Thursday, 24 June 2010

The Nativity of St. John the Baptist

Today is the great feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. It is a double of the first class with an Octave. The liturgical colour for the feast and Octave is white. The celebration of the feast on June 24th is ancient and is mentioned by the Council of Agde in 506 and in the Martyrologium Hieronymianum. In the 1568 Breviary the feast appears as a double (of the first class) with Octave, the Octave also being found in the various pre-Tridentine uses. In 1911 Pius X moved the feast from the 24th June to the Sunday before the feast of SS Peter and Paul and then, in 1913 restored it to its traditional date. The feast was stripped of its Octave by Pius XII.

In some places a ceremony of the Blessing of Fires in honour of St. John the Baptist takes on the Vigil of the Feast. The Rituale contains a rite of blessing of fire, the newly lit fire being aspersed whilst the Vespers hymn Ut queant laxis is sung. In last Saturday's 'Daily Telegraph' Christopher Howse gave a fascinating glimpse of St. John's Eve in sixteenth century London from the writer John Stow who records that in addition to bonfires at every street corner "every man's door being shadowed with green birch, long fennel, St. John's wort, orpin, white lilies, and such like, garnished upon with garlands of beautiful flowers, had also lamps of glass, with oil burning in them all night; some hung out braches of iron curiously wrought, containing hundreds of lamps alight at once, which made a goodly show, namely in New Fish Street, Thames Street, &c."

The feast began with First Vespers yesterday. The antiphons, Ipse praeibit etc, were proper and sung the psalms of Vespers from the Common of Apostles. The rest of the Office is proper with the hymn Ut queant laxis resonare fibris. The hymn famously rises through a scale in its verses: Ut (Doh), Resonare, Mira, Famuli, Solve, Labii. There were no commemorations at Vespers. Compline of Sunday was sung.

At Mattins the invitatory is proper Regem Praecursoris Dominum, Venite adoremus. The Office hymn is Antra deserti teneris sub annis. The antiphons, psalms and responsories are proper for all three nocturns. In the first nocturn the lessons are taken from the Incipit of the Prophet Jeremiah. In the second nocturn the lessons are from a sermon by St. Augustine on the saints and in the third nocturn the homily is from the writings of St. Ambrose on the first chapter of St. Luke's Gospel. At Lauds the antiphons Elisabeth Zachariae etc are sung with the Sunday psalms. The rest of Lauds is proper to the feast with the Office hymn O nimis felix.

At the Hours the antiphons of Lauds are sung with the Sunday psalms. At Prime (Pss. 53, 118i & 118ii) the lectio brevis is Reges videbunt.

Mass is sung after Terce. The Mass is proper, De ventre. The Gloria is sung, there is only one collect. The Creed is not sung, the common preface is sung. (In the various regional uses of the Old Roman Rite there were proper prefaces for both the Feast and its Vigil e.g. The Missal of Robert of Jumieges.)

At Second Vespers the antiphons sung at Lauds are sung again with the psalms from Vespers for the Common of Apostles. The hymn Ut queant laxis is again sung, the rest of the Office is proper to the feast. A commemoration is sung of the following feast of St. William. At Compline the Sunday psalms are sung.

In the 'liturgical books of 1962' the feast remains relatively unscathed. The antiphons are of course doubled at the Little Hours, Prime has the ferial lection brevis. At Mass there is the addition of the Creed. The Octave has been stripped away.

Those with a liking or interest in the music of Byrd, Gibbons and Hooper may be interested in this recording from BBC's Choral Evensong broadcast from Westminster Abbey yesterday afternoon. The service opens with Gibbons' stunningly wonderful This is the record of John.

Icon: A Russian icon of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist from Wikipedia.


Anonymous said...

Is the Christopher Howse article available online? If so, do you have the link, please? Thanks.


Rubricarius said...


Yes, here.

Anonymous said...

Many thanks. Wouldn't it be great if Catholics could reclaim the bonfire via St. John's Eve from the anti-Catholic 5th November!