OLDIE PODCAzT for St. John the Baptist

Here is a reworking of a post from last year it includes PODCAzT 36.

Today is the Feast of the one whom the Lord called the greatest man ever born of woman.

Here is his entry in the new Martyrologium Romanum:

Sollemnitas Nativitatis sancti Ioannis Baptistae, Praecursoris Domini, qui iam in utero matris, Spiritu Sancto repletae, exsultavit gaudio ad humanae salutis adventum cuiusque ipsa nativitas Dominum Christum prophetavit; et tanta gratia refulsit in eo, ut ipse Dominus de illo diceret neminem maiorem inter natos mulierum Ioanne Baptistae.

I’ll et you readers tackle that in your own perfect versions.

Let’s have a look at the Collect

Deus, qui beatum Ioannem Baptistam suscitasti,
ut perfectam plebem Christo Domino praepararet,
da populis tuis spiritalium gratiam gaudiorum,
et omnium fidelium mentes dirige
in viam salutis et pacis.

I like the sound of the ends of the clauses – suscitasti… praepararet… gaudiorum and then a big change with salutis et pacis.   Remember!  These prayers are to be sung!   Suscitasti is, as you now recognize, a syncopated form, short for suscitavi­sti, which would have diminished the rhythmic coherence in the first three clauses.

O God, who raised up blessed John the Baptist,
so that he would prepare a perfect people for Christ the Lord,
grant to your peoples the grace of spiritual joys
and guide the minds of all the faithful into the way of salvation and peace.

This modern Collect of the 1970 Roman Missal is based on the Collect of olden days:

Deus, qui praesentem diem honorabilem nobis in beati Ioannis nativitate fecisti: da populis tuis spiritualium gratiam gaudiorum; et omnium fidelium mentes dirige in viam salutis aeternae.

Perhaps the terrible wars of the 20th c., by far more bellicose than even the 16th c., drove the composers of the newer version to include the petition for peace.  One can hardly object.  The first part of the present Collect also is a bit more theological and significant.  All in all, it seems to me that the newer Collect represents an improvement over the older version: which we cannot always say when comparing old and new prayers.

In Rome today on the feast of St. John it is the custom to eat snails.    It is nice to have as your Patron the great Baptist, for I get two feasts a year, his Nativity and his Beheading!  In honor of the memory, if I can’t get snails tonight, I might try for mussels or some other mud bug.

Snails apart, I cannot help but remember a marvelous St. John’s Day when rather than snails I had wonderous mussels with a dear friend, an occasion I would repeat every year, if I could

For the Vigil of St. John in the old Roman Ritual the priest would once bless bonfires!  

This is lovely custom calls to mind that many places celebrated the feasts of saints with great festivity.  By this day all the cuttings and trimmings of the orchards and vineyards were dried and crackly and ready to be burned.  The evening is about as long as the year can offer, so a great party could be had well into the night with much cooking in the open and revelry. 

On the Vigil of the Feast, after the usual introduction, the priest would bless the fire:

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.

It is almost as if the fire, and our celebration, is baptized.  At this point the fire is sprinkled with holy water and everyone sings the hymn Ut quaent laxis which is also the Vespers hymn.

For the feast of St. John in June for centuries the Church has sung at Vespers the hymn beginning Ut queant laxis.  Those of you who are lovers of the movie The Sound of Music will instantly recognize this hymn as the source of the syllables used in solfège or solmization (the use of syllables instead of letters to denote the degrees of a musical scale).  Both the ancient Chinese and Greeks had such a system.   The Benedictine monk Guido d’Arezzo (c. 990-1050) introduced the now familiar syllables ut re mi fa sol la for the tones of the hexachord c to a… or, more modally, the tonic, supertonic, mediant, etc. of a major scale.   The Guidonian syllables derive from the hymn for the feast of St. John the Baptist:

Ut queant laxis resonare fibris
Mira gestorum famuli tuorum,
Solve polluti labii reatum
Sancte Ioannes.

After the medieval period (when music became less modal and more tonal) to complete the octave of the scale the other syllable was introduced (si – probably taken from S-ancte I-oannes) and the awkward ut was replaced sometime in the mid 17th c. with do (or also doh – not to be confused in any way with the Homeric Simpsonic epithet so adored by today’s youth, derived as it is from the 21st century’s new liturgical focal point – TV) and do came to be more or less fixed with C though in some cases do remains movable.

So, now you know where Doh, Re, Mi comes from!  

Finally, here is a PODCAzT I did on St. John, an oldie.

St. Augustine of Hippo (+430) preached about St. John in Carthage in 401 (s. 288).  This isn’t, btw, the same reading as you would find in today’s Office of Readings, which is from s. 293).  We also get into Ut queant laxis.

Build a fire tonight, eat snails, and sing something in honor of St. John

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Three people were BORN without the stain of Original Sin: Christ, His Mother and John the Baptist. John was conceived with Original Sin, but was “baptized” in utero at the moment of the Visitation when Mary journeyed to the home of Elizabeth, her cousin, and both Jesus and John were in utero in their respective mothers.

  2. Tominellay says:

    …love eating snails…and mussels…

  3. The last time I had snails was in London with the great Fr. Ray Blake!

  4. Fr. Charles says:

    The solemnity of the birth of St. John the Baptist, the Forerunner of the Lord, who–already filled with the Holy Spirit in his mother’s womb–rejoiced exultantly at the coming of man’s savior and so prophesied the birth of Christ the Lord; and such grace shone in him that the Lord himself should say of him that there is none greater of those born of woman than John the Baptist.

    (Please forgive the reversal of verb and adverb in the middle. I have struggled much–for a few moments–deciding on the mood of diceret. :)

  5. Brian says:

    I have a question about ‘the greatest man ever born of woman’: Is John the Baptist considerered the greatest prophet, or greatest man? Where does St. Joseph fit into the list?


  6. Antiquarian says:

    In reference to singing on St John’s Day, the great final scene of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger, which includes the song contest, takes place on “Johannestag,” and earlier in the act Hans Sachs’ apprentice David wishes him a good name day.

    Wagner was, of course, a thoroughly reprehensible person, but he’s not the only notable artist of whom that’s true. The last section, with Walther’s Prize Song, Sachs’ great monologue, and the magnificent final chorus is one of the greatest musical achievements of Western culture. All in honor of St John, according to the text.

  7. Hans says:

    It is nice to have as your Patron the great Baptist, for I get two feasts a year, his Nativity and his Beheading!

    It is. It is. Though I try to keep my head about it.

    (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.)

    My problem is that I haven’t been able to come up with satisfactory hymns (my available resources are OCP’s Music Issue and WLP’s ¡Celebremos!) for Mass this evening.

  8. Nancy Reyes says:

    Here in the Philippines, they throw water at you to celebrate the feast.LINK

    Alas, the mid Philippines has been hit by a typhoon…please pray for those hurt or killed.

  9. Les says:

    In Quebec, St-Jean-Baptiste day is still one of the biggest holidays of the year, a carry-over from the days when Quebec was a Catholic province and not today’s secular society.

    It is interesting that the pagan solstice celebrations included bonfires as well. Perhaps the Church at the time, was setting up in competition and by blessing the fires was taking away power from the pagan tradition. A smart idea, if you ask me, because everyone enjoys a good bonfire and party.

  10. Joe bis says:

    St John the Baptist is the patron of all French Canadians, not just Quebeckers!
    Father, if you were Byzantine you would have a few more options; the Conception of St John, and a few “findings” of his head!

  11. irishgirl says:

    Les-what kind of events take place now in Quebec for St. Jean-Baptiste Day? Is it even called that anymore?

    I remember visiting a friend in 1994 who lived on the Ile de Orleans, near Quebec City. It was in June, and man, was it hot outside…the first heat wave of summer! My friend-a priest ordained in 1993 in France, and whom I met in 1991 in Lisieux-would drop me off in the old part of Quebec City, and I spent the time wandering around-and trying to find shade-till he came to pick me up and take me back to the Ile de Orleans.

    I remember seeing a large banner advertizing an exhibit near the old Grande Seminaire. It was about St. Jean-Baptiste Day and how it was celebrated in the ‘old days’. The banner showed an early 20th-century photograph of a young Quebec boy dressed as St. Jean-Baptiste! It was a little theatrical-looking, but interesting nonetheless.

  12. Rob F. says:


    What makes you think that Pagan solstice celebrations included bonfires?

  13. Rob F. says:

    Fr. Charles,

    Thank you for your translation. I’d like to point out, however, that it was Elisabeth who is said to be filled with the Holy Spirit: “matris … repletae”.

    What do you make of the concluding “Ioanne Baptistae”, which seems to me to be a solecism. I’d expect “Ioanne Baptista”.

  14. Ohio Annie says:

    Bonfire lightings at the summer solstice were popular in lots of times and places, Rob, including with the ancient Celts. Making a big fire was always an easy way to celebrate something. And happy and fun. And practical too, please pass the marshmallows.

  15. MAJ Tony says:

    Speaking of mud bugs, in Scandinavia, the feast is celebrated with crawfish boils, which are called “mudbugs” in Louisiana.

  16. Curtis says:

    St.Francis de Sales on St.John:

    But now I want to show you a “sun” that shines more brilliantly than any of these; a really open, detached spirit who holds on to the will of God alone. I’ve often wondered who was the most mortified of all the saints I know, and after much reflection, I decided it was Saint John the Baptist. He went into the desert at the age of five, and was aware that our Saviour was born in a place very close by, maybe two or three days journey away. God only know how much his heart, which had been moved to love his Saviour from the time he was still in his mother’s womb, would have wanted to enjoy his Lord’s sweet presence! Yet, he spent twenty-five years in the desert, without once coming to see Him; then leaving the desert, he went about catechizing without going to visit the Lord, but waited for the Lord to come to him. Afterward, having baptized Him, he didn’t follow Him but stayed behind to do his appointed work. What mortification! To have Him so near and not enjoy His presence! Isn’t this having one’s spirit completely detached, bound to nothing, not even to God, in order to do His will and serve Him; to leave God for God, and to not love God so as to love Him better? This example overwhelms me with its grandeur.

  17. Rob F. says:

    Ohio Annie,

    What makes you think that the ancient Celts lit bonfires at the summer solstice? Do we have any records of this? I don’t recall Tacitus mentioning anything about it, but my memory is far from infallible, and Tacitus is not the only possible source.

    Our oldest Celtic sources that I know of are 6th century, almost but not quite ancient. Some of them talk about bonfires on November 1. Some people think these may be holdovers from pagan times, but who can really tell?

    Just wondering.

  18. Fr. Charles says:

    Rob F:

    Thanks for the fixes! On the second point I was a little confused too, and I don’t have an answer.

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