3 Feb: St. Blaise and the blessing of candles and of throats

I have posted this in the past, but there are many newcomers to the blog who may find this useful.

Every time I get my throat blessed on St. Blaise Day, I get a sore throat or bronchitis.  As a matter of fact, every time I bless a car it gets in an accident.  One person whom I warned about this, and indeed was in a accident soon after, came back to me and said, "Imagine how bad it would have been if you hadn’t blessed it!" 

So, ever the optimist, I keep going back each year for a blessing of the throat.

Today is the Feast of St. Blaise, about whom we know very little.   We have only this very brief entry in the Martyrologium Romanum: Sancti Blasii, episcopi et martyris, qui pro christiano nomine Sabaste in Armenia passus est sub Licino imperatore. … [Feast of] St. Blaise, bishop and martyr, who suffered for the name of Christ in Sabaste in Armenia under the Emperor Licinus.

That "pro Christiano nomine" probably needs to be rendered as "for the name of Christ" along the lines of rendering dies dominica or oratio dominica as, respectively, "the Lord’s Day = Sunday" or "the Lord’s Prayer".  It is entirely possible, of course, just to keep it literal and say, "for the Christian name", which would be pretty much the same thing in the balance. 

Either way, he was killed because as a Christian Blaise professed belief in Christ.

COLLECT:
Exaudi, Domine, populum tuum,
cvm beati Blasii martyris patrocinio supplicantem,
ut et temporalis vitae nos tribuas pace gaudere,
et aeternae reperire subsidium.

LITERAL TRANSLATION:
O Lord, graciously hear Your people
begging by means of the patronage of blessed martyr Blaise,
that you grant us to delight in the peace of temporal life
and obtain the protection of eternal life.

St. BlaiseI take away from this prayer the serious message that life is dangerous.  The word subsidium means "support, assistance, aid, help, protection" and often in liturgical Latin "help".  Either way, subsidium sets up a stark contrast between the life we have now and the life to come.  Even the phrase about enjoying the peace of this life, indicates subtly how precarious everything is in this earthly existence which Catholics are accustomed to call a "vale of tears".

This is firmed up by another wonderful prayer associated with St. Blaise.  You all know about the blessing of throats on the feast of St. Blaise.  Once upon a time, in the older form of the Rituale Romanum there was a marvelous blessing for the candles used to confer the blessing of throats.  Here it is:

St. BlaiseBLESSING OF CANDLES ON THE FEAST OF ST. BLAISE:

O God most powerful and most kind, Who didst create all the different things in the world by the Word alone, and Whose will it was that this Word by Which all things were made should become incarnate for the remaking of mankind; Thou Who art great and limitless, worthy of reverence and praise, the worker of wonders; for Whose sake the glorious Martyr and Bishop, St. Blaise, joyfully gained the palm of martyrdom, never shrinking from any kind of torture in confessing his faith in Thee; Thou Who didst give to him, amongst other gifts, the prerogative of curing by Thy power every ailment of men’s throats; humbly we beg Thee in Thy majesty not to look upon our guilt, but, pleased by his merits and prayers, in Thine awe-inspiring kindness, to bless+this wax created by Thee and to sanc+tify it, pouring into it Thy grace; so that all who in good faith shall have their throats touched by this wax may be freed from every ailment of their throats through the merit of his suffering, and, in good health and spirits, may give thanks to Thee in Thy holy Church and praise Thy glorious name, which is blessed for ever and ever.  Through our Lord, Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Who with Thee lives and reigns, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, world without end.  R. Amen.

Ah!  What a pleasure that prayer is!  Or course, the candles are to be sprinkled with holy water after the blessing.  Maybe you should print this out and take it to your parish priest "with Fr. Z’s compliments".  It might be that he doesn’t have this text and perhaps would like to (or you would like to) have your throat blessed in Latin!
 
Here is the Blessing for throats:

Per intercessionem Sancti Blasii, episcopi et martyris,
liberet te Deus a malo gutturis, et a quolibet alio malo.
In nomine Patris, et Filii +, et Spiritus Sancti.  Amen.

Through the intercession of St. Blaise, bishop and martyr,
may God free you from illness of the throat and from any other sort of ill.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son + and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

I will never forget this formula.  Long ago, as a deacon, I lived at the Church of San Carlo ai Catinari, which is also dedicated to St. Blaise as co-patron.  The Barnabites there have in their possession relics of St. Blaise.  There is one in a large reliquary and one in a crystal placed on a large ring held in the fist of one hand (click the photo to see a larger image and inside the crystal).   This is what they used to bless throats on this feast.  

I was asked by the clergy there to help with blessing the throats of the people who thronged to the church that day.  As soon as I donned my surplice every other cleric actually attached to the place vanished.  I was left there for several hours.  I can’t say how many times I said that formula that day.

Here is an action shot of a priest at. San Carlo in Rome, blessing with the relic.

St. Blaise

At the Sabine Farm, there is a relic of St. Blaise!  It is in a very old reliquary.

Here we have St. Blaise along with St. Nicholas, St. Joachim, St. Ann and, a special privilege, St. Paul, Apostle, during the Pauline Year.

St. Blaise is at the bottom.

St. Blaise

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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14 Responses to 3 Feb: St. Blaise and the blessing of candles and of throats

  1. Jane says:

    I have written a book about answers to prayer (which I have also put online).

    This is one of the stories in it.

    A bad case of laryngitis

    Each month I used to meet with a friend. We attended Mass at the cathedral and then had lunch at the shopping centre afterwards. On one of these occasions my friend showed up with a very severe case of laryngitis. She told me that she had been in this state for a few weeks. I introduced her to the priest and he gave her a blessing in honour of Saint Blaise, (the saint who is invoked for protection against throat problems.) I jokingly remarked to her, “You should be all fixed up now because Father has blessed you.” We went into the church. A few minutes later the Mass began and I was amazed to hear my friend singing the hymn in her full strength soprano voice.

    On Saint Blaise’s feast day (February 3), there is a special blessing. The priest takes two candles which are held in a crossed position and places them upon the throat of the person to be blessed and invokes Saint Blaise to protect the person from throat troubles.

    The book can be viewed at:

    http://missionbell.homestead.com/HelpFromHeavenBook.html

    In relation to your story Fr. Z. I read about a religious who complained to St John Bosco about the outcome his “St Blaise feastday throat blessing.” The outcome was very bad indeed. St John Bosco was amused and told the religious to be patient until a certain feastday. On the feastday that St John Bosco mentioned the man’s throat was healed.

  2. Adam Welp says:

    I can’t make it to Mass today. Can a priest give this blessing at any time? I remember getting my throat blessed when I was younger, but it appears to have fallen out of practice in my area.

  3. JohnE says:

    Funny you should say that. I can’t make it to Mass today, and I feel like I’m coming down with a cold — starting in the back of the throat. I really wanted to go today too since I am a lector at our parish.

  4. I posted about the blessing on another day in a QUAERITUR entry.

    Check it out!

  5. Or we could think of your sore throat after the blessing as God’s innoculation against a more virulent bout, akin to the vaccination process.

    On vehicles, I learned a long time ago that an accident can actually keep us safe.
    A. We become more cautious with this fender-bender reminder.
    B. Having the car in the shop may be keeping us from going into a more dangerous situation. I missed a plane trip because of such and gladly. That same plane went down in flames killing everyone on board.

    God has been mightily good to me.

  6. smallone says:

    Plain Catholic — I was just about to post that after I received the throat blessing last year, I came down with strep throat! BUT, it was not as excruciatingly painful as the case I had contracted three years before. Hmm.

  7. Father G says:

    Thanks for posting the prayer for blessing the candles. I used it this morning.

    There are some parishes that give the blessing with the candles lit.

    Here’s one of them from a parish in Chihuahua, Mexico: http://www.arquichi.org.mx/imagenes/thumbnails.php?album=5

    There is also the tradition of wearing a “Saint Blaise cord” for nine days following the blessing. You’ll see that too in the photos.

  8. Dr. Eric says:

    Does the candle blessing relate to the dikerion that an Eastern Bishop uses to bless the congregation?

  9. Father G says:

    Dr. Eric,

    They’re only related in that they both involve two candles crossed one over the other, although there are versions of the dikirion in which the candles are twisted.

    A dikirion is used along with a trikirion during a Divine Liturgy celebrated by a Byzantine Catholic or Eastern Orthodox (arch)bishop. The dikirion represents the dual natures of Christ, while the trikirion represents the Holy Trinity.

    For more info, click here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dikirion_and_trikirion

  10. Dr. Eric says:

    Thanks Father G. I didn’t know if they were related or not as St. Blaise was Armenian.

  11. Father G says:

    Dr. Eric,

    You’re welcome. Just to add further…

    The dikirion and trikirion are only used by those bishops who belong to the Byzantine-rite, either Catholic or Orthodox.

    Armenian bishops, either Catholic or Orthodox, belong to a separate liturgical rite; therefore, they do not use a dikirion and trikirion in their liturgies.

    Having said that though, there is actually an icon of Saint Blaise that was written for a Roman-rite Catholic parish which depicts Saint Blaise holding a dikirion: http://www.theologyincolor.com/ray/blaise.jpg

    The blessing of throats for the feast of Saint Blaise is done only in the Roman-rite.

    Armenian Orthodox commemorate Saint Blaise on January 16th, but they do not have the tradition of blessing throats.

    The Armenian Catholic parish in Rome however does do the blessing of throats on Feb. 3rd: http://orbiscatholicus.blogspot.com/2008/02/st-blaise-day-in-rome.html

  12. Tracy Spenst says:

    Every year my memory goes back to the first time I received the blessing of St. Blaise. I was a new convert and heard the priest’s explanation about putting two crossed candles to my throat. Well, I got pretty worried because I have long hair and assumed that the candles would be lit! However, moving forward in faith, I figured Father had done this often enough not to torch me. It was quite a relief to see the candles unlit!

    I always was little slow on the uptake…

    Tracy :-)

  13. dmwallace says:

    Tracy,
    During my European travels I have seen the blessing of St. Blaise given with LIT candles! One could feel the heat from the flames near one’s ears. The candles featured rings with brass drip plates that slid onto the ends of the candles. Very interesting.

  14. Dr. Eric says:

    I got my throat blessed and on the 6th I started getting a cold. Today is the 8th and it hurts my throat and ears every time I cough. More interesting is the fact that Sunday afternoon I offered my sickness for my wife’s benefit so that she would skip Purgatory after death and my sickness got MUCH worse, I’m finally feeling a little better after yesterday.