Blood of St. Januarius fails to liquefy on December feast
By Hannah Brockhaus for CNA
Rome Newsroom, Dec 16, 2020 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- In Naples, the blood of St. Januarius remained solid Wednesday, after having liquefied both in May and September this year.
“When we took the reliquary from the safe, the blood was absolutely solid and remains absolutely solid,” said Fr. Vincenzo de Gregorio, abbot of the Chapel of St. Januarius in Naples Cathedral.
De Gregorio displayed the reliquary and the solidified blood inside to those gathered after morning Mass Dec. 16 in the Cathedral of the Assumption of Mary.
The abbot said that the miracle sometimes occurred later in the day. In a video he could be seen saying “a few years ago at five in the afternoon, the home stretch, it liquefied. So we don’t know what’s going to happen.”
“The actual state, as you can see well, is absolutely solid. It does not give any sign, not even a little drop, as sometimes falls,” he added. “It’s alright, we will await the sign with faith.”
By the end of the day’s evening Mass, however, the blood was still solid.
Dec. 16 marks the anniversary of Naples’ preservation from the 1631 eruption of Mount Vesuvius. It is just one of three days per year the miracle of the liquefaction of St. Januarius’ blood often occurs.
The reputed miracle has not been officially recognized by the Church, but is known and accepted locally and is considered to be a good sign for the city of Naples and its region of Campania.
In contrast, the failure of the blood to liquefy is believed to signal war, famine, disease, or other.
But according to an Italian journalist, it is not very common for the miracle to take place on Dec. 16. The blood has liquefied most often on St. Januarius’ feast day of Sept. 19, and on the Saturday before the first Sunday of May.
Vatican journalist Francesco Antonio Grana told CNA that the liquefaction “almost never” happens on Dec. 16 and that in the last 34 years the number of times it has happened “can be counted on one hand.”
The blood also did not liquefy in December 2016.
Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, the archbishop emeritus of Naples, said Mass in the cathedral to mark the feast day.
When the miracle still did not occur, Sepe told those gathered, “we want to make an act of true and profound devotion to our St. Januarius, we are united in his name.”
“It is he who helps us to live, to bear witness to the faith, and even if the blood does not liquefy, it does not mean goodness knows what,” the cardinal continued. “The important thing is that we feel truly united, participating in this very special event which is our devotion to our patron saint.”
Sepe’s resignation as archbishop of Naples was accepted by Pope Francis on Saturday. The 77-year-old archbishop has led the important Italian archdiocese for 14 years.
The 57-year-old Bishop Domenico Battaglia, known as a “street priest” who is close to the poor, was named as his successor.
St. Januarius, or San Gennaro in Italian, is the patron saint of Naples. He was bishop of Benevento in the third century, and his bones and blood are preserved in the Naples cathedral as relics. He is believed to have been martyred during the Christian persecution of Emperor Diocletian.
When St. Januarius’ blood liquefied in September, Cardinal Sepe addressed a mostly empty cathedral, due to coronavirus restrictions.
He announced that the blood had “completely liquefied, without any clots, which has happened in past years.”
The miracle also occurred in May, when Naples was under lockdown together with the rest of Italy.
Speaking after a livestreamed Mass at the cathedral May. 2, Sepe said: “I have a big announcement to make: even in this time of coronavirus, the Lord through the intercession of St. Januarius has liquefied the blood!”
This story was updated at 12:32 p.m. Mountain Time to reflect the fact that St. Januarius’ blood had still failed to liquefy by the end of the day’s celebrations.
What actually takes place may be thus briefly described: in a silver reliquary, which in form and size somewhat suggests a small carriage lamp, two phials are enclosed. The lesser of these contains only traces of blood and need not concern us here. The larger, which is a little flagon-shaped flask four inches in height and about two and a quarter inches in diameter, is normally rather more than half full of a dark and solid mass, absolutely opaque when held up to the light, and showing no displacement when the reliquary is turned upside down. Both flasks seem to be so fixed in the lantern cavity of the reliquaryby means of some hard gummy substance that they are hermetically sealed. Moreover, owing to the fact that the dark mass in the flask is protected by two thicknesses of glass it is presumably but little affected by the temperature of the surrounding air. Eighteen times in each year, i.e. (1) on the Saturday before the first Sunday in May and the eight following days, (2) on the feast of St. Januarius (19 Sept.) and during the octave, and (3) on 16 December, a silver bust believed to contain the head of St. Januarius is exposed upon the altar, and the reliquary just described is brought out and held by the officiant in view of the assembly. Prayers are said by the people, begging that the miracle may take place, while a group of poor women, known as the “zie di San Gennaro” (aunts of St. Januarius), make themselves specially conspicuous by the fervour, and sometimes, when the miracle is delayed, by the extravagance, of their supplications.
The officiant usually holds the reliquary by its extremities, without touching the glass, and from time to time turns it upside down to note whether any movement is perceptible in the dark mass enclosed in the phial. After an interval of varying duration, usually not less than two minutes or more than an hour, the mass is gradually seen to detach itself from the sides of the phial, to become liquid and of a more or less ruby tint, and in some instances to froth and bubble up, increasing in volume. The officiant then announces, “Il miracolo é fatto”, a Te Deum is sung, and the reliquary containing the liquefiedblood is brought to the altar rail that the faithful may venerate it by kissing the containing vessel. Rarely has the liquefaction failed to take place in the expositions of May or September, but in that of 16 December the mass remains solid more frequently than not.
(The Catholic Encylopedia, s.v. “St. Januarius”)
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