This coming Wednesday, March 17th, is St. Patrick’s Day. It is a day of great celebration in all places of Irish background and beyond. Boston and New York will hold their annual St. Patrick’s Day parades, people of all backgrounds will feast on corn beef and cabbage and many pubs will add a green tint to their beer. However, there is one phenomenon that is a great contradiction, some clergy of Irish and non-Irish background will wear green vestments for the celebration of Mass. In most places, St. Patrick is an Optional Memorial and the color of the day would be violet. However, even in places where St. Patrick is the patron of the place and his celebrations is the rank of Feast, the liturgical color is white.
By liturgical law, the Church “directs that the vestments worn by her sacred ministers, and the drapery used in the decoration of the altar should correspond in color to that which is prescribed” for the celebration of the day. The Liturgy of the Church is to be a sign of unity among Catholics, not our private cause or personal desires.
Wearing green for Mass on St. Patrick’s Day is such a contradiction. As Catholics, the Liturgy does not celebrate St. Patrick’s national identity, it raises up this great man’s witness of heroic virtue. The liturgical color of white celebrates St. Patrick’s purity and holiness, his complete giving over to Christ and conformity to his baptismal covenant. Wearing green vestments on St. Patrick’s Day lowers our liturgical celebration to a human custom and allows the world to transform the Church.
St. Patrick was not one to bring the world into the Church, he was a man who transformed the culture in which he lived. The sought hard to convert the pagan ways of the people of Ireland, he encourage young women to consecrate their virginity to Christ, young men to enter the priesthood and widows to reman chaste. Like St. Patrick, we need to build a Catholic culture and not water down our faith by giving in to secular attitudes and ways of doing things. If we had a few people with the courage of St. Patrick, maybe we would see the serpents of our culture driven out of society.