Saint Patrick’s Day will fall during Holy Week this year for the first time since 1940. This means that there will be no Mass in honor of St. Patrick on March 17 which is the Monday of Holy Week (according to the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat of Divine Worship).
Many Catholic bishops are asking for even more sensitivity to this overlap by urging parades and festivities to be scheduled outside of Holy Week. Many cities and organizations are doing just that. However, in Columbus, Ohio, the Shamrock Club is going ahead with its March 17 parade. The president of the club cites the following:
“It’s not a sin to celebrate your Irish culture.”
“Actually, you’re born Irish first and then you’re baptized.”
In both cases, he is technically correct but spiritually wrong. It is not a sin to celebrate your culture. It’s a matter of timing and of priorities. The word “holy” means to be “set apart for God’s purposes.” Holy Week is thus a time that we set aside from our usual practices to enter more deeply into the Paschal Mystery of Christ. To insist on celebrating Irish heritage during this week is to miss the profundity of the Paschal Mystery in our lives.
Likewise, when we place anything, including our cultural heritage, in a position of more prominence than our relationship with God, we are skewing our relationship with God. What is sin other than the skewing of our relationship with God and others?
Most importantly, the idea that we are born Irish (or Polish, or African-American, or Puerto-Rican, etc.) first and then baptized is chronologically correct. However, it misses the entire point of baptism. In baptism, we are born again, recognizing that our true heritage is as children of God. This is why St. Paul said,
“for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” (Galatians 3:26-28)
As in many cases, this is not a case of the Church asking us to say “No” to something as it is asking us to remember what it is that we have said (and must continue to say) a greater “YES!” to.
Being Irish (or any other ethnic background) is nice, but it’s not our source of salvation.
Catechists, let’s be sure to plan any recognition of St. Patrick’s Day with our students BEFORE Holy Week so that Holy Week is truly holy: set apart for God’s purposes.