Thursday, February 21, 2008

St. Blaise and the wild schoolchildren


The other night as I lay in bed with my throat hurting, my lungs congested and wishing for relief from my symptoms, I decided to pray to St. Blaise, the patron saint of throat disorders and wild animals.

That may sound like a strange combination, but it makes sense based on my memories. Because, as a child, I remember a very memorable St. Blaise blessing ceremony that happened when I was in grammar school.

The parish priest and a visiting priest announced they were going to bless our throats by holding two candles (in a V as shown in the photo) up to our necks and reciting prayers. We were asked to line up in our usual fashion, which meant, according to the nuns' rules:

1. Don't talk, look right to left or stop moving until you
2. Open your mouth for Communion; enter the confessional; kneel or arrive back at your pew

This meant that we were to be continually moving as a group at all times, never lingering, never slowing down the line, to get things done as quickly as possible, the theory being that this cardinal rule covered all situations we might face. It usually did, but failed miserably when it came to St. Blaise and the blessing of the throat.

As the first two children in line approached each priest, it didn't take long to see that things weren't going well. Each child kept moving along the communion rail as the priest put the V shaped candle around his/her neck, as we were taught to do. There was no exception in the rule that applied. Each priest haplessly followed along down the rail with the child, saying the prayer and finding himself at the opposite end of the communion rail by the time he was ready for the next child. The good news, however, is that we were like little lemmings, so we all followed along with our classmate, taking the lead of the child with the candles around his/her neck and another child was ready and waiting at whatever point the first child was released.

The nuns began to walk up and down the communion rail, telling us to "Hold still" and "Stay in place" but this made no sense to us and we fell into confusion, some of us standing in one spot while others followed along with the group.

The parish priest looked at one of the nuns and asked "Can't you teach these children to stand still?"

Which is what we spent all afternoon learning about - how to see the exception in the rule, as the nuns put it. You have to be able to discern when to break a rule, we were taught for the first time, not to just follow it.

"Ooooh!" we all said, rubbing our necks.

I couldn't help but notice that the next year there was no St. Blaise ceremony, which was too bad.

I thought it was a lot of fun.