The Liturgical Year
From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.
Under this heading of Proper of the Time, we here comprise the movable Office of the Sundays and Ferias of Advent. Though anxious to give to the faithful the flowers of the Advent liturgy, yet were we to bring forward even those which might be considered as the choicest, four volumes would have barely sufficed. The fear of making our work too expensive to the faithful, persuaded us to limit it within much narrower bounds, and out of the abundant treasures before us, to give what we thought could be least dispensed with.
The plan we have adopted is this: We give the whole of the Mass and Vespers for the four Sundays of Advent. On the ferial days, we give one, at least, of the lessons from Isaias, which are read in the Office of Matins; adding to this a hymn or sequence, or some other poetic liturgical composition. All these have been taken from the gravest sources, for example, from the Roman and Mozarabic breviaries, from the Greek anthology and menæa, from the missals of the middle ages, &c. After this hymn or sequence, we have given a prayer from the Ambrosian, Gallican, or Mozarabic missal. So that the faithful will find in our collection an unprecedented abundance of liturgical formulæ, each of which carries authority with it, as being taken from ancient and approved sources.
We have not thought it desirable to give a commentary to each of the liturgical formulæ inserted in our work. It seemed to us that they would be rendered sufficiently intelligible by the general explanation which runs through our work, in which explanation we have endeavoured to excite the devotion of the reader, give unity to the several parts, and afford solid instruction. We shall thus avoid all those repetitions and commonplace remarks, which do little more than fatigue the reader.
We have inserted the Great Antiphons and the Office of Christmas Eve in the proper of the saints, because both of these have fixed days in the calendar, and to put them in the proper of the time, as they stand in the breviary and missal, would have required us to introduce into a book, destined for the laity, rubrics somewhat complicated, which would, perhaps, not have been understood.
For more information on the season of Advent, visit here.
We apply the name of Christmas to the forty days which begin with the Nativity of our Lord, December 25, and end with the Purification of the Blessed Virgin, February 2. It is a period which forms a distinct portion of the Liturgical Year, as distinct, by its own special spirit, from every other, as are Advent, Lent, Easter, or Pentecost. One same Mystery is celebrated and kept in view during the whole forty days. Neither the Feasts of the Saints, which so abound during this Season; nor the time of Septuagesima, with its mournful Purple, which often begins before Christmastide is over, seem able to distract our Holy Mother the Church from the immense joy of which she received the good tidings from the Angels on that glorious Night for which the world had been longing four thousand years. The Faithful will remember that the Liturgy commemorates this long expectation by the four penitential weeks of Advent.
 St Luke ii 10.
(From Chapter 1: The History of Christmas)
For more information on the season of Christmas, visit here.
This third section of the liturgical year is much shorter than the two preceding ones; and yet it is one of real interest. The season of Septuagesima has only three weeks of the Proper of the Time, and the feasts of the saints are far less frequent than at other periods of the year. The volume we now offer to the faithful may be called one of transition, inasmuch as it includes the period between two important seasons—viz., Christmas and Lent. We have endeavoured to teach them how to spend these three weeks; and our instructions, we trust, will show them that, even in this the least interesting portion of the ecclesiastical year, there is much to be learned. They will find the Church persevering in carrying out the one sublime idea which pervades the whole of her liturgy; and, consequently, they must derive solid profit from imbibing the spirit peculiar to this season.
Were we, therefore, to keep aloof from the Church during Septuagesima, we should not have a complete idea of her year, of which these three weeks form an essential part. The three preliminary chapters of this volume will convince them of the truth of our observation; and we feel confident that, when they have once understood the ceremonies, and formulas, and instructions, offered them by the Church during this short season, they will value it as it deserves.
For more information on the season of Septuagesima, visit here.
We begin, with this volume, the holy season of Lent; but such is the richness of its liturgy, that we have found it impossible to take our readers beyond the Saturday of the fourth week. Passion-week and Holy Week, which complete the forty days of yearly penance, require to be treated at such length, that we could not have introduced them into this volume without making it inconveniently large.
The present volume is a very full one, although it only comprises the first four weeks of the season of Lent. We have called it Lent; and yet the two weeks of the next volume are also comprised in Lent; nay, they are its most important and sacred part. But, in giving the name of Lent to this first section, we have followed the liturgy itself, which applies this word to the first four weeks only; giving to the two that remain the names of Passion-week and Holy Week. Our next volume will, therefore, be called Passiontide and Holy Week.
For more information on Lent, visit here.
After having proposed the forty-days’ fast of Jesus in the desert to the meditation of the faithful during the first four weeks of Lent, the holy Church gives the two weeks which still remain before Easter to the commemoration of the Passion. She would not have her children come to that great day of the immolation of the Lamb, without having prepared for it by compassionating with Him in the sufferings He endured in their stead.
(From Chapter 1: The History of Passiontide and Holy Week)
For more information on Passiontide and Holy Week, visit here.
WITH this volume we begin the season of Easter, wherein are accomplished the mysteries prepared for, and looked forward to, since Advent. Such are the liturgical riches of this portion of the Christian year, that we have found it necessary to devote three volumes to it.
The present volume is wholly taken up with Easter Week. A week is indeed a short period; but such a week as this, with the importance of the events it brings before us, and the grandeur of the mysteries it celebrates, is, at least, equivalent to any other section of our Liturgical Year. We have abridged our explanations as much as possible; and yet we have exceeded two-thirds of one of our ordinary volumes. Hence, it was out of the question to add the remaining weeks; the more so, as the saints’ feasts recommence on the Monday following the Easter Octave, and their insertion would have obliged us to have made our volume considerably more bulky than even that of Passiontide. We have, therefore, been satisfied with giving the Mass and Office of the Annunciation, already given in our volume for Lent, but which are needed for the Monday after Low Sunday, when Easter falls between March 22 and April 2, which is frequently the case.
For more information on Paschal Tide, visit here.
This volume opens to us the second part of the Liturgical Year, beginning the long period of the Time after Pentecost. It treats of the feasts of the most holy Trinity, of Corpus Christi, and of the sacred Heart of Jesus. These three feasts require to be explained apart. Their dates depend on that of Easter; and yet they are detached, if we consider their object, from the moveable cycle, whose aim is to bring before us, each year, the successive, and so to speak historic, memories of our Lord’s mysteries. After the sublime drama, which has, by gradually presenting to us the facts of our Redeemer’s history, shown us the divine economy of the redemption, these feasts immediately follow, and give us a deep and dogmatic teaching: a teaching which is a marvellous synthesis, taking in the whole body of Christian doctrine.
The Holy Ghost has come down upon the earth, in order to sanctify it. Faith being the one basis of all sanctification, and the source of love, the holy Spirit would make it the starting-point of His divine workings in the soul. To this end, He inspires the Church, which has sprung up into life under the influence of His impetuous breathing, to propose at once to the faithful that doctrinal summary, which is comprised in the three feasts immediately coming after Pentecost. The volumes following the present one will show us the holy Spirit continuing His work, and, on the solid foundations of the faith He established at the outset, building the entire superstructure of the Christian virtues.
This was the idea which the author of the Liturgical year was busy developing in the second part of his work, when death came upon him; and the pen that had begun this volume was put by obedience into the hands of one, who now comes before the faithful, asking their prayers for the arduous task he has undertaken, of continuing the not quite finished work of his beloved father and master. He begs of them to beseech our Lord, that He Himself will vouchsafe to bring to a successful termination an undertaking that was begun for His honour and glory, and that has already produced so much fruit in the souls of men.
Br. L.F. O.S.B.
Solesmes, May 10, 1879.
For more information on Time after Pentecost, visit here.
Introduction to the Season of advent
- Chapter 1: The History of Advent
- Chapter 2: The Mystery of Advent
- Chapter 3: The Practice During Advent
- Chapter 4: Morning and Night Prayers for Advent
- Chapter 5: On Hearing Mass During Advent
- Chapter 6: On Holy Communion During Advent
- Chapter 7: On the Office of Vespers for Sundays and Feasts During Advent
- Chapter 8: On the Office of Compline for Sundays and Feasts During Advent
Introduction to the Season of CHRISTMAS
- Chapter 1: The History of Christmas
- Chapter 2: The Mystery of Christmas
- Chapter 3: The Practice During Christmas
- Chapter 4: Morning and Night Prayers for Christmas
- Chapter 5: On Hearing Mass During Christmas
- Chapter 6: On Holy Communion During Christmas
- Chapter 7: On the Office of Vespers for Sundays and Feasts During Christmas
- Chapter 8: On the Office of Compline for Sundays and Feasts During Christmas
For more information on the season of Christmas, visit here.
Introduction to the Season of Septuagesima
- Chapter 1: The History of Septuagesima
- Chapter 2: The Mystery of Septuagesima
- Chapter 3: The Practice During Septuagesima
- Chapter 4: Morning and Night Prayers for Septuagesima
- Chapter 5: On Hearing Mass During Septuagesima
- Chapter 6: On Holy Communion During Septuagesima
- Chapter 7: On the Office of Vespers for Sundays and Feasts During Septuagesima
- Chapter 8: On the Office of Compline for Sundays and Feasts During Septuagesima
Introduction to the Season of Lent
- Chapter 1: The History of Lent
- Chapter 2: The Mystery of Lent
- Chapter 3: The Practice During Lent
- Chapter 4: Morning and Night Prayers for Lent
- Chapter 5: On Hearing Mass During Lent
- Chapter 6: On Holy Communion During Lent
- Chapter 7: On the Office of Vespers for Sundays and Feasts During Lent
- Chapter 8: On the Office of Compline During Lent
Introduction to passiontide and holy week
- Chapter 1: The History of Passiontide and Holy Week
- Chapter 2: The Mystery of Passiontide and Holy Week
- Chapter 3: The Practice During Passiontide and Holy Week
- Chapter 4: Morning and Night Prayers for Passiontide and Holy Week
- Chapter 5: On Hearing Mass During Passiontide and Holy Week
- Chapter 6: On Holy Communion During Passiontide and Holy Week
- Chapter 7: On the Office of Vespers for Sundays and Feasts During Passiontide and Holy Week
- Chapter 8: On the Office of Compline During Passiontide and Holy Week
Introduction to the Season of Paschal Time
- Chapter 1: The History of Paschal Time
- Chapter 2: The Mystery of Paschal Time
- Chapter 3: The Practice During Paschal Time
- Chapter 4: Morning and Night Prayers for Paschal Time
- Chapter 5: On Hearing Mass During Paschal Time
- Chapter 6: On Holy Communion During Paschal Time
- Chapter 7: On the Office of Vespers for Sundays and Feasts During Paschal Time
- Chapter 8: On the Office of Compline During Paschal Time
- Chapter 1: The History of the Time after Pentecost
- Chapter 2: The Mystery of the Time after Pentecost
- Chapter 3: The Practice for the Time after Pentecost
- Chapter 4: Morning and Night Prayers for the Time after Pentecost
- Chapter 5: On Hearing Mass During the Time after Pentecost
- Chapter 6: On Holy Communion During the Time after Pentecost
- Chapter 7: On the Office of Vespers for Sundays and Feasts During the Time after Pentecost
- Chapter 8: On the Office of Compline During the Time after Pentecost
From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.
JOHN the Baptist, placed on the confines of the two Testaments, closes the prophetic age, the reign of hope, and opens the era of faith which possesses the long-expected God, though as yet without beholding him in his Divinity. Thus even before the octave is ended wherein we pay our homage to the son of Zachary, the confession of the apostles is added to the Precursor's testimony to the Word the Light. Tomorrow all heaven will re-echo with the solemn protestation first heard at Caesarea Philippi: 'Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God;' and Simon Bar-Jona, because of this oracle uttered by him, will be the chosen Rock, supporting the divine structure, the Church. To-morrow he will die, sealing this glorious declaration with his blood; but he will yet live on, in the person of each Roman Pontiff, that he may thus guard this precious testimony in all its integrity, even to the day when faith will give place to the eternal vision. Coupled with Peter in his labours, the Doctor of the Gentiles shares his triumph this day; and Rome, more indebted to these two princes than to all her stout warriors of old, who laid the world prostrate at her feet, beholds their double victory fix for ever upon her noble brow the diadem of spiritual royalty.
Let us, then, recollect ourselves, preparing our hearts in union with holy Church, by faithfully observing this vigil. When the obligation of thus keeping up certain days of preparation previous to the festivals is strictly maintained by a people, it is a sign that faith is still living amongst them; it proves that they understand the greatness of that which the holy liturgy proposes to their homage. Christians in the West, we who make the glory of SS Peter and Paul our boast, let us remember the Lent in honour of the apostles begun by Greek schismatics on the close of the Paschal solemnities, and continued up to this day. The contrast between them and ourselves will be of a nature to stir up our fervour, and to control those tendencies wherein softness and ingratitude hold too large a share. If certain concessions have, for grave reasons, been reluctantly made by the Church, so that the fast of this vigil is no longer observed, let us see therein a double motive for holding fast to her precious tradition. Let us make up by fervour, thanksgiving and love, for the severity lacking in our observance, which is yet still maintained by so many Churches notwithstanding their schismatical separation from Rome.
The recital of the following beautiful formulas will help to inspire us with the spirit of the feast. The first is taken from the Gothic-Gallic Missal: it is the benediction which, according to the ancient rite used in France, was given to the people before the Communion on the feast of the apostles. The prayers which follow it are from the Leonine Sacramentary.
Deus, qui membris Ecclesiæ, velut gemellum lumen quo caveantur tenebræ, fecisti Petri lacrymas, Pauli litteras, coruscare,
Hanc plebem placitus inspice: qui cœlos facis aperire Petro in clave, Paulo in dogmate,
Ut præviantibus ducibus, illic grex possit accedere, quo pervenerunt pariter tam ille Pastor suspendio, quam iste Doctor per gladium in congresso. Per Dominum nostrum.
O God, who to keep the members of thy Church from darkness, hast made to shine forth, like twin fountains of light, the tears of Peter and the writings of Paul,
In thy clemency, look upon thy people, O thou who givest the heavens to be opened, by Peter with the key, and by Paul with the sword,
So that the leaders going first, thither may the flock at length come, whither have already arrived by one same step, both the Pastor by the gibbet, and the Teacher by the sword. Through our Lord, etc.
Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, qui ineffabili sacramento jus apostolici principatus in Romani nominis arce posuisti, unde se evangelica veritas per tota mundi regna diffunderet: præsta, ut quod in orbem terrarum eorum prædicatione manavit, christianæ devotionis sequatur universitas.
Præsta quæsumus Ecclesiæ tuæ, Domine, de tantis digne gaudere principibus, et illam sequi pia devotione doctrinam, qua delectos tibi greges sacris mysteriis imbuerunt. Per Dominum.
O almighty and eternal God, who by an ineffable mystery hast fixed the right of apostolic princedom on the proud summit of the name of Rome, whence evangelic truth may diffuse itself through all the earth: grant that what by their preaching hath percolated through the whole world all may follow with Christian devotedness.
Grant to thy Church, we beseech thee, O Lord, both worthily to rejoice at having such great princes, and to follow with loving devotion that teaching of theirs, whereby thy chosen flocks have been initiated into the sacred mysteries. Through our Lord, etc.
From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.
THE octave of the Precursor has a still further increase of light in store for us. Let us imitate the Church, who once again concentrates her thoughts on the friend of the Bridegroom; she knows that hereby the Spouse himself will be the better understood. For according to the word of the best authorized princes of Christian doctrine: the bonds which link together Jesus Christ and John the Baptist are so close, that the one cannot be known without the other; and if life eternal consists in knowing Jesus Christ, so also a part of our salvation consists in knowing St John.' The Precursor's mission raised him, as we have seen, above all other prophets and apostles. But personally, who and what was this herald whose dignity was shown to us, on his feast-day, by the sublimity of the message that he bore to the world? Did his private qualities, his personal sanctity, correspond with the eminence of the part allotted to him? That sovereign harmony which inspires the eternal decrees and presides over their execution forbids us to doubt it. When the Most High resolved to unite his Word to human nature, he pledged himself to clothe this created nature with qualities all divine, which would thereby permit him to treat with this new Adam as equal with equal, and to call him his Son. When to his well-beloved Son, whom he wished to be at the same time Son of Man, he determined to give a Mother, the gift of a purity in every way worthy of her august title was, from that moment, assured to this future Mother of God. Predestined before all ages to the most eminent service of the Son and the Mother, charged by the eternal Father with the mission of first discovering the Word hidden within our Lady's womb, of accrediting the Man-God, of betrothing him to the bride; could it possibly be that the holiness of John should, either in the designs of God or by his own fault, be less incomparably exalted than was his mission? Eternal Wisdom can never thus belie itself; and the unparalleled eulogy which Jesus made of his Precursor, shortly before John's death, sufficiently shows that the graces held in reserve for this soul had fructified in all plenitude.
What must have been these graces which, at the very outset, show us John, three months previous to his birth, already established on summits of sanctity which the holiest persons scarcely attain in a whole lifetime! He soars far above the range of sense and reason, which in him have not yet been called into play. With that intellectual gaze which is unsurpassed, save by the face to face vision of the elect, he perceives God present before him in the flesh; in an ecstasy of adoration and love, his first act emulates that of the Seraphim. The plenitude of the Holy Ghost became from that moment the portion of this child of Zachary and Elizabeth; a plenitude so overflowing, that at once the mother, and soon afterwards the father likewise, were themselves filled with the exuberance that brimmed over from their son.
He was the first, after our Lady, to recognize the Lamb of God, to give his love to the Bridegroom just come down from the eternal hills. He was the first, likewise, to penetrate the mystery of the divine and virginal maternity. Without separating the Son from the Mother, he had both adored Jesus and honoured Mary above all creatures. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the Fruit of thy womb. Unanimous tradition tells us that, when pronouncing these words, Elizabeth was but the organ and interpreter of her son. As witness of the Light, John begins with Mary, the first recipient of his testimony; to her is addressed, in praise and admiration, the first expression of the sentiments which animate him. Himself the angel, as the prophets style him, he takes up and completes Gabriel's salutation to the sweet Lady of heaven and earth. It was the enthusiastic shout of his gratitude, fully enlightened as to Mary's part in the sanctification of the elect; the cry of his soul, on awaking to sanctity, at the first sound of the Virgin Mother's voice. It was for his sake that after the angel's visit she had crossed the mountains in great haste; but our Lady has yet other favours for John. Heretofore silent, before that seraph by whom she was sure to be understood, Mary now intones her divine canticle, whereby to God is given glory, and to John the comprehension of the ineffable mystery in all fullness. As she had sanctified her Son's Precursor, so the Mother of God next formed and instructed him. The Magnificat is the first lesson taught to Elizabeth's son: incomparable lesson of divine praise; a lesson which gives John the understanding of the whole Scriptures, the knowledge of the divine plan throughout ages. For the space of three months this marvellous education is continued in the angelic secrecy of still more hidden communications.
Well may we say, in our turn, and with more reason than did the Jews: ‘ What an one, think ye, shall this child be?' She, who had been entrusted with the heavenly treasures, had kept in reserve for John the first outpouring of these floods of grace of which she had become the divine reservoir. The river which maketh glad the city of God shall no more stay its course, carrying to every soul, until the end of time, its countless streamlets; but its first impetuous outburst, in all the might of its buoyant gush, bore down at once upon John; the fullness of its yet undivided flood rolled its vast waters to and fro over this one soul, as though they existed for no other. Who may measure these torrents? Who may tell their effect? Holy Church does not attempt to describe it; but lost in admiration at the sight of the mysterious growth of John beneath the astonished gaze of angels, losing sight of the feebleness of that infant body in face of the maturity of the soul which dwells within it, she exclaims on the glorious birthday of the Precursor: 'Great is the man whom Elizabeth hath brought forth! Elisabeth Zachariœ magnum virum genuit, Joannem Baptistam prœcursorem Domini.' The following sequence is taken from the ancient Missal of Lyons of 1530. The filial homage paid by the Lyonnese to St John the Baptist is well known. Their primatial church has the holy Precursor for its patron. In the year 1886 we beheld crowds as immense as in former times flocking to the famous jubilee granted by the Holy See to this ‘ Rome of the Gauls,' for those years wherein the feast of Corpus Christi coincides with the titular feast of June 24.
Magnum virum in hac die
Qui virtutum vas sincerum,
Inter natos mulierum
Nondum natus seusit regem
Nasciturum supra legem,
Sine viri semine.
Deum sensit in hac luce,
Tanquam nucleum in nuce,
Conditum in Virgine.
Quam beatus puer natus,
Incarnati nobis dati
Verbi vox et bajulus!
Non præcedit fructus fiorem,
Sed flos fructum juxta morem,
Agri pleni dans odorem
Viam parat et ostendit,
Ubi pedem non offendit
Qui per fidem comprehendit
Verum Dei Filium.
Lege vita sub angusta,
Mel sylvestre cum locusta
Cibum non abhorruit.
Camelorum tectus pilis,
In deserto quam exilis,
Quam bonus apparuit!
Verba sunt evangelistæ:
Lux non erat, inquit, iste,
Sed ut daret tibi, Christe,
Lux non erat, sed lucerna
Monstrans iter ad superna
Quibus sua pax æterna
Contemplemur omnes istum
Quem sperabat turba Christum,
Stupens ad prodigia.
Qui cervicem non erexit,
Nec se dignum intellexit
A suo tempore,
Cœlum vim patitur;
Et violentiæ cum pœnitentiæ
Gratis non merito.
Quem vates cæteri
Sub lege veteri
Canunt in tenebris,
In carne Dominum,
O quam sanctum, quam præclarum,
Qui viventium aquarum
Fontem Christum baptizavit,
Et lavantem cuncta lavit
In Jordanis flumine.
Ab offensis lava, Christe,
Præcursoris et Baptistæ
Ex exaudi nos gementes
In hac solitudine.
Post arentem et australem,
Terram animæ dotalem
Ut manipulos portantes,
Ad pacem perpetuam.
Elizabeth of Zachary,
on this glorious day,
hath given birth to a great man.
Who, a perfect vessel of virtues,
holds the first place amongst all
that are born of women.
Nor yet is he brought forth, when he perceives already the King
who is about to be born, in a manner surpassing nature's law,
without man's intercourse.
He perceives God here below,
like the almond in the nut,
hid within the Virgin.
Oh! how blessed is this newborn child,
the angel of the Redeemer,
the voice and bearer of the Word
who is given to us in the flesh.
The Fruit doth not precede the flower,
but, according to custom,
the flower the Fruit yielding the odour of a fertile field
to the minds of the faithful.
He prepares and shows the way,
wherein his foot will not stumble
who by faith embraceth
the true Son of God.
Subjected to an austere rule of life,
he abhors not wild honey
with locusts for his food.
Clad in camel's hair,
how poor is he in the desert,
yet how goodly did he appear!
Lo! the words of the evangelist:
‘This one,’ saith he, ‘ was not the Light,
but he was to give testimony of the Light
unto thee, O Christ.'
He was not the Light, but the lamp,
showing the road towards heaven’s heights,
unto those to whom eternal peace
promises its joys.
Let us all contemplate him
whom the crowd hoped to be the Christ,
struck at the wonders they saw in him.
He, on the contrary, raised not his head,
but deemed himself unworthy to loose the latchets
of the Lord’s shoes.
From this time forth,
by gift divine,
heaven suffereth violence;
and to violence together with fruits of penance,
it is granted;
yet not by right, but freely.
He whom the other prophets,
under the old law,
in darkness, sing,
that same Lord in the flesh
(figures being now at an end),
this renowned prophet
points out with his very finger.
Oh! how holy, how luminous
is he who baptized Christ,
the Fount of living waters;
and who laved in Jordan’s flood
him who cleanseth all.
O Christ, cleanse from their offences
those who celebrate the birthday of the Precursor and Baptist:
to us sighing
in this solitude.
After this dry and parched place,
we ask as our soul's dower
a well watered land.
So that, bearing our sheaves,
we may come exultingly
unto perpetual peace.
 Bourdaloue, Sermon pour la Fete de S Jean Bapt.
 St Matt. xi.
 St Luke i 15, 41, 67.
 Ibid. i 42.
 St Luke i 28.
 ibid. i 66.
 Ps. xlv 5.
 Ant. i in Laud. et 2 Vesp.
 This seems to be an allusion to Axa’s petition addressed to her father, Caleb, at her husband’s suggestion. See Judg. i 15. [Note of Translator.]
From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.
AMIDST the numerous sanctuaries which adorn the capital of the Christian universe, the church of Saints John and Paul has remained from the early date of its origin one of the chief centres of Roman piety. From the summit of the Cœlian Hill it towers over the Coliseum, the dependencies of which stretch subterraneously even as far as the cellarage of the house once inhabited by our saints. They, the last of the martyrs, completed the glorious crown offered to Christ by Rome, the chosen seat of his power. The conflict in which their blood was spilt consummated the triumph whose hour was sounded under Constantine, but which an offensive retaliation on the part of hell seemed about to compromise.
No attack could be conceived more odious for the Church than that devised by the apostate Cæsar. Nero and Diocletian had violently and with hatred declared against the Incarnate God a war of sword and torture; and without recrimination, Christians by thousands had died, knowing that the testimony thus demanded was merely the order of things, just as it had been in the case of their august Head before Pontius Pilate and upon the cross. But with the clever astuteness of a traitor, and the affected disdain of a false philosopher, Julian proposed to stifle Christianity by a progressive oppression, respectfully abhorrent of human blood. Merely to preclude Christians from public offices, and to prohibit them from holding chairs for the teaching of youth, that was all the apostate aimed at! However, the blood which he wanted to avoid shedding must flow, even though a hypocrite's hands be dyed therewith; for, according to the divine plan, bloodshed alone can bring extreme situations to an issue, and never was holy Church menaced with greater peril. They would now make a slave of her whom they had beheld still holding her royal liberty in face of executioners. They would now await the moment when, once enslaved, she would at last disappear of herself, in powerlessness and degradation. For this reason the bishops of that time found vent for their indignation in accents such as their predecessors had spared to princes whose brute violence was then inundating the empire with Christian blood. They now retorted upon the tyrant scorn for scorn; and the manifestations of contempt that consequently came showering in from every quarter upon the crowned fool completely unmasked at last his feigned moderation. Julian was now shown up as nothing but a common persecutor of the usual kind; blood flowed, the Church was rescued.
Thus is explained the gratitude which this noble bride of the Son of God has never ceased to manifest to the glorious martyrs we are celebrating to-day: for amidst the many generous Christians whose outspoken indignation brought about the solution of this terrible crisis, none is more illustrious than theirs. Julian was most anxious to count them amongst his confidants: with this view, he made use of every entreaty, as we learn from the breviary lessons; nor does it appear that he even made the renouncing of Jesus Christ a condition. Well then, it may be retorted, why not yield to the imperial whim? Could they not do so without wounding their conscience? Surely too much stiffness would be calculated to ill-dispose the prince, perhaps even fatally: whereas to listen to him would very likely have a soothing effect upon him; and might even bring him round to relax somewhat of those administrative trammels unfortunately imposed upon the Church by his prejudiced government. For aught one knew, the possible conversion of his soul, the return of so many of the misled who had followed him in his fall, might be the result! Should not such things as these deserve some consideration? Should they not impose, as a duty, some gentle handling? Such reasoning as this would doubtless appear to some people as wise policy. Such preoccupation for the apostate's salvation could easily have had nothing in it but what was inspired by zeal for the Church and for souls; and indeed the most exacting casuist could not find it a crime for John and Paul to dwell in a court where nothing was demanded of them contrary to the divine precepts. Nevertheless the two brothers resolved otherwise; to the course of soothing and reserve-making, they preferred that of the frank expression of their sentiments, and this boldness infuriated the tyrant and brought about their death. The Church has judged their case, and she considers they did well; hence, it is unlikely that the former path would have led them to a like degree of sanctity in God's sight.
The names of John and Paul inscribed on the sacred diptychs show well enough their credit in the eyes of the divine Victim, who never offers himself to the God Thrice-Holy without blending their memory with that of his own immolation. The enthusiasm excited by the noble attitude of these two valiant witnesses of the Lord still re-echoes in the antiphons and responsories proper to the feast. It was formerly preceded by a vigil and fast; together with the sanctuary which encloses their tomb, it may be said to date back to the time of their martyrdom. By a singular privilege mentioned in the Leonine Sacramentary, whilst so many other martyrs slept their sleep of peace outside the walls of the holy city, John and Paul reposed in Rome itself, the definitive conquest of which had been won for the God of armies by their gallant combat. The very same day of the year immediately succceeding their victorious death, Julian fell dead, uttering against Heaven his cry of rage: 'Galilean, thou hast conquered!'
From the queen city of the universe their renown, passing beyond the mountains, shone forth almost as soon and with nearly equal splendour in Gaul. On his return from the scene of his own struggle in the cause of the divinity of Jesus Christ, Hilary of Poitiers at once propagated their cultus. The great bishop was called to our Lord scarcely five years after their martyrdom; but he had already found time to consecrate to their name the church in which his loving hands had laid his daughter Abra and her mother, and in which he too was to await with them the day of the resurrection. It was from this church of Saints John and Paul, named later on after St Hilary the Great, that Clovis on the eve of the battle of Vouillé beheld streaming towards him a mysterious light, presage of the victory which would result in the expulsion of Arianism from Gaul, and in the foundation of monarchical unity. These holy martyrs continued in after years to show the interest they took in the advancement of the kingdom of God by the Franks. When the disastrous issue of the Second Crusade was filling the soul of St Bernard with bitterness, who had preached it, they appeared to him, revived his courage, and manifested by what secrets the King of heaven had known how to draw his own glory out of events in which man saw only failure and disaster.
Let us now read the simple and touching legend consecrated by the Church to the two brethren.
Joannes et Paulus fratres Romani, cum facultatibus a Constantia Constantini filia, cui pie fideliterque servierant, sibi relictis, Christi pauperes alerent; a Juliano apostata in numerum familiarium suorum invitati, liberenegaverunt se apud eum esse velle, qui a Jesu Christo defecisset. Quibus ille ad deliberandum decem dies præfinit, ut nisi ad eam diem ei adhærere, et Jovi sacrificare constituerint, sibi moriendum esse certo sciant.
Illi intra id tempus reliqua sua bona distribuerunt pauperibus, quo expeditiores ad Dominum migrare possent, et plures juvarent, a quibus in æterna tabernacula reciperentur. Die decima Terentianus prætoriae cohortis præfectus, ad eos missus, cum aliata Jovis effigie, ut eam venerarentur, imperatoris mandatum eis exponit: ut nisi Jovi cultum adhibeant, moriantur. Qui, ut erant orantes, responderunt, se pro Christi fide, quem Deum mente et ore venerabantur, non dubitanter mortem subituros.
At Terentianus, veritus ne, si publice interficerentur, populus commoveretur, domi ubi tunc erant, abscissis eorum capitibus sexto calendasJulii, secreto eos sepeliendos curavit: rumoremque sparsit, Joannem et Paulum in exilium ejectos esse. Verum eorum mors a spiritibus immundis, qui multorum Corpora vexabant, pervulgata est: in quibus Terentiani filius et ipse oppressus a dæmone, ad sepulchrum martyrum perductus, liberatus est. Quo miraculo et is in Christum credidit, et ejus pater Terentianus, a quo etiam horum beatorum martyrum vita scripta esse dicitur.
John and Paul, Roman brethren, fed the poor of Christ out of the riches left to them by Constantia, Constantine's daughter, whom they had faithfully and piously served. Being invited into the number of his familiars by Julian the Apostate, they boldly refused, declaring that they had no wish to be in company of one who had forsaken Jesus Christ. Whereupon, he gave them tendays for deliberation, at the end of which term they must know for certain they were to die unless they would consent to attach themselves to him and to sacrifice to Jupiter.
They, meanwhile, employed the time in distributing the remainder of their goods to the poor, so that they might the more quickly go to the Lord, and so as to assist more persons, through whose means they might be received into the eternal tabernacles. On the tenth day, Terentianus, prefect of the prætorian guard, was sent to them, bringing with him the statue of Jupiter, that they might worship it, and he expounded to them the emperor's mandate: to wit, that unless they would pay nomage to Jupiter, they must forthwith die. They, still continuing their prayer, replied that they hesitated not to suffer death for the faith of Christ, whom they with both mind and mouth did adore as God.
Now Terentianus was afraid lest there should ensue a popular tumult were they executed in public, so there and then, on the sixth of the Kalends of July, and in their own house, their heads being struck off, they were secretly buried; whilst the rumour was spread abroad that John and Paul had been sent into banishment. But their death was published by the unclean spirits that began to torment a number of persons whose bodies they possessed: amongst whom was the son of Terentianus who, being troubled by a devil, was led to the sepulchre of the martyrs and there freed. By the which miracle, both he and his father Terentianus believed in Christ; Terentianus himself, as it is said, afterwards wrote the history of their blessed martyrdom.
We give below the proper antiphons and responsories, of which we have spoken, which are to be found just as we now use them, with but few variations, in the most ancient responsorialia and antiphonaria which have come down to us. The person mentioned in one of these antiphons by the name of Gallicanus is a consul who was drawn to the faith and to a saintly life by the influence of the two brothers; he is named in yesterday's martyrology.
Antiphons And Responsories
Paulus et Joannes dixerunt Juliano: Nos unum Deum colimus, qui fecit cœlum et terram.
Paulus et Joannes dixerunt Terentiano: Si tuus dominus est Julianus, habeto pacem cum illo: nobis alius non est, nisi Dominus Jesus Christus.
Joannes et Paulus, agnoscentes tyrannidem Juliani, facultatibus suas pauperibus erogare cœperunt.
Sancti Spiritus et animæ justorum, hymnum dicite Deo. Alleluia.
Joannes et Paulus dixerunt ad Gallicanum: Fac votum Deo cœli, et eris Victor melius quam fuisti.
Paul and John said to Julian: We worship the one God who made heaven and earth.
Paul and John said to Terentianus: If thy lord be Julian, keep thou at peace with him: ours is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ.
John and Paul, perceiving the tyranny of Julian, began to distribute their riches among the poor.
Ye holy spirits and souls of the just, sing ye a hymn to God. Alleluia.
John and Paul said to Gallicanus: Make thy vow unto the God of heaven, and thou shalt be victor greater than thou hast ever been.
Antiphon of the Magnificat (1st Vespers)
Adstiterunt justi ante Dominum, et ab invicem non sunt separati: calicem Domini biberunt, et amici Dei appellati sunt.
The just stood before the Lord and were not separated from one another: they drank the chalice of the Lord, and they were called the friends of God.
Antiphon of the Magnificat (2nd Vespers)
Isti sunt duæ olivæ, et duo candelabra lucentia ante Dominum: habent potestatem claudere cælum nubibus, et aperire portas ejus, quia linguæeorum claves cœli factæ sunt.
These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks giving light before the Lord: they have power to close heaven that the clouds rain not, and to open the gates thereof, for their tongues are made keys of heaven.
At the Benedictus
Isti sunt sancti, qui pro Christi amore minas hominum contempserunt: sancti martyres in regno cœlorum exsultant cum angelis: o quam pretiosa est mors sanctorum, qui assidue assistunt ante Dominum, et ab invicem non sunt separati.
These are the holy ones, who for Christ's love contemned the threats of men: in the kingdom of heaven the holy martyrs exult with the angels: oh! how precious is the death of the saints who constantly stand before the Lord, and are never separated from one another.
℟. Isti sunt duo viri misericordiæ, qui assistunt ante Dominum,
* Dominatorem universæ terræ.
℣. Isti sunt duæ olivæ, et duo candelabra lucentia ante Dominum,
* Dominatorem universæ terræ.
℟. Vidi conjunctos viros habentes splendidas vestes; et angelus Domini locutus est ad me, dicens:
* Isti sunt viri sancti, facti amici Dei.
℣ Vidi angelum Dei fortern, volantem per medium cœlum, voce magna clamantem et dicentem:
* Isti sunt viri sancti, facti amici Dei.
℟. These are two men of mercy, who stand before the Lord,
* the Sovereign of the whole earth.
℣. These are two olive trees and two candlesticks giving light before the Lord,
* the Sovereign of the whole earth.
℟. I saw men standing together clad in shining raiment; and the angel of the Lord spake unto me, saying:
* These men are holy, for they are made the friends of God.
℣. And I beheld a mighty angel of God flying through the midst of heaven, crying with a loud voice, and saying:
* These men are holy, for they are made the friends of God.
Twofold is the triumph that thrills through heaven and twofold the gladness re-echoed on earth this day, whilst your outpoured blood proclaims the victory of the Son of God! Verily, by the martyrdom of the faithful does Christ triumph. The effusion of his Blood marked the defeat of the prince of this world; the blood of his mystical members possesses, alone and always, the power of establishing his reign. Contest has never been an evil for the Church militant; the noble bride of the God of armies delights in combat; for she knows her Spouse came upon earth to bring not peace but the sword. Therefore, to the end of time will she hold up as an example to her sons your chivalrous courage and your bold frankness, which scorned to dissimulate your utter contempt for an apostate tyrant, or to suffer you to dwell for a moment on such considerations as might perhaps, had you listened to him at the first, have just saved your conscience together with life. Woe to the day wherein the deceptive mirage of guileful peace misleads minds; wherein, merely because sin does not stare them in the face, Christian souls stoop from the lofty standpoint of their Baptism, to compromises which even a pagan world would avoid. Glorious brethren! make the children of holy Church turn aside from that fatal error which would lead them to misconceptions of sacred traditions received by them in heritage. Maintain the sons of God at the full height of the noble sentiments demanded by their heavenly origin, by the throne that awaits them, by the divine Blood they daily drink; far from them be all such base notions as would be calculated to excite against their heavenly Father the blasphemies of the accursed city! Nowadays there has arisen a persecution not dissimilar to that in which you gained the crown; Julian's plan of action is once more in vogue; if these mimics of the apostate do not equal him in intelligence, they at least surpass him in hatred and hypocrisy. But God is no more wanting to his Church now than he was then; obtain for us the grace to do our part in resistance, as was done by you, and the victory will be the same.
Your very names, O John and Paul, remind us of the friend of the Bridegroom whose octave we are keeping; and of Paul of the Cross who revived, in the last century, heroism of sanctity in your very house on Monte Cœlio. Vouchsafe to unite your powerful protection to that which the Precursor exercises over the mother and mistress of all Churches, become by the very fact of her primacy the chief butt of the enemies’ attack; uphold the new militia raised by the necessity of the times, and entrusted with the guardianship both of your sacred remains and of those of its glorious founder. Remembering the power which the Church specially attributes to you, that of opening or shutting the floodgates of heaven, be pleased to bless our harvest nearly ripe for the sickle. Be propitious to our reapers and assuage their painful labour. Preserve from lightning man and his possessions, the home that shelters him, the beasts that serve him. Too often, ungrateful and forgetful man would indeed deserve to incur your wrath; but prove yourselves children of him who maketh his sun to rise upon the wicked as well as upon the good, and giveth his rain to fall alike upon the just and upon sinners.
 1 Tim. vi 13.
 June 26, 363.
 Bern., Ep. 386, al. 333, Joannis Casæ-Marii ad Bern.
 St Matt. x 34.
 St Matt. v 45.
From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.
MARTYRS are numerous on the cycle during the octave of St John. But not only in martyrdom's peerless glory does our Lord reveal the power of his grace, or the victorious force of example left to the world by his Precursor. At the very outset we have presented to our homage one of those countless athletes of penance, who succeeded John in the desert; one of those who fleeing, like him, in early youth, a society wherein their souls’ foreboding told of only peril and annoy, consecrated a lifetime to Christ’s complete triumph within them over the triple concupiscence, thus bearing witness to the Lord, by deeds which the world ignores, but which make angels to rejoice and hell to tremble. William was one of the chiefs of this holy militia. The Order of Monte-Vergine, which owes its origin to him, has deserved well of the monastic institute and of the whole Church in the south of Italy, wherein God has been pleased, at different times, to raise up a dyke against the encroaching waves of sensual pleasures by the stern spectacle of austere virtue.
Both personally and by his disciples, William’s mission was to infuse into the kingdom of Sicily, then in process of formation, that element of sanctity upon which every Christian nation must necessarily be based. In southern, just as in northern Europe, the Norman race had been providentially called in to promote the reign of Jesus Christ. Just at this moment, Byzantium, powerless to protect against Saracen invasion the last vestiges of her possessions in the West, was anxious nevertheless to hold the Churches of these lands fast bound in that schism into which she had recently been drawn by the intrigues of Michael Cerularius. The Mohammedans had been forced to recoil before the sons of Tancred and Hauteville; and now, in its turn, Greek perfidy had been outwitted and unmasked by the rude simplicity of these men, who quickly learnt to oppose no other argument to Byzantine knavery than the sword. The Papacy, though for a moment doubtful, soon came to understand of what great avail these newcomers would be in feudal quarrels, the jar and turmoil whereof were to extend far and wide for yet two centuries more, leading at last to the long struggle betwixt sacerdotalism and Cæsarism.
All through this period, as has ever been the case since the day of Pentecost, the Holy Ghost was directing every event for the ultimate good of the Church. He it was who inspired the Normans to give solidity to their conquests by declaring themselves vassals of the Holy See, and thus fixing themselves on the apostolic rock. But at the same time, both to recompense their fidelity at the very opening of their career, and to render them more worthy of the mission which would have ever been their honour and their strength had they but continued so to understand it, the Holy Spirit gave them saints. Roger I beheld St Bruno interceding for his people in the solitudes of Calabria, and there also he was miraculously saved by that blessed man from an ambush laid by treason. Roger II was now given another such heavenly aid to bring him back again into the paths of righteousness from which he had too often strayed: the example and exhortations of the founder of MonteVergine.
The life of our saint is thus recorded in the Lessons for his feast:
Gulielmus nobilibus parentibus Vercellis in Insubria natus, vix quartumdecimum ætatis annum expleverat, cum miro quodam pietatis ardore flagrans, Compostellanam peregrinationem ad celeberrimum sancti Jacobi templum aggressus est. Quod iter una amictus tunica, ac duplici ferreo circulo præcinctus, nudisque pedibus prosecutus, asperrima frigoris et æstus, famis et sitis, summo cum vitæ discrimine perpessus est incommoda. Reversus in Italiana, novam ad sanctum Domini sepulchrum peregrinationem molitur; sed quominus propositum exsequatur, varia atque gravissima intercedunt impedimenta, divino mimine ad altiora et sanctiora religiosam juvenis indolem retrahente. Porro in Soliculo monte biennium inter assiduas preces, vigilias, chameunias, et jejunia commoratus, divina subnixus ope, cæco lumen restituit; cujus miraculi fama percrebrescente, jam Gulielmus latere non poterat; quare iterum Hierosolymam adire cogitat, et alacris se itineri committit.
Dei autem monitu, qui eidem apparuit, a proposito revocatur, utilior ac fructu osior tam apud Italos, quam apud exteras nationes futurus. Tum monasterium in Virgiliani montis cacumine, quod deinde Virginis est appellatum, loco aspero et inaccesso, miranda exædificat celeritate. Socios deinde viros et religiosos adsciscit, eosque ad vivendi normam evangelicis præceptis et consiliis summopere accommodatam, tum certis legibus ex beati Benedicti institutis magna ex parte desumptis, tum verbo et sanctissimæ vitæexemplis, informat.
Aliis deinde monasteriis erectis, clarior in dies Gulielmi facta sanctitas multos ad eum undique viros perducit, sanctitatis odore, ac miraculorum fama allectos. Nam muti loquelam, surdi auditum, aridi vigorem, varioque et immedicabili morbo laborantes, sanitatem ipsius intercessione receperunt. Aquam in vinum convertit, aliaque complura mirabilia patravit: inter quæillud non silendum, quod muliercula ad ejus castitatem tentandam missa, in ardentibus prunis humi stratis illæsum se volutavit. De qua re certior factus Rogerius Neapolis rex, in summam viri Dei venerationem adducitur. Demum tempore sui obitus regi aliisque prænuntiato, innumeris virtutibus et miraculis clarus obdormivit in Domino, anno salutis millesimo centesimo quadragesimo secundo.
William was born of noble parents, at Vercelli in Piedmont. Scarce had he attained his fourteenth year when, already inflamed with wondrous ardour for piety, he performed the pilgrimage to the farfamed sanctuary of Saint James at Compostella. Which journey he made, clad in a single tunic, with a douole chain of iron about his loins, and with bare feet, a prey to extreme cold and heat, to hunger and thirst, and even with danger to life. Being returned into Italy, he was moved to perform a fresh pilgrimage to the holy sepulchre of our Lord; but each time he was on the point of carrying out his purpose, various and most grave impediments intervened, divine Providence thus drawing the holy inclinations of the youth to yet higher and holier things. Then passing two years on Mount Solicolo in assiduous prayer and in watchings, in sleeping on the bare ground, and in fastings, wherein he was divinely assisted; he restored sight to a blind man, the fame of which miracle becoming gradually divulged, at last William could no longer be hidden: for which reason he thought once more of undertaking a journey to Jerusalem, and joyfully set out on his way.
But God appeared to him admonishing him to desist from his purpose, because he was to be more useful and profitable both in Italy and elsewhere. Then ascending Mount Virgilian, since called Monte Vergine, he built a monastery on its summit, on a rugged and inaccessible spot, and that with marvellous rapidity. He there associated to himself certain religious men who wished to be his companions, and taught them both by word and example a manner of life conformable to the evangelical precepts and counsels, as well as to certain rules taken for the most part from the institutions of Saint Benedict.
Other monasteries being afterwards built, the sanctity of William became more and more known, and attracted to him many other persons, who were drawn by the sweet odour of his holiness and the fame of his miracles. For by his intercession the dumb received speech, the deaf hearing, the withered new strength, and those labouring under various incurable diseases were restored to health. He changed water into wine, and performed many other wondrous deeds: amongst which the following must not be passed over in silence, to wit, that a courtesan having been sent to make an attempt upon his chastity, he rolled himself without hurt amidst burning coals spread upon the ground. Roger, king of Naples, being certified of this fact, was led to hold the man of God in highest veneration. After having predicted to the king and others the time of his death, resplendent in miracles and innumerable virtues, he slept in the Lord, in the year of salvation eleven hundred and forty-two.
Following the footsteps of John, thou didst understand, O William, the charms of the wilderness; and God was pleased to make known by thee how useful are such lives as thine, spent far from the world and apparently wholly unconcerned with human affairs. Complete detachment of the senses disengages the soul, and makes her draw nigh to the sovereign Good; solitude, by stifling earth's tumult, permits the voice of the Creator to be heard. Then man, enlightened by the very Author of the world concerning the great interests that are at stake in his work, becomes in the Creator's hands an instrument at once powerful and docile for carrying out these interests, which are at the same time those of the creature himself and of nations. Thus didst thou become, O illustrious saint, the bulwark of a great people, who found in thy word the rule of right; in thine example, the stimulus of lofty virtue; in thy superabundant penance, a compensation to God for the excesses of its princes. The countless miracles which accompanied thine exhortations were not without an eloquence of their own, in the eyes of new nations among whom success of arms had created violence and had lashed up passion to fury: that wolf, for instance, which, after having devoured the ass of the monastery was enforced by thee to take its victim's place in humble service; or again, that hapless woman, who, beholding thee inaccessible to the scorching flames on that bed of burning coals, renounced her criminal life and was led by thee into paths even of sanctity!
Many a revolution, upheaving the land wherein once thou didst pray and suffer, has but too well proved the instability of kingdoms and dynasties that seek not first the kingdom of God and his justice. In spite of the oblivion into which thy teaching and example have been thrown, protect the land wherein God granted thee graces so stupendous, that land which he vouchsafed to confide to thy powerful intercession. Faith still lives in its people; keep it up, notwithstanding the efforts of the enemy in these sad days; make it also produce fruits in virtue's fields. Amidst many trials, thy monastic family has been able, up to this present age of persecution, to propagate itself and to serve the Church: obtain that it, together with all other religious families, may show itself, unto the end, stronger than the tempest. Our Lady, whom thou didst serve valiantly, is at hand to second thine efforts; from that sanctuary whose name has outlived the memory of the poet who unconsciously sang her glories, may Mary ever smile upon the thronging crowds that year by year toil up the holy mount, hailing the triumph of her virginity; may she accept at thy hands our hearts' homage and desire, although we cannot in very deed accomplish this sacred pilgrimage!
 Virg. Ecl. iv.
From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.
Including descriptions of:
- The Office of First Vespers
- The Office of Matins
- The Office of Lauds
- Mass of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist
- The Office of Second Vespers
THE Voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare ye the way of the Lord; behold thy God!’ In this world grown now so cold, who can understand earth's transports at hearing these glad tidings so long expected? The promised God was not yet manifested; but already had the heavens bowed down to make way for his passage. No longer was he ‘the One who is to come,’ he for whom our fathers, the illustrious saints of the prophetic age, ceaselessly called in their indomitable hope. Still hidden, indeed, but already in our midst, he was resting beneath that virginal cloud, compared with which the heavenly purity of Thrones and Cherubim waxes dim; yea, the united fires of burning Seraphim grow faint in presence of the single love wherewith she alone encompasses him in her human heart, she that lowly daughter of Adam whom he had chosen for his Mother. Our accursed earth, become in a moment more blessed than heaven that had so long been closed against the prayers of men, only waited for the revelation of the august mystery. The hour had come for earth to join her canticles to that eternal and divine praise which henceforth was ever rising from her depths, and which, being itself no other than the Word himself, would praise God condignly. But beneath the veil of humility where his Divinity, even after as well as before his birth, must still continue to hide itself from men, who may discover the Emmanuel? Who, having recognized him in his merciful abasements, may succeed in making him accepted by a world lost in pride? Who may cry, pointing out the carpenter's Son in the midst of the crowd: ‘Behold him whom your fathers have so wistfully awaited’?
For such is the order decreed from on high, in the manifestation of the Messias. Conformably to the ways of men, the God-Man would not intrude himself into public life; he would await, for the inauguration of his divine ministry, some man who, having preceded him in a similar career, would be hereby sufficiently accredited to introduce him to the people.
Sublime part for a creature to play, to stand guarantee for his God, witness for the Word! The exalted dignity of him who was to fill such a position had been notified, as had that of the Messias, long before his birth. In the solemn liturgy of the age of types, the Levite choir, reminding the Most High of the meekness of David and of the promise made to him of a glorious heir, hailed from afar the mysterious lamp prepared by God for his Christ. Not that, to give light to his steps, Christ should stand in need of external help: he, the Splendour of the Father, had only to appear in these dark regions to fill them with the effulgence of the very heavens; but so many false glimmerings had deceived mankind, during the night of these ages of expectation, that, had the true Light arisen suddenly, it would not have been understood, or would have but blinded eyes now become wellnigh powerless, by reason of protracted darkness, to endure its brilliancy. Eternal Wisdom therefore decreed that, just as the rising sun is announced by the morning star and prepares his coming by the gently tempered brilliance of dawn, so Christ, who is Light, should be preceded here below by a star, his precursor; and his approach should be signalized by the luminous rays which he himself, though still invisible, would shed around this faithful herald of his coming. When, in bygone days, the Most High vouchsafed to light up the distant future before the eyes of his prophets, the radiant flash, which for an instant shot across the heavens of the old covenant, melted away in the deep night, and did not usher in the longed-for dawn. The morning star of which the psalmist sings shall never know defeat: declaring to night that all is now over with her, only in the triumphant splendour of the Sun of justice will his own light be dimmed. Even as dawn melts into day, so will he confound with Light Uncreated his own radiance; being of himself, like every creature, nothingness and darkness, he will so reflect the brilliancy of the Messias shining immediately upon him, that many will mistake him even for the very Christ.
The mysterious conformity of Christ and his Precursor, the incomparable proximity which unites one to the other, are many times referred to in the sacred Scriptures. If Christ is the Word eternally uttered by the Father, John is to be the Voice bearing this divine utterance whithersoever it is to reach. Isaias already hears the desert echoing with these accents, till now unknown; and the prince of prophets expresses the joy with all the enthusiasm of a soul already beholding itself in the very presence of its Lord and God. The Christ is the Angel of the Covenant; but in the same text wherein the Holy Ghost gives him this title, for us so full of hope, there appears likewise, bearing the same name of angel, the inseparable messenger, the faithful ambassador, to whom the earth is indebted for her knowledge of the Spouse: 'Behold I send my angel, and he shall prepare the way before my face. And presently the Lord whom ye seek, and the Angel of the testament whom you desire, shall come to his Temple; behold he cometh, saith the Lord of hosts.’ And putting an end to the prophetic ministry, of which he is the last representative, Malachias terminates his own oracles by the words which we have heard Gabriel addressing to Zachary, when he makes known to him the approaching birth of the Precursor.
The presence of Gabriel, on this occasion, of itself shows what intimacy with the Son of God this child then promised shall enjoy; for the same prince of the heavenly hosts came again, soon afterwards, to announce the Emmanuel. Countless faithful messengers stand round the throne of the Holy Trinity; and the choice of these august ambassadors usually varies according to the dignity of the instructions to be transmitted to earth by the Most High. Nevertheless, it was fitting that the same archangel charged with concluding the sacred nuptials of the Word with the human nature should likewise prelude this great mission by preparing the coming of him whom the eternal decrees had designated as the friend of the Bridegroom. Six months later, when sent to Mary, he strengthens his divine message by revealing to her the prodigy which had by then already given a son to the sterile Elizabeth; this being the first step of the Almighty towards a still greater marvel. John is not yet born; but without longer delay his career is begun: he is employed to attest the truth of the angel's promises. How ineffable this guarantee of a child hidden in his mother's womb, but already brought forward as God's witness in that sublime negotiation which at that moment is holding heaven and earth in suspense! Enlightened from on high, Mary receives the testimony and hesitates no longer. ‘Behold the handmaid of the Lord,’ she says to the archangel, ‘be it done unto me according to thy word.’
Gabriel has retired, bearing away with him the divine secret which he has not been commissioned to reveal to the rest of the world. Neither will the most prudent Virgin herself tell it; even Joseph, her virginal spouse, is to receive no communication of the mystery from her lips. But the woful sterility, beneath which earth has been so long groaning, is not to be followed by an ignorance more sorrow-stricken still, now that it has yielded its fruit. There is one from whom Emmanuel will have no secret nor reserve; it were fitting to reveal the marvel to him. Scarcely has the Spouse taken possession of the spotless sanctuary wherein the first nine months of his abiding amongst men must run their course, scarcely has the Word been made Flesh, than our Lady, inwardly taught what is her Son's desire, arising, makes all haste to speed into the hill-country of Judea. The voice of my Beloved! Behold he cometh, leaping upon the mountains, skipping over the hills. His first visit is to the ‘friend of the Bridegroom,' the first outpouring of his graces is to John. A distinct feast will allow us to honour in a special manner the day on which the divine Child, sanctifying his Precursor, reveals himself to John by the voice of Mary; the day on which our Lady, manifested by John leaping within the womb of his mother, proclaims at last the wondrous things operated within her by the Almighty according to the merciful promise which he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed for ever.
But the time has come when the good tidings are to spread through all the adjacent country, until at length they reach the whole world. John is about to be born, and, whilst still himself unable to speak, he is to loose his father's tongue. He is to put an end to that dumbness with which the aged priest, a type of the old law, had been struck by the angel; and Zachary, himself filled with the Holy Ghost, is about to publish in a new canticle the blessed visit of the Lord God of Israel.
Let us usher in the gladness of this great solemnity, by chanting the first Vespers together with our mother the Church. First of all, let us notice the white colour of the vestments wherein the bride is clad to-day; the pages that follow will explain the mystery of her choice.
Ant. Ipse præibit ante illum in spiritu et virtute Eliæ, parare Domino plebem perfectam.
Ant. He shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to prepare unto the Lord a perfect people.
Ps. Dixit Dominus, p. 35.
Ant. Joannes est nomen ejus: vinum et siceram non bibet, et multi in nativitate ejus gaudebunt.
Ant. John is his name: he shall drink no wine nor strong drink; and many shall rejoice at his nativity.
Ps. Confitebor tibi Domine, p. 37.
Ant. Ex utero senectutis et sterili Joannes natus est præcursor Domini.
Ant. From an aged and barren womb was born John, the forerunner of the Lord.
Ant. Iste puer magnus coram Domino: nam et manus ejus cum ipso est.
Ant. This child shall be great before the Lord: for his hand is with him.
Ant. Nazaræus vocabitur puer iste: vinum et siceram non bibet, et omne immundum non manducabit ex utero matris suæ.
Ant. This child shall be called a Nazarite; he shall not drink wine nor strong drink, and from his mother’s womb he shall eat nothing unclean.
Laudate Dominum omnes gentes: laudate eum omnes populi.
Quoniam confirmata est super nos misericordia ejus: et veritas Domini manet in æternum.
Praise the Lord, all ye Gentiles: praise him, all ye peoples.
For his mercy is confirmed upon us: and the truth of the Lord endureth for ever.
Audite, insulæ, et attendite, populi de longe: Dominus ab utero vocavit me, de ventre matris meæ recordatus est nominis mei.
Give ear, ye islands; and hearken ye people from afar: The Lord hath called me from the womb, from the bowels of my mother he hath been mindful of my name.
The preceding antiphons have recalled the promises concerning the Holy Precursor. He himself, in the capitulum, invites us to sing the sublime manner in which the Most High prevented him with grace. The hymn which follows furnishes the Church with a beautiful formula of prayer and praise. There are few pieces so famous as this in the holy liturgy. Its composition is attributed to Paul the Deacon, a monk of Monte Cassino, in the eighth century; and the story attached to it is particularly touching. Honoured with that sacred order, the title of which remains, through the course of ages, inseparably linked with his name, Paul Warnefrid, the friend of Charlemagne and the historian of the Lombards, was on a certain occasion deputed to bless the paschal candle. Now it happened that, whilst he was preparing himself for this function, the most solemn of those reserved to the Levites of the New Testament, he suddenly lost his voice, until then clear and sonorous, so that he was powerless to sound forth the glad notes of the Exsultet. In this extremity, Paul recollected himself; and turning to St John, patron of the Lombard nation and of that Church built by St Benedict at the top of the holy mount, he invoked him whose birth had put a stop to the dumbness of his own father, and who still preserves his power of restoring to ‘vocal chords their lost suppleness.’ The son of Zachary heard his devout client. Such was the origin of the harmonious strophes which now form the three hymns proper to this feast.
What is still better known is the importance which the first of these strophes has acquired in the history of Gregorian chant and music. The primitive air to which the hymn of Paul the Deacon was sung possessed this peculiarity, that the initial syllable of each hemistich rose just one degree higher than the preceding in the scale of sounds; thus was obtained, on bringing them together, the series of fundamental notes which form the basis of our present gamut. The custom was afterwards introduced of giving to the notes themselves the names of these syllables: Ut, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La. Guido of Arezzo, in his method of teaching, originated this custom; and by completing it with the introduction of the regular lines of the musical scale, he caused an immense stride to be made in the science of sacred music, until then so laborious to render and so tedious to acquire. He thus acknowledged the honour due to the divine Precursor, to the Voice whose accents reveal to the world the harmony of the eternal canticle: namely, that the organization of earth's melodies should be for ever attached to his name.
Ut queant laxis resonare fibris
Mira gestorum famuli tuorum,
Solve polluti labri reatum,
Nuntius celso veniens Olympo,
Te patri magnum fore nasciturum,
Nomen et vitæ seriem gerendæ
Ille promissi dubius superni,
Perdidit promptæ modulos loquelæ;
Sed reformasti genitus peremptæ
Ventris obstruso recubans cubili,
Senseras regem thalamo manentem:
Hinc parens, nati meritis, uterque
Sit decus Patri, genitæque Proli,
Et tibi, compar utriusque virtus
Spiritus semper, Deus unus, omni
Since thy servants desire to sound forth,
with vocal chords well strung, thy wondrous deeds,
from all uncleanness free the lips of the guilty ones,
O holy John!
Lo! a messenger coming from the heights of heaven
unto thy father, announces that thou who art to be born
wilt be great; thy name and life’s scope he foretells,
in order due.
Dubious he of heavenly promises,
the power of fluent speech he sudden forfeits;
but when born, thou promptly dost restore
the organs of his voice extinct.
Yet lying in the secret of the maternal womb,
thou perceivest the King reposing in the bride-chamber:
thus both parents, by the merits of their child,
come to know hidden mysteries.
Glory be to the Father, and to the only-begotten Son,
and to thee, O Power eternally equal to them both,
O Spirit, one God,
for ever and ever.
℣. Fuit homo missus a Deo,
℟ Cui nomen erat Joannes.
℣. There was a man sent from God,
℟ Whose name was John.
At the Magnificat, let us recognize the part which our saint had in this ineffable effusion of the Virgin Mother's sentiments, already alluded to in the fourth strophe of the preceding hymn. The Magnificat and Benedictus, our evening and morning canticles, are closely linked to the name of St John; for, by his mystic ‘leaping for joy’ and by his hallowed birth, he gave occasion to the composition of both.
Antiphon of the Magnificat
Ingresso Zacharia templum Domini, apparuit ei Gabriel Angelus, stans a dextris altaris incensi.
Zachary having come into the temple of the Lord, there appeared unto him the Angel Gabriel, standing on the right side of the altar of incense.
Canticle, Magnificat, p. 43.
Deus, qui præsentem diem honorabilem nobis in beati Joannis nativitate fecisti: da populis tuis spiritualium gratiam gaudiorum; et omnium fidelium mentes dirige in viam salutis æternæ. Per Dominum.
Let us Pray.
O God, who hast made this day glorious unto us on account of the Nativity of blessed John; grant to thy people the grace of spiritual joys; and direct the souls of all the faithful into the way of eternal salvation. Through our Lord, etc.
The chants of holy Church in honour of the Precursor's nativity have begun; and already everything about the feast is telling us that it is one of the solemnities dearest to the heart of the bride. But what would it be if, going back to former days, we were able to take our share in the olden manifestations of Catholic instinct on this day! In those grand ages wherein popular piety followed with docile step the inspiration of the Church, such demonstrations suggested by a common faith, on the recurrence of each loved anniversary, kept alive in every breast the understanding of the divine work and its mystic harmonies thus gorgeously displayed in the cycle. Nowadays, when the liturgical spirit has fallen to a lower standard in the minds of the multitude, the Catholic verve, which used to urge on the mass of the people, is no longer felt in the same marked way. Left to itself, and hence without unity of view, popular devotion often lacks proportion; nevertheless, these regrettable inconsistencies cannot impair the spirit of piety ever inherent in holy Church; she is ever guided aright by the spirit of prayer that is within her; she ever holds the sure hand of her unerring authority on all pious demonstrations of a non-liturgical character, as well as on the diminutions of the former solemnity of her own sacred rites; hence she is ever on the watch to prevent her maternal condescension becoming a pretext for opening the way to error. We are far, however, from the days when two rival armies, meeting face to face on St John's eve, would put off the battle till the day after the feast. In England, though no longer kept as a day of obligation, the feast of St John is still marked in the calendar as a double of the first class with an octave; and gives place to no other, except the festival of Corpus Christi; it is, moreover, a day of devotion, and continues to attract the attention of the faithful as one of the more important feasts of the year.
Another festival is yet to come, at the end of August, calling for our renewed homage to the son of Zachary and Elizabeth, namely the feast of his glorious martyrdom. But, venerable as it is, according to the Church's expression, its splendour is not to be compared with that of this present festival. The reason is, because this day relates less to John himself, than to Jesus whom he is announcing; whereas the feast of the Decollation. though more personal to our saint, has not in the divine plan the same importance which his birth had, inasmuch as it preludes that of the Son of God.
There hath not risen among them that are bom of women a greater than John the Baptist, are the words to be spoken by the Man-God of his Precursor; and already has Gabriel, when announcing both of them, declared the same thing to each, that he shall be great. But the greatness of Jesus is that he shall be called the Son of the Most High, and the greatness of John is that he shall go before him. The name of John, brought down from heaven like that of his Master, proclaims the grace which Jesus, by saving mankind, is to bring to the world. Jesus, who cometh from above in person, is above all; it is he and he alone whom all mankind is expecting. John, who is of earth, on the contrary hath nothing but what he hath received; but he hath received to be the friend of the Bridegroom, his usher; so that the Bridegroom cometh not to the bride but by him.
Even the bride cannot come to know herself, nor to prepare herself for the sacred nuptials, but by him: his preaching awakens her in the wilderness; he adorns her with the charms of penitence and all virtues; his hand, in baptism, at last unites her to Christ beneath the waters. Sublime moment! in which, raised far above all men and angels, John, in the midst of the Holy Trinity, as it were, in virtue of an authority that is his, invests the Second Person Incarnate with a new title; the Father and the Holy Ghost acting the while in concert with him! But presently coming down from those more than human heights, to which his mission had raised him, he is fain to disappear altogether: the bride has become the Bridegroom's own; he has now but to efface himself and to decrease. To Jesus here manifested it henceforth alone belongs to appear and to increase. Thus, too, the day-star, from the feast of John's nativity when he beams his rays upon us in all his splendour, will begin to decline from the heights of his solstice towards the horizon; whereas Christmas will give him signal to return, to resume that upward movement which progressively restores all his fiery effulgence.
Jesus alone is light, the light without which earth would remain dead; and John is but the man sent from God, without whom the light would have remained unknown. But Jesus being inseparable from John, even as day is from dawn, it is by no means astonishing that earth's gladness at John's birth should partake of something of that excited by the coming of our Redeemer. Up to the fifteenth century the Latin Church, together with the Greeks, who still continue the custom, celebrated in the month of September a feast called the Conception of the Precursor: not that his conception was in itself holy, but because it announced the beginning of mysteries. Just in the same way the Nativity of St John Baptist, indeed made holy, is celebrated with so much pomp, merely because it seems to enfold within itself the Nativity of Christ, our Redeemer. It is, as it were, midsummer's Christmas day. From the very outset God and his Church brought about, with most thoughtful care, many such parallel resemblances and dependences between these two solemnities. These we are now about to study.
God, who in his Providence seeks in all things the glorification of his Word made Flesh, estimates men and centuries by the measure of testimony they render to Christ; and this is why John is so great. For him whom the prophets announced as about to come, whom the apostles preached as already come, John, at once prophet and apostle, pointed out with his finger, exclaiming: ‘Behold, this is he!’ John being, then, the principal witness, it is fitting that he should open that glorious period, during which for three centuries the Church was to render to her Spouse that testimony of blood whereby the martyrs, after the prophets and apostles whereon she is built up, hold the first claim to her gratitude. Just as eternal Wisdom had decreed that the tenth and last great struggle of that epoch should be for ever linked with the birthday of the Son of God, whose triumph it secured, by the memory of the martyrs of Nicomedia on December 25, 303; so likewise does John's birthday mark the beginning of the first of those giant contests. For June 24, in the Roman martyrology, is sacred likewise to the memory of those soldiers of Christ who first entered upon the arena opened to them by pagan Rome in the year 64. After the proclamation of the Nativity of the Precursor, the Church's record runs thus: ‘At Rome the memory of many holy martyrs who under the emperor Nero, being calumniously accused of setting fire to the city, were at the command of the same most cruelly put to death by divers torments; some of whom were sewn up in beasts' skins, and so exposed to be tom by dogs; others crucified; others set on fire, so that at the decline of day they might serve as torches to light up the night. All these were disciples of the apostles, and firstfruits of the martyrs offered to the Lord by the Roman Church, the fertile field of martyrs, even before the death of the apostles.’
The solemnity of June 24, therefore, throws a double light on the early days of Christianity. There never were, even then, days evil enough for the Church to belie the prediction of the angel, that many should rejoice in the birth of John; his word, his example, his intercession, brought joy as well as courage to the martyrs. After the triumph won by the Son of God over paganism when to the testimony of blood succeeded that of confession by works and praise, John maintained his part as Precursor of Christ in souls. Guide of monks, he conducted them far from the world, and fortified them in the combats of the desert; friend of the Bridegroom, he continues to form the bride, by preparing unto the Lord a perfect people.
In the divers states and degrees of the Christian life, his needful and beneficent influence makes itself felt. At the beginning of the fourth Gospel, in the most dogmatic passage of the New Testament, not by mere accident is John brought forward, even as heretofore at Jordan, as one closely united with the operations of the adorable Trinity, in the universal economy of the divine Incarnation: ‘There was a man sent from God whose name was John,’ saith the Holy Ghost; ‘he came for a witness, to give testimony of the light, that all might believe through him.’ ‘Precursor at his birth, Precursor at his death, St John still continues,’ says St Ambrose, ‘to go before the Lord.’ More perhaps than we are aware of, his mysterious action may be telling on our present life. When we begin to believe in Christ, virtue comes forth, as it were, from St John, drawing us after him: he inclines the steps of the soul towards faith; he rectifies the crooked ways of life, making straight the road of our earthly pilgrimage, lest we stray into the rugged wilds of error; he contrives that all our valleys be filled with the fruits of virtue, and that every elevation be brought low before the Lord.
But if the Precursor maintains his part in each progressive movement of faith which brings souls nearer to Christ, he intervenes still more markedly in each baptism conferred, whereby the bride gains increase. The baptistery is especially consecrated to him. It is true, the baptism which he gave to the crowds pressing day by day on Jordan's banks had never power such as Christian Baptism possesses; but when he plunged the Man-God beneath the waters, they were endowed with a virtue of fecundity emanating directly from Christ, whereby they would be empowered until the end of time to complete, by the accession of new members, the body of holy Church united to Christ.
The faith of our fathers never ignored the great benefits for which both individuals and nations are indebted to St John. So many neophytes received his name in Baptism, so efficacious was the aid afforded by him in conducting his clients to sanctity, that there is not a day in the calendar on which there may not be honoured the heavenly birthday of one or other so named.Amongst nations, the Lombards formerly claimed St John as patron, and French Canada does the same to-day. But whether in East or West, who could count the countries, towns, religious families, abbeys and churches placed under his powerful patronage: from the temple which, under Theodosius, replaced that of the ancient Serapis in Alexandria with its famous mysteries, to the sanctuary raised upon the ruins of the altar of Apollo on the summit of Monte Cassino by St Benedict; from the fifteen churches which Byzantium, the new Rome, consecrated within her walls in honour of the Precursor, to the august basilica of Lateran, well worthy of its epithet the golden basilica, which in the Capital of Christendom remains for ever the mother and mistress of all churches, not only of the city, but of the whole world! Dedicated at first to our Saviour, this latter basilica added at an early date another title, which seems inseparable from this sacred name, that of the friend of the Bridegroom. St John the Evangelist, also a friend of Jesus, whose death according to one tradition occurred on the twenty-fourth day of June, has likewise had his name added to the other two borne by this basilica; but it is none the less certain that common practice is in keeping with ancient documents, in referring more especially to the Precursor the title of St John Lateran, whereby the patriarchal basilica of the Roman Pontiffs is now always designated.
‘Fitting it was,’ says St Peter Damian, ‘that the authority of the bride should subscribe to the judgement of the Bridegroom, and that this latter should see his greatest friend raised in glory where she is enthroned as queen. A remarkable choice is this, to be sure, whereby John is given the primacy in the very city that is consecrated by the glorious death of the two lights of the world. Peter from his cross, Paul beneath the blade, both behold the first place held by another; Rome is clad in the purple of innumerable martyrs, and yet all her honours go straight to the blessed Precursor. Everywhere John is the greatest!’
On this day, therefore, let us too imitate the Church; let us avoid that forgetfulness which bespeaks ingratitude; let us hail, with thanksgiving and heartfelt gladness, the arrival of him who promises our Saviour to us. Already Christmas is announced. On the Lateran Piazza (or Square) the faithful Roman people will keep vigil to-night, awaiting the hour which will allow the eve's strict fast and abstinence to be broken, when they may give themselves up to innocent enjoyment, the prelude of those rejoicings wherewith, six months hence, they will be greeting the Emmanuel.
St John's vigil is no longer of precept. Formerly, however, not one day’s fasting only, but an entire Lent was observed at the approach of the Nativity of the Precursor, resembling in its length and severity that of the Advent of our Lord. The more severe had been the holy exactions of the preparation, the more prized and the better appreciated would be the festival. After seeing the penance of St John's fast equalled to the austerity of that preceding Christmas, is it not surprising to behold the Church in her liturgy making the two Nativities closely resemble one another, to a degree that would be apt to stagger the limping faith of many nowadays?
The Nativity of St John, like that of our Lord, was celebrated by three Masses: the first, in the dead of night, commemorated his title of Precursor; the second, at daybreak, honoured the baptism he conferred; the third, at the hour of Terce, hailed his sanctity. The preparation of the bride, the consecration of the Bridegroom, his own peerless holiness: a threefold triumph, which at once linked the servant to the Master, and deserved the homage of a triple sacrifice to God the Thrice-Holy, manifested to John in the plurality of his Persons, and revealed by him to the Church. In like manner, as there were formerly two Matins on Christmas night, so, in many places, a double Office was celebrated on the feast of St John, as Durandus of Mende, following Honorius of Autun, informs us. The first Office began at the decline of day; it was without Alleluia, in order to signify the time of the Law and the Prophets which lasted up to St John. The second Office, begun in the middle of the night, terminated at dawn; this was sung with Alleluia, to denote the opening of the time of grace and of the kingdom of God.
Joy, which is the characteristic of this feast, outstripped the limits of the sacred precincts and shed itself abroad, as far even as the infidel Mussulmans. Whereas at Christmas the severity of the season necessarily confined to the domestic hearth all touching expansion of private piety, the lovely summer nights at St John's tide gave free scope to popular display of lively faith among various nationalities. In this way, the people seemed to make up for what circumstances prevented in the way of demonstrations to the Infant God, by the glad honours they could render to the cradle of his Precursor. Scarcely had the last rays of the setting sun died away, than all the world over, from the far East to the farthest West, immense columns of flame arose from every mountain top; and, in an instant, every town and village and smallest hamlet was lighted up. ‘St John's fires,’ as they were called, were an authentic testimony, repeating over and over again the truth of the words of the angel and of prophecy, that universal gladness was to hail the birthday of Elizabeth's son. Like a ‘burning and shining light,’ to use the expression of our Lord, he had appeared in the midst of endless night, and for a time the Synagogue was willing to rejoice in his light; but, disconcerted by his fidelity which prevented him from giving himself out as the Christ and the true Light, irritated at the sight of the Lamb that he pointed out as the salvation of the whole world and not of Israel alone, the Synagogue had turned back again into night, and had drawn across her own eyes that fatal bandage which causes her to remain, up to this day, in her sad darkness. Filled with gratitude to him who had wished neither to diminish nor to deceive the bride, the Gentile world, on her side, exalted him all the more for his having lowered himself; gathering together and applying to herself those sentiments which ought to have animated the repudiated Synagogue, she was fain to manifest by all means in her power, that without confounding the borrowed light of the Precursor with that of the Sun of justice himself, she none the less hailed with enthusiasm this light which had been to the entire human race the very dawn of nuptial gladness.
It may almost be said of the 'St John’s fires,’ that they date, like the festival itself, from the very beginning of Christianity. They made their appearance, at least, from the earliest days of the period of peace, like a sample fruit of popular initiative; but not indeed without sometimes exciting the anxious attention of the fathers and councils, ever on the watch to banish every superstitious notion from manifestations, which otherwise so happily began to replace the pagan festivities proper to the solstices. But the necessity of combating some abuses, which are just as possible in our own days as in those, did not withhold the Church from encouraging a species of demonstration which so well answered to the very character of the feast. ‘St John’s fires ’ made a happy completion to the liturgical solemnity; testifying how one and the same thought possessed the mind both of holy Church and of the terrestrial city; for the organization of these rejoicings originated with the civil corporations, and the expenses were defrayed by the municipalities. Thus the privilege of lighting the bonfire was usually reserved to some dignitary of the civil order. Kings themselves, taking part in the common merry-making, would esteem it an honour to give this signal to popular gladness; Louis XIV, as late as 1648, lighted the bonfire on the 'place de Grève,’ as his predecessors had done. In other places, as is even now done in Catholic Brittany, the clergy were invited to bless the piles of wood, and to cast thereon the first brand; whilst the crowd, bearing flaming torches, would disperse over the neighbouring country, amidst the ripening crops, or would march along the coast, following the tortuous cliff-paths, shouting for joy, and the adjacent islands would reply by lighting up their festive fires.
In some parts the custom prevailed of rolling a burning wheel; this was a self-revolving red-hot disk, rolling along the streets or down from the hill-top, to represent the movement of the sun, which attains the highest point in his orbit, to begin at once his descent; thus was the word of the Precursor brought to mind. When speaking of the Messias, he says: ‘He must increase, and I must decrease.’ The symbolism was completed by the custom, then in vogue, of burning old bones and rubbish on this day which proclaims the end of the ancient law and the beginning of the new Covenant, according to the Holy Scripture, where it is written: ‘And new store coming on, you shall cast away the old.’
Blessed are the populations amongst whom is still preserved something of such customs, whence the simplicity of our forefathers drew a gladness more true and more pure than their descendants seek in festivities wherein the soul has no part!
To the Office of Lauds, on this day, a special importance is to be attached, because the Canticle Benedictus, which is sung during Lauds all the year round, is the expression of the sentiments inspired by the Holy Ghost to the father of St John the Baptist, on the occasion of that birthday which gave joy both to God and man. Being unable to insert the entire Office, we give at least this canticle. The two hymns, which here precede it, were composed by Paul the Deacon, as a sequel to that already given above for Vespers. The antiphons, capitulum and versicle used at Lauds are the same as those of second Vespers.
Antra deserti teneris sub annis,
Civium turmas fugiens, peristi,
Ne levi posses maculare vitam
Præbuit durum tegumen camelus
Artubus sacris, strophium bidentes;
Cui latex haustum, sodata pastum
Cæteri tantum cecinere vatum
Corde præsago jubar affuturum:
Tu quidem mundi scelus auferentem
Non fuit vasti spatium per orbis
Sanctior quisquam genitus Joanne,
Qui nefas sæcli meruit lavantem
Sit decus Patri, genitæque Proli,
Et tibi, compar utriusque virtus
Spiritus semper, Deus unus, omni
The desert cavern didst thou seek, in tenderest age,
fleeing betimes the crowded city,
lest by the slightest sin of tongue
thy life should e’er be sullied.
Unto thy sacred body, rough garment
the camel did afford, —victims, a cincture;
the running stream supplied thy drink,
honey with locusts, a repast.
Other prophets but sang,
with heart inspired, the Light that was to come:
whilst thou didst with thy finger point out him who taketh
the world’s dark sin away.
Not in all the wide world was one born so holy as this John,
who was deemed worthy to plunge
beneath the wave e'en him that washeth
away earth’s crimes.
Glory be to the Father, and to the only-begotten Son,
and to thee, O Power, eternally equal to them both,
O Spirit, one God, for
ever and ever.
O nimis felix, meritique celsi,
Nesciens labem nivei pudoris,
Præpotens martyr, nemorumque cultor,
Serta ter denis alios coronant
Aucta crementis, duplicata quosdam;
Trina te fructu cumulata centum
Nunc potens nostri meritis opimis
Pectoris duros lapides revelle,
Asperum planans iter, et reflexos
Ut pius mundi Sator et Redemptor,
Mentibus culpæ sine labe puris,
Rite dignetur veniens beatos
Laudibus cives celebrent superni
Te, Deus simplex pariterque trine,
Supplices et nos veniam precamur:
O most happy thou, and of merit high;
unknowing stain upon thy snowy purity;
martyr all potent, man of prayer, hid in dark thicket's shade!
Of prophets mightiest thou!
With wreaths by works increased thrice tenfold some,
and e’en with double that are others crowned;
whilst tripled fruits a hundredfold accumulate,
with radiant bands thy brow bedeck.
Now, O potent one, these copious merits thine,
asunder rend these stony breasts of ours!
Make plain the rugged way, and
the diverging path make straight!
So that the compassionate Creator and Redeemer of the world,
finding our souls clean and pure from every stain of sin,
as it behoves, may vouchsafe, at his coming,
to set thereon his blessed feet.
With praiseful song, let all the heavenly citizens hail thee,
O God simple and three in Persons;
whilst we suppliants implore pardon:
thy redeemed ones spare!
℣. Iste puer magnus coram Domino.
℟. Nam et manus ejus cum ipso est.
℣. This child shall be great before the Lord.
℟. For his hand is with him.
Ant. Apertum est os Zachariæ, et prophetavit, dicens: Benedictus Deus Israel.
Ant. The mouth of Zachary was opened, and he prophesied, saying: Blessed be the God of Israel.
Canticle of Zachary
Benedictus Dominus Deus Israel: quia visitavit, et fecit redemptionem plebis suæ.
Et erexit cornu salutis nobis: in domo David pueri sui.
Sicut locutus est per os sanctorum: qui a sæculo sunt prophetarum ejus.
Salutem ex inimicis nostris: et de manu omnium qui oderunt nos.
Ad faciendam misericordiam cum patribus nostris: et memorari testamenti sui sancti.
Jusjurandum quod juravit ad Abraham patrem nostrum: daturum se nobis.
Ut sine timore de manu inimicorum nostrorum liberati: serviamus illi.
In sanctitate et justitia Corani ipso: omnibus diebus nostris.
Et tu puer propheta Altissimi vocaberis: præibis enim ante faciem Domini parare vias ejus.
Ad dandam scientiam salutis plebi ejus: in remissionem peccatorum eorum.
Per viscera misericordiæ Dei nostri: in quibus visitavit nos Oriens ex alto.
Illuminare his, qui in tenebris et in umbra mortis sedent; ad dirigendos pedes nostros in viam pacis.
Blessed be the Lord God of Israel: because he hath visited and wrought the redemption of his people.
And hath raised up a horn of salvation to us, in the house of David his servant.
As he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets, who are from the beginning.
Salvation from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us.
To perform mercy to our fathers, and to remember his holy testament.
The oath which he swore to Abraham, our father; that he would grant to us.
That being delivered from the hand of our enemies, we may serve him without fear.
In holiness and justice before him, all our days.
And thou child, Precursor of the Emmanuel, shalt be called the prophet of the Most High: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord, to prepare his ways.
To give unto his people the knowledge of salvation, unto the remission of their sins.
Through the bowels of the mercy of our God, in which the Orient from on high hath visited us.
To enlighten them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death; to direct our feet in the way of peace.
The Mass is composed of various passages from the Old and New Testaments. The Church, as liturgical authors say, wishes hereby to remind us that John forms the link binding together both Testaments, he himself sharing in each. He is the precious clasp which fastens the double mantle of the Law and of grace across the breast of the eternal Pontiff.
The Introit is from Isaias; the text from which it is taken will occur again, and at greater length, in the Epistle. Psalm xci was formerly chanted with it. The first verse alone is now used, although the primary motive of this choice lay in its following verse and in its thirteenth: ‘It is good ... to shew forth thy mercy in the morning and thy truth in the night . . . The just shall flourish like the palm-tree; he shall grow up like the cedar of Libanus.’
De ventre matris meæ vo cavit me Dominus nomine meo: et posuit os meum ut gladium acutum: sub tegumento manus suæ protexit me, et posuit me quasi sagittam electam.
Ps. Bonum est confiteri Domino: et psallere nomini tuo, Altissime.
℣. Gloria Patri. De ventre.
The Lord hath called me by my name, from the womb of my mother: and he hath made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand he hath protected me, and hath made me as a chosen arrow.
Ps. It is good to give praise to the Lord, and to sing to thy name, O most High.
℣. Glory, etc., The Lord, etc.
The Collect expresses the desires of the faithful upon this day so great because hallowed by the birth of the Precursor. The Church implores an abundance of spiritual joy, which is the grace peculiar to this feast, as we learn from the words of Gabriel. Bearing in mind the special part allotted to Zachary's son, which consists in setting in order the paths of salvation, she prays that not one of her Christian children may turn aside from the way of eternal life.
Deus, qui præsentem diem honorabilem nobis in beati Joannis nativitate fecisti: da populis tuis spiritualium gratiam gaudiorum; et omniuir fidelium mentes dirige in viam salutis æternæ. Per Dominum.
O God, who hast made this day glorious unto us on account of the Nativity of blessed John; grant to thy people the grace of spiritual joys; and direct the souls of all the faithful into the way of eternal salvation. Through our Lord, etc.
Lectio Isaiæ Prophetæ.
Audite insulæ, et attendite populi de longe: Dominus ab utero vocavit me, de ventre matris meæ recordatus est nominis mei. Et posuit os meum quasi gladium acutum: in umbra manus suæ protexit me, et posuit me sicut sagittam electam: in phareta sua abscondit me. Et dixit mihi: Servus meus es tu, Israel, quia in te gloriabor. Et nunc dicit Dominus, formans me ex utero servum sibi: Ecce dedi te in lucem gentium, ut sis salus mea usque ad extremum terrae. Reges videbunt, et consmgent principes, et adorabunt propter Dominum, et Sanctum Israel, qui elegit te.
Lesson of the Prophet Isaias.
Give ear, ye islands, and hearken, ye people from afar. The Lord hath called me from the womb, from the bowels of my mother he hath been mindful of my name. And he hath made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand he hath protected me, and hath made me as a chosen arrow; in his quiver he hath hidden me. And he said to me: Thou art my servant Israel, for in thee will I glory. And now saith the Lord that formed me from the womb to be his servant: Behold I have given thee to be the light of the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation even to the farthest part of the earth. Kings shall see, and princes shall rise up, and adore for the Lord’s sake, and for the Holy One of Israel, who hath chosen thee.
In these few lines Isaias implicitly refers to the announcement of Christ's coming; the application here made by the Church to St John Baptist once more shows us how closely the Messias is united with his Precursor in the work of the redemption. Rome, once capital of the Gentile world, now mother of Christendom, delights in proclaiming, on this day, to the sons whom the Spouse has given her, the consoling prophecy which was addressed to them before she herself was founded upon the seven hills. Eight hundred years before the birth of John and of the Messias, a voice had been heard on Sion, and, reaching beyond the frontiers of Jacob, had re-echoed along those distant coasts where sin's darkness held mankind in the thraldom of hell: ‘Give ear, ye islands; and hearken, ye people from afar!' It was the voice of him who was to come, and of the angel deputed to walk before him, the voice of John and of the Messias, proclaiming the one predestination common to them both, which, as servant and as Master, made them to be objects of the same eternal decree. And this voice, after having hailed the privilege which would designate them, though diversely, from the maternal womb, as objects of complacency to the Almighty, went on to utter the divine oracle which was to be promulgated, in other terms, over their cradles by the ministry of Zachary and of angels. ‘And he said to me: Thou art my servant Israel, for in thee will I glory,’ in thee who art indeed Israel to me. 'And he said: It is a small thing that thou shouldst be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to convert the dregs of Israel,’ who will not hearken to thee, and of whom thou shalt bring back but a small remnant. ‘Behold I have given thee to be the light of the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation even to the farthest part of the earth’; to make up for the scant welcome my people shall have given thee, ‘kings shall see, and princes shall rise up,’ at thy word, ‘and adore for the Lord's sake, because he is faithful, and for the Holy One of Israel, who hath chosen thee ' as the negotiator of his alliance.
Children of the Bridegroom, let us enter into this thought; let us understand what ought to be the gratitude of us Gentiles to him to whom all flesh is indebted for its knowledge of the Redeemer. From the wilderness, where his voice stung the pride of the descendants of the patriarchs, he beheld us succeeding to the haughty Synagogue; without minimizing the divine exactions, is stem language, when addressed to the Bridegroom's chosen ones, assumed a tone of consideration which it never had for the Jews. ‘Ye offspring of vipers,’ said he to these latter, ‘who hath shown you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth, therefore, fruits worthy of penance, and do not begin to say: We have Abraham for our father. For I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children to Abraham. For in your case, already is the axe laid to the root of the tree. Every tree, therefore, that bringeth not forth good fruit shall be cut down and cast into the fire.’ But to the despised publican, to the hated soldier, to all those parched hearts of the Gentile world, hard and arid as the desert rock, John the Baptist announced a flow of grace that would refresh their dried-up souls making them fruitful in justice: ‘Ye publicans, do nothing more than what is appointed you, by the exigencies of the tax-laws; ye soldiers, be content with your pay. The law was given by Moses; but better is grace; grace and truth come by Jesus Christ whom I declare unto you; he it is who taketh away the sins of the world, and of his fullness we have all received.
What a new horizon was here opened out before these objects of reproach, held aloof so long by Israel's scorn! But in the eyes of the Synagogue, such a blow aimed at Juda’s pretended privilege was a crime. She had borne the biting invectives of this son of Zachary; she had even, at one moment, shown herself ready to hail him as the Christ; but she who vaunted herself as pure, to be invited to go hand in hand with the unclean Gentile—she could never submit to that; from that moment John was judged by her as his Master would be afterwards. Later on, Jesus will insist upon the difference of welcome given to the Precursor by those who listened to him. He will even make it the basis of his sentence of reprobation pronounced against the Jews: ‘Amen I say to you, that the publicans and harlots shall go into the kingdom of God before you; for John came to you in the way of justice, and you did not believe him. But the publicans and harlots believed him: but you seeing it, did not even afterwards repent, that you might believe him.’
Following in the train of Isaias, who has been prophesying the coming of John and of Christ, Jeremias, the figure of both, stands before us in the Gradual; he too was sanctified in his mother’s womb, and there prepared for the ministry which he was to exercise. The verse leaves the sense suspended upon an announcement of a word of the Lord; according to the rite formerly in use it was completed by the repetition of the Gradual. The Alleluia Verse is taken from the Gospel. Its words occur in the Benedictus.
Priusquam te formarem in utero, novi te: et antequam exires de ventre, santificavi te.
℣. Misit Dominus manum suam, et tetigit os meum, et dixit mihi.
℣. Tu, puer, propheta Altissimi vocaberis: præibis ante Dominum parare vias ejus. Alleluia.
Before I formed thee in the bowels of thy mother, I knew thee: and before thou camest forth out of the womb, I sanctified thee.
℣. The Lord put forth his hand, and touched my mouth: and said to me.
℣. Thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest; thou shalt go before the Lord to prepare his ways. Alleluia.
Sequentia sancti Evangelii secundum Lucam.
Elisabeth impletum est tempus pariendi, et peperit fìlium. Et audierunt vicini, et cognati ejus, quia magnifìcavit Dominus misericordiam suam cum illa, et congratulabantur ei. Et factum est in die octavo, venerunt circumcidere puerum, et vocabant eum nomine patris sui Zachariam. Et respondens mater ejus, dixit: Nequaquam, sed vocabitur Joannes. Et dixerunt ad illam: Quia nemo est in cognatione tua, qui vocetur hoc nomine. Innuebant autem patri ejus, quem vellet vocari eum. Et postulans pugillarem scripsit, dicens: Joannes est nomen ejus. Et mirati sunt universi. Apertum! est autem illico os ejus, et lingua ejus, et loquebatur benedicens Deum Et factus est timor super omnes vicinos eorum: et super omnia montana Judææ divulgabantur omnia verba hæc: et posuerunt omnes qui audierant in corde suo dicentes: Quis, putas, puer iste erit? Et enim manus Domini erat cum illo. Et Zacharias pater ejus repletus est Spiritu Sancto: et prophetavit, dicens: Benedictus Dominus Deus Israel, quia visitavit, et fecit redemptionem plebis suæ.
Sequel of the holy Gospel according to Luke.
Elizabeth’s full time of being delivered was come, and she brought forth a son. And her neighbours and kinsfolk heard that the Lord had showed his great mercy towards her, and they congratulated with her And it came to pass that on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they called him by his father's name, Zachary. And his mother answering said: Not so, but he shall be called John. And they said to her: There is none of thy kindred that is called by that name. And they made signs to his father, how he would have him called. And demanding a writing-table, he wrote, saying: John is his name: and they all wondered. And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed: and he spoke, blessing God. And fear came upon all their neighbours; and all these things were noised abroad over all the hill country of Judea; and all they that heard them, laid them up in their heart, saying: What a one, think ye, shall this child be? For the hand of the Lord was with him. And Zachary his father was filled with the Holy Ghost; and he prophesied, saying: Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, because he hath visited and wrought the redemption of his people.
After the places hallowed by the sojourn here below of the Word made Flesh, there is no spot of greater interest for the Christian soul than that wherein were accomplished the events just mentioned in our Gospel. The town in which the Precursor was bom is situated about two leagues from Jerusalem, to the west; just as Bethlehem, our Saviour's birthplace, is at the same distance southwards from the holy city. Going out by the gate of Jaffa, the pilgrim bound for St John of the Mountain passes on his way the Greek monastery of Holy Cross, raised on the spot where the trees which formed our Lord's cross were hewn down: then, pursuing his course through the close-set woods of the mountains of Juda, he attains a summit whence he can descry the waters of the Mediterranean. The house of Obed-Edom, which for three months harboured the sacred Ark of the Covenant, stood here, whence a by-path leads by a short cut directly to the place where Mary, the true Ark, dwelt for three happy months in the house of her cousin Elizabeth. Two sanctuaries, distant about a thousand paces one from the other, are sacred to the memory of the two great facts just related to us by St Luke: in the one, John the Baptist was conceived and born; in the other, the circumcision of the Precursor took place eight days after his birth. The first of these sanctuaries stands on the site of Zachary's town-house; its present form dates from a period anterior to the Crusades. It is a beautiful church with three naves and a cupola, measuring thirty-seven feet in length. The high altar is dedicated to St Zachary, and another altar, on the right, to St Elizabeth. On the left, seven marble steps lead to a subterranean chapel hollowed out of the rock, which is identical with the furthermost apartment of the original house: this is the sanctuary of St John's Nativity. Four lamps glimmer in the darkness of this venerable crypt, whilst six others, suspended beneath the altar-slab itself, throw light on the following inscription engraved upon the marble pavement: hic prÆcursor domini natus est. Let us unite on this day with the devout sons of St Francis, guardians of those ineffable memories; more fortunate here than at Bethlehem with its sacred grotto, they have not to dispute with schism the homage which they pay in the name of the legitimate bride to the friend of the Bridegroom upon the very spot of his Nativity.
Local tradition sets at some distance from this first sanctuary, as we have said, the memorable place where the circumcision of the Precursor was performed. Besides a town-house, Zachary was owner of another more isolated. Elizabeth had retired thither during the first months of her pregnancy, to meditate in silence upon the gift of God. There did the meeting between herself and our Lady on her arrival from Nazareth take place; there the sublime exultation of the infants and their mothers; there the Magnificat proclaimed to heaven that earth henceforth could rival, and even surpass, supernal songs of praise and canticles of love. It was fitting that Zachary's song, the morning canticle, should be first intoned there, where that of evening had ascended like incense of sweetest fragrance. In the accounts given by ancient pilgrims, it is noticed that there were here two sanctuaries placed one above the other: in the lower one Mary and Elizabeth met; in the upper storey of this country-house most of the incidents just set before us by the Church occurred.
Urban V, in 1368, ordered that the Credo should be chanted on the day of St John Baptist's Nativity and during the octave, to prevent the Precursor's appearing to be in any way inferior to the apostles. The more ancient custom, however, of suppressing the Symbol on this feast has nevertheless prevailed: not as a mark of inferiority in him who rises above all others that have ever announced the kingdom of God, but to show that he completed his course before the promulgation of the Gospel.
The Offertory is taken from the Introit psalm; it is the verse which anciently formed the Introit of the Aurora Mass of this feast.
Justus ut palma florebit: sicut cedrus, quæ in Libano est, multiplicabitur.
The just shall flourish like the palm-tree: he shall grow up like the cedar of Libanus.
The Secret brings out in strong light the twofold character of prophet and apostle, which makes John so great; the sacrifice which is being celebrated in his honour is to add new lustre to his glory, by placing anew before our gaze the Lamb of God, whom he announced and whom he will still point out to the world.
Tua, Domine, muneribus altaria cumulamus, illius Nativitatem honore debito celebrantes,qui Salvatorem mundi et cecinit adfuturum, et adesse monstravit, Dominum nostrum Jesum Christum Filium tuum: qui tecum.
We cover thy altars with offerings, O Lord; celebrating with due honour his Nativity, who both proclaimed the coming of the Saviour of the world, and pointed him out when come, our Lord Jesus Christ, thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with thee, etc.
The Bridegroom is in possession of the bride, and it is John the Baptist who hath prepared the way; thus sings our Communion antiphon. The moment of the sacred mysteries is that in which he repeats every day: 'He that hath the bride is the Bridegroom: but the friend of the Bridegroom, who standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth with joy, because of the Bridegroom's voice. This my joy therefore is fulfilled.'
Tu, puer, propheta altissimi vocaberis: præibis enim ante faciem Domini parare vias ejus.
Thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest; for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways.
If the friend of the Bridegroom is overflowing with gladness at this sublime moment of the Mysteries, how shall not the bride herself be all joy and gratitude? Let her then extol, in the Postcommunion, him who has brought her to know her Redeemer and Lord!
Sumat Ecclesia tua, Deus, beati Joannis Baptistæ generatione lætitiam: per quem suæ regenerationis cognovit auctorem, Domimim nostrum Jesum Christum Filium tuum: qui tecum.
May thy Church, O God, put on gladness in the Nativity of blessed John Baptist: by whom she hath known the author of her regeneration, our Lord Jesus Christ thy Son, etc.
The second Vespers of St John the Baptist are the same as the first, except the antiphons and versicle. The Church continues therein to hail the dignity of him who comes bringing joy to the world, by pointing out the God so wistfully expected.
Ant. Elisabeth Zachariæ magnum virum genuit, Joannem Baptistam Præcursorem Domini.
Ant. Elizabeth, Zachary’s wife, hath brought forth a great man, John the Baptist, Precursor of the Lord.
Ps. Dixit Dominus, p. 35.
Ant. Innuebant patri ejus quem vellet vocari eum: et scripsit dicens: Joannes est nomen ejus.
Ant. They made signs to his father, how he would have him called: and he wrote saying: John is his name.
Ps. Confitebor tibi Domine, p. 37.
Ant. Joannes vocabitur nomen ejus, et in Nativitate ejus multi gaudebunt.
Ant. His name shall be called John, and many shall rejoice in his Nativity.
Ant. Inter natos mulierum non surrexit major Joanne Baptista.
Ant. Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist.
Ant. Tu, puer, propheta Altissimi vocaberis: præibis ante Dominum parare vias ejus.
Ant. Thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: thou shalt go before the Lord to prepare his ways.
Ps. Laudate Dominum omnes gentes, p. 234.
Capitulum, p. 234.
Hymn, p. 236.
Ant. Puer qui natus est nobis, plus quam propheta est: hic est enim de quo Salvator ait: Inter natos mulierum non surrexit major Joanne Baptista.
Ant. The child that is born to us is more than a prophet: Lo! this is he of whom the Saviour saith: Among them that are born of women, there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist.
Antiphon of the Magnificat
Ant. Puer qui natus est nobis, plus quam propheta est: hic est enim de quo Salvator ait: Inter natos mulierum non surrexit major Joanne Baptista.
Ant. The child that is born to us is more than a prophet: Lo! this is he of whom the Saviour saith: Among them that are born of women, there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist.
The Canticle, Magnificat, p. 43.
The Prayer, p. 237.
The following beautiful Sequence has well deserved to be attributed to Adam of St Victor, though it may perhaps be somewhat more ancient.
Ad honorem tuum, Christe,
Præcursoris et Baptistæ
Laus est Regis in præconis
Quem virtutum ditat donis,
Hæsitavit, et loquelæ
Novae legis, novi regis
Præco, tuba, signifer.
Vox præit Verbum,
Paranymphus sponsi sponsum,
Solis ortum lucifer.
Nomen indit parvulo,
Et soluta Lingua muta
Patris est a vinculo.
Est cœlesti præsignatus
Et ab ipso præmonstratus
Quod ætate præmatura
Datur hæres, id figura
Diu parens, res profunda!
Contra carnis quidem jura
Joannis hæc genitura:
Partu format, non natura.
Alvo Deum Virgo claudit,
Clauso clausus hic applaudit
De ventris angustia.
Agnum monstrat in aperto
Vox clamantis in deserto,
Vox Verbi prænuntia.
Ardens fide, verbo lucens.
Et ad veram lucem ducens,
Multa docet millia.
Non lux iste, sed lucerna;
Christus vero lux æterna,
Lux illustrans omnia.
Cilicina tectus veste,
Pellis cinctus strophium,
Cum locustis mel silvestre
Sumpsit in edulium.
Attestante sibi Christo,
Non surrexit major isto
Natus de muliere:
Sese Christus sic excepit,
Qui de carne carnem cepit
Sine carnis opere.
Capitali justus pœna
Jubetur in carcere
Cujus caput rex in cœna
Non horret pro munere
Martyr Dei, licet rei
Simus, nec idonei
Te laudantes et sperantes
De tua dementia,
Tuo nobis in natale
Da promissum gaudium,
Nec nos minus triumphale
In te tot mysteria:
Per te frui Christus sui
Det nobis præsentia.
In thine honour, O Christ,
the Church doth celebrate
the natal day of thy Precursor
The King's own praise is heralded
when his herald is extolled,
whom richly he hath endowed with gifts of virtue,
and, sublime in office, hath exalted!
Lo! Gabriel unto the hoary sire
a son doth promise.
He, hesitating, anon doth forfeit
power of speech.
The child is born;
of the new Law, of the new King,
herald, trumpet, standardbearer he!
The voice before the Word,
the paranymph before the Spouse,
the morning star before the rising sun, doth go!
The mother by word,
the father by writing,
the child's name doth declare;
forthwith is loosed from bond
the mute tongue of the father.
By heavenly oracle is
and by himself yet hidden in the womb
is he foreshown.
That in an age too far advanced,
an heir should be given,
that one so long sterile should
become a mother, oh! mystery profound!
Yea, contrary indeed to the law of flesh
is this conception of John:
such birth as this
is produced by grace, not by nature.
The virgin in her womb holds God enclosed;
the enclosed to the Enclosed doth clap applause,
that narrow womb within.
The voice crying in the wilderness,
the heralding voice of the Word,
doth point out the Lamb to open view.
Burning in faith, luminous in word,
and unto the true Light leading,
he teacheth many thousands.
He was not the Light, but yet was indeed the lamp;
for Christ is Light eternal,
Light enlightening all.
Clad in garment of haircloth,
girt with cincture of leather,
he was fed on a banquet of locusts
and wild honey.
List to Christ attesting of him:
None hath arisen greater than this man,
of all that are born of woman.
Take good heed, however,
Christ here excepts himself who of flesh did Flesh accept,
yet without flesh’s operation.
To capital punishment,
in prison, is the just man
whose head the king
abhorred not to present as a gift
at a banquet table.
Martyr of God! guilty though
we be, nor apt unto thy praise,
yet, of thy clemency,
deign graciously to hear us
confiding in thee
and praising thee.
On this thy natal day,
grant to us the promised joy;
nor yet may thy triumphant martyrdom
delight us less.
Oh! how many mysteries
do we venerate
and admire in thee!
By thee may Christ grant
unto us to enjoy his presence.
The liturgical collections of the divers Churches abound in formulas full of depth and beauty, expressing the grandeur of John and his mission. Such, for instance, is the solemn antiphon of Lauds from the Ambrosian Breviary.
Lumen quod animi cernunt, non sensus corporeus, in utero vidit Joannes, exsultans in Domino. Natus est luminis Præcursor; Propheta mirabilis ostendit Agnum, qui venit peccata mundi tollere.
The Light, which not corporeal sense, but souls perceive, did John behold whilst still in the womb, exulting in the Lord. Lo! the Precursor of the Light is born; the wondrous prophet points out the Lamb, who cometh to take away the sins of the world.
Such, also, is the following ancient prayer of the Gallican Sacramentary:
Deus, qui hunc diem nativitate Joannis Baptistæ incomparabilem hominibus consecrasti; præsta nobis de ejus meritis, illius nos calceamenti sequi vestigium qui se ad solvendam Salvatoris corrigiam prædicavit indignum.
O God, who hast rendered this day incomparable in the history of mankind, consecrating it by the birth of John the Baptist; grant us by his merits to follow in the prints of the shoes of him who deemed himself unworthy to loose the latchet of those of our Redeemer.
But the Roman Church, so devoted to John, surpasses, as is fitting, all other Churches whereof she is mother and mistress, in the abundance and magnificence of the formulas wherewith she hails the friend of the Bridegroom. Not to mention the three Masses of the Gregorian Sacramentary for this day, the Leonine contains two others called ad Fontem, the text of which refers to the newly baptized, according to the ancient custom whereby Baptism was given on the feast of St John, as well as at Easter, Pentecost and Epiphany. Of the five proper Prefaces in the Leonine Sacramentary for each of these Masses, we give only the following:
Vere dignum. ... In die festivitatis hodiernæ, quo beatus ille Baptista Joannes exortus est, nondum terrena conspiciens, cœlestia jam revelans; lucis æternæ prædicator, priusquam lumen temporale sentiret; testis veritatis, antequam visus; et ante propheta quam natus; maternis visceribus latens, Unigenitum Dei præscia exsultatione prænuntians; Christique tui, nondum genitus, jam Præcursor. Nec mirum, si Filium tuum, Domine, procreatus ostendit quem adhuc utero clausus agnovit; meritoque inter natos mulierum nullus inventus est similis, quia nulli hominum prorsus indultum est, ut exsecutor Divinitatis existeret, priusquam vitam humanæ conditionis hauriret; satisque firmatum, quam esset mirabilis Nuntiatus, cujas tam insignis nuntius appareret; convenienterque pro lavacri ministerio, quod gerebat, detulit famulatum perfecti baptismatis mysterium consecranti et ad remissionem peccatorum mortalibus conferendam, huic jure debitam reddidit servitutem, quem mundi tollere dixerat venisse peccatum. Unde cum angelis, etc.
It is truly meet and just that we should praise thee, O Lord, on this day’s festival, whereon the blessed and renowned Baptist, John, was bom; he not yet beholding earthly things, did already reveal things celestial; preacher of eternal fight was he before he had yet perceived temporal light; witness to the truth before he was himself seen; hiding in the bowels of his mother, yet foretelling by prescient exultation the Only-Begotten of God; not yet born, but already was he the Precursor of thy Christ. Nor is it to be wondered at, O Lord, that when born he pointed out thy Son, whom whilst still enclosed in the womb he already recognized. Deservedly among those born of women none is found like to him, since to none of the human race has it been granted to be administrator of the Divinity, before he had first inhaled life of this our human condition; enough is it proved how admirable is he who is announced, the announcer of whom hath appeared to be so wondrous and seemly was it that, considering the baptismal ministry which he held, he should render functionary service unto him who was consecrating the mystery of perfect Baptism, and that speaking of remission of sins unto mortals, he should yield obedience unto him whom he declared to have come to take away the sin of the world. Wherefore with the angels, etc.
In this harmonious concert in honour of St John, the Oriental Church deservedly holds a distinguished place. We regret to be obliged, by our limited space, to pass over in complete silence such a large number of beautiful pieces. We here give in an abridged form, owing to its extreme length, this admirable hymn from the Syriac Church, composed by the great Deacon of Edessa St Ephraem, reserving the second half for the octave day.
(De Domino nostro et Joanne)
Mente translatus fui ad Jordanem, miraque mihi visa sunt, quum gloriosus Sponsus sponsæ se revelavit, ut eam a servitute peccati eximeret atque sanctificaret.
Vidi Joannem attonitum et turbas circa eum stantes, gloriosumque Sponsum ante filium sterilis inclinatum ut ab eo baptismum acciperet.
Mens mea miratur tum Verbum tum Vocem. Joannes quippe Vox est, Dominus autem ut Verbum prolatus est, ut in manifesto prodiret qui absconditus erat.
Sponsa Sponso desponsata Sponsum nescit quem intuetur; adsunt paranymphi; plenum est desertum; absconditur inter eos Dominus.
Tunc Sponsus seipsum manifestans ad Joannem juxta flumen accessit. Commotus divus præco de eo dixit: ' Ipse est Sponsus quem prædicavi.’
Venit ad baptismum auctor omnis baptismi et manifestavit se ad Jordanem. Vidit eum Joannes, et manum contraxit deprecans et dicens:
'Quomodo, Domine, baptizan vis, qui baptismo tuo omnes sanctificas? Ad te spectat verus baptismus, e quo stillat sanctitas perfecta.'
‘Ego volo, accedas et conferas mihi baptismum, ut impleatur mea voluntas. Meæ voluntati resistere non vales, baptizabor a te, quia sic volo.'
'Noli, quæso, Domine, noli me cogere, quia difficile est quod mihi dixisti. Ego debeo a te baptizan; hyssopo quippe tuo omnia purificas.’
'Rogo et placet mihi rem ita fieri. Tu autem Joannes, quid hæsitas? sine nos adimplere justitiam. Age, baptiza me; quid hic anceps stas?'
‘Quis potest ignem ardentem manibus arripere? O tu qui totus ignis es, miserere mei, et sine ut non accedam ad te, quia res mihi difficilis est.'
'Manifestavi tibi voluntatem meam, quid scrutaris? Age, accedans baptiza me, nec combureris. Thalamus paratus est atque convivium, ne avertas me ab eo.'
'Oportet, Domine, me nosse naturam meam, me scilicet e terra plasm atum esse, te vero mei plasmatorem omnibus subsistentiam præbentem. Ad quid igitur te in aquis baptizarem?'
'Scias oportet ad quid venerim et cur poposci baptismum a te. Baptismus media est in via quam incessi, illum ne deneges.'
'Angustior est amnis ad quem venisti ut in eum descendas. Cœli amplitudinem tuam continere non valent; quanto magis baptismus te recipere nequeat?'
'Jordane augustior est uterus, sponte tamen in utero Virginis habitavi. Porro sicut ex utero Virginis nasci potui, ita in Jordane baptismum suscipere possum.'
‘Ecce cœlestes exercitus adstant, et agmina angelorum adorant; porro commotio tremorque, Domine, obstant ne ad te baptizandum accedam.'
‘Cœlestium virtutum agmina universa beatum te prædicant, quod te ab utero elegerim ut baptismum mihi conferas; ne igitur timeas, quum mea sit voluntas?'
‘Paravi viam, quæ mea erat missio; desponsavi sponsam, quod facerc jussus eram.
Nunc quum adveneris, diffundatur manifestatio tua per mundum, nec tibi baptismum conferam.’
'Filii Adæ a me exspectant novae generationis donum; aperiam eis viam in aqua; hoc autem absque meo baptismo possible non est.'
'Sacrificatores a te consecrantur et sacerdotes hyssopo tua mundantur, unctos et reges constituis. Quid proderit tibi baptismus?’
'Sponsa quam desponsasti mihi exspectat, ut in fiuvium descendens baptizer et sanctificem eam. Amice Sponsi, ne deneges ablutionem quæ me exspectat.’
In spirit was I carried away to Jordan, and wondrous were the things I beheld, when the glorious Bridegroom revealed himself that he might set free the chosen one from sin's servitude and might sanctify her.
I saw John astonished, and the crowd standing round about him, yea, and the glorious Bridegroom bowing himself down before the son of the sterile one, that from him he might receive Baptism.
My mind is amazed both at the Word and at the Voice. John indeed is the Voice, but it is in order that the Lord, the Word, be produced; so that he, the Hidden One, be made manifest.
The bride betrothed to the Bridegroom looketh upon the Bridegroom, yet she knoweth him not: lo! the paranymphs are there; the desert place is filled; in their midst the Lord is hidden.
Then the Bridegroom manifesting himself cometh nigh unto John, beside the stream The holy herald, amazed, crieth out concerning him: ‘Lo, the Bridegroom whom I have proclaimed.’
The Author of all Baptism came to be baptized, and manifested himself at Jordan. John beheld him, and drew back his hand beseeching and saying:
‘How dost thou, O Lord, wish to be baptized, thou who by thy baptism dost sanctify all men? To thee belongeth the true Baptism, whence floweth perfect holiness.’
The Lord replied:
‘I will it so; draw nigh and confer Baptism upon me, that my will be fulfilled. Thou canst not resist my will: I will be baptized by thee, because I wish it so.’
'Do not, I beseech thee, O Lord, do not constrain me, for exceeding hard is this thing thou sayest unto me. I ought to be baptized by thee: Lo! thy hyssop purifieth all!’
‘I demand, and it is pleasing unto me that so this thing be done. But thou, John, how is it thou hesitatest? Suffer us to fulfil all justice. Do so, baptize me: wherefore standest thou wavering?’
‘Who is able to snatch hold of the burning fire with his hands? O thou who art all fire, have mercy on me, and suffer that I approach thee not, for it is a thing difficult unto me.’
‘I have made my will manifest unto thee, wherefore dost thou search? Do as I bid thee, drawing nigh baptize me, thou shalt not be consumed. Lo! the bride-chamber is ready, so likewise is the banquet, thence divert me not.’
‘It behoveth me, O Lord, to know what my nature is, to wit, that I am formed out of earth, and that thou hast fashioned me, thou who givest existence unto all things. What availeth it that I should baptize thee in the waters?’
‘It behoveth thee to know wherefore am I come, and wherefore demand I Baptism of thee. Baptism is in the midst of the road upon which I have entered, refuse it not.’
‘All too narrow is the stream unto which thou art come, for that thou descend into it. Thy vastness the very heavens are unable to contain; how much more may this font be unable to receive thee?
‘Narrower e'en than Jordan is the womb, nevertheless freely did I dwell in the Virgin’s womb. Wherefore even as I was able out of that virginal womb to be born, so in Jordan am I able to receive Baptism.’
‘Lo! heavenly hosts are here present, and throngs of angels adoring; theretore, O Lord, do trouble and trembling prevent my approaching to baptize thee.’
‘The whole throng of heavenly Virtues proclaims thee blessed, in that from the womb I chose thee to confer Baptism upon me; wherefore, fear thou not, since it is my will.’
‘I have prepared the way, as was my mission; I have betrothed the bride, as I was bidden. Now that thou art come, be thy manifestation spread throughout the world, and be it not mire to confer Baptism upon thee.’
‘The sons of Adam are waiting to receive of me the gift of new generation; I will open the way to them in the water; this thing, however, without mine own Baptism is impossible.’
‘They that offer sacrifice are by thee consecrated, and priests are by thy hyssop made clean; kings and anointed ones thou dost constitute. What may Baptism avail thee?’
‘The bride thou hast betrothed unto me expecteth me, so that descending into the stream I be baptized and may sanctify her. O friend of the Bridegroom, deny me not the laving that awaits me.’
Precursor of the Messias, we share in the joy which thy birth brought to the world. Thy birth announced that of the Son of God. Each year our Emmanuel assumes anew his life in the Church and in souls; and in our day, just as eighteen hundred years ago, he wills that his birth shall not take place without thy preparing the way for that Nativity whereby our Saviour is given to each one of us. Scarcely has the sacred cycle completed the series of mysteries whereby the glorification of the Man-God is consummated and the Church is founded, than Christmas begins to appear on the horizon; already does John reveal by exulting demonstrations the approach of our Infant-God. Sweet prophet of the Most High, not yet canst thou speak, when already thou dost outstrip all the princes of prophecy; soon the desert will seem to snatch thee for ever from intercourse with men. Then Advent comes, and the Church will show us that she has found thee once more; she will constantly lead us to listen to thy sublime teachings, to hear thee bearing witness to him whom she is expecting. From this present moment, therefore, begin to prepare our souls; having descended anew on earth, coming on this day of gladness, as the messenger of the near approach of our Saviour, canst thou remain idle in face of the immense work which lies before thee to accomplish in us?
To chase sin away, subdue vice, correct the instincts falsified in our poor fallen nature—all this ought to have been done within us long ago, as indeed it would have been, had we but responded faithfully to thy past labours. Yet it is only too true that, in the greater number of us, scarcely has the first turning of the soil been begun: stubborn clay, wherein stones and briers have defied thy careful toil for many years! Filled with confusion we acknowledge it to be so, we confess our faults to thee and to Almighty God, as the Church teaches us to do at the beginning of the great sacrifice; but at the same time we beseech thee, with her, to pray to the Lord our God for us. Thou didst proclaim in the desert: From these very stones even, God is still able to raise up children of Abraham. Daily do the solemn formulas of the Oblation, wherein is prepared the ceaselessly renewed immolation of our
Saviour, tell of the honourable and important part which is thine in this august Sacrifice; thy name, again pronounced while the divine Victim is present on the altar, pleads for us sinners to the God of all mercy. Would that, in consideration of thy merits and of our misery, he would deign to be propitious to the persevering prayer of our mother the Church, to change our hearts, and in place of evil attachments attract them to virtue, so as to deserve for us the visit of our Lord! At this sacred moment of the Mysteries, in the words of that formula taught us by thyself, the Lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the world is thrice invoked, that he will himself have pity upon us and give us peace: peace so precious, with heaven, with earth, with ourselves, which is to prepare us for the Bridegroom by making us become sons of God, according to the words of the last Gospel at Mass. Then, O Precursor, will thy joy and ours be complete; that sacred union, of which this day of thy Nativity already contains for us the joyful hope, will, even here below, and beneath the shadow of faith, while we are awaiting the clear vision of eternity, become a sublime reality.
 Isa. xl 3, 9.
 Ps. xvii 10.
 St Matt. xiii 55.
 Ps. cxxxi 17.
 St Luke iii 15.
 Isa. xl.
 Mal. iii 1.
 Ibid. iv 5,6.
 St John iii 29.
 St Luke i 36-38.
 Ps lxxxiv 13.
 St Luke i 39.
 Cant. ii 8.
 St Luke i 55.
 Ibid. i 68.
 The Battle of Fontenay (Saturday, June 25, 841): Nithardi histor. l, ii.
 Collect of the day.
 St. Matt. xi 11.
 St Luke i 15, 32.
 Ibid. i 13, 31.
 St John iii 27-31.
 Ibid. i 7.
 Cant. viii 5.
 Joannes totius medius Trinitatis. Petrus Damian. Sermo 23 (Edit. Cajet.).
 St John iii 29, 30.
 Ibid. i 31.
 St John i 4-10.
 Ibid. i 7.
 Eph. ii 20.
 ‘Christmas,’ vol. i.; Martyrol. Rom. ad diem 25 Dec.
 Martyrol. Rom. ad diem 24 Junii.
 St Luke i 14.
 Ibid. i 17.
 St John i 6, 7.
 Ambr. in Luc. i 38.
 Annus Joannis, auctore Joanne N. (Pragæ, 1664).
 Petr. Dam. Sermo 23. This discourse is frequently attributed to St Bernard, or to Nicholas of Clairvaux; but this is proved to be false by a passage of the same discourse, in which the author declares that in his time the Church honoured no birthdays but those of our Lord and of St John; now it is certain that in St Bernard’s time, as he himself attests, the Nativity of our Lady was kept.
 See Councils, Capitularies, Penitential Canons.
 Sacrament. Gregor. Amal., pseudo-Alcuin., Ord. rom.
 Dur. Ration, vii 14; Hon. Gemma Anim. iv 48.
 St Luke xvi 16.
 St John v 35.
 St John i 20.
 Ibid. i 29.
 St John iii 30.
 Lev. xxvi 10.
 Et aliud cecidit in terram bonam: et dabat fructum ascendentem, et crescentem: et afferebat unum triginta, unum sexaginta, et unum centum.—St Mark iv 8, 20.
 Petr. Chrys. Sermo 91.
 Isa. xlix 3, 6.
 Ibid. 6, 7.
 Ibid. xl 5.
 St Luke iii 7-9.
 Ibid. 12-14.
 St John i 15-17.
 Ibid. 29.
 Ibid. 16.
 Ibid. 19.
 St Matt. xxi 31, 32.
 St Luke i 24, 25.
 St John iii 29.
 S Ephraem Syri Hymni et Sermones. Th. J. Lamy, t. 1.
 St John i 12; St Matt. v 9.
From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.
THERE was in the days of Herod the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zachary, of the course of Abia, and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name Elizabeth. And they were both just before God, walking in all the commandments and justifications of the Lord without blame. And they had no son, for that Elizabeth was barren, and they both were well advanced in years. And it came to pass, when he executed the priestly function in the order of his course before God, according to the custom of the priestly office, it was his lot to offer incense, going into the temple of the Lord; and all the multitude of the people was praying without at the hour of incense. And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zachary seeing him was troubled, and fear fell upon him; but the angel said to him: Fear not, Zachary, for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elizabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John: and thou shalt have joy and gladness, and many shall rejoice in his nativity. For he shall be great before the Lord: and shall drink no wine nor strong drink: and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost even from his mother's womb. And he shall convert many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias; that he may turn the hearts of the fathers unto the children, and the incredulous to the wisdom of the just, to prepare unto the Lord a perfect people.
This page which the Church reads to us to-day is precious in the annals of the human race, for here begins the Gospel itself, here we have the first word of the good tidings of salvation. Man had not been kept in total ignorance of heaven's plans for the rescue of our fallen race and the gift of a Redeemer, but weary and long had been this period of expectation, since the day when first the sentence pronounced against the accursed serpent pointed out to Adam and Eve a future wherein man should be healed by the Son of the woman, and God also by him should be avenged. Age upon age rolled on, and the promise, still unaccomplished, gradually assumed certain developments. Each generation saw the Lord, by means of the prophets, adding some new feature to the characteristics of this Brother of our race; in himself so great that the Most High would call him ‘my Son’; so impassioned for justice that he would shed the last drop of his Blood to ransom earth's whole debt. A Lamb in his immolation, he would rule the earth by his gentleness; though springing from Jesse's root, yet was he to be the desired of the Gentiles; more magnificent than Solomon, he would graciously hearken to the love of these poor ransomed souls: taking the advance of their longing desires, he is fain to announce himself as the Spouse descending from the everlasting hills.The Lamb laden with the crimes of the world, the Spouse awaited by the bride—such was to be this Son of Man, Son likewise of God, the Christ, the Messias promised unto earth. But when will he come, this desired of nations? Who will point out unto earth her Saviour? Who will lead the bride to the Bridegroom?
Mankind, gone forth in tears from Eden, had stood with wistful gaze fixed on futurity. Jacob, when dying, hailed from afar this beloved Son whose strength would be that of the lion, whose heavenly charms, still more enhanced by the blood of the grape, rapt him in inspired contemplation on his deathbed. In the name of the Gentile world, Job, seated on the dunghill whereon his flesh was falling to pieces, gave response to ruin in an act of sublime hope in his Redeemer and his God. Breathlessly panting under the pressure of his woe and the fever of his longing desires, mankind beheld century roll upon century, while consuming death continued its ravages, while his craving for the expected God waxed hotter within his breast. Thus, from generation to generation, what a redoubling of imploring prayer, what a growing impatience of entreaty! Oh! that thou wouldst rend the heavens and wouldst come down! ‘Enough of promises,’ cries out the devout St Bernard, together with all the fathers, speaking in the name of the Church of the expectation, and commenting the first verse of the Canticle of Canticles; ‘enough of figures and of shadows, enough of others’ parleying! I understand no more of Moses; no voice have the prophets for me; the Law which they bear has failed to restore life to my dead. What have I to do with the stammerings of their profane mouths, I to whom the Word hath announced himself? Aaron's perfumes may not compare with the oil of gladness poured out by the Father on him whom I await. No more deputies, no more servants for me: after so many messages, let him come at last, let him come himself!’
Prostrate, in the person of the worthiest of her sons, upon the heights of Carmel, the Church of the expectation will not raise herself up till appears in the heavens the proximate sign of salvation's rain-cloud. Vainly, even seven times, shall it be answered her that as yet naught can be descried arising seawards; still prolonging her prayer and her tears, her lips parched by the ceaseless drought, and cleaving to the dust, she will yet linger on, awaiting the appearance of that fertilizing cloud, the light cloud that beareth her God under human features. Then, forgetting her long fasts and weary expectant years, she will rise upon her feet, in all the vigour and beauty of her early youth; filled with the gladness the angel announceth to her, in the joy of that new Elias, whose birthday this Vigil promises on the morrow, she will follow him, the predestined Precursor running, more truly than did the ancient Elias, before the chariot of Israel’s king.
We borrow from the Mozarabic Breviary the following beautiful liturgical formula, which will imbue us thoroughly with the spirit of the feast.
Adsunt, Domine, principia christianæ laetitiæ, quibus olim nasciturum in carne Verbum vox santificata præcessit, et luminis ortum lucis protestator insigniter nuntiavit: ex quo et christianæ fìdei sacramenta, et salutaris lavacri prodierunt insignia: cujus conceptus miraculum, cujus nativitas gaudium approbatur: quæsumus ergo, ut qui natalem nunc Præcursoris tui ovantes suscipimus, ad festum quoque natalis tui purgatis cordibus accedamus: ut vox, quæ te prædicavit in eremo, nos purget in sæculo; et qui viam venturo Domino præparans corpora viventium suo lavit baptismate, nostra nunc corda suis precibus a vitiis et errore depurget: qualiter Vocis sequentes vestigia, ad Verbi mereamur pervenire promissa.
Lo! the first beginnings of Christian joy, O Lord, whereby erstwhile the sanctified Voice preceded the Word about to be born in the flesh, and the herald of light signally announced the rising of the Day-star he himself had witnessed: by him both faith's mysteries and salvation's fountains have produced marvels: he is approved whose conception is miracle, whose birth is joy; therefore do we beseech thee, that we who with glad ovations hail the birthday of thy Precursor, may with purified hearts draw nigh likewise unto thine own Nativity: so that the Voice which preached thee in the desert may cleanse us in the world; and he who, preparing the way for the coming Lord, washed in his baptism the bodies of living men, may now by his prayers purify our hearts from vices and errors: so that, following in the footprints of the Voice, we may deserve to come to the promises of the Word.
Let us here add two prayers from the Sacramentary of Gelasius.
Beati nos, Domine, Baptistæ Joannis oratio, et intelligere Christi tui mysterium postulet et mereri.
May the prayer of blessed John Baptist, O Lord, plead for us, that we may both understand and merit the mystery of thy Christ.
Omnipotens, sempiterne Deus, qui instituta legalia et sanctorum præconia Prophetarum in diebus beati Baptistæ Joannis implesti: præsta quæsumus, ut cessantibus significationum figuris, ipsa sui manifestatione Veritas eloquatur, Jesus Christus Dominus noster.
O almighty and eternal God, who, in the days of blessed John Baptist, didst fulfil the institutions of the Law and the declarations of the holy prophets, grant, we beseech thee, that figures and signs being ended. Truth himself, by his own manifestation, may speak, Jesus Christ our Lord.
 St Luke i 5-17.
 Ps. ii 7.
 Isa. liii 7.
 Ibid. xvi x.
 Ibid. xi 10.
 Ps. xliv.
 Osee ii 19; Gen. xlix 26.
 Ibid. xlix 9-12, 18.
 Job xix 25-27.
 Isa. lxiv 1.
 4 Kings iv 31.
 Exod. iv 10; Isa. vi 5.
 Ps. xliv 8.
 3 Kings xviii 42-46.
 3 Kings xviii 44-46.
From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.
ETHELDREDA, or Audrey, whom the Church offers to our veneration to-day, was one of the most popular saints among our English forefathers. She was bom in the middle of the seventh century, about a.d. 630, at Exning, near Newmarket, in Suffolk, and was the third daughter of Anna, the Christian king of East Anglia. In a meadow outside the village is still shown the brook in which, as village tradition tells us, the future queen and saint was baptized by St Felix, first bishop of Dunwich. Much against her will, for she had vowed herself to the religious life, she was given in marriage to Tondbert, a prince of East Anglia, who bestowed upon her the Isle of Ely as a dowry. He respected her vow, and on his death a short time after, she was married to Ecgfrid, king of Northumbria, with whom she lived twelve years in such manner as to keep all the while the glory of her virginal integrity, as St Bede the Venerable, to whom we owe the facts of her life, attests. She afterwards retired to the monastery of Coldingham, near Berwick-on-Tweed, where she was veiled a nun by St Wilfrid, bishop of York. In 673 she built a monastery on her property at Ely and was made its first abbess. There she became, in the words of Bede, ‘the virgin-mother of many virgins consecrated to God, instructing them by the example of her heavenly life and by her holy admonitions.’ She died on June 23, a.d. 679, in the sixth year of her abbacy, ‘being taken to the Lord in the midst of her own people,’ and, as she had herself ordered, was buried among them in a wooden coffin. During her last illness she was afflicted with a violent pain in her jaw and neck, and was wont to say: ‘I most certainly know that I deservedly bear the weight of this illness on my neck, on which, I remember, when I was very young, I carried the superfluous weight of pearls and jewels. I believe the divine goodness would for this reason have me endure this pain in my neck, that I may be absolved from the guilt of my former vanity, sending me now, instead of gold and precious stones for my neck, this swelling and burning.’
Sixteen years after Etheldreda's death her sister Sexburga, who had succeeded her as abbess, removed her incorrupt body and placed it in a white marble coffin, a relic of ancient Roman art found near the walls of Grantchester (Cambridge). During the ages that followed Etheldreda's shrine became one of the most famous places of pilgrimage in England, and many were the miracles wrought through the intercession of the virgin-queen. After various translations the white marble tomb containing the saint’s relics was placed in the new presbytery of Ely Cathedral built in a.d. 1257, and there it remained for two centuries until the overthrow of religion when it was demolished and the relics dispersed. The incorrupt hand of St Etheldreda escaped destruction and is in the possession of Catholics.
The Roman Breviary gives us the following lessons on the life of the saint.
Accepit rex Egfridus conjugem nomine Etheldredam filiam regis Orientalium Anglorum, quam ante illum princeps Australium Gerviorum habuit uxorem. Quo defuncto data est regi præfato cujus consortio cum duodecim annis uteretur perpetuo virgo permansit. Sed cum beata virgo continuis precibus a rege impetrasset, ut sæculi curis relictis, Regi Christo deserviret, mox intravit in monasterium Ebbæ amitæ regis Egfridi, accepto ibi velamine sanctimonialis habitus. Post annum vero monasterii Eliensis abbatissa est effecta, ubi virginum Deo devotarum mater cœpit esse, exemplis et monitis non minus quam omnimoda caritate.
Hæc pannis lineis tantum utens calidas balneas sprevit: raro plus quam semel in die comedit. Gravata tandem maxillæ tumore et dolore colli post annos septem ex quo abbatissæ susceperat officium, spiritum Deo reddidit anno Christi sexcentesimo septuagesimo nono, die vero vigesima tertia Junii, et in Martyrologio Romano honorifice nominatur; cui successit Sexburga soror ejus. Cumque sexdecim post annos corpus ejus omnino incorruptum repertum fuerit, intra ecclesiam translatum, ibique in magna veneratione a fidelibus habitum est.
Etheldreda, daughter of Anna, king of the East Angles, was given in marriage, first, to the prince of the Gervii in the south, and after his death to Ecgfrid, king of the Northumbrians. After she had lived with him for twelve years she still remained a virgin. She obtained from the king by constant entreaty permission to leave the cares of the world and to serve Christ the King. She entered the monastery of Ebba, paternal aunt to the said King Ecgfrid, where she took the veil of a nun. After a year she was made abbess of Ely, where she was a mother to the virgins vowed to God by her example and her admonitions not less than by her unfailing love.
She wore only woollen garments and abstained from hot baths, and seldom ate more than once in the day. She suffered from a swelling in the jaw and a pain in the neck, and seven years after she had held the office of abbess, she gave up her soul to God on the twenty-third of June in the year six hundred and seventy-nine. Honourable mention is made of her in the Roman Martyrology. She was succeeded by her sister Sexburga. Sixteen years later her body was found incorrupt and was translated into the church where it became an object of pious veneration to the faithful.
Let us make our prayer to God for the intercession of this glorious virgin-queen in the words holy Church makes use of on this her feast day. 'O God, who year by year dost gladden us by the festival of blessed Etheldreda thy virgin: mercifully grant that we who admire the splendid examples of her chastity may be helped by her merits.’