St. John could not have had any greater panegyrist than Jesus Christ Himself, Who said: “Amen I say to you, there hath not risen among them that are born of women a greater than John the Baptist: yet he that is the lesser in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” (Matthew 11:11). The Lord made him great, even from his mother’s womb, by causing his birth to be foretold by an angel, by giving him his name, and by sanctifying him while yet in his mother’s womb through the presence of Christ. To escape from the world and its allurement she withdrew to the desert, and there occupied himself only with God and with what concerned his vocation. His food was locusts and wild honey; his clothing a garment of camel’s hair, fastened by a leathern girdle; his bed the hard ground. Thus he lived till his thirtieth year, in which, by the command of God, he was to proclaim the coming of the Messiah, Whom he himself afterwards baptised and pointed out to men as the Lamb of God.
With extraordinary zeal and earnestness he preached the necessity of true penance.
For having reproved Herod for living in adultery he was thrown into prison, and finally, at the Tetrarch (Queen) Herodias of Galilee, conspired to arrange his execution and he was beheaded.
We celebrate the day of his birth rather than that of his death, as is the case on most saints’ days, because, while other saints arrive at sanctity only through long and difficult contests, John was already sanctified in his mother’s womb. The Introit of the Mass is as follows: “The Lord hath called me by my name, from the womb of my mother, and 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. It is good to give praise to the Lord, and to sing to Thy name, O Most High.” Glory be to the Father, etc.
O God, Who, by the birth of John, hast made this day worthy to be honoured by us, grant to Thy people the grace of spiritual joys, and guide the minds of all the faithful in the way of eternal salvation. Through our Lord, etc.
EPISTLE. Isaias 49:1–3 & 5–7.
[1-3] 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. [5-7] And now saith the Lord, that formed me from the womb to be his servant, that I may bring back Jacob unto him, and Israel will not be gathered together: and I am glorified in the eyes of the Lord, and my God is made my strength. 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. Behold, I have given thee to be the light of the Gentiles, that thou mayst be my salvation even to the farthest part of the earth. Thus saith the Lord the redeemer of Israel, his Holy One, to the soul that is despised, to the nation that is abhorred, to the servant of rulers: Kings shall see, and princes shall rise up, and adore for the Lord’s sake, because he is faithful, and for the Holy One of Israel, who hath chosen thee.
This prophecy refers, it is true, to Christ,Whom God has made the head, teacher, ruler, and saviour of all nations. The greater part of it, however, may be applied to St. John, as is evident from his life.
GOSPEL. Luke 1:57–68.
Now Elizabeth’s full time of being delivered was come, and she brought forth a son. And her neighbours and kinsfolks heard that the Lord had shewed 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 this 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 had heard them laid them up in their heart, saying: What an 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:
The neighbours and kinsfolk of Elizabeth rejoiced with her at her happiness, and gave her joy. We too, in like manner, should be glad when anything good happens to our neighbour, and thank and praise God for this.
St. John, blessed forerunner of Jesus Christ, mirror of true penance, burning and shining light, who by thy teaching and example didst show to men the way to Christ, I beseech thee, by thy penitential life, that thou wouldst obtain for me, from Him Whom thou didst point out as the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world, grace that, fearing God’s wrath against the impenitent, I may at last do true penance for my sins, mortify my sinful flesh according to thy example, serve God in purity and sanctity, and finally, in the land of eternal happiness, follow forever the Lamb Who on the altar of the cross was slain for me. Amen.