SAINT JOHN'S NATIVITY: THE "SUMMER CHRISTMAS"
Our Sunday Mass today is the Mass of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist, the “Herald of the Lord”, who appeared shortly before Jesus began His Public Life and who prepared the way for the Christ’s imminent appearance by preaching the Word of God with great power and unction. He invited his fellow Jews to a baptism of repentance for their sins, hence his surname— John the Baptist.
According to the chronology of St. Luke’s Gospel, John was born six months before Jesus. His conception was outside the normal course of nature as his parents St. Zachary and St. Elizabeth were both advanced in years and Elizabeth was considered barren, unable to bear any children. The Angel Gabriel’s Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary includes the announcement of Elizabeth’s child: “And behold thy kinswoman Elizabeth also hath conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her that is called barren. Because no word shall be impossible with God” (Luke 1:36- 37).
St. John the Baptist’s birth then is considered to be the “dawn of salvation” and the Church has historically celebrated it as a major feast-day.
St. John the Baptist’s birth is like a summer Christmas, a prelude to the Savior’s birth, inseparably connected with it. In the Precursor’s coming we greet the coming of the Savior Himself, and our joy in it springs from the thought that the “Lord God of Israel...hath visited and wrought the redemption of His people.” The Prophecy read as the Epistle at Mass (Isaias 49) also refers more to Our Lord’s than to His Precursor’s Mission, again emphasizing the point that today as at Christmas the Church is celebrating the coming of salvation. St. Augustine saw a symbol in the dates of the two feasts: after St. John’s birthday the days become shorter, at Christmas they begin to lengthen, and the Precursor, humbly effacing himself before Him whom he had announced, was to say, humbly effacing himself before Him whom he had announced, was to say, “He must increase, and I must decrease” (John 3:30). It was natural, therefore, that St. John’s birthday should hold an important place in the Liturgy. It was once a holiday of obligation, and three Masses were celebrated as at Christmas; bonfires were lighted on hilltops as a symbol of the light appearing in the darkness. St. John is named in the Canon of the Mass. Popular devotion to St. John was very great, and many churches were dedicated to him, many children named after him.—Let us ask St. John Baptist to continue his mission as Precursor in us by guiding our souls into the way of eternal salvation.” (Missal Note, St. Andrew’s Missal, 1952 edition)
In England, St. John the Baptist’s Nativity Feast was also called “Midsummer Day” (“Midsumer daeg”), “Midsummer’s Eve” being the 23rd of June. In our northern climes we have a vivid experience of the longest days of the year and we enjoy it very much. Let us make sure to connect the enjoyment of long summer days with the heralding of our salvation in Jesus Christ, announced by John.
“Thou, child, shalt be called the prophet
of the Most High; for thou shalt go before the
face of the Lord to prepare His ways”