Long before it was versified and set to music for hymnals, St. Patrick’s Breastplate was part of the Celtic Christian tradition. While we may be more familiar with it as #370 in The Hymnal 1982, the original piece dates from the eighth century. It is a prayer known as a lorica, the Latin word for “body armor,” referring back to St. Paul’s writings about putting on the armor of God. The lorica was to be prayed daily while giving one’s attention fully to God in order to invoke God’s protection.
The Irish name associated with St. Patrick’s Breastplate is Faíd Fiada, which means The Deer’s Cry. There’s quite a story associated with it, but a short version is this: King Loegaire wanted to end the spread of Christianity within his territory, so he decided to capture and kill Patrick and his men. Aware of the plot, Patrick blessed his men by praying the lorica before they set out on their journey. They were able to walk right past Loegaire’s men without harm because the soldiers saw only a line of stags walking nearby – but the stags were actually Patrick and his men, disguised through God’s protection.
You will find slightly different versions of St. Patrick’s Breastplate if you search, but there are certain portions common to all. A section of the lorica that is similar to other ancient prayers within the Celtic Christian tradition is one that may offer you solace and the awareness of Christ’s presence with you whenever you pray it. You could also create a body prayer by using gestures to accompany each phrase:
May Christ be with me,
Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ to my right, Christ to my left,
Christ where I lie down, Christ where I sit, Christ where I stand,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me,
Christ in every eye which looks on me,
Christ in every ear which hears me.
(Source: King of Mysteries: Early Irish Religious Writings by John Carey. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2000, p. 134.)
May St. Patrick’s lorica bring you comfort, peace, and a deeper awareness of your connection with Christ.
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