Ordinary Time: June 24th
Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist
Old Calendar: Nativity of St. John the Baptist
This feast, a segment of Advent in the season of Ordinary Time, makes us aware of the wonderful inner relationship between the sacred mysteries; for we are still in the midst of one Church year and already a bridge is being erected to the coming year of grace.Ordinarily the Church observes the day of a saint's death as his feast, because that day marks his entrance into heaven. To this rule there are two notable exceptions, the birthdays of Blessed Mary and of St. John the Baptist. All other persons were stained with original sin at birth, hence, were displeasing to God. But Mary, already in the first moment of her existence, was free from original sin (for which reason even her very conception is commemorated by a special feast), and John was cleansed of original sin in the womb of his mother. This is the dogmatic justification for today's feast. In the breviary St. Augustine explains the reason for today's observance in the following words:
"Apart from the most holy solemnity commemorating our Savior's birth, the Church keeps the birthday of no other person except that of John the Baptist. (The feasts of the Immaculate Conception and of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin had not yet been introduced.) In the case of other saints or of God's chosen ones, the Church, as you know, solemnizes the day on which they were reborn to everlasting beatitude after ending the trials of this life and gloriously triumphing over the world.
"For all these the final day of their lives, the day on which they completed their earthly service is honored. But for John the day of his birth, the day on which he began this mortal life is likewise sacred. The reason for this is, of course, that the Lord willed to announce to men His own coming through the Baptist, lest if He appeared suddenly, they would fail to recognize Him. John represented the Old Covenant and the Law. Therefore he preceded the Redeemer, even as the Law preceded and heralded the new dispensation of grace."
In other words, today's feast anticipates the feast of Christmas. Taking an overall view, we keep during the course of the year only two mysteries, that of Christ's Incarnation and that of His Redemption. The Redemption mystery is the greater of the two; the Incarnation touches the human heart more directly. To the Redemption mystery the entire Easter season is devoted, from Septuagesima until Pentecost; and likewise every Sunday of the year, because Sunday is Easter in miniature.The Christmas season has for its object the mystery of God-become-Man, to which there is reference only now and then during the remaining part of the year, e.g., on Marian feasts, especially that of the Annunciation (March 25) and today's feast in honor of the Baptist. In a sense, then, we are celebrating Christ's incarnation today. The birth of Jesus is observed on December 25 at the time of the winter solstice, while the birth of His forerunner is observed six months earlier at the time of the summer solstice. Christmas is a "light" feast; the same is true today. The popular custom centering about "St. John's Fire" stems from soundest Christian dogma and could well be given renewed attention. St. John's Fire symbolizes Christ the Light; John was a lamp that burned and shone. We Christians should be the light of the world. Excerpted from The Church's Year of Grace, Pius ParschClick here for commentary on the readings in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite.Patron: Baptism; bird dealers; converts; convulsions; convulsive children; cutters; epilepsy; epileptics; farriers; hail; hailstorms; Knights Hospitaller; Knights of Malta; lambs; Maltese Knights; lovers; monastic life; motorways; printers, spasms; tailors; Genoa, Italy; Quebec; Sassano, Italy; Diocese of Savannah, Georgia; Diocese of Charleston, South Carolina; Diocese of Dodge City, Kansas; Diocese of Paterson, New Jersey; Diocese of Portland, Maine.Symbols: Lamb; lamb on a book of seven seals; locust; camel's hair tunic; girdle; his head on a charger; scroll with words Ecce Agnus Dei or with Vox Clamantis in deserto; long, slender cross-tipped staff; open Bible; banner of victory.Things to Do:
- Read about the traditions connected with this feast, particularly the connection with bonfires.
- The Liturgy of the Hours for the Evening Prayer (Vespers) of the Birth of St. John the Baptist has traditionally included the Gregorian chant Ut Queant Laxis. Tradition has ascribed the hymn to a Paul Warnefried (Paul the Deacon, 730-799). While preparing to sing the Exsultet at the Holy Saturday vigil, he found himself hoarse, and so prayed to St. John the Baptist, since his father lost his voice before John was born. Paul's voice was restored and he wrote this hymn in honor of the saint. True or not, what makes this song memorable is that the Benedictine monk used this hymn as a pivotal reference for our musical scale. See Catholic Encyclopedia's entry Ut Queant Laxis, more information on the hymn from Catholic Culture, a Beginner's Guide to Modal Harmony, and Gregorian Chant Notation.
- The Church year has two cycles. The more important cycle is the Temporal cycle (from the Latin tempus which means time or season). The life of Christ is relived in liturgical time, in both real time and Church's memory. Throughout the year the Paschal Mystery (Christ's work of redemption through His birth, life, passion, death, and resurrection and ascension) is relived, and broken down into the seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent, Holy Week, Easter and Ordinary Time. Sundays are the usual means by which this cycle unfolds.
At the same time with the temporal cycle, the Sanctoral cycle (from the Latin sanctus which means saint) progresses. The Church honors Mary, Mother of God "with a special love. She is inseparably linked with the saving work of her son" (CCC 1172). Then the memorials of martyrs and other saints are kept by the Church. They are held up to us as examples "who draw all men to the Father through Christ, and through their merits she begs for God's favors" (CCC 1173).This is one of the few saint feast days that is connected with the temporal calendar, not the sanctoral calendar, because John the Baptist was intimately involved in Christ's work of redemption. Charting or making your own liturgical calendar would be a great family project.
- Read the excerpt from the Directory on Popular Piety on the cult of St. John the Baptist.
- In Brazil, this day is known as Diário de Sáo Joáo (Saint John's Day). The festivities are set off in the villages and countryside by the Fogueira de Sáo Joáo (bonfire) on St. John's eve. Families and friends eat traditional foods around the fire while younger folks jump over the fire and firecrackers are exploded. The day is primarily a festival for children, who save up months in advance to purchase fireworks to set off for the day. In cities this is a day for parties and dances, with the urban dwellers dressing up in rural costumes.
St. John is the protector of lovers, so for fun, young country girls in Brazil will roll up scraps of paper, each bearing a name of a single girl and place them into a bowl of water. The first one which unfolds indicates the girl who will marry first.
Commentary for the Readings in the Extraordinary Form:
Solemnity of St. John the Baptist
St. Luke tells us in his Gospel that John was conceived in a miraculous manner and that his parents were Zachary and Elizabeth. He spent his youth in the desert, and at the age of 30 came to Judea and preached near the Jordan. He exhorted the people to do penance because the kingdom of God was at hand. He baptized the Savior in the Jordan. He rebuked Herod Antipas for taking to himself Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip; at the request of the dancing daughter of Herodias he was imprisoned and beheaded.
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