The Deer’s Song or the Breastplate of St. Patrick is a battle cry. It stands the ground claimed by the Apostle’s Creed. Every line boldly resounds with the Gospel. The prayer is rooted in mission. Its words resound with the sense that God Himself has called us forward and sent us with sacred purpose. We do not go alone into the world, but in Christ, following Him, supported by Him, filled with Him. The prayer helps us step forward with courage because not even death can stop the Lord.
All that can be seen in the visible world is a faint echo of those greater glories eye cannot see, and that unseen glory is not indifferent to the plight of creation. The Incarnation of the Word has unleashed powers beyond the control of the world of men, and in the face of evil, noble humanity is given unvanquished hope by Christ’s passion and death. No conjured force or malevolent spirit can stand before this dawning radiance of the Trinity and this prayer unveils the new rising of this fresh brightness even in our own day.
The Breastplate begins with a call to rise up, to stand and to bind. This pledge of allegiance rallies courage in the face of death. Such prayer does not back down in fear or anxiety. It is not bogged down with vitriol or finger pointing. Because of Christ’s faithfulness to all of humanity, the prayer reminds us that we must not allow anything or anyone to distract or discourage us from going to where He leads – for He is with us to the end.
This is a prayer of pilgrimage, of journey, of the setting of one’s chin, of not looking back, of mission from God. One girds, one clads, one arrays oneself with strength and power for the fight. God Himself has given us the power of the Holy Spirit. A spirit of fortitude springs in the heart from Him who conquered death. Through Him who created heaven and earth, all the wonders of creation rise to the defense of those who stand with God.
This prayer is also a prayer of humility and solidarity. Solidarity with God and with creation. All manner of creatures are referred to and their multiplicity opens to a contemplation of humanity’s image and likeness to God. We are meant for union with Him not despite the world or by surmounting it – but in it. All that is good, holy and true about the world has a place in the human heart and in our relationship with God. As we are faithful to the mission that God gives us, all of His wonderful works are sanctified and caught up in His saving action that He accomplished through us.
It is said that St. Patrick offered this prayer with his brethren as they walked into an ambush. Ambush should never take the believer by surprise. Traps, plotting, snares are always set against the love of God. The Word of the Father makes all things new and this newness constantly upends the old ways. Those who are set in their ways will always attempt to prevent this new beginning.
False religion always limits the freedom and dignity of the heart. It even results to manipulation, intimidation and the conjuring of malevolent forces. Such a culture of slavery and oppression unravels social fabric until all that is wholesome and true is lost. Christianity stands by the love of God and this love has never peacefully co-existed with such deceit and evil.
St. Patrick’s preaching dispelled these structures of death because it appealed to the truth about God and holy humanity. As the Irish began to renounce paganism and believe the Gospel, those who relied on the old fashionable myths for their place and power schemed how to protect themselves. Social standing, privilege, wealth, cultural influence were all at stake. Those who used these things for their own benefit became convinced that the holy truth of God’s love had to be suppressed at any cost. Such hatred of the Word of the Father hatched the plot against St. Patrick.
His enemies were prepared to kill him and his comrades. St. Patrick’s response was to continue his mission undeterred and the Lorica or Breastplate was born in this holy determination. He taught this prayer to those who assisted him in the ministry. As they prayed together, their would be assailants could not see them – an unseen glory cloaked them from the plots of men. Indeed, all that the powerful and cunning saw was a few deer walking across a meadow. They were confounded. The prayer became known as the Deer’s Song.
If true, the story is not surprising. There are many accounts of missionaries being delivered in miraculous ways. Those who cling to the status quo and fear losing their power will always attempt to stand in the way of Christ. But a new power that evil cannot overcome is unleashed – the same Power that holds together Creation is poured out for the salvation of those who will cry out to Christ.
Over thirty years ago, my spiritual director gave me a small part of this prayer. Since then, the Lorica is a frequent part of my daily prayer. In a special way, I ask you to pray this Deer’s Song in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Ireland, England and France – all places that were part of St. Patrick’s pilgrimage of faith — for their safety and protection during these days of great trial.The Gospel offers the truth about humanity and our place before God. This truth is the only firm ground that can bear the weight of human existence, and when men and women are able to rise up and stand together, a beautiful and great civilization can be built – a civilization of love and culture of life.
Now, I stand clad for battle in
That Mighty Power
of the Name of the Trinity:
Believing in the Three-ness,
Holding fast the One-ness
Creator of Heaven and Earth.
This day I array myself with
The power of Christ’s Birth and Baptism;
The power of his Crucifixion and Burial;
The power of His Resurrection and Ascension;
The Power of His coming to Judge on judgment day.
I go forth today
By virtue of the Seraphim’s devotion,
By angels’ obedience,
By resurrection’s hope unto reward,
By Patriarchs’ prayers
By Prophets’ word of power,
By Apostles’ preaching
By Confessors’ faith,
By Holy Virgins’ purity,
By righteous men’s deeds.
I gird myself this day
With heaven’s might,
With sun’s light,
With moon’s shine,
With fire’s glow,
With lightning flash,
With wind swift,
With sea deep,
With earth firm,
With rock hard.
Today, I rise up with
God’s Might upholding me,
God’s Wisdom teaching me,
God’s Eye watching over me,
God’s Ear hearing me,
God’s Word giving me speech,
God’s Hand guiding me,
God’s Way stretching before me,
God’s Shield sheltering me,
God’s terrible Army protecting me,
Against demon’s snares
Against vicious seductions
Against nature’s lusts
Against everyone who meditates injury to me,
Whether far or near,
Whether few or many.I invoke all these powers, now
Against every hostile merciless force
Which may assail my body and my soul,
Against the false seer’s enchantments,
Against paganism’s dark laws,
Against heresy’s false standards,
Against idolatry’s deceits,
Against spells of witches, and smiths, and druids,
Against every knowledge that binds the soul of man.Christ, protect me now
Against every poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against death-wound,
That I may receive abundant reward.Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ within me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ at my right,
Christ at my left,
Christ keeping the defense,
Christ setting the course,
Christ giving the orders,
Christ in every heart that thinks of me,
Christ in every mouth that speaks to me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
Today I bind unto myself Mighty Power,
Believing in the Threeness,
Holding fast the Oneness
Of the Creator of all the heavens and the earth.Dominus est salus, Domini est salus, Christi est salus;
Salus tua, Domine, sit semper nobiscum.