About Celtic Prayers

The Celts

CelticCapital30he Celts were a people and a culture, and they seem to have been in central Europe as early as 800 B.C. (Sometimes called the Hallstatt Culture.)

rock_of_cashel-cross

By 275 B.C. Celtic influence had spread to what is now England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, France and Spain. The reason we associate Celts with Ireland, Scotland and Wales is that is where Celtic identity remained after Europe was dominated by the Roman Empire. Celtic revivals of cultural identity have come and gone and come again in those countries. “Celt” is a broad word that covers different peoples in different places and times. When I speak of “Celtic Christians,” I mean Christians living in Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

CelticCapital27efore Christian missionaries came to the Ireland, the Irish Celts were polytheistic (many gods) and animistic (belief of spirits in everything, people, plants, animals, trees, etc.), which is the source of the idea that Druids (Celtic priests) worshiped trees. Christian missionaries came into Britain after Christianity was decreed a religio licita, a legal religion, and also the religion of the Roman Empire, with a peak of missionary activity in the fifth century.

Patrick

CelticCapital17Saint Patrick Catholic Church (Junction City, Ohio) - stained glass, Saint Patrick - detail.jpgatrick is the first person we think of when Celtic Christianity is mentioned, mostly because he has his own holiday. But Patrick is much more than an excuse to drink green beer (yuck!) and eat corned beef and cabbage (delicious, but unknown to Patrick and to most of the Irish). He is rightly called “the Apostle to the Irish.” He grew up as a Christian in Roman Britain, but as a teenager, he was not serious about his faith. At age 17 he was kidnapped by Irish pirates (who were more like our image of Vikings than Captain Jack Sparrow) and taken to Ireland as a slave, where he remained for six years. He escaped and eventually returned home to western Britain where he studied the Christian faith more seriously and was ordained a priest. Legend says that he had a vision of a man urging him to return to Ireland to bring the gospel. There are accounts of Patrick baptizing thousands of people, ordaining priests and setting up Christian communities in Ireland. It seems that he worked with the culture, a hostile and barbaric culture, and transformed it into a Christian culture. Human sacrifices and the glory of battle was replaced with the sacrifice of Christ and the glory of rising above our broken nature by the power of Christ. Like Augustine, Patrick wrote his Confession in which he described his early life and his return and growth in the Christian faith.

CelticCapital5rom the time of Patrick (d. ca. 460) until the Synod of Whitby in 664, the Celtic church was independent of the church of Rome but did not see itself as separate from it. This was also the golden age of Irish monasteries which were centers of faith and centers of learning, both sacred and secular. Missionaries were sent out, first back to Britain, Wales and Scotland, then to mainland Europe. Traveling monks established churches and monasteries. There was a difference between the Irish churches and the churches of Rome. The Irish calculated the date of Easter with a different formula—usually resulting in celebrating their Easter a week or two after Roman Easter. Irish monks had their own tonsure (either a wedge-shaped stripe was shaved over the top of the head from ear to ear, or the front of the head was shaved to a midline from ear to ear), while Roman monks had a coronal tonsure (like Friar Tuck with a wreath of hair around a bald dome). The Irish churches had their own rites with service outlines similar to the Roman mass and liturgies of hours, but with unique prayers. Celtic churches did have a veneration of saints, but it was mostly honor for deceased bishops and abbots, along with the biblical New Testament saints. Some of the prayers ask the saints, “Pray for us.” In pre-Whitby literature, Mary is mentioned as the mother of the Lord, but gets no special honor. After the Synod of Whitby, the Celtic churches in Ireland, Scotland, Wales and all their missions were ordered to calculate the date of Easter in the Roman manner, and to adopt the Roman tonsure and other worship practices. From that point, the Celtic church began to lose its distinctiveness from the church of Rome, although some unique practices and emphases continued.

Scholarship and Celtic Revivals

CelticCapital30he mid-to-late 1800s was a time of tremendous scholarship, and because of that, it was a time of renewed interest in the early Celtic church. The Henry Bradshaw Society published scholarly editions of The Antiphonary of Bangor, The Lorrha-Stowe Missal, Liturgy and Ritual of the Celtic Church and other resources. At the same time, Alexander Carmichael was collecting Christian prayers, poems and even some pagan spells from Gaelic speaking people in Scotland. He was interested in the prayer and poetry from the Celtic folk traditions, and his work is published in the volumes of Carmina Gadelica. Kuno Meyer also collected, translated and published much old Irish literature, sacred and secular.

As a result, there was a renewed interest in Celtic languages and attempts at revive their use and also much imitation the old literature from the 1880s to 1920s. There was also renewed interest in Celtic art. We seem to be in another Celtic revival. There are now many books on Celtic prayer and Celtic spirituality. Some of this seems to be a repristination movement—a desire to return to a simpler Christianity that is not separated from daily life with no conflict and more in tune with nature. But life for the early Celtic Christians was not always simple, peaceful or innocent. Read the loricas. The Celtic Christians of that time made long lists of things they wanted God’s protection from: the Red Plague, the Yellow Plague, marauders, thieves, nakedness, drought, famine. Read the penitential manuals (Celtic Spirituality, p. 227-245), and you will see that some of the Celtic Christians were doing shameful, wild and vulgar things they needed to confess and receive forgiveness for. They were Christian people, like us, who lived, worked, sweated and struggled through life, and they committed their cares to God in carefully worded, poetic prayers.

St. Patrick’s Breastplate
Unique Celtic Theological Emphases
Unique Celtic Style

CelticCapital14t. Patrick’s Breastplate is a poetic prayer that is attributed to Patrick. Like the winding lines in Celtic art, the content of the prayer seems to wind back and forth with its repetition. Here are some characteristics in the Breastplate that are common in many Celtic Christian prayers:

  • The immanence or closeness of God. (“Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, …) In his Confession, Patrick rejects any kind of animism, polytheism or pantheism and confesses a biblical theology of God, very much like what is seen in the Nicene Creed (see The Creed in the Confession of St. Patrick and St. Patrick’s Creed). Yet he retains an emphasis of immanence or closeness to God, along with a sense of the presence of God in nature. God is not the same as his creation, but he is in it and with it (See Psalm 139).
  • The transcendence or other-ness of God. We see this in the appeals to God’s mighty strength. The Breastplate also calls him “the Creator of creation.” Other prayers refer to God as “high King of heaven.”
  • An understanding of prayer as tapping into God’s supernatural power. Some scholars see connections between the pagan Celtic charms and incantations and the Celtic Christian prayers for protection, yet the prayers for protection are completely in line with “Calling upon God’s name in the day of trouble” (Psalm 50:15) and “Putting on the full armor of God” (Ephesians 6:10).
  • A delight in the Trinity because the doctrine is imponderable. There is a special Trinity affinity in the Celtic prayers with phrases like “through belief in the Threeness, through confession of the Oneness…”
  • A love of lists. A prayer for protection from danger may ask for protection from every angle, protection for every part of the body, or protection from every evil imaginable. A confession of sin may ask for forgiveness of sins committed in different places, with different things or by different parts of the body and deliverance from temptation from many sources.
  • A love of repetition. Repetition of the last line of a prayer is seen in many of the prayers of Carmina Gadelica and is seen in some of the old prayers, too. This seems to be done for emphasis, and to bring the prayer to a conclusion.

CelticCapital18ther Celtic prayerImage result for cross of muiredachs:

  • The Carmina Gadelica (Songs of the Gaels, see Wikipedia) is a collection of Scottish Gaelic hymns and prayers collected in the mid 1800s. Volumes I and III contain Celtic Christian prayers. Volume II contains Celtic animistic spells and incantations.  The initial capitals on this page are illustrations from The Carmina Gadelica.
  • The Antiphonary of Bangor  (Wikipedia) is an Irish liturgical text containing prayers and antiphons for the liturgy of hours (the daily offices or services in the monasteries).  It was written around A. D. 680, and seems to present pre-Whitby rites and practices.
  • The Lorrha-Stowe Missal (Wikipedia) is a post-Whitby book with materials for the performance of the Mass, probably written after A. D. 792. Even though it is post-Whitby, there are some prayers and practices that may be remnants of pre-Whitby rites.
  • Some scholars also see traces of the worship of early Celtic Christians in the Mozarabic Rite (Wikipedia) (2000 Years of Prayer, ed. Michael Counsell, p. 84).
  • The Book of Cerne (Wikipedia) is an illuminated manuscript, similar in artistic style to the Book of Kells, containing the Gospels, prayers, hymns, and other liturgical materials. It is really an Anglo-Saxon book, but it also shows Celtic / Irish influence in its art and texts.

CelticCapital15he Book of Kells (Wikipedia) is probably the greatest treasure of the Irish church and of Celtic Christianity. It is an illuminated hand-copied Gospel book. The initials had pictures, winding vine designs, a full spectrum of color and gilding. It wasn’t a prayer book, but no discussion of Celtic Christianity would be complete without mentioning the Book of Kells. The Celtic Christians also left many carved stone crosses like the Rock of Cashel Cross (top) and Muiredach’s High Cross (above)

 

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You Are the King of kings, and Lord of Lords

God, my almighty God, I humbly worship you.
You are the King of kings, and Lord of lords.
You are the judge of every age.
You are the Redeemer of our souls.
You are the Liberator of those who believe.
You are the Hope of those who labor.
You are the Comforter of the sad.
You are the Way for the straying.
You are the Teacher of the nations.
You are the Creator of all creatures.
You are the Lover of all that is good.
You are the Prince of all virtue.
You are the Joy of your saints.
You are Life everlasting.
You are Joy in truth.
You are the joy of our eternal homeland.
You are Light from light.
You are the Fount of holiness.
You are the glory of God the Father in the highest.
You are the Savior of the world.
You are the Fullness of the Holy Spirit.
You are seated at the right hand of the Father, ruling on your throne forever.

Source: From a confession of sins in The Book of Cerne, 9th Century.

Source of this version: Translated for Prayers from the Ancient Celtic Church, © 2018, Paul C. Stratman

Prayers from the Ancient Celtic Church is a collection of prayers from the time of Patrick (d. ca. 460-493) to the Synod of Whitby (664), and also from the Celtic Christian tradition that remained after Whitby. A few of the prayers in this book may be familiar from their appearance in other prayer books. Some may be appearing in English for the first time. All prayers (with one exception) are rendered or revised into contemporary English with the hopes that they will be useful in private and corporate worship. Includes prayers from The Antiphonary of Bangor, The Lorrha-Stowe Missal, The Book of Cerne, The Book of Dimma, St. Patrick, St. Columba and many other sources.  Prayers from the Ancient Celtic Church is available in paperback through Amazon.com. It is also available for Amazon Kindle.

Deus deus meus omnipotens
Ego humiliter te adoro
Tu es rex regum et dominus dominantium
Tu es arbiter omnis saeculi
Tu es redemtor animarum
Tu es liberator credentium
Tu es spes laborantium
Tu es paracletus doleutium
Tu es uia errantium
Tu es magister gentium
Tu es creator omnium creaturarum
Tu es amator omnis boni
Tu es princeps omnium uirtutum
Tu es gaudium sanctorum tuorum
Tu es uita perpetua
Tu es laetitia in ueritate
Tu es exultatio in aeterna patria
Tu es lux lucis
Tu es fons sanctitatis
Tu es gloria dei patris in excelso
Tu es saluator mundi
Tu es plenitude spiritus sancti
Tu sedis  ad dexteram dei patris in throno regnas in saecula

Source: The prayer book of Aedeluald the bishop, commonly called the Book of Cerne, p. 95-96.

We Walk in the Light of this Bountiful Day

We walk in the light of this bountiful day
in the great strength of the most high God of gods,
in the favor of Christ,
in the light of the Holy Spirit,
in faith of the patriarchs,
in the service of the prophets,
in the peace of the apostles,
in the joy of angels,
in the splendor of the saints,
in the work of the faithful,
in the strength of the righteous,
in the witness of the martyrs,
in the chastity of the virgins,
in the wisdom of God,
in the patience of many,
in the denial of the flesh,
in the control of the tongue,
in the abundance of peace,
in the praise of the Trinity,
in the sharpness of senses,
in continuing good works,
in step with the Spirit,
in the words of God,
in many blessings.

In this is the way of all who labor for Christ,
who led the saints into joy forever after their deaths,
that they might listen to the voices of the angels,
praising God and saying:
“Holy, holy, holy.”

Source: The Book of Cerne 9th century. Translated for A Collection of Prayers.

Source of this version: Prayers from the Ancient Celtic Church, © 2018, Paul C. Stratman

Prayers from the Ancient Celtic Church is a collection of prayers from the time of Patrick (d. ca. 460-493) to the Synod of Whitby (664), and also from the Celtic Christian tradition that remained after Whitby. A few of the prayers in this book may be familiar from their appearance in other prayer books. Some may be appearing in English for the first time. All prayers (with one exception) are rendered or revised into contemporary English with the hopes that they will be useful in private and corporate worship. Includes prayers from The Antiphonary of Bangor, The Lorrha-Stowe Missal, The Book of Cerne, The Book of Dimma, St. Patrick, St. Columba and many other sources.  Prayers from the Ancient Celtic Church is available in paperback through Amazon.com. It is also available for Amazon Kindle.

In the original, “in the work of the faithful” is “in the work of the monks”

Original in Latin:

Ambulemus in prosperis huius diei luminis
IN uirtute altissimi dei deorum maximi
IN bene placito christi
IN luce spiritus sancti
IN fide patriarcharum
IN meritis prophetarum
IN pace apostolorum
IN gaudio angelorum
IN splendoribus sanctorum
IN operibus monachorum
IN uirtute iustorum
IN martyrio martyrum
IN castitate uirginum
IN dei sapientia
IN multa patientia
IN carnis abstinentia
IN linguae continentia
IN pacis habundantia
IN trinitatis laudibus
IN acutis sensibus
IN semper bonis actibus
IN formis spiritalibus
IN diuinis sermonibus
IN benedictionibus

IN his est iter omnium pro christo laborantium
qui deducit sanctos post obitum sempiternum in gaudium
Ut a audiam uocem Angelorum
deum laudantium ac dicentium
sanctus sanctus sanctus

The Lord’s Prayer from the Book of Cerne

Father, in your tranquil world above,
may your kingdom come,
reveal your nourishing light.
Let your clear will be done
on earth and in heaven.
What is needed for life today,
the substance of holy bread,
provide to us soon.
Forgive countless debts of our wicked errors,
no different than we pardon our debtors.
Oh, keep temptation of the devil far away,
and likewise raise us up from evil
to light at your right hand.

Source: The Book of Cerne, 9th Century, translated by Paul C. Stratman for A Collection of Prayers.

Source of this version: Prayers from the Ancient Celtic Church, © 2018, Paul C. Stratman

Prayers from the Ancient Celtic Church is a collection of prayers from the time of Patrick (d. ca. 460-493) to the Synod of Whitby (664), and also from the Celtic Christian tradition that remained after Whitby. A few of the prayers in this book may be familiar from their appearance in other prayer books. Some may be appearing in English for the first time. All prayers (with one exception) are rendered or revised into contemporary English with the hopes that they will be useful in private and corporate worship. Includes prayers from The Antiphonary of Bangor, The Lorrha-Stowe Missal, The Book of Cerne, The Book of Dimma, St. Patrick, St. Columba and many other sources.  Prayers from the Ancient Celtic Church is available in paperback through Amazon.com. It is also available for Amazon Kindle.

Orginal in Latin, from The prayer book of Aedeluald the bishop: commonly called the Book of Cerne, ed. Arthur Benedict Kuypers.

Pater alte tui tranquillaque mundo –
Adueniat regnumque tuum lux alma recludat –
In caelo et in terra tua fiat clara uoluntas –
Uitalisque hodie sancti substantia panis –
Proueniat nobis tua mox largit(i)o soluat –
Innumera indulgens erroris debita praui  –
Et nos haut aliter concedere fenore nostris –
Tetrisae ua procul temtatio daemonis absit –
Aeque malis tua nos in lucem dextera tollat –

A Personal Blessing

O Lord, open your heavens;
from there may your gifts descend to him.
Put forth your own hand and touch his head.
May he feel the touch of your hand,
and receive the joy of the Holy Spirit,
that he may remain blessed for evermore.
Amen.

Source: Æthelwold of Winchester, c. 908-984

Source of this version: Modified from  http://www.dsbc.org.uk/downloads/June_2012_MAGAZINE_seq.pdf

Also found in Prayers of the Middle Ages, edited by J. Manning Potts, p. 41

Included in Prayers from the Ancient Celtic Church, © 2018, Paul C. Stratman

Prayers from the Ancient Celtic Church is a collection of prayers from the time of Patrick (d. ca. 460-493) to the Synod of Whitby (664), and also from the Celtic Christian tradition that remained after Whitby. A few of the prayers in this book may be familiar from their appearance in other prayer books. Some may be appearing in English for the first time. All prayers (with one exception) are rendered or revised into contemporary English with the hopes that they will be useful in private and corporate worship. Includes prayers from The Antiphonary of Bangor, The Lorrha-Stowe Missal, The Book of Cerne, The Book of Dimma, St. Patrick, St. Columba and many other sources.  Prayers from the Ancient Celtic Church is available in paperback through Amazon.com. It is also available for Amazon Kindle.

 

Blessing from the Book of Cerne

bookcerneevangalistGod the Father bless me,
Christ guard me,
the Holy Spirit enlighten me,
all the days of my life!
The Lord be the defender and guardian
of my soul and my body, now and ever!  Amen.
The right hand of the Lord preserve me always to old age!
The grace of Christ perpetually defend me from the enemy!
Direct, Lord, my heart into the way of peace.
Hasten to save me, O God!
O Lord, come quickly to help me!

Source: The Book of Cerne

Source of this version: Modified from http://assets.newscriptorium.com/collects-and-prayers/prmanual.htm

Included in Prayers from the Ancient Celtic Church, © 2018, Paul C. Stratman

Prayers from the Ancient Celtic Church is a collection of prayers from the time of Patrick (d. ca. 460-493) to the Synod of Whitby (664), and also from the Celtic Christian tradition that remained after Whitby. A few of the prayers in this book may be familiar from their appearance in other prayer books. Some may be appearing in English for the first time. All prayers (with one exception) are rendered or revised into contemporary English with the hopes that they will be useful in private and corporate worship. Includes prayers from The Antiphonary of Bangor, The Lorrha-Stowe Missal, The Book of Cerne, The Book of Dimma, St. Patrick, St. Columba and many other sources.  Prayers from the Ancient Celtic Church is available in paperback through Amazon.com. It is also available for Amazon Kindle.

“Hasten…” is a reference to Psalm 70:1

Original in Latin:
Benedicat me deus pater
custodiat me christus
inluminet me spiritus sanctus
omnibus diebus vitae meae
Sit dominus defensor
Atttque custus animi mei et corporis mei et nunc et semper
et in saecula saeculorum. Amen.
dextera me domini conseruet semper ein aevum.
Direge domine cor meum in viam pacis.

Domine Deus in adjutorium meum intende domine ad adivuan meum adnuntiavit laudem tuam.

Prayer Book of Aedeluald the Bishop, Commonly Called the Book of Cerne, p. 101-102.

Illustration from the Book of Cerne, Cambridge University Library, wikipedia.com