I love obscure traditions. Today is St Blaise day and we will Bless Throats with crossed candles. Now I’ve been to church on St Blaise day before and had my throat blessed, but didn’t understand the significance of blessed candles or the point of the blessing. Nobody really explains these things. Neither did they explain whether the candles should be lit or not. (They’re not) I was a bit worried lest a set some girl’s long hair on fire…
When I asked an older Catholic in England said, “It’s the time of the year when everybody catches cold and has a cough, so we bless throats.” OK, maybe, but why bless throats in Turkey or North Africa or Australia? “It’s just a tradition dear…”
It is easy when given such an answer to revert to one’s Protestant roots and dismiss the tradition as ‘just the traditions of men’, (that in itself being another kind of tradition of course) But instead of dismissing traditions we ought to stop and think them through. When something’s been around a long time that means people thought it was worth keeping. We’re fools to throw out the family antiques just because they’re not to our taste.There’s probably something we’re missing.
Then I noticed in some photographs of the enthronement of the new Patriarch of the Russian Church that he’s holding crossed candles. Three in one hand (for the Trinity) and two in the other hand for the dual nature of Christ in the incarnation. OK, I get it. By the virtue of Christ’s incarnation the physical and spiritual come together, so we bless throats with crossed candles.
So why throats? Well, I got thinking further about this, and the throat is where the voice is produced and the voice is the meeting place of the physical and spiritual within us. Voice production is a physical thing, but what comes out? Music and speech, and the content of music and speech is very much a mental and ultimately spiritual thing. So the throat becomes a symbol of the meeting place of the spiritual and physical in us.
This takes place the day after the Feast of the Presentation in the Temple where the physical and spiritual are met in the Christ child physically being presented in the Temple. The Temple of God (Mary) brings God to the Temple of God.
The nice thing is that all of this is really so ordinary. So the music teacher will bring our kids who sing in the chapel choir to have their throats blessed, our theology teachers who express God’s truth to our kids will have their throats blessed, and any others will come to ask God to bless their voices and their words and their song for his glory.