OF CANDLES, CROSSES AND SORE THROATS

As we turn into February there are three days that come together that might give us something to think about. They are the first three days in this month. February 1st, the Feast of St. Brigid, February 2nd, the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord and February 3rd, the Feast of St. Blaise. Even as a bit of fun it might be interesting to ask people which of these is the most significant, indeed how would we rank them in order of importance. I think many would say the most important of these three days is either the Feast of St. Brigid or the Feast of St. Blaise. In fact unlike the other two, the day we celebrate St. Blaise is not a feast day at all, but simply an optional memorial. This is in itself should be a clue. The Church designates Brigid’s day a feast, and the day after, the Presentation of the Lord, the same but leaves February 3rd, nothing more than an optional memorial. And yet, the likelihood is that this third day, the lesser of the three days, will see crowds of people come to Church for the traditional Blessing of Throats. Why is this?

If we can agree that the least important of the three days is the third, St. Blaise’s day, at least from the point of view of the Church, then of the other two, which is more important? I think most people would opt for the Feast of St. Brigid. A significant number of people will come to Mass on February 1st mindful of Brigid and will be delighted if they receive a St. Brigid’s Cross. This year in St. Matthew’s we have the privilege of having Deacon Bill O’ Shaughnessy serve in our parish. Bill is from Castledermott in County Kildare, Brigid’s own country, and members of his family are making St. Brigid’s Crosses for us which we will bless and distribute at Mass that morning. So on one morning we will have our throat blessed and on another we will receive a freshly made St. Brigid’s Cross. From the time of Brigid, born around 454, and died 524, the St. Brigid’s Cross has been a popular sign of God’s protection. Both are very tangible, and draw people. It is interesting that people are drawn by the possibility of healing. It is also interesting that people want to receive anything that is blessed. I think they are also drawn by the fact that it is personal. It is theirs. Whether that be their throat blessed or a St. Brigid’s Cross, just blessed, that they can take home and place it behind a picture, hang it on the wall, or sometimes tuck it in behind the holy water font in the hall. Apart from it being theirs, I think they are also drawn by something that can be experienced such as a blessing or healing. I find it very interesting that the Presentation of the Lord, which is a very significant day in the life of Jesus scarcely gets a look in, sandwiched, as it is between Brigid and Blaise. There might be something in this for us.

I have chosen to bring these three days into the ‘rumblings’ this week because they bring us to a very interesting place, namely where the pagan and the holy meet. This is actually part of our heritage, the sacred and the secular. We have only to look at our Celtic cross to see the marrying of the Druidic and the Christian in the sun intermeshed with the Cross. When we step back into the days of Patrick, Brigid, and my own favourite, Declan of Ardmore, we step back into a world where the pagan is not only beside the Christian but the two are intermingled. I think in fact that in some ways that intermingling continues to happen. Today we might see where people can blur matters of faith with magic. The Druids have been replaced by Hogwarts and Harry Potter.

The reality is that neither Brigid nor Blaise make any sense without Jesus. Brigid consecrates her virginity to God and is totally committed to the spread of the Christian Faith. Blaise was a doctor who became a bishop but the most important thing about him is he was martyred, that is, he gave his life for the Lord. So for both these saints Jesus is at the centre. Maybe it’s more significant than we think that the Presentation of the Lord, February 2nd, is at the centre of these three days. A key to understanding this feast lies in the candles that we bless that day. These days many people are really ‘ into candles’ having many of them in their homes. Scented candles, coloured candles, large candles and little night lights. Here again we have the pagan hovering around and the holy just beside it. Whatever about the candles being reduced to creating atmosphere or adding to the ambience, in the context of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple we are reminded by Simeon and Anna that the ultimate
Light of the World is Jesus. In all our devotions we need to keep rooted, and for healing we turn to Jesus, the source of all healing. All our devotions must be in the context of Jesus and should sit comfortably with the Eucharist as the summit and source of our lives. There is no greater healing.

One Comment

  1. Thank you for the insight that you give. It is very informative and thought provoking. I am not a parishioner but am looking at your site as a parishioner told me recently that there might be a life in the spirit seminar coming up.

    I have read a few of your rumblings and love them so will continue to read them.
    Many thanks and God bless Aileen

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