What’s in a Saints Day?

Thursday 15th March 2018

It’s amazing how many people find a bit of Irish blood in them when it comes to celebrating Saint Patrick! Not without cause do people say the whole world turns green! Patron saints are important to us, because they speak of identity and culture and history – and indeed the opportunity to celebrate! At this time of year you will always find someone wishing the English celebrated Saint George with as much gusto as the Irish celebrate Saint Patrick.

Roman Catholic cultures do tend to celebrate saints with vigour: in some places your “saint’s day” – the feast day of the saint you are named after – is celebrated almost as a second birthday. In rural Italian and French villages the saint’s day is a grand excuse for festival and jollity.

People look for patrons: it is not just countries that have patron saints. Occupations such as teachers (Saint John Bosco), medical professionals (Saint Camillus of Lellis, among others: healthcare workers seem to have lots of patron saints), police officers (Saint Michael or Saint Ambrose of Milan) all have their patrons in heaven. There are some wonderful ‘inventive’ patronages too: the patron saint of television is Saint Clare of Assisi – because she experienced a miraculous ‘remote viewing’ of events far away (though what she would make of Big Brother is best left to the imagination). The patron of the Internet is Saint Isidore of Seville, because he tried to compile an encyclopaedia of all the knowledge in the world! Back in the seventh century, that is.

The danger is that this can all begin to sound a little silly. And there will be some people who look askance at the raucous celebration of Saint Patrick, someone known for his severe attitude to life, penitential discipline, and praying in snow, ice and rain. People may be nervous of celebrating national saints where nationality becomes more important than sanctity. Do we really need Patron Saints?

In the Church we believe that saints connect. They connect us to God, to our past, and to our future. As a community in heaven, they spur us onwards, learning from their goodness, their dedication and perseverance, their heroic efforts in different times and places. We do not worship them (and must take care never to approach that – the saints would not want it!), but we remember and celebrate them exactly as we do family and friends – keeping their pictures on our sideboards, observing important anniversaries and yes, celebrating their memory – sometimes with a prayer, an act of charity or, indeed, a pint of Guinness!

Fr. James Manock is Parish Priest of St Teresa, Little Lever and St Mary and St Philip Neri, Radcliffe. He is also the diocesan Director of Liturgy. 

This article was first written for publication in the Manchester Weekly News on 15th March 2018.

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