Thursday, February 3, 2022

A Blessing in a Time of Pandemic

I got my throat blessed this morning, for this is the annual day when we observe that particularly wonderful tradition. The Blessing of Throats has long been one of my favorite sacramentals. I think it may be one of the nicest blessings we get to impart in the course of the Church's year. And how especially important this singular blessing is for us today, as for the second time, we keep this day and celebrate this blessing during this terrible time of deadly pandemic.

Over the centuries, the Church's catalogue of annual blessings has included blessing all sorts of things, such as horses on St. Stephen's Day and wine on St. John the Evangelist's Day, not to mention bonfires on the eves of St. John the Baptist and All Saints. Most of those blessings are barely even known by most people today. The blessing of St. Joseph's Table and the blessing of Easter Food remain popular in certain places, particularly among certain ethnic communities. Under the appropriate circumstances, almost anything and anyone can be blessed, but this particular annual blessing has a particular popularity - and persistence - virtually unequaled.

What accounts for this?

According to tradition, St. Blaise, in whose memory our throats are blessed on his feast day, was an Armenian physician, who became a bishop and was martyred early in the 4th century, and who supposedly healed a boy who was choking to death from fish bone. Devotion to him (and his healing powers) spread widely in both the eastern and western churches, which celebrate his memory on February 11 and February 3 respectively. In the medieval west, he achieved particular popularity as one of the "14 Holy Helpers." Like most pre-modern life, medieval life was hard, and help from almost any source was much valued and sought after! 

Of course, life can still be very hard even now - especially when serious illness intervenes as it has so dramatically and traumatically today. Hence, the perennial need for healing. 

Miracles matter, for life remains a challenge and so much of it is beyond our control, despite our modern pretense to the contrary. Certainly this calamitous covid pandemic has been for us one of the situations in which life on earth repeatedly shows itself beyond our very limited capacity to control. In this painful, beyond-our-control world, the blessing of throats instantiates the Church's prayer for the sick and highlights the Church's long-standing historical involvement in healing ministries. The fact that St. Blaise was himself a physician certainly speaks to the spiritual significance of the ministry of healing and the social value of all healing professions, all those doctors, nurses, PAs, EMTs, etc., who have given so much of themselves these past two years.

Through the intercession of St. Blaise, Bishop and Martyr, may God deliver us 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.

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