Eileen Deegan’s book of Parish Rituals is a collection of alternative or supplementary liturgies to the Church’s ordinary Liturgies of the Word. They are meant to help to celebrate the experiences of our ordinary everyday lives and link then with God.
128 pp. Columba Press, 2005. To purchase this book online, go to www.columba.ie .
Chapter One: Brigid brings the spring
In the Celtic world, the spring equinox is very important. In our Christian tradition the feast of St Brigid on 1 February ushers in the springtime in the northern hemisphere.
It is a time of hope, of new life, of rebirth. It is a good time to acknowledge God as the source of all life and to celebrate as a faith community the ways in which Brigid of Kildare challenges us in our time to be channels of hope, life, justice, peace, faith and healing in the lives of others around us.
The preparation for this celebration needs careful planning. The involvement of local people and local schools in the making of St Brigid’s crosses adds greatly to the overall participation. The decoration and general preparation of the room in which it will take place is vital. The use of spring flowers, lights, pictures and colour helps to create the ambience for a meaningful celebration.
It is our experience that this gathering is very much appreciated by many people. The spirituality of St Brigid touches into the psyche of people and so they relate very well to this celebration. It is also an ideal time to involve young people as the various elements of the ritual appeal to them.
The following ritual is rather long and it contains a variety of reflections. I suggest that one could pick and choose from these rich resources in the creation of a ritual to suit one’s purpose in a parish or any other group situation.
The songs are merely suggestions. There are many songs which one can choose from other sources that also focus on the themes presented
It is a good idea to have a sheet with words of songs and some prayer or reflections for all participants so as to ensure greater involvement in the ritual.
Structure of the Ritual
Building up of the Sacred Space: (lights down low and background music)
This is Brigid’s Festival. Brigid brings the Spring.
We welcome the Brigid Light into our midst as we gather to share the light of hope and inspiration that will grow with the growing year.
We honour St Brigid of Kildare, Patroness of our country, whose feastday on 1 February ushers in the springtime in our northern hemisphere.
This fifth-century woman has continued to inspire and encourage people in Ireland and elsewhere for over 1500 years.
PRESENTATION OF FOUR ELEMENTS OF CREATION
Going back to Brigid’s time and before, our ancestors had a deep respect for the elements of creation: earth, air, water, fire.
Instrumental music is played
N: We invite you now to relax and allow the ancient elements of creation – the earth, air, water and fire to encircle us, to ring round us, gracing us with their wisdom, connecting us to each other and to the whole community of life, that is our universe.
Pause (music continues)
N: We celebrate the gift of the earth.
N carries in a sod of clay
Every part of this earth is sacred. From ancient times the earth has been portrayed as feminine. Humankind experiences the earth as life-giving, nourishing, rhythmic and fertile.
We are invited to walk gently on this earth and read her wisdom in every leaf and rock and field and care for her with tender respect.
On her lands we walk and work, play and love. In the words of singer and songwriter, Dolores Keane:
It’s the land that is our wisdom,
it’s the land that shines us through,
it’s the land that feeds our children.
You cannot own the land,
The land owns you.
N: We celebrate the gift of air.
N brings in the chimes and moves with them
Air is invisible and all pervasive
Without air we die. It sustains every living plant and creature and sculpts every rock into strange and beautiful shapes.
All of us share the same breath. Air is the breath of life.
N, with flick of the hand, allows chimes to peel out and places them in the sacred space
N: We celebrate the gift of water.
N brings in the water
Life began in water. Science tells us that life emerged in the oceans about 4 billion years ago. Life came ashore about 650 million years ago and it brought water with it in the cells of every living creature. Our bodies are 70% water.
Water is vital. It is more precious than gold, more valuable than oil or any other mineral substance.
Water is the most potent symbol of life
N: We celebrate the gift of fire.
Fire has held mystery since the beginning of time. Fire evokes a sense of aliveness, unpredictability and sparkle. We recognise the sun, creation’s source of energy and life, and are in awe of its power to warm the death of winter into spring’s green life. Brigid’s fire burned in Kildare for over 1500 years. It was extinguished in the 16th century and was symbolically re-lit in Kildare in 1993.
One person holds up the Brigid light for everyone to see
Each season has its own particular beauty and symbolism but spring speaks so forcefully of light, newness and rebirth. We rejoice in this newness of life as we praise and thank Our God, the giver of all life.
One of the lovely signs that spring is here, is that the days are gradually growing brighter. Light is overpowering the darkness.
We began by bringing the Brigid Light to the centre of our gathering place. .. the Light symbolising Christ Our Light who is the centre of our busy world. St Brigid brought light where there was darkness. We want that light to spread to the four corners of our country, to the four corners of our world or wherever the light needs to overpower the darkness. So we now light four candles from Brigid’s light. .. and pray that the Light of Brigid will reach North – South – East and West, dispelling the darkness of wrongdoing and destruction.
Four people come forward slowly to light one candle each and they hold them
for a moment facing in each of the four directions before placing them at four points in the Sacred Space
Song: Christ be Our Light (1)
PRESENTATION OF SOME OF THE QUALITIES OF BRIGID
Spring plants, which are so symbolic of new life, new beginnings and renewed hope, are carried forward to the Sacred Space, each one depicting a distinctive quality or characteristic of Brigid’s life. A narrator calls out clearly each of the qualities as individuals carry forward a spring plant labelled with that named quality:
Hospitality; Compassion; Justice; Earthwoman; Peacemaker; Healer; Poet; Counsellor.
Spring is here. It is time to prepare the ground for planting.
There is a folk legend which says that if the lark sings on Brigid’s day then we are in for a good Spring.
Lá Fhéile Bríde, as it is called in Irish, is traditionally one of the focal points of the farming year in Ireland and the starting point of preparation for the spring sowing.
St Brigid can truly be referred to as the Earthwoman. She worked on the land, sowing and nurturing crops which provided for the needs of the people of Ireland of her time. She lived close ro the earth and she would want us to care for the earth in our day. We too need to touch the earth with gentleness.
Song: Touch the Earth (2)
Woman of Hospitality
Many stories are told of Brigid – how people came to her when they were in great need. She gave milk, bread, fruit and vegetables and encouraged people to share what they had with their needy neighbours.
A story is told that one day a friend brought her a basket of choice apples, saying they were for Brigid and her community. The friend stood by and watched in amazement as Brigid distributed the apples to the poor people around her. ‘They were for you and your sisters, not for them’, her friend said, to which she replied, ‘What is mine is theirs.’ Can I say that?
Song: Whatsoever you do to the least of my people. (3)
Brigid has been referred to, as ‘Brigid, the outlaw, turning back the streams of war.’ No better model could be found for peacemaking than Brigid. In the Ireland of her day feuds between various clans were common and she was often called in to settle these feuds – to make the peace.
The story of Brigid giving away her father’s precious sword to a poor man saying he could exchange it for money that would help him to buy food for himself and his family, is a story that has huge significance in our world today where military spending on arms of destruction and war is in billions of dollars, while at the same time millions of human beings die of hunger and many preventable diseases. So we stand together and hold the four candles lit earlier. We turn towards the North, South, East and West praying that the streams of war can indeed be turned back.
Song: Turn Back The Streams of War (4)
Prayer said together:
You were a woman of peace.
You brought harmony where there was conflict.
You brought light to the darkness.
You brought hope to the downcast.
May the mantle of your peace cover those who are troubled and anxious, and may peace be firmly rooted in our hearts and in our world.
Inspire us to act justly and to reverence all that God has made.
Brigid, you were a voice for the wounded and the weary, strengthen what is weak within us.
Calm us into a quietness that heals and listens.
May we grow each day into greater wholeness in mind, body and spirit. Amen. (5)
Woman of Compassion
Brigid was always known for her welcoming and open approach to those who came to her. Her monastery at Kildare was noted as being a place of hospitality and a refuge. People came to her – not just for bread, milk and vegetables – but also because she assured them of their God-given dignity and right to exist. She had a warm, compassionate heart that reached out to all.
In our time, as we became more and more aware of the dreadful plight of refugees worldwide, Brigid challenges us to reach our with a warm, welcoming, compassionate heart to those who come to our country seeking a better quality of life.
So, by our reflection on some of Brigid’s qualities we see how she calls us as clearly today and she did in 5th century Ireland to let our light shine by showing forth these same characteristics or qualities in our lives.
PRESENTATION AND BLESSING OF ST BRIGID’S CROSSES
For many of us, the great association with St Brigid in Ireland is the St Brigid’s Cross. There is the custom down the centuries of making this cross and giving it to people to place in their homes on St Brigid’s day. It is seen as a protection against fire, sickness and danger.
Distribution of Crosses to each person; they are held up for the blessing
God of all creation and Lord of Light, you have given us life and entrusted your creation to us to use it and to care for it. We now ask you to bless these crosses made from green rushes in memory of St Brigid who used the cross to recall and to teach your Son’s death and resurrection. May these crosses be a sign of our sharing in the Paschal Mystery of your Son and a sign of your protection of our lives, our land and its creatures, through Brigid’s intercession during the coming year and always. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Reflection on the Cross
As we look at the extremities of the cross, reaching as they do to the four points of the compass, let it remind us that all the peoples of the earth belong to one family under God, our Father and Mother.
As we look at the interlacing in the centre, let us understand that human survival depends on human beings of all nations learning to embrace one another, with generosity, understanding, respect, and a willingness to share the good things of the earth with justice. (6)
BLESSING WITH WATER FROM ST BRIGID’S WELL
There are many holy wells dotted around Ireland. People have gone there for centuries and still go for healing of one kind or another. St Brigid’s Well in Kildare is one such place that still attracts lots of pilgrims from near and far. It is always amazing to gather there with people and to observe the faith with which they approach the well, bathing their feet, putting the water on their eyes and praying.
The container of water, placed earlier in the Sacred Space, is held by one person as participants are invited to come forward.
While we sing ‘Come to the Water’. We invite you to come forward, to touch the water, bless yourself with it, take it in your hands and reflect on what it is you wish to be healed of at this time.
Song: Come to the Water. (7)
I think Brigid’s wish for all of us would be, the lovely old Irish prayer: ‘May God give you to drink from the well that never runs dry.’
A CHOICE OF REFLECTIVE POEMS ON BRIGID
Choose one of the following poems:
13 Shouts for St Brigid
Brigid! You usher in the Spring!
Lady! New Awakenings!
Brigid! You welcome all who visit!
Brigid! You guard our families and flocks!
Brigid! You shelter the poor in your cloak!
Lady! The Good News!
Brigid! You inspire singers and writers!
Lady! The gift of Poetry!
Brigid! You strengthen workers in metal!
Lady! The vessels and tools!
Brigid! You guide the hands of healers!
Lady! Our precious health!
Brigid! You soften the hate that divides us!
Lady! The hope for peace!
Brigid! You cherish what comes to birth!
Lady! Home and school!
Brigid! You mirror Jesus in your life!
Lady! Love for all!
Brigid! You bless our streams and wells!
Lady! The countryside!
Brigid! You smile in sea and sky!
Lady! The world’s beauty!
Brigid! You embrace us deep in your heart!
Lady! Always protected! (8)
When I think of Brigid
I think of milk and the slosh of milk between buckets,
Of milk churned quietly into butter,
Of generous milk poured for the wayfarer;
I think of oatcakes and griddlecakes readied for the stranger;
I think of oatgroves
And a chapel rising from the forest;
I think of green rushes plaited into crosses;
Of fragrant turf and a fire kept longburning;
A sword melted and its opals sold to feed the hungry;
I think of the generations looking upward from their troubles
And a sheltering cloak spread warmly over the world. (9)
May the arms of God be about you,
The way of Christ guide you,
The strength of the Spirit support you,
And may Mary and Brigid be close to you always.
1. Bernadette Farrell (CD of that title is availble. OCP Publications 1994)
2. Kathy Sherman CSJ (Tape of that name available. Also on CD ‘We will Remember’ by Carmel Boyle and Ger Holton, 2002)
3. Words and music: Willard F. Jabusch
4. Roy Arbuckle
5. Solas Bhríde, Kildare 1997
6. Celtic Reflections card, St Brigid’s Cross, AfRI, Action From Ireland,1992
7. John B Foley SJ and OCP Publications
8. Tom Hamill, Education for Changing Times, Armagh, April 1999
9. Padraig Daly OSA