23 June 2009

Vigil of St. John the Baptist

Fear not, Zachary; thy prayer is heard, and thy wife Elizabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John; and he shall be great before the Lord, and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost even from his mother's womb; and many shall rejoice at his birth.

The ever informative Fish Eaters tipped us off to the fact that huge bonfires are customary in celebration of the "burning and shining light" (Jn 5:35) who came to announce the advent of the Messiah. There is even a special blessing given in the Rituale Romanum (1962):

On the Vigil of the Birthday of St. John the Baptist
Conferred by the clergy outside of church

In the Church's veneration of her saints the cult of John the Baptist had from earliest times and continues to have a most prominent and honored place. John gave testimony of the true light that shines in the darkness, although he proclaimed in utter humility: "He must increase, but I must decrease." And the Master also spoke in highest praise of His precursor: "I say to you, among those born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist." Attuned to the words of the Gospel the Christians of former times were filled with love and enthusiasm for this saint, and expressed a justifiable conviviality at the approach of his feastday by lighting a bonfire the night before in front of their churches, in the market-place, on the hilltops, and in the valleys. The custom of St. John bonfires, indicative of a people with unabashed and childlike faith, continues in some places to this day.

Priest: Our help is in the name of the Lord.
All: Who made heaven and earth.

Priest: The Lord be with you.
All: May He also be with you.

Priest: Let us pray. Lord God, almighty Father, the light that never fails and the source of all light, sanctify this new fire, and grant that after the darkness of this life we may come unsullied to you who are light eternal; through Christ our Lord.
All: Amen.

The fire is sprinkled with holy water; after which the clergy and the people sing the hymn Ut queant laxis.

Priest: Let us pray. God, who by reason of the birth of blessed John have made thisday praiseworthy, give your people the grace of spiritual joy,and keep the hearts of your faithful fixed on the way that leadsto everlasting salvation; through Christ our Lord.
All: Amen.

Needless to say, I was bound and determined to have a bonfire, come hell or high water... And high water came. It's been raining for days, and in fact, the river here in town is quite close to spilling over its banks. But we got that fire blazing, even if only barely long enough to have it blessed. It was spectacular; we all got soaked.

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