Today's feast, accompanied as it is by the traditional blessing of throats, always brings me back to the Church of my youth. Vatican II or no Vatican II, this tradition clings. Why should that be? Why do we persist in the use of material things in our liturgies and rites? Why the incense, the water, the ashes, the palm, the oil, the rosaries, the scapulars and medals? For many I am more modern than most. But if it is possible to have modern and traditional side by side informing each other, that is my vision. Perhaps this is a reflection of the particular historical span of my own lifetime - one foot in the pre-Vatican II Church (for about 20 years) and the other foot firmly planted in the post-Vatican II era. I have the great blessing to know both.
However, as a former educator, it is easy for me to see the Church in her teaching capacity. And as a teacher, I can admire her appreciation, perhaps unconscious, of varied learning styles. In the Middle Ages, when few could learn through the written word, elaborate stained glass windows became the picture books teaching the mysteries, presenting role models, inspiring faith.
So today the Church persists in this teaching style, recognizing that while liturgy and rites offer praise, petition and thanksgiving to God, they must also teach, inspire and leave a lasting image. With this in mind, we can even enter into the theatrical. There is nothing which cannot be used to communicate God and God's love to all people.
So today, tactile and visual learners got a boost. A blessing was pronounced begging protection from diseases of the throat and all other illnesses invoking the intercession of good St. Blaise, 4th century bishop and martyr in present day Armenia. Crossed candles lightly embrace throats, one person at a time. No part of us escapes God's attention; each of us are known as individuals; our loving God is intimately aware of our needs. We were told today that in the past the candles would have been lit for the blessing and many a veil singed or worse. Fortunately, that visual effect has been rejected. But the use of the sacramental, a tool to encouragement faith and stimulate devotion continues.
We are beings possessing five senses and good teachers capitalize on all of them. We can use anything to make the light bulb go on, to stoke the fire of faith. In continuing to use the 'smells and the bells' we acknowledge our humanity, our frail and weak natures and humbly utilize all that will help us on the journey to God.