One of the greatest things I remember about growing up in Gray’s Ferry was how unashamedly Catholic we were in our Saint Gabriel days. Every school day was in itself an exercise in our Catholic faith starting with the prerequisite Catholic school uniform that was de rigueur in school. February 3 always has a particular fondness for me as well. Every year the entire school was marched over to the church to receive the "Blessing of Throats," on the feast of Saint Blaise. The ritual has been observed by both the Eastern and the Western Church since the early 4th century; however we didn’t know that growing up Catholic in the ethnically insulated enclave of Gray’s Ferry.
I sort of remember the crossed candles being lighted at some point in the pre-Vatican II parochial life of an American Irish Catholic; however I am not too sure. In those days an ignited candle would pose a great threat to long haired Catholic grade school girls with large portions of flammable hairspray saturating their hair, as well as the layers of coats sweaters and scarves that were present in the frigid weather of February. Anyhow, the blessing was always something I really looked forward to each year…being the proverbial poster boy for ear, nose and throat infections!
The Sisters Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary were always quick to recall the legend of Saint Blaise which had a young boy choking on a fish bone. After Saint Blaise prayed over him and blessed his throat…he was healed and was able to breathe again. Always being the victim of nasal congestion due to sinus maladies I welcomed any opportunity to open the nasal passages and the commemoration of the Feast of Saint Blaise was a miraculous form of theological penicillin.
Regardless, sometimes we loose sight of the importance of these sacramentals in our modern Catholic Church. Celebration of the cult of the saints is somewhat comforting and reassuring for me as a contemporary Catholic. Over the years I have somehow acquired a first class (piece of bone) relic of Saint Blaise and I drag his bones out every year and bless my daughter’s throat with the relic. Again this year, I will tell her of the story of Saint Blaise, how he was martyred for his Catholic faith and how he is the patron saint against diseases of the throat. Part of the great heritage of growing up Catholic in Gray’s Ferry is the annual Blessing of Throats…a time when you actually got out of school for a bit, participated in an ancient sacramental of the Church, venerated the memory of a great Saint and Martyr and learned something about history, faith and religious celebrations.
Who knew the Sisters Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary actually understood what they were doing! As I always say…Catholic schools need a dozen I.H.M. nuns to teach authentic Catholic theology…disregarding the sometimes pseudo Protestant evangelism that frequently passed for Catholic education these days.
Saint Blaise…pray for all of us! Especially those with persistent post nasal drip that Mrs. Gorman our grade school nurse could never understand!
Copyright 2010 Hugh McNichol
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