27 June 2023

Fourth Day Within the Octave of St John the Baptist

From Dom Prosper Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

The gladsome Octave of the Precursor has a still further increase of light in store for us. Let us imitate the Church, who once again concentrates her thoughts on the Friend of the Bridegroom; she knows well that hereby the Spouse Himself will be the better understood. For, according to the word of the best authorized princes of Christian doctrine: “the bonds which link together Jesus Christ and John the Baptist are so close, that the one cannot be known without the other; and if life eternal consists in knowing Jesus Christ, so also a part of our salvation consists in knowing Saint John.” (Bourdaloue, Sermon pour la fete de Saint Jean Baptiste)

The Precursor’s mission surpassed alone, as we have seen, that of all other Prophets and Apostles. But personally, who and what was this herald whose dignity was shown to us, on his feast-day, by the sublimity of the message that he bore unto the world? Did his private qualities, his personal sanctity, correspond with the eminence of the part allotted to him? That sovereign harmony which inspires the eternal decrees and presides over their execution, forbids us to doubt it. When the Most High resolved to unite his Word to human nature, he pledged himself to clothe this created Nature with qualities all divine, which would thereby permit him to treat with this New Adam as equal with equal, and to call him his Son. When, to this his Well-Beloved Son whom he wished to be, at the same time, Son of Man, he determined to give a Mother, the gift of a purity every way worthy of her august title, was from that moment, assured to this future Mother of God. Predestined before all ages to the most eminent service of the Son and the Mother, charged by the Eternal Father with the mission of first discovering the Word hidden within Our Lady’s womb, of accrediting the Man-God, of betrothing Him to the Bride; could it possibly be, that the holiness of John should, either in the designs of God or by his own fault, be less incomparably exalted than was his mission? Eternal Wisdom can never thus belie Itself; and that unparalleled eulogy which Jesus made of his Precursor, just before John’s death, (Matthew 11) sufficiently shows that the graces held in reserve for this soul, had there fructified in all plenitude.

Now, what must have been these graces which, at the very outset, show us John, three months previous to his birth, already established on summits of sanctity which the holiest persons scarce attain in a whole lifetime! He soars far above the range of sense and reason, which in him have not yet been called into play. With that intellectual gaze which is unsurpassed, save by the face to face vision of the Elect, he perceives his God present before him in the flesh; in an ecstasy of adoration and love, his first act emulates that of Seraphim. The being filled with the plenitude of the Holy Ghost became, from that moment, the portion of this child of Zachary and Elizabeth: a plenitude so overflowing, that at once the mother, and soon afterwards the father likewise, were themselves filled with the exuberance that brimmed over from their son. (Luke 1:15, 41, 67)

First then was he, after Our Lady, to recognize the Lamb of God, to give his love to the Bridegroom just come down from the eternal hills; first was he likewise, to penetrate the mystery of the divine and virginal maternity; without separating the Son from the Mother, he had, at one and the same time, both adored Jesus and honored Mary above all creatures. Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the Fruit of thy womb! (Luke 1:42) Unanimous tradition tells us, that when pronouncing these words, Elizabeth was but the organ and interpreter of her son. As witness of the Light, John begins with Mary, the first recipient of his testimony; unto her, is addressed, in praise and admiration, the first expression of the sentiments which animate him. Himself the Angel, as the Prophets style him, he takes up and completes Gabriel’s salutation to earth and heaven’s sweetest Lady. (Luke 1:28) It was the enthusiastic shout of his gratitude, fully illumined as to Mary’s part in the sanctification of the elect; the cry of his soul, on awaking to sanctity, at the first sound of the Virgin Mother’s voice. In fact, for his sake it was, that after the angel’s visit, she had crossed the mountains in great haste; but other favors yet has Our Lady for her John. Heretofore silent, before that Seraph by whom she was sure to be understood, — Mary now intones her divine Canticle, whereby unto God, is given glory, and unto John, the comprehension of the ineffable Mystery in all fullness. Just as she had sanctified her Son’s Precursor, so would the Mother of God, in a similar manner, next form and instruct him. The Magnificat is the first lesson taught to Elizabeth’s son: incomparable lesson of divine praise; a lesson which gives John the understanding of the whole Scriptures, the knowledge of the divine plan throughout ages. For the space of three months, this marvelous education is continued, in the angelic secrecy of still more hidden communications.

Oh! yes, indeed; well may we say, in our turn, and with more reason than did the Jews: What an one, think ye, shall this child be? (Luke 1:66) The dispensatrix of heavenly treasures, kept in reserve for John the first effusion of those floods of grace, of which she had become the divine reservoir. The river which maketh glad the City of God, (Psalm 45:5) shall no more stay its course, carrying to every soul, until the end of time, its countless streamlets; but its first impetuous outburst, in all the might of its buoyant gush, bore down at once upon John; the fullness of its yet undivided flood, rolled its vast waters to and fro over this one soul, as though they existed for no other. Who may measure these torrents? Who may tell their effect? Holy Church attempts not to describe it; but lost in admiration at the sight of the mysterious growth of John beneath the astonished gaze of angels, losing sight of the feebleness of that infant body, in face of the maturity of the soul which dwells within it, she exclaims on the glorious Birthday of the Precursor: “Great is the man whom Elizabeth hath brought forth! Elisabeth Zachariæ magnum virum genuit, Johannem Baptistam prcecursorem Domini.” (Ant. I in Laud. et 2 Vesp.)

That we may put these our thoughts into liturgical form, let us sing this sequence, the text of which is borrowed from the ancient Missal of Lyons of 1530. The filial homage paid by the Lyonese to Saint John the Baptist is well known. Their primatial Church has the holy Precursor for its Patron. In the year 1886 we beheld crowds as immense as in former times flocking to the famous jubilee granted by the Holy See to this “Rome of the Gauls,” for those years wherein the feast of Corpus Christi coincides with the titular solemnity of the 24th of June.


Elizabeth of Zachary, on this glorious day, hath given birth to a great man.

Who, a perfect vessel of virtues, holds the first place amongst all that are born of women.

Nor yet is he brought forth, when he perceives already the King who is about to be born, in a manner surpassing nature’s law, without man’s intercourse.

He perceives God here below, like the almond in the nut, hid within the Virgin.

Oh! how blessed is this newborn child, the Angel of the Redeemer, the voice and bearer of the Word made Flesh, that is given to us.

The Fruit doth not precede the flower, but, according to custom, the flower the fruit, yielding the odor of a fertile field to the minds of the Faithful.

He prepares and shows the way, wherein his foot will not stumble, who by faith embraceth the true Son of God.

Subjected to an austere rule of life, he abhors not wild honey with locusts for his food.

Clad in camel’s hair, how poor is he in the desert, yet how goodly did he appear!

Lo! the words of the Evangelist: “This one,” saith he, “was not the Light, but he was, to give testimony of the Light, unto thee Christ.”

He was not the Light, but the Lamp, showing the road towards heaven’s heights, unto those to whom eternal peace promises its joys.

Let us all contemplate him whom the crowd hoped to be the Christ, struck at the wonders they saw in him.

He, on the contrary, raised not his head, but deemed himself unworthy to loosen the latchets of the Lord’s shoes.

From this time forth, by gift divine, Heaven suffereth violence; and to violence together with fruits of penance, it is granted; yet not by right, but freely.

He whom the other prophets, under the Old Law, in darkness sing, that same Lord in the flesh, (figures being now at an end) this renowned Prophet points out with his very finger.

Oh! how holy, how luminous is he who baptized Christ, the Fount of living waters; and who laved in Jordan’s flood, Him who cleanseth all.

Christ, cleanse from their offences, those who celebrate the Birthday of the Precursor and Baptist: Hearken also to us sighing in this solitude.

After this dry and parched place, we ask, as our soul’s dower, a well-watered land. *

So that bearing our sheaves, we may come exultingly, unto perpetual peace.


*(Translator note: This seems to be an allusion to Axa’s petition addressed to her father, Caleb at her husband’s suggestion, Judges 1:15)

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