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Catholic Heroes… St. Blaise

February 16, 2021 saints No Comments

By DEB PIROCH

Some of you recently will have taken note of the Feast of St. Blaise (February 3) and others will have missed it altogether. The reason is that some churches seem to have taken to giving the blessing on the feast and not on the Sunday before or after. Additionally, in many churches it is now sadly given as a communal blessing, instead of individually, as was the tradition almost all the years I have been a Catholic.
Some are stating this year they are opting to do this on account of COVID; however, the candles do not even need to necessarily touch the person being blessed. It is wise to remember that the devotion has been popular for over a thousand years for many reasons; ailments of the throat may be physical, but we should also invoke the saint for spiritual sins of the tongue, as well.
St. Blaise was famed even in Middle Ages, one of the so-called “14 Holy Helpers,” a tradition that began in Germany, with 14 saints all invoked for different ailments. Because this saint was tortured with wool combs which are horrible, long-toothed instruments used for preparing flax, he is also the patron saint of wool and wool gatherers, a profession once practiced by so many. And around the saint’s cultus many nations have specific traditions and events. However, Dubrovnik, in Croatia, has been especially devoted to the saint, celebrating his legacy on the date of his feast, February 3, since the year 972. This includes the years when Croatia suffered under Communism. Croatia is 90 percent Catholic.
St. Blaise, it is said, appeared that year to the parish priest in Dubrovnik at the Church of St. Stephen. He told the priest, please warn the city fathers they should protect themselves from imminent attack by the Venetians. St. Blaise related he had already repelled them himself for several nights, attired as a bishop with mitre and staff in hand. When the priest asked the older man his name, he answered, “St. Vlaho,” which in English is St. Blaise.
Immediately the city armed and closed its gates and the Venetians, discovering this, moved on. He had saved the city and the city responded with gratitude. In fact, UNESCO even honored this festival as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2009. It is said that throughout the city, Dubrovnik has over 60 images or statues of the saint. During its festival, which one can find on YouTube video, one witnesses his impressive relics carried in procession to be honored and kissed once a year. These include his head, his arm, a leg, and his precious throat. They are housed in reliquaries from the eleventh and fourteenth centuries, magnificent to behold.
It’s believed he lived in western Armenia, present-day Turkey, and was made bishop of Sebastea while still young. A bishop would have likely been chosen from among the holy priests and agreed upon by other bishops. According to Butler’s Lives, he came from a well-to-do Christian family but persecution visited Christians under Emperor Licinius. Though married to the half-sister of Constantine, he persecuted St. Blaise and other Christians. (Constantine would execute Licinius years later.)
St. Blaise removed to a cave where he allegedly coexisted with wild animals. Legend says wounded beasts would come to him — rather like with St. Francis — and he would pray and heal them.
One day, hunters looking for animals for sport came upon the saint, seized him and brought him to Agricola, the governor. While taking him to prison, they passed a woman whose child was choking on a fishbone. He healed the child and established a reputation as patron of illnesses of the throat. Another woman implored him to help her because her pig had been seized by a wolf. St. Blaise commanded the wolf to return the pig unhurt. The same woman later brought candles to St. Blaise in prison, and by these candles he would read Holy Scripture.
For this reason, candles are used in the blessing of the throats on his feast day. They’re tied with a red ribbon, symbolizing martyrdom, and held in the shape of a St. Andrew’s cross (the shape of a cross upon which St. Andrew was martyred). They are also white, symbolizing purity.
Despite Blaise’s working miracles, Agricola had the saint tortured and, when he would not deny Christ, had him beheaded — as was St. Valentine, another famed saint of February. Blaise’s year of death is given as 316 AD. How can one forget the intoning of the words: “By the intercession of St. Blaise, bishop and martyr, may God protect you from all ailments of the throat and from all other evils! In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.”
Candles are used repeatedly in Church ritual to symbolize the Light of Christ. The earth-shattering beauty of the Gospel of John reminds us of this as we come to the start of Lent:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him: and without him was made nothing that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness, to give testimony of the light, that all men might believe through him. He was not the light, but was to give testimony of the light. That was the true light, which enlighteneth every man that cometh into this world. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not” (John 1:1-10).
We should remember in receiving the blessing of St. Blaise, just as with any blessing, that this is a sacramental. These are sacred devices approved by the Church. Received in the proper frame of mind, God uses them to increase our devotion by increasing good thoughts and opening our souls to grace and further knowledge and devotion. So, for instance, the regular reception of the blessing teaches us to learn about St. Blaise, his witness as a faithful servant of God, and how saints intercede for us before God in the Church. St. Blaise may also be appealed to in prayer for other causes, of course; he was a physician before he was a bishop and saint!
One good practice for Lent and throughout the year is to ask St. Blaise to help us prevent sins of the tongue. An article by Msgr. Charles Pope, Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., mentions some common ones to keep in mind: gossip, idle chatter, lies, exaggerations, harsh attacks, uncharitable remarks, spreading hatred, inciting fear or maliciousness, causing temptation, teaching error, spreading discouragement, or ruining reputations. As it states in Eph. 4:29, 32:
“Let no evil speech proceed from your mouth; but that which is good, to the edification of faith, that it may administer grace to the hearers. . . . And be ye kind one to another; merciful, forgiving one another, even as God hath forgiven you in Christ.”

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