About Celtic Prayers

rock_of_cashel-cross
Rock of Cashel Cross, Wikimedia Commons

CelticCapital16 t seems that Celtic people love to ponder the imponderable, so I will begin a discussion of the Celtic Christians with an imponderable. Many books have been written about Celtic Christianity, yet who they really were and what they really believed is a mystery. It seems every writer creates Celtic Christianity in his or her own image.

  • Roman Catholic writers present the Celtic Church as Catholic with emphasis on bishops (especially Patrick), saints (especially Patrick and Columba), and masses and liturgies that resemble the Roman rite, but with some minor regional differences. They calculated the date of Easter in a different way than the Roman Church, and also had some rites and practices not common in the rest of the Christian world. (See also the Celtic Rite in Wikipedia.)
  • Protestant writers present the early Celtic Church as being more like Protestantism with complete independence from Rome, more emphasis on Christ and missionary work and less emphasis on the saints. (See Celtic Christian Revivalism in Wikipedia.)
  • Strangely, Celtic spirituality is also a topic of interest among people who are not Christian at all (See Celtic Reconstructionist Paganism), and some writers present a view of Celtic Christianity that is a blend of nature worship (Druidism/Paganism) and Christianity.

 

CelticCapital30he Celts were a people or an ethnic group, and they seem to have been in central Europe as early as 800 B.C. (Sometimes called the Hallstatt Culture.) 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 and Scotland is that is where Celtic identity remained, and a Celtic revival of cultural identity has come and gone and come again in those countries.

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efore Christian missionaries came to the Celts, the 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.

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. 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 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. Like Augustine, Patrick wrote his Confessions in which he described his early life and his return and growth in the Christian faith.

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t. 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, …) This may be a holdover from Celtic and Druid animism that believed spirits were in everything (a form of polytheism and pantheism). Along with immanence or closeness to God, there seems to be 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.)
  • An understanding of prayer as tapping into God’s supernatural power. (“I arise today through a mighty strength…” The phrase is repeated several times.)
  • A delight in the Trinity because the doctrine is imponderable. (“I arise today through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity, through belief in the  Threeness, through confession of the Oneness of the Creator of creation.”)

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.  It was written in Latin, but can be considered Celtic because of it’s origin in ninth century Ireland.
  • Some scholars also see some traces of the worship of early Celtic Christians in the Mozarabic Rite (Wikipedia) (2000 Years of Prayer, ed. Michael Counsell, p. 84). As mentioned before, there were Celtic people in Spain shortly before the birth of Christ.

CelticCapital15he Book of Kells 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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Come I This Day

Come I this day to the Father,CelticCapital13
Come I this day to the Son,
Come I to the Holy Spirit powerful;
Come I this day with God,
Come I this day with Christ,
Come I with the Spirit of kindly balm.

Father, and Spirit, and Jesus,
From the crown of my head
To the soles of my feet;
Come I with my reputation,
Come I with my testimony,
Come I to you, Jesu–
Jesu, shelter me.

Source: Unknown, Carmina Gadelica, Hymns and Incantations…, Vol. I, p. 69. English translation modified.

Graphic is from Carmina Gadelica, Hymns and Incantations…, Vol. I, p.68

Morning Prayer

CelticCapital15Thanks to you, Jesus Christ,
who brought me up from last night
to the gladsome light of this day,
to win everlasting life for my soul,
through the atoning blood you shed for me.

Praise to you, O God forever,
for the blessings you bestowed on me,
my food, my speech, my deeds, my health.

And I ask,
to shield me from sin,
to shield me from ill,
to bless me this night,
and I low and poor,
O God of the poor!
O Christ of the wounds!
Give me wisdom along with your grace.

May the Holy One claim me,
and protect me on sea and on land,
and lead me on from step to step,
to the peace of the Everlasting City,
the peace of the Everlasting City!

Source: Unknown, Carmina Gadelica, Hymns and Incantations…, Vol. I, p. 97. English translation modified.

Graphic is from Carmina Gadelica, Hymns and Incantations…, Vol. I, p.96

In Carmida Gadelica… on the following pages, a similar prayer in a slightly different format appears:

The Dedication

Thanks to you, God,
who brought me from yesterday
to the beginning of today,
everlasting joy
to earn for my soul
with good intent
and for every gift of peace
you bestow on me,
my thoughts, my words,
my deeds, my desires
I dedicate to you,
I supplicate you,
I beseech you,
to keep me from offence
and to shield me tonight
for the sake of your wounds
with your offering of grace.

Thanksgiving

CelticCapital24Thanks to you, O God, that I have risen today,
to the rising of this life itself;
may it be to your own glory, O God of every gift,
and to the glory of my soul likewise.

O great God, aid my soul
with the aiding of your own mercy;
even as I clothe my body with wool,
cover my soul with the shadow of your wing.

Help me to avoid every sin,
and the source of every sin to forsake;
and as the mist scatters on the crest of the hills,
may each ill haze clear from my soul, O God.

Source: Unknown, Carmina Gadelica, Hymns and Incantations…, Vol. III,p. 31. English translation modified.

Graphic is from Carmina Gadelica, Hymns and Incantations…, Vol. III, p.30

Prayer at Rising

CelticCapital4Bless to me, O God,
each thing my  eye sees.
Bless to me, O God,
each sound my ear hears.
Bless to me, O God,
each odor that goes to my nostrils.
Bless to me, O God,
each taste that goes to my lips,
each note that goes to my song,
each ray that guides my way,
each thing that I pursue,
each lure that tempts my will,
the zeal that seeks my living soul,
the Three that seek my heart,
the zeal that seeks my living soul,
the Three that seek my heart.

Source: Catherine Maclean, crofter, Naast, Gairloch,in Carmina Gadelica, Hymns and Incantations…, Vol. III,p. 33. English translation modified.

Graphic is from Carmina Gadelica, Hymns and Incantations…, Vol. III, p.32

Thanks after Food

CelticCapital30Thanks to you, O God,
praise be to you, O God,
reverence to you, O God,
for all you have given me.

As you have given life corporeal
to earn me my worldly food,
so grant me life eternal
to show forth your glory.

Grant me grace throughout my life,
grant me life at the hour of my death;
be with me, O God, in casting off my breath,
O God, be with me in the deep currents.

O! in the parting of the breath,
O! be with my soul in the deep currents.
O God, be with my soul in crossing the river,
in passing through the deep floods.

Source: Malcolm Macmillan, merchant, Balvannich, Benbecula in  Carmina Gadelica, Hymns and Incantations…, Vol. III,p. 317. English translation modified.

Graphic is from Carmina Gadelica, Hymns and Incantations…, Vol. III, p. 194

“O God, be with my soul in crossing the river, / in passing through the deep floods.” in the original is “O God, be with my soul in sounding the fords, / in crossing the deep floods.”

Grace before Food

CelticCapital12Be with me, O God, at breaking of bread,
be with me, O God, at the close of my meal;
let no ill afflict my body
that may hurt my sorrowing soul.
O no ill afflict my body
that may hurt my sorrowing soul.

Source: Malcolm Macmillan, merchant, Balvannich, Benbecula in  Carmina Gadelica, Hymns and Incantations…, Vol. IIIp. 315. English translation modified.

Graphic is from Carmina Gadelica, Hymns and Incantations…, Vol. III, p. 314

“Let no ill afflict my body” in the original is “Let no whit adown my body”