Of all the world’s religions, Catholicism has traditionally had the healthiest relationship with alcohol. We are not excessively Puritanical in shunning drink, nor are we cultists seeking enlightenment in intoxication. We give the just thanks for God’s gifts and treat them as such.
“From man’s sweat and God’s love, beer came into the world.” – Saint Arnold of Metz
While secular culture has in some places usurped the feast day of Saint Patrick into a commercialized day of drinking to excess without a semblance of religiosity, the association of Saint Patricks’ Day and drinking (in moderation) has a much more pious Catholic origin.
Pious Catholic tradition speaks that Saint Patrick enjoyed himself a drink. One story tells of the time he entered a pub and ordered whiskey. The barkeep didn’t pour a full glass, and the saint rebuked him for the peaca an tomhais, the “sin of mismeasure.” Saint Patrick told him that “you haven’t realized that this sin of mismeasure is one of the worst sins that you can commit.” He told the barkeep he had a devil living in his cellar who fed off his dishonesty, and told him to correct his ways quickly to banish the demon. When he returned to the bar sometime later, he saw the barkeep happily pouring glasses to the full. Seeing this, he went to cellar with the barkeep to exorcise the demon from his cellar, and declared that whiskey should be drunk on his feast day.
When the Apostle of Ireland died on March 17th in 461 A.D., the Faithful were in the middle of the austere and penitent Lenten season. Naturally the death of such a legendary figure would call for reverent celebration of their life. To that end, all Irish monasteries and churches lifted the Lenten restrictions on fasting and drinking alcohol so the Faithful could properly celebrate the Feast of Saint Patrick.
Evidence for this is attested to in the Book of Armagh, also known as the Codex Ardmachanus. Written 807 A.D., it so closely associated with the life and mission of Saint Patrick it was thought to be written by the saint himself, but now is believed to be compiled from the earliest transcriptions of his own words.
The Book of Armagh tells how all Irish monasteries and churches celebrated Saint Patrick’s feast day with a lifting of Lenten restrictions for three days and three nights of feasting. The custom became known as Pota Phadraig or Patrick’s Pot to drink on his feast day.
As the old Irish limerick goes:
Ordain a Statute to be Drunk
And burn Tobacco free as Spunk
And fat shall never be forgot
In Usquebah, Saint Patrick’s Pot
Want to learn more about Saint Patrick? Read here to learn about the prayer he said before converting a pagan Irish king.