Jamie O’Reilly, Saint Blase essay

As I was preparing for the Epiphany Night Salon I am hosting, I quite by accident came upon a printout of this 2002 essay I wrote at my late sister Beth Ann’s request, about singing, and about my daughter Epiphania, whose birth was in fact an epiphany, an awakening for me. O the joy she brings me. And what a gift singing is to our family.

Nia and me, 2021

St. Blase, patron of people with throat ailments
From my essay in the book Patrons and Protectors: In Times of Need
My late sister Beth Ann suggested I tell my story

If you want to learn to sing well, join a church choir. I did in sixth grade. I remember the chill in the church those winter mornings, Sister Christopher at the organ and getting my throat blessed on the feast of Saint Blase. I am careful to protect my throat because to me singing is as necessary as breathing. I don’t smoke, I wear scarves and loose necklaces and unencumbered necklines. A clear throat is as necessary to a singer as water is to a swimmer.

At home, music was out saving grace. If Broadway musicals and Peter, Paul and Mary weren’t on the turntable, classical music was on the radio, especially the Saturday afternoon opera broadcasts that my mother listened to as she peeled potatoes.

I learned to sing harmony to distinguish my voice from my sisters’.

In sixth grade, I won the talent show. In eighth grade, I told my friends I was going to be an opera singer and a writer. In high school, I sang the lead roles musicals, and in college, I studied voice and got a degree in performance.

I found I wasn’t interested solely in the classical tradition, which I believed sought perfection over expression. Folk music’s exotic melodies and earthy rhythms had greater appeal to me. So I sang Irish folk songs for a time. Now I sing for my livelihood. I choose my own songs and write some too.

The birth of my daughter Epiphania in 1986 was a turning pint for me. When her birth was imminent my doctor told me: Sing her out. Nia was born easily an I emitted ecstatic sounds of joy (and relief).

A beautiful voice is a miracle. That my throat, lungs and mouth can create something so sublime is a wonder to me, and I am grateful.

Blase was raised in a wealthy Armenian family, named a bishop at an early age an later became a martyr of the early church. Among the few things known about him is that he took refuge in a cave during a period of Christian persecution. There he befriended sick animals and gained renown as an animal healer. Once he persuaded a wolf not to eat a poor woman’s pig. The woman later visited Blase in prison and brought him food and two candles.

Blase was imprisoned and sentenced to death by the Roman emperor Licinius. On the way to his execution, he stopped to save the life of a young boy who was choking on a fish bone.

(Refers to book’s picture) Here Bishop Blase, dressed in red vestments to symbolize martyrdom, blesses the throat of a young girl. The words of this common blessing as given every year on his feast day. Two crossed candles are used for this blessing and remind us of the poor woman who brought Blase the gift of light in the darkness. -Michael O’Neill McGrath

May God deliver you from every disease of the throat: Through the intercession of St. Blase, Bishop and Martyr.

Blessing for the throat

Patrons and Protectors: In Times of Need (Patrons and Protectors)
Edited by  Brother Michael O’Neill McGrath
Liturgy Training Publications