St Blaise, Bishop and Martyr (Optional memorial)

Commentary on St Blaise, Bishop and Martyr

Blaise is believed to have been a physician and bishop of Sebaste in Armenia, and to have been put to death under the Emperor Licinius and the prefect Agricolaus in the early 4th century.There is no evidence of a cult in either East or West before the 8th century and the Lives in Greek and Latin which are believed to be purely fictitious.

According to these he was the son of rich and noble Christians and was consecrated bishop at a very young age.  After becoming a bishop, a new persecution of Christians began and he received a message from God to take refuge in the hills.  While there, a woman brought him her son, who was near death because of a fishbone stuck in his throat.  Blaise restored the boy back to health.

Later, men hunting in the mountains came on a cave surrounded by wild animals who were sick.  Blaise walked among them unafraid and cured their illnesses.  Recognising Blaise as a bishop, he was captured and brought back for trial.  On the way, he persuaded a wolf to release a pig belonging to a poor woman. When Blaise was sentenced to be starved to death, the woman, in gratitude, sneaked into the prison with food and candles.

The tradition says he was martyred by being beaten, attacked with iron carding combs and finally beheaded. Now, at the annual blessing of throats on his feast day, two candles tied together in the shape of a ‘V’ are used in the ritual.  The blessing prayer is: “Per intercessionem Sancti Blasii liberet te Deus a malo gutteris et a quovis alio malo.” (May God at the intercession of Saint Blaise preserve you from troubles of the throat and every other evil).

Water with the blessing of St. B1aise is also given to sick cattle. Because the iron combs with which he was tortured were similar in appearance to wool-combs, for a long time, Blaise was the patron of wool-combers. He is also patron saint of the city of Dubrovnik (where he is known as Sveti Vlaho) since 972.  On 3 February, the relics of the saint, his head, a piece of bone from his throat, his right and left hands, are paraded in reliquaries. He is also listed as one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers. The shrine at Canterbury in England claimed to have his relics and at least four miracles were recorded as happening there.  One of these was dated 1451.



Readings: Romans 5:1-5; Mark 16:15-20

The Gospel comes from the very end of Mark, a section that some scripture scholars hold does not really belong to the original text but was added later and, in fact, it echoes passages from the other gospels, especially Matthew. (The original Mark predates Matthew.)

Nevertheless, one can see why it was chosen as the Gospel for today’s feast.  The first part of today’s reading is said to contain words spoken by Jesus while eating with his disciples in the Upper Room after the Resurrection.  They receive their mandate from Jesus to go out to the whole world and proclaim the Good News to “the whole creation”.  It is reminiscent of similar words found in Matthew where they are spoken just before the Ascension.

Jesus then promises that belief in him and his message will bring signs – devils will be cast out and people will be able to speak in strange tongues; they will be able to handle snakes and deadly poison without harm; they will lay their hands on sick people who will be healed. In the second part, we are told that the Lord Jesus then ascended to his Father and, as his followers carried out his commands, the things he promised did indeed take place as a confirmation of the truth of their message.

The relevance to Blaise is clear.  For many miracles and wonders were attributed to him – the healing of the sick and being able to live safely in the company of wild animals. The Lord continues to work wonders today although they are not often literally miraculous events but experiences which may even be more influential in the lives of people.  Perhaps we have had or seen such experiences ourselves.

The First Reading is a lovely passage from Paul’s Letter to the Romans.  He reminds his hearers of all the wonderful graces that have come through living their lives in faith and hope, “the hope of the divine splendour that is to be ours”.  He even tells them to rejoice in their sufferings, not because they are pleasurable, but because suffering properly accepted teaches endurance and inner strength.  Endurance shows that we have risen to the test, the test of our faith in the Lord Jesus.  And our ability to do this is the basis for our hope, a hope that will one day be vindicated.

And it is not an empty hope because “God’s love has been poured into our inmost being through the giving of the Holy Spirit”.  This is a passage which was lived by Blaise, who faced every kind of torment and, in the end, did not hesitate to give his life, following the example of his Lord.


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