House of Brigid 2009-10

House of Brigid 2009-10

02 February 2010

Feast of St. Brigid

This past Sunday marked the culmination of weeks of preparation as Chris, Martha, and I participated in the annual celebration of St. Brigid at Clonard Church. The celebration took place on the eve of Brigid's feast day, and we had been charged with planning the entire evening's events, with the help of Sr. Mary, a parishioner who had helped to plan past celebrations in honor of Brigid. In the initial stages, we were given a large stack of material to sift through: stories, legends, poems, blessings--all having to do with the woman we pray to as our community's patroness on a daily basis. All of us had a cursory knowledge of Brigid's biography when we arrived, but I don't think any of us realized just how much she means to the people of Ireland.
We wanted to honor Brigid, but we also wanted to honor the entire sense of the Celtic spirituality that surrounds her and permeates the culture. The prayer and poetry of Ireland is saturated with rich imagery and parallel language; St. Patrick's Breastplate is the classic example: "Christ with me. Christ before me. Christ behind me." If you read the entire prayer, you'll find that the language conveys the belief that is deeply-rooted throughout the Celtic spiritual tradition: God is present everywhere, in every thing, in every person, in every place. The entirety of creation reflects the perfection and beauty and majesty of the Creator.
So how do you capture Celtic spirituality in an hour? Oh, and honor the patroness of Ireland?
We found our answer and our inspiration in the incredible tapestry that graces a wall of the Day Chapel at Clonard Church, partially visible in our group picture at the top of the blog. Brigid is the central image, with her cloak miraculously growing the cover the lands of Kildare, and each side of the border depicts the four elements of creation: fire, water, air, and earth. Our celebration of St. Brigid viewed these elements through the lens of her life and her faith.
The emcee began with a description of the element itself, then a reader proclaimed a passage of Scripture pertinent to each element. Following the Scripture, Fr. Denis blessed the element, which was then shared with the congregation through ritual action (i.e. distribution of fire, sprinkling rite). Music focusing underscored each ritual, after which the reader concluded with a story from the life of St. Brigid highlighting her kinship with each element, ending finally with a poetic prayer for her intercession.
There were so many facets to this celebration that it was almost theatrical (in the best sense of the word): the parish staff constructed a beautiful shrine that provided the focus for the evening, pyrotechnics helped us create drama for the blessing and distribution of fire, readers proclaimed Scripture and story with energetic enthusiasm, and images of nature and the Brigid tapestry projected on the wall provided the backdrop for the entire evening.
After reflecting on each of the four elements, the evening concluded with the blessing of Brat Bríd, or Brigid's Cloths. These strips of cloth are to be tied to a tree branch on the eve of Brigid's feast day, and she blesses them as she passes through the lands of Ireland during the night. The cloths are then traditionally placed under a pillow or mattress, or in a sickbed, so that Brigid might intercede for protection or healing. In addition to the cloths, Fr. Denis also blessed the Brigid crosses that had been distributed to the congregation, which had been lovingly made from rushes by several women of the parish. Chris, Martha, and I even learned how to make them!
Looking back, there were so many things that could have gone wrong with this celebration, but nothing did. Each person performed his or her task perfectly and reverently, and the result was truly a celebration that engaged all of the senses, that paid tribute to the heroine of Ireland, and that embodied the richness of Celtic spirituality.
The following is the closing prayer from Sunday night's celebration:
May the wisdom of earth open us to mystery.
May the simplicity of air capture our hearts.
May the gentleness of water soften the tensions within us, and
May the flame of the Spirit that inspired St. Brigid give us hope, courage, and strength as we continue our pilgrim way.
St. Brigid, our patroness and patroness of Ireland, pray for us.

For the full photo album from Sunday's celebration, please click here.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, Carolyn! Great pictures of the tapestry! Thanks for sharing your album with everyone. Wish we had been able to join you for the celebration.