February 3 (tomorrow) is the Feast of St. Blaise, a feast that always brings back memories from my days as a student at St. Theresa School in Trumbull. It seems like every year the sisters would walk us across the parking lot from the school over to the church for Mass on the Feast of St. Blaise, and we were kind of excited because we knew that “something cool” was going to happen – the blessing of throats. This blessing was like none other, because the priest didn’t just stand up there and bless us like he did at the end of every Mass. On the Feast of St. Blaise he would use two candles arranged in a “V” shape, and you’d have to stick your neck between the two candles while the priest said: “Through the intercession of St. Blaise, bishop and martyr, may you be protected from all afflictions of the throat and from every evil, in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” I always got a little nervous putting my neck between those candles. There always seemed an element of danger in it. And when the Mass was over, as we trudged back across the parking lot to the school, you could count on one of the kids to complain that the blessing didn’t take because he had a sore throat, and Sister would quickly tell the young man not to be silly, shutting down immediately any temptation that might have existed among the rest of us to give into the power of suggestion and wonder aloud that our throats hurt too.
It was only much later that I learned the reason why the throat blessings on the Feast of St. Blaise involved the use of candles. It’s because St. Blaise’s day immediately follows the Feast of the Presentation, otherwise known as Candlemas. As part of the liturgy of Candlemas, there is a candlelit procession into the church as a way of commemorating the entrance of the infant Christ into the Jerusalem Temple 40 days after His birth. It is an image of the glory of God returning to His dwelling place (Malachi 3:1-4), now Incarnate as a member of His chosen people, fulfilling the precepts of the Law which required the presentation of every first-born son to the Lord in the Temple. The candles we bring into Mass that day also symbolize our own baptism, through which the Glory of God made His dwelling in our souls – for, as St. Paul says, “do you not know that your body is a Temple of the Holy Spirit within you?” (1 Cor 6:19). Before the Candlemas procession begins, the priest blesses the candles that will be used in the church that year, a few of which are set aside for the blessing of the throats the next day on the Feast of St. Blaise.
Tomorrow, because of COVID restrictions, the Bishop has instructed the priests to give a general blessing of throats from the sanctuary without using the candles. If this had happened back when we were at St. Theresa’s we kids would have thought it a total gyp, but I hope those who do make it to Mass tomorrow understand. For as cool as the blessing of throats is, it pales in comparison with the shocking reality that at the same Mass bread and wine will become the living Flesh and Blood of Christ Jesus – God – who makes the souls of the baptized His dwelling place on earth, that His grace might heal the broken hearts of mankind, and not just sore throats!