A Celtic Hospitality Liturgy

by Christine Sine

Celtic Hospitality Liturgy


For British Christians in the fifth to eleventh centuries, the primary focus for worship, pastoral care and religious instruction was the monastery rather than the parish church. This strongly monastic character of the Celtic church produced a model of ministry that was communitarian rather than individualistic. “Ministry in all aspects, liturgical, pastoral, evangelistic, educational was not the solitary individualistic task it so often is today. It was rather undertaken by teams of men and women, ordained and lay, who lived together in community and operated from a common central base from which they went out among the people preaching, teaching, baptizing, administering the sacraments, caring for the sick and burying the dead.”[1] These monasteries were not just places for people to withdraw for prayer and contemplation. They were often at the crossroads of society, open to a constant stream of visitors, pilgrims and penitents. These monastic centres were intimately involved in the affairs of the world and the lives of the people they served. The monks were not just concerned with the spiritual wellbeing of the communities they served but also with their intellectual and physical wellbeing. They were also in many ways the keepers of culture and tradition, not just copying the Psalms and Gospels but also writing down stories, songs, and poems and preserving myths and legends for posterity.

One of the most demanding and often costly tasks undertaken by the Celtic monasteries was that of hospitality. They believed hospitality was not only meant to be a custom in their homes, they believed it was also a key into the kingdom of God. The guest house or hospitium, often occupied the best site within the monastic community and, though the monks might live on bread and water, visitors would often receive the best of food and drink. The monastery at Derry is said to have fed a thousand hungry people each day. Brigit, who presided over the monastery at Kildare, often made butter for visitors. Tradition has it that when churning the butter, Brigit would make thirteen portions – twelve in honour of the apostles and an extra one in honour of Christ which was reserved for guests and the poor.

According to Christine Pohl in her inspirational book Making Room, the tradition of hospitality was once an important part of all Christian communities and revolved around the welcoming of strangers into one’s home. “For most of the history of the church, hospitality was understood to encompass physical, social, and spiritual dimensions of human existence and relationships. It meant response to the physical needs of strangers for food, shelter and protection, but also a recognition of their worth and common humanity. In almost every case, hospitality involved sharing meals: historically table fellowship was an important way of recognizing the equal value and dignity of persons.”[2]

The following liturgy revolves around the practice of hospitality. You may like to get together with a group of friends over a meal and discuss how you could become God’s hospitality to your community. Use this liturgy to focus your minds and hearts on the call to be Christ’s hospitality to our world. Brigit’s prayer which is used as part of this liturgy, also makes a great grace before a meal. You might like to write out copies for each person and recite it together as you begin your meal


Leader: The Celtic Christians believed that hospitality was not only meant to be a custom in their homes, they believed it was a key into the Kingdom of God. To offer hospitality was seen as receiving Christ into their midst and fulfilling the law of love. Let us sit in silent prayer for a moment to remind ourselves of the incredible hospitality of God who invites us into his presence and into his family.

All stand for lighting of the candle

Leader: The King is knocking. If thou would’st have thy share of heaven on earth, lift the latch and let in the king of Kings. (Hebridean welcome)

All: Christ as a light illumine and guide us

Christ as a shield overshadow us

Christ under me, Christ over us,

Christ beside us, On our left and our right

This day be within and without us

Lowly and meek yet all-powerful

Be in the heart of each to whom we speak

In the mouth of each who speaks to us

This day be within and without us

Lowly and meek yet all-powerful

Christ as a light, Christ as a shield

Christ beside us, on our left and our right (Northumbria Morning Prayer)

Leader: Brigit the fifth-century Irish saint, was famed for her hospitality. The following prayer is attributed to her. As we recite it let us consider our own need to be God’s hospitality to others

All: I should like a great lake of finest ale, for the King of Kings

I should like a table of the choicest food, for the family of heaven.

Let the ale be made from the fruits of faith, and the food be forgiving love.

I should welcome the poor to my feast, for they are God’s children.

I should welcome the sick to my feast, for they are God’s joy.

Let the poor sit with Jesus at the highest place, and the sick dance with the angels

God bless the poor, God bless the sick, and bless our human race.

God bless our food, God bless our drink, all homes, O God, embrace.

Leader: I open my heart to Christ in the stranger,

People: To Christ in the face of colleague and friend,

Leader: I open my heart to the one who is wounded

People: To Christ in the hungry, the lonely, the homeless

Leader: I open my heart to the one who has hurt me

People: To Christ in the faces of sinner and foe

Leader: I open my heart to those who are outcast

People: To Christ in the broken, the prisoner, the poor

Leader: I open my heart to all who are searching

People: To Christ in the world God’s generous gift

Scripture Readings –

Psalm 84

Hebrews 12:28 – 13:8

Mark 12: 28-34

After the gospel reading recite the following Declaration of Faith

We believe and trust in God the Father Almighty.

We believe and trust in Jesus Christ the Son

We believe and trust in the Holy Spirit.

We believe and trust in the Three in One

Leader: The Lord be with you

People: And also with you

Leader: Let us pray

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever, Amen

Leader: Let us pray that we may learn what it means to be God’s hospitality to our world

Kneel or stand for the prayers

Leader: That the barriers that divide us may be broken down,

All: Lord have mercy

Leader: That we may live by the law of love in unity, peace and concord

All: Lord have mercy

Leader: That we may come to mutual understanding and care,

All: Lord have mercy

Leader: Upon all who are torn apart by war and by violence

All: Christ have mercy

Leader: Upon all who suffer from dissensions and quarrels,

All: Christ have mercy

Leader: Upon all who are divided in their loyalty and love,

All: Christ have mercy

Leader: That all who work for unity and in the spirit of hospitality may be blessed

All: Lord have mercy

Leader: That all who seek to heal divisions between peoples may have hope

All: Lord have mercy

Leader: That all who lead nations, may seek peace

All: Lord have mercy[3]

Leader: The following blessing is an ancient Celtic rune of hospitality that many think was written by St Brigid

We saw a stranger yesterday, we put food in the eating place,

Drink in the drinking place, music in the listening place,

And with the sacred name of the triune God

He blessed us and our house, our cattle and our dear ones.

As the lark says in her song: Often, often, often goes the Christ in the stranger’s guise

All: I open my heart to be the hospitality of Christ, to all those who come to my door.

I open my heart to embrace the stranger, the friend, the rich, the poor

I open my life to offer a generous heart towards all.

Leader: The blessings of God be upon this house, with plenty of food and plenty of drink,

With plenty of beds and plenty of ale, with much riches and much cheer

With many kin and length of life, ever upon it. Amen


[1] Ian Bradley, Colonies of Heaven: Celtic Christian Communities, Live the Tradition, Northstone Publishing, Kelowna, BC, Canada 2000, p5-6

[2] Christine Pohl, Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1999, p4

[3] David Adam, The Rhythm of Life: Celtic Daily Prayer, SPCK, London 1996, p82

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