By Mel Mantanona
This weekend those gathered at Mass will likely stand in line and wait for a priest or deacon to bestow on them the blessing of throats through the intercession of St. Blaise, a tradition tracing back to the eighth century. What is this blessing and where does it originate from?
The blessing of the throats is a practice commemorating and invoking the intercession of St. Blaise for illnesses especially those related to the throat. The blessing consists of the priest or deacon using white, unlit candles that were blessed the day before on the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord. The color white symbolizes purity, and typically, a red ribbon will be wrapped around the base of the candles, the color symbolizing St. Blaise’s martyrdom. The two candles are crossed to make the shape of an X to fit into the recipient’s throat while this blessing is said: “Through the intercession of St. Blaise, bishop and martyr, may God deliver you from every disease of the throat and from every other illness, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
St. Blaise, bishop and martyr, is the patron saint of throat illnesses and is to whom we can attribute this yearly blessing. Little is known about his life, and much of what we do know comes from traditions. Blaise is believed to have been born into a noble and wealthy family and became a physician and a bishop at a young age. Accounts note him for treating objects stuck in other’s throats.
For a while, he lived as a hermit outside of town, tending to the sick animals in the wild. He was discovered by hunters, brought before the governor, and thrown into jail. On his way to prison, legends state that a young boy had a fish bone stuck in his throat and, by the command of St. Blaise, eventually coughed up the bone. Blaise was told to renounce his faith and when he refused to do so, was beaten, tortured with an iron comb, and then beheaded.
After his death in 316, people began invoking his intercession for illnesses, especially those regarding the throat, and his popularity grew from there. Along with being the patron saint of throat illnesses, he also dons the patronages of animals, wool combers, and wool trading.
Information and photo from Aleteia, Catholic.org, and Body Theology