January 31, 2017

Feast of Saint Brigid of Ireland

St. Brigid of Kildare
On February 1st, the Church in Ireland celebrates the feast of Brigid of Ireland or Saint Brigid of Kildare (c. 450 – 525), also known as "the Mary of the Gael". Along with Saint Patrick and Saint Columba she is one of Ireland’s three patron saints. She was born a slave into a Druid family, the daughter of Dubhthach, court poet to King Loeghaire. St. Bridget is one of the few saints who stands on the boundary between pagan mythology, Druidism and Christian spirituality. Around her name there have been formed hundreds of legends, which could be fittingly described as "the Little Flowers of St. Brigid," the keynote being mercy and pity for the poor.

At an early age, Brigid decided to become a Christian, and she eventually took vows as a nun. Brigid’s family expected her to marry, but she disfigured her face, marring her beauty in order to dissuade suitors and serve God in consecrated life. While consecrated religious life was not foreign to the Irish Church prior to Brigid's time, it had not yet developed the systematic character and practice seen in other parts of Christian Europe in the 5th century.

Together with a group of other women, she established a nunnery at Kildare. She was later joined by a community of monks led by Conlaed. Kildare had formerly been a pagan shrine where a sacred fire was kept perpetually burning. Rather than stamping out this pagan flame, Brigid and her nuns kept it burning as a Christian symbol. (This was in keeping with the general process whereby Druidism in Ireland gave way to Christianity with very little opposition, the Druids for the most part saying that their own beliefs were a partial and tentative insight into the nature of God, and that they recognized in Christianity what they had been looking for.) As an abbess, Brigid participated in several Irish councils, where her influence on the policies of the Church in Ireland was considerable.

St. Brigid of Ireland died in 525. Popular piety attests she received Viaticum from Saint Ninnidh, a priest whose vocation she had encouraged. Veneration of Brigid grew in the centuries after her death, and spread outside of Ireland through the work of Irish missionaries. Accounts of miracles associated with her life and holy intercession are numerous. Almighty ever-living God, direct our actions according to your good pleasure, that in the name of your beloved Son we may abound in good works. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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