Within the Octave of St. John the Baptist
The Church, honouring the saints in proportion to the part they played in the mystery of the Incarnation of the Word, gives to St. John a special place.
Each day in the Mass, as well as at the Confiteor, at the Suscipe and at the Nobis quoque peccatoribus, the name of St. John the Baptist precedes that of the apostles. Is is the same in the Litany of the Saints. His feast immediately precedes that of the apostles St. Peter and St. Paul. By ending the mission of the prophets and commencing that of the apostles, he is the link between the Old and the New Testament.
Let us, also, give to St. John the Baptist the place of honour which is due to him in our worship of the saints. The worship must, indeed, be hierarchically ordered so that we may never forget that Jesus is the principal author of our redemption, and that the saints are more or less great as they are more or less united to Him as secondary instruments.
The feast of the nativity of St. John the Baptist falls in the season when the Cycle shows us the Church which, as this saint foretold, was born in the baptism of the Holy Ghost and of fire at Pentecost, and goes on continually developing herself. It is, indeed, to the holy Precursor that she owes it to have known Jesus, the Spouse that makes her the fruitful mother of many souls.
As with the Jews, a friend was the intermediary between the bride and the spouse and prepared the wedding-feast, St. John is called in the Gospel the ” friend of the Spouse”. It is he whom God has chosen to prepare for the Lord, by his preaching and baptism of penance, a perfect people. And after having adorned the bride, he presents the Spouse to her. ” John was the man sent as a witness so that through him all should believe in Jesus.”
Jesus comes to him in the waters of the Jordan and at this divine contact the water acquired the virtue which in baptism causes our souls to be born to supernatural life. As St. John baptizes Christ in the Jordan, he hears the voice of the Father proclaiming that Jesus is His well-beloved Son. He sees the Holy Ghost hovering over him in the form of a dove and he reveals that Jesus is “the Lamb of God”.
Let us remember that after having baptized the Master, the one who is called John the Baptizer has also presided over our own christening, for all the baptistries (particularly that of St. John Lateran in Rome) are dedicated to him, and his image is to be used for the adornment of baptismal fonts. Having thus been brought by him to Jesus, let us also through St. John approach the Eucharist, reciting the words of the Agnus Dei, by which he indicated the Saviour.
Mass as on the feast-day.
Hymn for the Feast of St John the Baptist
1. Ut queant laxis resonare fibris
Mira gestorum Famuli tuorum
Solve polluti Labii reatum
2. Nuntius celso veniens Olympo,
Te patri magnum fore nasciturum,
Nomen, et vitae seriem gerendae
3. Ille promissi dubius superni,
Perdidit promptae modulos loquelae:
Sed reformasti genitus peremptae
4. Ventris obstruso recubans cubili
Senseras Regem thalamo manentem:
Hinc parens nati meritis uterque
5. Sit decus Patri, genitaeque Proli,
Et tibi compar utriusque virtus,
Spiritus semper, Deus unus, omni
1. Unloose, great Baptist, our sin-fettered lips;
That with enfranchis’d voice we may proclaim
The miracles of thy transcendent life,
Thy deeds of matchless fame.
2. Oh, lot sublime! an angel quits the skies,
Thy birth, thy name, thy glory to declare
Unto thy priestly sire; while to the Lord He offers
3. Mistrustful of the promise from on high,
His speech forsakes him at the angel’s word;
But thou on thine eighth day dost re-attune
For him the vocal chord.
4. No marvel; since yet cloister’d in the womb,
The presence of Thy King had thee inspir’d;
What time Elizabeth and Mary sang
With joy prophetic fir’d.
5. Immortal glory to the Father be,
With his Almighty sole-begotten Son,
And Thee, co-equal Spirit, One in Three,
While endless ages run.