(Optional) Memorial of Saint Blaise, bishop and martyr
(II Samuel 15:13-14.30.16:5-13; Mark 5:1-20)
A priest from Latin America was about to say his first mass in the U.S. on February 2. He expected to see a crowd in church as the Presentation of the Lord is a popular feast day in his country. But he was disappointed when only a few people arrived for mass. In his homily he criticized Americans for being so lax in their faith. The next day, February 3, he was assigned the mass at the same hour as the day before. This time, however, the church had a crowd which made the priest feel that his preaching was effective. Entering the sacristy after mass, he learned that the numbers had nothing to do with his homily. The sacristan presented him with a set of candles and told him to bless the throats of the people. The priest, who had never heard of the tradition of blessing throats on St. Blaise day, received a lesson on American Catholic culture.
In the order of holy things the Presentation of the Lord -- when we meditate on Jesus as the light of the world -- deserves much greater attention than the blessing of throats. During the Eucharist of the Presentation we encounter the Lord in his resurrected glory so that we might say with Simeon, “Lord, now you can let your servant go in peace.” We mean, of course, that we are prepared to die because we know that Jesus will give us his eternal care.
On the other hand, the blessing of throats, which might be done with the same effect on any day of the year, is a sacramental. It is meant to remind us of Jesus’ action in the world to save us from sin. It still is beneficial to have our throats blessed, but it is far better to attend mass and receive the body and blood of Christ.