Catholic News ServiceA woman receives a blessing during the annual blessing of throats in honor of St. Blaise at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. The blessing recalls the life of fourth-century bishop and martyr who is credited with saving the life of a boy choking on a fish bone.

Catholic News Service
A woman receives a blessing during the annual blessing of throats in honor of St. Blaise at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. The blessing recalls the life of fourth-century bishop and martyr who is credited with saving the life of a boy choking on a fish bone.

St. Blaise has nothing in his history about fiery blazes but don’t tell that to generations of students at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa. There, the Feast of St. Blaise has been an opportunity for hundreds to enjoy a giant bonfire fueled with discarded Christmas trees — after getting their throats blessed by the Benedictine monk-priests from the campus ministry team.

The event has gone on for decades.

“Despite usually frigid outdoor temperatures, hundreds of students enjoy this unusual celebration until well after midnight every year,” says Father Killian Loch, director of campus ministry.

St. Blaise, a fourth century bishop of Sebaste, Armenia is said to have healed a boy who was choking on a fish bone. Since the 8th century, this martyr has been venerated as the patron saint of those who suffer from diseases of the throat. His feast day, Feb. 3, was a day off from work for English laborers starting in the 13th century.

To this day, Catholics still come forward before or after Mass on Feb. 3 to have their throats blessed, with a pair of crossed candles held under their chins.

The priest or deacon gives this blessing: "Through the intercession of St. Blaise, bishop and martyr, may God deliver you free from every disease of the throat, and from every other disease. In the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

The candles are linked to the Feast of the Presentation, which is Feb. 2.

Many Oregon parishes maintain the tradition.

The Dominicans at Holy Rosary Parish in Northeast Portland blessed throats after regular Masses on Tuesday. Large numbers came.

“It is really beautiful, and a very popular feast,” says Father Luan Tran, the pastor of St. Birgitta Parish in outer Northwest Portland. After Ash Wednesday, the Feast of St. Blaise is the most popular among those who don’t come to Mass regularly or who don’t come for Communion.

“People ask about it way ahead,” says Father Tran, who visits nursing homes to give the blessing.

He says priests joke that they always tend to get a cold or the flu sometime around the feast. He is just over being sick himself.

Father Eric Andersen, parochial vicar in Bandon and Port Orford, gave the blessings at Masses on Wednesday, since there is no Mass on Tuesdays.

“It seems wherever I’ve been, people like this blessing,” Father Andersen says. “Of all the sacramentals in the church it seems to be one that is a given in Oregon.”