The fish commands it

I dread attending Mass on the Feast of Saint Blaise. This is because I am superstitious. It is the day when, by tradition, we get our throats blessed with the crossed candles. Experience tells me I will get a sore throat, just after. (A blaising sore throat, no?) Perhaps this has not always happened, and I omit from memory the times it has not, but it has happened more than once. Thus my delight in reading Father Zed this morning, who reports the same experience. As a priest he also mentions that every time he blesses a car, it gets in an accident. On the other hand, one of his customers re-assured him: “Imagine, Father, what would have happened had you not blessed it.”

Do blessings work? My fear is that they do, invariably. This is why I hesitate to pray for the virtue of courage. No sooner have I done this than it seems the Holy Spirit has put me in a spot, where courage will actually be necessary. That was not precisely what I asked for, I might think; but of course, according to Thy Will, not mine. And one forgets the part about practising the virtues.

Now, it is good that I disabled Comments many months ago, for otherwise the global village explainer would show up to say the reason people get sore throats around the beginning of February is that it falls in the dead of winter. He would then add that I should get a flu shot; after making some patronizing remark about his toleration of Catholics. … Plausible, plausible. … I get so sick of plausible.

Of course, it was worse for Saint Blaise himself, when he prayed. He had his head sawed off with steel combs, if I have the story straight, from the early fourth century. (Hence his patronage of the wool industry.) I believe Marco Polo passed his tomb at Sebaste in Armenia, on his way to Cathay. But it is hard to see Saint Blaise, through the accretion of legend that became associated with his name, as his reputation spread, in death as in life for “medical interventions.” Peasants everywhere swore by him, to judge from the huge number of Saint Blaise parishes, raised throughout Christendom East and West within the first thousand years of his leave-taking.

In life, he was said to have saved a child choking on a fishbone. He effected many other miraculous cures, of animals as well as people. Indeed, he seems to have been a kind of precursor to Saint Francis of Assisi. Whole flocks, afflicted by some pestilence, were led to him for his restorative blessings, and individual sick animals were drawn to him for help. They would mysteriously obey him. In my favourite of the stories, a poor woman came to Blaise, because a wolf had made off with her piglet. The holy man had words with the wolf, who returned the piglet to the woman, unharmed.

Thinking, “What could I say about Saint Blaise?” last night, I then woke this morning from a dream I imperfectly remember. But one phrase stood at the top of my mind: “The fish commands it!”

I have used this for my heading, in the belief it must have some secret meaning. Gentle reader may not easily see the point, but really, I can’t do everything for him.