I sometimes get called upon to tell my conversion story, but technically, it's a "reversion" story. I was born into a Catholic family, but my parents began attending a (very fine) Presbyterian church when I was about eleven years old. I have quite a few memories of Mass in those days, but one that particularly stands out is having my throat blessed on St Blase's Day. I don't know why that should be, except that perhaps we had been told the story of the holy martyr Blase having healed a boy who had a fish bone stuck in his throat, and that I loved to fish and eat my catch, and so having St Blase on my side seemed like a particularly good idea.
In truth, we know very little about St Blase. He was certainly bishop of Sebaste (in Armenia) and martyred in 316. The story of the boy with the fish bone stuck in his throat comes some 400 years later. However, as early as the end of the fifth century, the intercession of St Blase was already being invoked for ailments of the throat. In time it became a custom throughout the Church to bless the throats of the faithful on St. Blase's Day, which is February 3rd. Candles are always used in this blessing, evidently due to the close proximity to Candlemas (also known as the Feast of the Presentation) the day before, with its blessing of candles for liturgical and devotional use.
This year, St Blase's Day falls on Sunday, which of course takes precedence, but we will indeed keep the tradition of blessing throats immediately following Mass. Following the final hymn, Deacon Rosenblum and I will make our way to the Sacred Heart Altar and bless the throats of those who present themselves.
This blessing of throats on St Blase's Day, brown scapulars, miraculous medals, holy water, and even homilies are "sacramentals;" that is, "sacred signs which bear a resemblance to the sacraments...they signify effects, particularly of a spiritual nature, which are obtained through the intercession of the Church... by them, men are disposed to receive the chief effect of the sacraments, and various occasions in life are rendered holy" (CCCC 1667). Sacramentals do not communicate grace as sacraments do, but, properly and prayerfully used, they dispose us to receive that grace.
Well, at the intercession of St Blase, bishop and martyr, may we be disposed to receive all those graces of love and mercy and healing which flow from the wounded side of Christ. See you Sunday!
God bless you,