The blessing of throats couldn’t come at a better time as Catholics and Protestants alike cough their way through the winter months. But soon they will have a chance at healing.
On Feb. 3, in honor of the feast day of St. Blaise, churches will hold the annual blessing to protect people against and heal them from throat ailments.
Many adults have fond memories of this ceremony, when the priest places two blessed candles joined in the shape of a cross at each person’s throat and says a prayer for their health.
Msgr. Lawrence B. McInerny, pastor of Stella Maris Church on Sullivan’s Island, said use of the candles actually comes from the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord on Feb. 2.
On this day, all the candles in the church are blessed to commemorate the presentation of Jesus in the temple, when Simeon called him the light. The following day, the church uses two of these freshly blessed candles in the blessing of throats, Msgr. McInerny said.
St. Blaise became the patron saint of throats after healing a boy choking on a fishbone.
It is said that the fourth century saint came from a family of wealthy nobles. He was believed to be a physician who was later ordained to the priesthood and became a bishop of Sebastea in Armenia.
Under the reign of Emperor Licinius, the persecution of Christians escalated and Bishop Blaise was forced into exile in the wilderness of his diocese, where he lived as a hermit.
When St. Blaise was captured, soldiers reported that he was surrounded by wild animals and moved among them unharmed, healing them. This is why he is also the patron saint of veterinarians.
It was during the trip back to town that the group came across the little boy was choking to death. St. Blaise placed his hands on the child, prayed for him, and the fishbone caught in the boy’s throat was dislodged.
Another occurrence relates the tale of a woman whose pig had been stolen by a wolf. St. Blaise approached the wolf and ordered it to release the pig in the name of the Lord, which it did. The farm lady was so awed that she followed the saint back to town. When he was imprisoned and sentenced to starvation, she found ways to sneak food to him.
Once in captivity, St. Blaise suffered various tortures, such as having his skin torn with metal combs, but he refused to renounce his faith. Finally, Licinius ordered him beheaded.
The combs used in his torture have been incorporated into artwork of the saint. He is shown as a bishop and is often accompanied by a wild animal or shown holding two crossed candles.