As children we learned the definition of a sacrament. "A sacrament is an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace." With that simple definition we grew to learn more about the sacraments. As infants water is poured upon the forehead and the child becomes a member of the Christian community. Six or seven years later the child meets the Lord in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the Eucharist. The confirming of that faith received in Baptism takes place when the bishop signs the candidate with the chrism of salvation and confirms the candidate in faith. As individuals grow and mature in faith they might enter into the sacrament of matrimony, and, when God is calling them home they received the final sacrament, the anointing of the sick. So, to that simple definition of sacrament learned by the child as adults we come to believe that sacraments are the central events in the present stage of the history of salvation.
They are the fulfillment of all the events of God among the chosen people of the Old Testament and the continuation of the events of all history, the Incarnation. In keeping with respect for man’s nature, Sacraments are signs that declare what God accomplishes in them. They teach of the sanctification in which they make us sharers. In addition to the sacraments there are sacramentals which are sacred signs instituted by the Church to prepare for and prolong the sanctifying effects of the sacraments. Prior to the definition of the term "sacrament" in the 12th and 13th centuries, it was used as rites, prayers, and objects other than the seven Sacraments, as well as those institutions of Christ. With the refinement of the term "sacrament" by scholastic theology, the term "sacrament" became the designation for those actions which the Church instituted herself.
I mention all this because this week-end we will bless the throats asking the intercession of Saint Blaise. This tradition traces itself back to St. Blaise of Sebaste, a bishop and martyr under the Emperor Licinius who died on February 3, 316 A.D. According to legend during a time of persecution he withdrew from his diocese and sought refuge in a cave, remaining there until he was discovered by Agricolus, Governor of Cappadocia. He then was tortured and beheaded for his faith. But in prison he healed a boy with a fishbone stuck in his throat. By the 6th century Blaise had become the patron saint of throat diseases. The blessing of throats became popular by the 6th century. And so we will bless throats after the Masses this Sunday.
Fr John R. Mulvehill