Candlemas (the Blessing of Candles) and the Blessing of Throats are long held traditions in the Catholic Church, but why did these traditions begin? We look to EWTN.com for more information.
Candlemas (The Blessing of Candles)
The procession with lighted tapers on this day is mentioned by pope Gelasius I., also by St. Ildefonsus, St. Eligius, St. Sophronius, patriarch of Jerusalem, St. Cyril of Alexandria, &c., in their sermons on this festival. St. Bernard says "This holy procession was first made by the virgin mother, St. Joseph, holy Simeon, and Anne, to be afterwards performed in all places and by every nation, with the exultation of the whole earth, to honor this mystery." In his second sermon on this feast he describes it thus: "They walk two and two, holding in their hands candles lighted, not from common fire, but from that which had been first blessed in the church by the priests, and singing in the ways of the Lord, because great is his glory." He shows that the concurrence of many in the procession and prayer is a symbol of our union and charity, and renders our praises the more honorable and acceptable to God. We <walk> while we sing to God, to denote that to stand still in the paths of virtue is to go back. The lights we bear in our hands represent the divine fire of love with which our hearts ought to be inflamed, and which we are to offer to God without any mixture of strange fire, the fire of concupiscence, envy, ambition, or the love of creatures. We also hold these lights in our hands to honor Christ, and to acknowledge him as the <true light>, whom they represent under this character, and who is called by holy Simeon in this mystery, <a light for the enlightening of the Gentiles>; for he came to dispel our spiritual darkness. The candles likewise express that by faith his light shines in our souls: as also that we are to <prepare his way> by good works, by which we are to be <a light to> men.
Lights are used by the church during the celebration of the divine mysteries, while the gospel is read, and the sacraments administered, on a motive of honor and respect.. On the same account lamps burned before the Lord in the tabernacle and temple. Great personages were anciently received and welcomed with lights, as was king Antiochus by Jason and others on his entering Jerusalem. Lights are likewise expressive of joy, and were anciently used on this account in receiving Roman emperors, and on other public occasions, as at present. "Throughout all the churches of the East," says St. Jerome, "when the gospel is to be read, though the sun shines, torches are used, not to chase away darkness, but for a sign of joy."The apostolic canons mention incense, and oil for the lamps, then used in the churches. Many out of devotion burned lamps before the bodies of saints, as we read in Prudentius, St. Paulinus, &c. The corporeal creatures, which we use, are the gifts of God: it is therefore just that we should honor and glorify him by them. Besides, in our embodied state, they contribute to excite our souls to devotion; they are to our eyes, what words are to our ears, and by our organs move the affections of our hearts. Though piety consists in the fervor of the soul, and is interior and spiritual, yet many sensible things concur to its aid and improvement; and we may as well condemn the use of words, which are corporeal, and affect the soul by the sense of hearing, as the use of suitable approved ceremonies. Christ made use of sensible signs in the institution of his most divine sacraments, and in several miraculous cures, &c. The church always used external rites and ceremonies in the divine worship. These contribute to the majesty and dignity of religion, which in our present condition would appear naked, if destitute of all exterior. The candles are blessed previously to the use of them, because the church blesses and sanctifies, by prayer, what ever is employed in the divine service. We are to hold the candles in our hands on this day, while the gospel is read or sung; also from the elevation to the communion, in the most fervent spirit of sacrifice, offering ourselves to God with our divine Redeemer, and desiring to meet in spirit this blessed company in this mystery; likewise to honor the mother of God in her purification, and still more so, with the most profound adoration and gratitude, our divine Saviour in his presentation in our flesh for us. The same lively sentiments of devotion ought to inflame our breasts on this occasion, as if we had been present with holy Simeon and the rest in the temple, while we carry in our hands these emblems of our spiritual joy and homage, and of the consecration of ourselves in union with our heavenly victim, through the intercession of his virgin mother.
Blessing of Throats
Many Catholics might remember Saint Blaise's feast day, February 3, because of the Blessing of the Throats that take place on this day. Two candles are blessed, held slightly open, and pressed against the throat as the blessing is said. Very few facts are known about Saint Blaise. It is believed he was a bishop of Sebastea in Armenia who was martyred under the reign of Licinius in the early fourth century. The legend of St. Blaise tells us that he was born into a rich and noble family who raised him as a Christian. He became a bishop. Later, a new persecution of Christians began. He received a message from God to go into the hills to escape persecution. Hunters discovered a cave surrounded by wild animals who were sick. Blaise walked among them unafraid, curing them of their illnesses. The hunters recognized Blaise as a Bishop, so they captured him to take him back for trial. On the way back, he talked a wolf into releasing a pig that belonged to a poor woman. When Blaise was sentenced to be starved to death, the woman, in gratitude, sneaked into the prison with food and candles. Finally, the governor had Blaise killed.
Saint Blase is the patron of physicians, sick cattle, wax- chandlers, woolcombers, and of wild animals because of his care for them and of those with throat maladies. He is invoked against afflictions of the throat (Bentley, Roeder).
As one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, Saint Blase was much venerated throughout Central Europe. In art he is a bishop with a metal comb and a tall candle. He may be shown in many different ways: (1) with crozier (pastoral staff) and two candles (no comb); (2) martyred by being torn with iron combs; (3) in a cave with wild animals; (4) discovered by hunters, a fawn near him (not to be confused with the monk, Saint Giles); (5) blessing the birds in front of a cave; (6) rescuing a poor woman's pig from a wolf; (6) saving the life of a boy who swallowed a fishbone; or (7) with the city of Dubrovnik in his hand or being carried over the city by angels (Roeder).