our prayers. If the angels, who kept the perfection of their creation and need no Saviour, cannot and do not pray for us, what reason do we have to think that a sinner—even a saved sinner—could?
Furthermore, what comfort is there in praying to those from whom we are not guaranteed an answer? Jesus Christ has told us, “If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it” (John 14:14). “In Christ we have everything,” as Luther said in his Smalcald Articles, and every repentant sinner is promised a hearing with God, through Christ alone. He is the “one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5).