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Blessings, Candles and Light

It is curious how things come to be connected. In my family there was a connection with the feast of the Purification and the feast of St. Blaise. First just a bit of background and a couple pieces of trivia.

One piece of trivia is that an ancient practice of the church was to declare February 2, which is the feast of the Purification of Jesus to be the last day that Christmas decorations can be displayed in church and at home. Today we do not have to concern ourselves with lingering decorations, they are removed quickly, but in days long ago, the Christmas season actually started on Christmas and the leaders of the church were concerned that all festive decoration would be removed before the beginning of Lent.

On to the Feast of the Purification which is the presentation of Jesus in the temple. It is when we hear the prayer of Simeon who we are told was a devout man and looked forward to the restoration of Israel.

“Now, O God, you have set your servant free to go in peace as you have promised; for my eyes have seen the salvation, which you have made ready in the sight of the nations,a light of revelation for the gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.”

During the middle ages the church connected this feast with the blessings of candles; the candles represented the light of Christ and they began calling the day, Candlemas. All the candles that were going to be used in the coming year in church were blessed on this day. In pre-Christian days, it was celebrated as a day of light because it is half way point of winter and light is beginning to return to the earth. Here is a second piece of trivia for you: it is also the beginning of Groundhog Day.

If Candlemas Day be fair and bright
Winter will have another fight.
If Candlemas Day brings cloud and rain,
Winter won’t come again.

If Candlemas Day be dry and fair,
The half o the winter’s to come and mair;
If Candlemas Day be wet and foul,
The half o the winter’s gane at Yule.

The following day, February 3rd is the feast of St. Blaise who is said to have cured a young child who was choking on a fishbone. When I was a child it was the practice to bless the candles on Candlemas Day and then to use some of those candles to bless throats on the feast of St. Blaise. Two candles were held in the form of an X and placed by the throat while the priest said the blessing. “Through the intercession of St. Blaise, bishop and martyr, may God deliver you from every disease of the throat and from every other illness, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

This is where religion and superstition at least for my family mingled. The blessing of the throats and the death of my Aunt Chris became connected. She died from cancer. For some reason beyond my knowing the family was convinced that the cancer came from a fish bone and that was the reason we never ate fish and we always got our throats blessed. As I look back I think it was an excuse not to eat fish: my mother and father just did not like fish. Fridays were Campbell’s tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwich days, never fish.

I questioned many things in my life, but for some reason, I did not question the practice of never eating fish. It was not until John and I moved to Detroit that I began eating fish. Yes, Detroit is far from the ocean, but at that time there was a large Scottish population and sure enough every Friday night there were specials on fish and chips. Now John had not grown up in my family and his family did indeed eat fish. Some times it was fish he caught, cleaned and cooked. So with a bit of coaxing from him, I tried my first piece of fish and it was oh so good. My first bite of fish was a small epiphany, a new understanding and a separating of the holiness of God and God’s creation and a bit of family lure.




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