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Catholic Activity: St. John the Evangelist

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Traditions related to the feast of St. John the Evangelist, December 27.

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John the Evangelist (December 27) — This favorite Disciple of Christ was Bishop of Ephesus in Asia Minor and died around the year 100. His grave was a goal for many pilgrimages in the early centuries, and countless legends were told about his tomb. People claimed they saw the earth on top of his grave move up and down, indicating his breathing, and believed he did not really die but only slept in the grave. Another legend claimed that his body was taken up to Heaven after he had "slept" in the tomb for some years. All these stories, of course, are traced to the Saint's own report of what Christ said: "If I wish him to remain until I come, what is it to thee?" (John 21, 23), a statement the Apostles even then had misinterpreted to the effect that John would not die.

St. John's Day was a general holyday in medieval times, not only as the third day of Christmas but also in its own right (as the feast of an Apostle). The significant part of the traditional celebration was the blessing and drinking of wine, called the "Love of St. John" (Johannesminne; Szent János Aldása) because, according to legend, the Saint once drank a cup of poisoned wine without suffering harm. The prayer of this blessing can be found in the Roman Ritual (Blessing of Wine on the Feast of Saint John the Evangelist). In central Europe people still practice the custom of bringing wine and cider into the church to be blessed. Later, at home, some of it is poured into every barrel in their wine cellars.

People take Saint John's wine with their meals on December 27, expressing the mutual wish: "Drink the love of Saint John." It is also kept in the house throughout the rest of the year. At weddings, bride and bridegroom take some of it when they return from the church. It is also considered a great aid to travelers and drunk before a long journey as a token of protection and safe return. A sip of Saint John's wine is often used as a sacramental for dying people after they have received the sacraments. It is the last earthly drink to strengthen them for their departure from this world.

In the beginning of his Gospel, Saint John proclaims with great beauty of expression that Christ is the Light of the World. For this reason it was, and still is, the custom in many places at Christmas time, when all the lights in the home express this symbolism, to allow children with the name of John or Joan the privilege of lighting the candles on the Advent wreath and the Christmas tree. Even if the name is taken from John the Baptist, the privilege still holds because the Baptist had been the first one to see the light of divinity shining about the Lord at the baptism in the Jordan.

LITURGICAL PRAYER: Graciously enlighten Thy Church, O Lord, that she may be illumined by the doctrines of Saint John, Thy Apostle and Evangelist, and thus obtain the gifts of eternity.

Activity Source: Holyday Book, The by Francis X. Weiser, S.J., Harcourt, Brace and Company, Inc., New York, 1956

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