Shrine of St. Frideswide, Christ Church Cathedral Oxford.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

St. Blaise Day, 3 February.

St. Blase was the bishop of Sebastea in Armenia, now Turkey, and a martyr of the early 4th century. Blaise was born into a wealthy family and was consecrated bishop a ta young age. Not long after his consecration, Christian persecutions reached Armenia, and Blaise was forced into the mountains with many other Christians to escape death. Very little is known of him, apart from the his Vita of the eighth or ninth century. He was known to Christians to have healed humans and animals alike; the most remembered cure being his healing of a boy with a fish-bone caught in his throat. After being healed, the boy often brought food and candles to the cave where Blaise was hiding and later to the jail where he would be held captive. This is why he is invoked against any kind of throat illnesses, and on St. Blaise's day, it is not uncommon for churches to bless peoples throats with two crossed candles.
     Blaise is a martyr, for in 316 he was captured by the Roman governor, recognized as a Christian bishop, and sentenced to death. Blaise was tortured with wool-combs before being beheaded, which is why he was patronized by the 19th century English wool industry. And like all martyrs, Blaise's example shows us how in the face of exclusion, mockery and accusation, we should never hide our faith in Christ from others, to follow and preach what we know is right unto death.
     His cult in the middle ages spread all over Europe as he was among the 'Fourteen Holy Helpers,' a cult of several saints, mostly martyrs, associated with healing qualities which arose after the disastrous black death in the 1340s. Churches as far as Canterbury claimed relics (although Canterbury claimed a great variety of relics) and there is a pilgrimage church in Bavaria, Germany, Basilica Vierzehnheiligen, where the saints appeared to a young monastic. Blaise continues to be venerated as a saint in the Anglican, Orthodox, Armenian, and Roman churches, where thousands of throats are yearly blessed in his remembrance. Today the Church of Dubrovnik, in Croatia, claims his relics and holds a pilgrimage each year on this day. He is usually depicted in episcopal vestments with candles and a wool comb.

Collect (From the Anglican Missal):
Almighty God, who didst call Blase to be a faithful pastor and servant of thy people, and to lay down his life in witness to thy Son: Grant that we, strengthened by his example and aided by his prayers, may in times of trial and persecution remain steadfast in faith and endurance, for the sake of him who laid down his life for us all, Jesus Christ our Savior; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple and the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary: Commonly called Candlemass, February 2.

Probably from as missal or Breviary for the Presentation. The Song of Simeon, Nunc  Dimittis, can be  read beneath the picture. 
Candlemass is a double feast and ranks with the Transfiguration and Ascension as a feast day. The feast celebrates the presentation of Jesus at the Temple in Jerusalem 40 days after we celebrate his birth. The tradition of blessing candles developed in the Middle Ages and collects for the blessing can be found in such sources as old as the Benedictional of St. Ethelwold, a book of episcopal blessings from Winchester, where Ethelwold was bishop in the 10th century. The Presentation celebrates when Mary and Joseph went to the Temple of Solomon at Jerusalem to have a common ritual in which Mary was purified after childbirth, and Jesus was subjected to the redemption of the first born in the form of a sacrifice of two pigeons or doves. Some Orthodox Jews still perform a similar ceremony, as it was a widespread tradition in Roman Judea. There were two special witnesses to the Presentation, one called Simeon, who had heard that he would not die until he saw the messiah, and the other Anna, a prophetess. Both spoke to the people in the Temple upon seeing Jesus on how he would bring about the redemption of Israel.

 The Song of Simeon, who was present at the Presentation, comes from Luke's gospel and is know as the Nunc Dimittis in Latin. Simeon said he would not die until he had seen the Messiah and so the Nunc is as follows from the Book of Common Prayer:

Lord, Now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace according to thy word.
For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,
Which thou has prepared before the face of all people 
To be a light to lighten the Gentils and to be the Glory of thy people, Israel.

Several Anglican/Episcopal Parishes use the Sarum Rite for the celebration of Candlemass. Here, the Church of St. Thomas of Canterbury, Toronto, uses the Sarum Rite for Candlemass. Notice the blessing of the candles near the beginning of the mass. The Sarum collect is as follows and is very similar to that of our Books of Common Prayer:

Almighty and Everlasting God, we humbly beseech Thy Majesty that, as Thy Only Begotten Son was this day presented in the Temple in the substance of flesh, so we may be presented to thee with pure heart. Through Jesus Christ Our Lord, who with Thee and the Holy Spirit, liveth and reigneth, One God, now and forever, Amen.

The actual blessing of the candles is very long (three pages of solid text in my missal, so I will not type it here. But of additional interest is the use of the 'Sarum bow' instead of genuflection. Even at the elevation of the host, the most important part of the Eucharist, the celebrant takes a deep bow after the words of institution.

The proper for Candlemass does not come from the bible, which is unusual, rather it comes from the writings of either Sts. Ambrose or Augustine, if not one of the other Church Fathers. This is not the proper from the Sarum Rite. Here's the text:

Senes Puerum Portabat            The old man was carrying the Child
puer autem senem regebat.       but it was the child who was guiding the man. 

And Tomas Luis de Victoria's beautiful rendition of it by the University of Malaga:
Candlemass, as it came to be called from the tradition of blessing candles, is the direct ancestor of Groundhog Day. Candlemass was a day for determining the weather for the coming months in several countries. Several Medieval poems link the patterns of the actual day of Candlemass to the coming weeks. According to this English poem;
"If Candlemass be fair and bright, 
Come, Winter, have another flight; 
If Candlemass brings clouds and rain, 
Go Winter, and come not again."
The situation is the same as Groundhog Day! If the day is sunny (so that the groundhog sees his shadow) then winter is not over, but if it is cloudy (so that he does not see his shadow) then spring is soon to come.

Church of St. Mary the Virgin, NYC, Candlemass 2012.