Saturday, February 03, 2007

Don't Choke on Your Faith! Go Out in a Blaise of Glory

Through the intercession of St. Blaise, bishop and martyr,
may God deliver you
from ills of the throat and other ills.
The St. Blaise Blessing

Greetings from frigid Chicagoland, where the temperature is -2 degrees Fahrenheit and my spirits aren't much higher. You see, I had to work my gym job today, so not only did I miss the daily Mass, I couldn't get my throat blessed by ol' Saint Blaise . . .

Butler's Lives is excessively skeptical about the old chap, claiming "of St. Blaise nothing can be known for certain," but the Catholic Church is far more positive, retaining his feast day in the calendar reform of 1969 albiet "demoting" the bishop and martyr from "Memorial" to "Optional Memorial." Nevertheless, both Greek and Latin histories have him a bishop of Sebastea (in Armenia) at a young age, having fled the persecution of Diocletian by living in a cave. Here his only companions are wild animals—and, when Blaise started to cure the beasts of their ailments—they began to flock to him. Of course this only drew attention to the miracle worker, and Diocletian's thugs quickly tracked and trapped him, and, despite the amazing scene of hundreds of wild animals being cured, arrested the bishop and carried the saint to his earthly doom.

But Blaise was not done yet. On the way to prison, a woman whose prized pig was carried off by a wolf, implored the saint to intervene. Blaise merely commanded the wolf to release the pig and the animal obeyed as if it were his faithful hound. Overjoyed, the woman brought tapered candles to Blaze's prison cell to give him light, and this, coupled with the legend that Blaise cured a boy with a fish bone stuck in his throat on the way to his execution, gave rise to the practice of the blessing of throats which is still done on his feast day.

Blaise was beheaded in 316 AD, after being beaten with metal wool-combs, which explains why he is the patron saint of wool-combers and wool-workers in general. Both in medieval England and Germany, festivals that involve lighting bonfires on Blaise's feast day arose, but whether this was due to the use of candles in his blessings, or merely a play on words with his name, is unclear. What IS certain is that Blaise went out in style, curing and witnessing 'til the end, leaving a legendary blessing that, especially if one lives in the February chills of the upper Midwest, is not to be missed.

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