EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second installment in the Catholic Courier’s new feature series “Why Catholics…?” which aims to answer questions about what Catholics do and believe.
Would you need some physical and spiritual comfort? At this time of year, you might find it in a long-standing custom associated with a 4th-century saint.
February 3 is the Feast of St. Blaise, which will be noted in many parishes in the Diocese of Rochester with the traditional throat blessing on or near the feast day.
The ritual consists of a priest, deacon, or other designated person placing two intertwined candles around or near a person’s throat while invoking the intercession of Saint Blaise; give a blessing against throat diseases and other ailments; and make the sign of the cross.
In some contexts, a group blessing may be issued without the use of candles as an alternative to individual blessings.
At St. John the Evangelist Parish in Spencerport, Throat Blessings in honor of St. Blaise will be offered after the 8 a.m. Mass on Thursday, February 3.
Father Justin Miller, the parish’s first-year parish administrator, noted that the candles used for this ritual should be blessed on February 2 – the feast of the Presentation of the Lord. Also known as Candlemas, this day falls 40 days after Christmas and marks the presentation of Jesus by Mary and Joseph at the Temple in Jerusalem, as described in Luke 2:22-38.
The candles “represent the light of Christ presented in the Temple and throughout the world,” Father Miller told the Catholic Mail.
Although throat blessings on the Feast of St. Blaise are primarily related to physical afflictions, Father Miller observed that participation in the ritual can also bring spiritual healing – especially when Catholics face various challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Many have found, in the time of the coronavirus, such a blessing for the throat as a consolation and a source of grace,” he said.
Catholic devotion to Saint Blaise can be traced to the saint’s reputation as a bishop and physician in Armenia during the fourth century. Tradition has it that he performed a number of healing miracles on people and wild animals, including once saving a boy from suffocation by a fishbone. This episode is the basis of the church’s current throat blessings.
Saint Blaise was martyred in the year 316 for refusing to renounce his Christian faith to Agricola, the governor of Cappadocia. Its popularity grew in the Middle Ages, especially in Europe. Saint Blaise is one of the 14 Helper Saints – a group of saints and martyrs to whom Catholics turn in prayer during times of grave affliction.
Devotion to the 14 Helper Saints took root in mid-14th century Germany, at the height of the Black Death – a plague considered to be the worst in human history, having wiped out up to half the population European. Faithfulness in prayer to Saint Blaise and the other Holy Helpers spread to other countries and continues to this day, nearly 700 years later.
Father Miller, who was ordained in 2016, encouraged Catholics who take part in the annual Throat Blessing Ritual to put their healthy throats to good use as they express their faith.
“May the intercession of Saint Blaise untie our throats to proclaim the glorious good news of Jesus’ presence, healing and power to make us saints,” he said.