I remember as a kid being thrilled with the Feast of St. Blaise, because it meant that I wouldn’t get any more sore throats during the remaining weeks of the cruel Chicago winter. So much of my piety back then was bordering (if not totally over the edge!) on superstition. Why? I was never really taught otherwise. I was taught that the blessing of St. Blaise would keep me not only from getting a sore throat but from choking on a chicken bone. I was told that wearing a scapular would ensure that I would go straight to heaven if I got hit by a bus (which stopped right in front of our house, so believe me, I wore that scapular!). I was told that praying a novena would “work” as long as you did it for nine days—God would not settle for eight.
In other words, I was taught many Catholic practices but was not always properly catechized about the reasons for doing these things. That void is easily filled by superstition. The Catechism of the Catholic Church warns us that:
Superstition is the deviation of religious feeling and of the practices this feeling imposes. It can even affect the worship we offer the true God, e.g., when one attributes an importance in some way magical to certain practices otherwise lawful or necessary. To attribute the efficacy of prayers or of sacramental signs to their mere external performance, apart from the interior dispositions that they demand, is to fall into superstition. (2111)
The blessing of throats is a sacramental, one of the many ways that Catholics express a vision for life that brings the body, the senses, and the spirit together. It is a tangible expression of an intangible inner longing. Superstition says that, “If I do this certain action, I will make God or the saints do something for me.” Sacramental faith says, “I want to be holy and constantly under God’s protection—always reminded of his desire to keep me close and safe.” The sacramental action thus reminds us of how we are to respond to God’s grace, which is always flowing.
God wants us to be healthy and to use our bodies to praise him. The blessing of throats is a reminder to us of this grace and our need to respond by taking good care of ourselves and using our voices to lift up and not tear down.
God wants us to pray fervently so that we can better discern his will. And so we pray novenas—the nine days of prayer invoking the nine days that Mary and the Apostles prayed for the coming of the Holy Spirit between Ascension Thursday and Pentecost Sunday—as an outward sign of how fervently we desire to align our will with God’s.
God wants us to be holy, and so we wear scapulars as an outward sign of our desire to be holy like the monks and nuns in religious life (whose habit is called a scapular) and to remind us to look to Mary (as Our Lady of Mount Carmel) as a model of holiness.
It’s up to us catechists to make sure that those we teach, young and old, embrace Catholic practices, but do so with a firm catechetical understanding of the reasons we practice these pieties and devotions.
I remember, as a young mother and recent convert, attending the funeral of a beloved elderly parishioner who dedicated his life to our parish. At the funeral Mass the priest remarked how sad it was that Mr. X would not see the face of God as he had never made his 9 First Fridays. I was so taken aback by this statement that after Mass I made a point of telling his wife that I knew Mr. X was basking in the glory of the face of God.
How sad that families have to endure such superstition, even from priests! Thanks for sharing what we really do believe.
It’s an interesting tiptoe between the physical components of the Sacraments, the rags and aprons and Peter’s shadow in Acts, and mere superstition. I suppose for non-Catholics the whole Sacrament thing is one big Cat’lic superstition; although they’d defend the Biblical examples of grace and healing flowing through physical media.
As a practicing emergency physician for over 25 years, I have come to highly respect the Feast of St. Blaise.
A well known adage is in the minds of practicing physicians is, “If you don’t have an airway, you don’t have a patient”.
The throat is the entrance to life-giving breath for the body….pain from a sore throat is one thing, but to have an obstructed airway…..inside the throat from an infectious disease, cancer, trauma, choking on food or a foreign object……is one of the worst nightmare a physician can face….being one of the biggest threats to life for the suffering person.
How sacred and appropriate to have a feast day for St. Blaise. Blessing of Throats…..is a blessing for life itself.
Having battled a thiroid condition for years I love the feast of St. Blaise. Each year it gives me an opportunity to thank God for the blessing of relative health, and ask for God’s help in keeping my voice strong so I can continue to spread his good news.
I guess it has never occured to me to think that it will prevent all colds etc. because I almost always end up with a terrible cold right around that time of year!-)
It was interestnig to note the reaction of one young woman I know who is preparing to ente the church. Coming from a strong protestan background she was clearly uncomfortable with this whole thing. I wonder if we need not only to be catechizing to help students understand the meaning of various sacramentals but also catechizing to help them appreciate blessings that are both formal and informal.
As Baptismal Prep. Catechists my husband and I model for parents a way to bless their children. And as a Catechist, I end my classes each week by Blessing my Freshman class. I think it can be a beautiful thing for both the one who is asking God’s blessing and those receiving the Blessing to be reminded that we share God’s care for each other.