Blaising the Way to Keeping Healthy
February 3rd has the choice of an optional memorial of two different saints: St. Blaise and St. Ansgar. St. Ansgar is a newer addition to the General Roman Calendar for that date.
But St. Blaise, the bishop and martyr who died in 316 A.D. has been honored on February 3rd for many centuries. His cult was far reaching, including being included in the list of the Fourteen Holy Helpers.
The prevalent tradition is that he was a physician before he was ordained and saved a young boy from choking to death on a fish bone. Because of this, St. Blaise is the patron saint invoked against ailments of the throat.
The Church is often referred to as Mother Church "as a term of affectionate respect." She does care for us as a mother, recognizing and providing for us in both spiritual and physical needs. And on the feast of St. Blaise we are presented a sacramental blessing for preserving our health.
There is an option for a Blessing of the Throats, either during Mass or outside of Mass. This blessing was included in the older form of the Roman Ritual, and it has been traced to the 8th century. (There was also a blessing of bread, wine, water, and fruit which is not included in the current Book of Blessings.)
The Blessing of the Throats is unique in that it uses the beeswax candles that were blessed the previous day on the feast of the Presentation. The candles are put in an "X" or cross-form and tied with ribbon. These are placed at the neck near the throat area as the priest says the blessing:
Through the intercession of St. Blaise, bishop and martyr,
may God deliver you free from every disease of the throat,
and from every other disease.
In the name of the Father and of the Son, + and of the Holy Spirit.
The timing of the Blessing perfectly coincides with the season of winter in the Northern Hemisphere, when so many illnesses, such as the cold and flu, are really widespread.
When I was growing up, our family tried to attend Mass on this day so we could pray for one sister on her birthday, and to also receive the blessing, as we wanted extra protection against all the viruses of the winter. I still try to carry this tradition with extra incentive, so that my younger son can pray for his godmother on her birthday.
And although the blessing is of the throats, it also include "from every other disease." It's not an amulet against getting sick, but it's spiritual intercession and blessing to help us through the winter season. This is the Church showing us her providential and tender love, caring for us when we are healthy and sick.
Instead of preparing festive foods to celebrate the feast of St. Blaise, this can be a day to restock the medicine cabinet and pantry with home remedies, like bone broth, elderberry syrup, Vitamin C, menthol rub and a steam vaporizer. For dinner, how about a double batch of "Jewish penicillin" or Chicken Soup, some for now and the rest to freeze to serve later?
Through the intercession of St. Blaise, may we all be preserved from illness during the rest of this winter.
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