The annual Mass celebrating St. Patrick, patron of the glorious cathedral at which it was celebrated, and the entire Archdiocese of New York, paid tribute to the fifth-century bishop who evangelized Ireland and did much to form a strong Irish Catholic faith and culture which continues to bless the world.
“A blessed St. Patrick’s Day,” said Cardinal Dolan, the principal celebrant, in welcoming the congregation at the outset of the morning liturgy on March 17. “Where better to be if we can’t be in Dublin than at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue.”
Those attending included many members of the famed Fighting 69th Regiment, which traditionally leads the New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade, and numerous parade officials.
Also at the front of the cathedral were political dignitaries such as Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul and Mayor Bill de Blasio, as well as NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea.
Last year’s St. Patrick’s Day Mass, which took place at the outset of the coronavirus pandemic, was offered without a congregation present following the strict public health regulations of the time.
That fact did not go unnoticed this year by the clergy at the altar or the faithful spread throughout the cathedral at proper social distancing.
The legendary parade up Fifth Avenue will have to wait for next year, though the 260th annual march was held by a small contingent, including Mayor de Blasio, that marched up from the 69th Regiment Armory on Lexington Avenue to St. Patrick’s Cathedral before Mass, where Cardinal Dolan greeted the Fighting 69th outside St. Patrick’s Cathedral. After Mass, another set of marchers proceeded uptown on the sidewalk over the parade’s normal route.
An honor guard of first responders and essential workers, including some acknowledging the upcoming 20th anniversary of 9/11, were among the marching ranks. Auxiliary Bishop Edmund Whalen, vicar for clergy in the archdiocese, was among those honored, as was grand marshal James Callahan, general president of the International Union of Operating Engineers.
A one-hour virtual parade also streamed on Facebook and the parade’s website, honoring the parade’s proud history and featuring greetings from religious and political leaders.
Bishop Emeritus William Murphy of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, in his stirring homily at the cathedral Mass, called the St. Patrick’s Day Parade “so very, very important, important for us, important for our nation, important for our people and for our future.”
“I thank all of you,” the bishop explained, “because you are taking responsibility to see that it succeeds. Ireland is more than a nation. There’s a culture, with one of the great evangelizers ever, St. Patrick, as the cornerstone.”
Bishop Murphy said St. Patrick, while he lived in the fifth century, not long after some of the greatest theologians and philosophers ever, was not among them.
“He was first and foremost a pastor,” the bishop said. “He was blunt, forceful and effective.”
Once when pirates took away young people that St. Patrick had recently confirmed, he told them, “They belong to God, and they belong to me. Give them back.” And the outlaws complied with Patrick’s demand.
The bishop drew a parallel between St. Patrick and St. Peter in that day’s Gospel, when Jesus told him to put down their nets into the water once more after a night of unsuccessful fishing.
Like Peter, Patrick “spoke out and spoke up,” but he also followed the Lord’s commands. It wasn’t always easy for St. Patrick to deal “with all the ups and downs of converting a pagan people and establishing the Church,” Bishop Murphy said.
As He was with Peter and Paul, Jesus was also with Patrick, “and with all those bishops and priests who in imitation of their forefather Patrick have continued to evangelize and catechize the Irish people. They listened to Jesus when He said, ‘Put out into the deep.’ That has made all the difference.”
Noting the parade’s decision to honor first responders and essential workers in recognition of the upcoming 20th anniversary of 9/11, as well as the current coronavirus pandemic, Bishop Murphy explained that his tenure as spiritual head of the Diocese of Rockville Centre began less than a week before Sept. 11, 2001. Some 400 of the diocese’s parishioners perished that day, the bishop recalled.
“Tragedy becomes a sacred duty,” he said. “We’re honoring that today. You should be proud that you remember and that you pass that memory on.”
Soon after the 8:30 a.m. Mass had begun, Cardinal Dolan noted that it was about the time that the first plane struck the Twin Towers that morning nearly two decades ago. “We keep all of that in our prayers at Mass,” the cardinal said.
At the end of Mass, the national anthems of Ireland and the United States were played.
Following Mass, Col. James Tierney of the Fighting 69th Regiment shared a comment with CNY while standing with his wife Clare, who is a native of Rosedale, Queens. The Tierneys, who now live in Fairfax, Va., return each year for the St. Patrick’s Day Mass and Parade.
“It’s always an honor, and very moving, to be in St. Patrick’s Cathedral on St. Patrick’s Day,” he said.