Feast Days

If it weren’t for feast days, every day would be alike. Some of us of a certain age need to check several times a day, “What day is it?” Prior to retirement and the Covid self-quarantine, we had events on our calendar that anchored us to the present. Thankfully, within the last six or seven weeks, we’ve also had birthdays of composers to celebrate, such as these notables: 

December 16, Beethoven.
January 27, Mozart
January 31, Schubert
February 3, Mendelssohn

(I try to honor these favorites of mine via CD, but preferably via my piano and 10 fingers.)

Needless to say, our Mass readings also offer up a number of saints for special tribute. I had almost forgotten today’s (February 3) honoree, San Biagio, whom you’ll recognize more readily as St. Blaise, patron and healer of diseases of the throat.

San Biagio: A fourth century physician, and bishop of Sebastea, Armenia (now Sivas, eastern Turkey), Biagio was, according the legend, martyred on 3 February 319 AD. He is one of the most popularly venerated saints, by both the Catholic and the Orthodox Church. and in many countries the ritual blessing of the throats with crossed candles is celebrated.

Saint Blaise is my mother’s patron saint. Her real name, the name given to her in baptism, was Biagia, the feminine form of Biagio.

Early in the twentieth century, the Italian immigrants who settled in Buffalo (NY) wanted their children to fit in and so gave them “American” names that were popular at that time. One of the relatives who had been among the earliest to arrive in the States, had the honor and responsibility to select American names for both children and adults. Therefore, Biagia became “Bess” or “Bessie.” This name sounds so unworthy of my mother who had so great an attraction to and love for the arts! Apparently her piano teacher thought so too, and consistently addressed her talented student by her correct name, “Biagia.”

All six of my mother’s children attended parochial schools where the blessing of throats was faithfully administered, giving us a welcome opportunity to leave the classroom and line up at the altar rail for our blessing.

But what really impressed me were the multiple interventions from this saint at our dining table. I can still see the dish of lentil and rice soup at my mother’s place, blackened with pepper. Invariably, the pepper did its work and Mama would be seized by a coughing fit. Frightening as this could be to hear her literally gasping for breath, I learned to be confident in the powers of her patron saint who would protect the health of my mother’s throat and lungs.

Nowadays, my refrain might be, “Aarg! I’m turning into my mother!” I should be so lucky. 

Though I don’t overuse the pepper, I did get the coughing gene. But her other legacies were infinitely more important: an enduring faith in the Lord, her favorite saints, and the traditional blessings from the Church.