Monday, June 24, 2013

Happy Baptist Nativity!

A reposting of last year's homage to  today's solemnity.
The liturgical hours for the Nativity of John the Baptist contain a string of antiphons which, read straight through, provide in themselves an excellent devotional on the conception, birth, and mission of the "greatest man born of woman".  The antiphons for tomorrow's vespers reminded me of why there is a traditional custom of lighting bonfires on this night: John was like a brilliantly shining light, says the third antiphon. Not to mention the daily repeated Benedictus where Zechariah, the prophet of the prophet, calls his little baby a light to reveal You to the nations.

 Of course, the bonfires predate the Baptist. It's one of those pagan customs co-opted by the Church when she co-opted Midsummer Night, exorcising its demons and baptizing whatever was harmless merriment. Now that the mighty prophet John owns June 24th, we can safely laugh at demons, fairies, leprechauns, and the other assorted lower classes of fallen angels thought to inhabit forests, rivers, meadows, and underground caves.  Hence the fitness of Shakespeare's comedy, A Midsummer Night's Dream.  In this story, fairies take advantage of the power they have on this night to inflict magical love spells on hapless mortals who fall into the crossfire of a dispute between the King and Queen of the fairy kingdom. The redeemed can safely laugh at such things, since they have no reason to fear them.

Bottom and the Fairy Queen

Weather and zoning law permitting, light a bonfire tonight   in honor of St. John the Baptist. Otherwise, grill your dinner and tell your children the meaning of those lesser flames.
And don't miss Augustine's sermon in the Office of Readings.(check it on the ibreviary gadget on the left; click office of readings and scroll down to second reading.) I love his humble disclaimers that his thoughts may be unworthy of the dignity of this feast, but that the Holy Spirit within each listener will help him make the most of it. Better still is his illustration of how John belonged to both old and new testaments: As a representative of the past he is born of aged parents; as a herald of the new era, he is declared a prophet while still in his mother's womb.  

I wonder if this tiny pre-born prophet has been designated a patron of the pro-life movement?


  1. If John has not been named a patron of the pro-life movement, it sure would be a good idea to do so.

  2. I have a quick and totally unrelated question:

    You say in your (very helpful) Breviary Bootcamp that "morning prayer may be said any time from when you wake up until mid-morning." Is this an adaptation for the lay state of life? The General Instruction seems to envision it being said at sunrise. I'm hoping to begin morning prayer soon, and I'd like to it in concert with the Church--but I don't get up too close to sunrise!

    Thank you for your helpful website!


    1. The General Instruction frequently says that lay people may adapt the hours to suit their situation in life, so that is one reason I said what I did. The other is that the purpose of Morning Prayer is not so much "the hour that is said at dawn" as the hour that begins OUR day and gives us a way to consecrate OUR morning (not that of the monks) to God.
      Also, priests, who are under strict obligation to pray the hours may legitimately say them any time of day (although saying them at the appropriate times is recommended), so if their duties keep them from doing morning prayer in the morning they can do it later on. So from that too,we can extrapolate that the hour of dawn need not be a literal dawn!

    2. Great! Thank you for the quick and clear response.