Vigil of the Nativity of holy St John the Baptist, the Forerunner: Missa “Ne tímeas, Zacharía“
he Birth of St. John the Baptist is one of the most ancient of all the Church’s feasts; it is mentioned several times by St. Augustine in his sermons, and in a Martyrology written around 440 A.D. and falsely attributed to St. Jerome. The date is determined by the words of the Gospel of St. Luke that St. John’s mother Elizabeth was six months pregnant at the time of the Annunciation (chap. 1, 36). The feast is kept on the 24th, however, where Christmas and the Annunciation are kept on the 25th of their respective months, because of a peculiar feature of the ancient Roman calendar. The Romans counted the days backwards from three points in each month, called the Kalends, the Nones and the Ides (“Kalendae”, “Nonae” and “Idus” in Latin). Thus Julius Caesar was killed on the Ides of March, which we call March 15th, but the Roman name for March 14th was “the day before the Ides of March”. Therefore, the birth of both the Savior and His Forerunner are kept seven days before the Kalends of the following months.
The feast was formerly kept with two different Masses, one of which was to be said early in the morning, and the other after Terce. This custom gradually died out and was observed only in a very few places at the time of the Tridentine liturgical reform; the Mass in the Missal of St. Pius V is the second of these two. St. Augustine notes that John the Baptist is the only Saint whose birth the Church celebrates apart from that of the Savior Himself, the feast of Our Lady’s Birth having not yet been instituted in his time. This custom is observed in fulfillment of the words of the Angel Gabriel to John’s father Zachariah that “Many shall rejoice in his birth,” (Luke 1, 14) which are read on the vigil the day before.
The Gospel of the vigil, Luke 1, 5-17, was formerly continued at the first Mass of the feast with verses 18-25, recounting Zachariah’s doubt and punishment, and the conception of the Baptist, ending with the words of his mother, “Thus hath the Lord dealt with me in the days wherein he hath had regard to take away my reproach among men.” The Gospel of the second (now only) Mass, Luke 1, 57-68, is one of very few that does not begin with the words “At that time,” but rather starts directly with “Elizabeth’s full time of being delivered was come, and she brought forth a son.” The name of St John’s mother is also the first word of the first antiphon of Lauds and Vespers, which reflects the fact that it was she, and not Zachariah, who declared St John’s name, the name which, as St Ambrose notes, “Elizabeth learned by prophecy, … not from her husband.”
It has often been noted that the days of the year begin to grow shorter right after the Birth of John the Baptist, which is three days after the summer solstice, and begin to grow longer right after the Birth of Christ, four days after the winter solstice. This juxtaposition symbolizes the words in which St. John “summed up the entire Gospel in a single sentence, ‘I must decrease, that He may increase.’ ” (John 3, 30)
INTROIT Luke 1:13; 1:15; 1:14
Do not be afraid, Zachary, your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name John; and he shall be great before the Lord, and shall be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb; and may will rejoice at his birth. Ps 20:2 O Lord, in Your strength the king is glad; in Your victory how greatly he rejoices. V. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. R. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen. Do not be afraid, Zachary…
Grant, we beseech You, almighty God, that Your household may walk in the way of salvation and, by following the counsels of blessed John the Herald, safely come to our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, Whom he foretold. Who livest and reignest with God the Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end.
of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Grant, we beseech thee, O Lord God, unto all thy servants, that they may remain continually in the enjoyment of soundness both of mind and body, and by the glorious intercession of the Blessed Mary, always a Virgin, may be delivered from present sadness, and enter into the joy of thine eternal gladness.
for the Church
Mercifully hear the prayers of thy Church, we beseech thee, O Lord, that all adversities and errors being overcome, she may serve thee in security and feedom. Through Jesus Christ, thy Son our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end.
LESSON Jeremias 1: 4-10
In those days the word of the Lord came to me, saying: Before I formed thee in the bowels of thy mother, I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and made thee a prophet unto the nations. And I said, Ah, ah, ah, Lord God; behold I can not speak; for I am a child. And the Lord said to me, Say not, I am a child: for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee; and whatever I shall command thee, thou shalt speak. Be not afraid at their presence; for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the Lord. And the Lord put forth His hand, and touched my mouth: and the Lord said to me, Behold I have given My words in thy mouth: lo, I have set thee this day over the nations, and over kingdoms, to root up, and to pull down, and to waste, and to destroy, and to build, and to plant; saith the Lord almighty.
GRADUALJohn 1: 6-7
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came to bear witness of the light, to prepare unto the Lord a perfect people.
GOSPEL St Luke 1: 5-17
There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zachary, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name Elizabeth: and they were both just before God, walking in all the commandments and justifications of the Lord without blame. And they had no son, for that Elizabeth was barren, and they both were well advanced in years. And it came to pass, when he executed the priestly function, in the order of his course, before God, according to the custom of the priestly office, it was his lot to offer incense, going into the temple of the Lord; and all the multitude of the people was praying without at the hour of incense: and there appeared to him an Angel of the Lord, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zachary seeing him was troubled, and fear fell upon him; but the Angel said to him, Fear not: Zachary, for thy prayer is heard, and thy wife Elizabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John; and thou shalt have joy and gladness, and many shall rejoice at his nativity. For he shall be great before the Lord; and shall drink no wine nor strong drink, and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost even from his mother’s womb. And he shall convert many of the children of Isræl to the Lord their God; and he shall go before Him in the spirit and power of Elias, that he may turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the incredulous to the wisdom of the just, to prepare unto the Lord a perfect people.
OFFERTORY ANTIPHON Psalm 8: 6-7
Thou hast crowned him with glory and honor, and hast set him over the works of Thy hands, O Lord.
Make holy the sacrificial gifts we offer, O Lord, and by the new birth of Your only-begotten Son, cleanse us from the stains of our sins. Through the same Jesus Christ, thy Son, Our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. R. Amen.
of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Through thy mercy, O Lord, and the intercession of blessed Mary ever Virgin, may this oblation obtain for us prosperity and peace both now and forever.
for the Church
Protect us, O Lord, who celebrate thy mysteries, that holding fast to divine things, we may serve thee with body and soul. Through Jesus Christ, thy Son our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end.
PREFACE of the Common
It is truly meet and just, and profitable unto salvation, that we should at all times, and in all places, give thanks to thee, O Holy Lord, Father Almighty, eternal God, through Christ, our Lord. Though whom the angels praise thy majesty, the dominions adore it, the powers are in awe. Which the heavens and the hosts of heaven together with the blessed seraphim joyfully do magnify. And do thou command that it be permitted to us join with them in confessing thee, while we say with lowly praise: Holy, Holy, Holy…
COMMUNION ANTIPHON Psalm 20:6
Great is his glory in Your victory; majesty and splendor You conferred upon him, O Lord.
May the powerful prayer of blessed John the Baptist go with us, O Lord, and may he plead with our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, Whose coming he foretold, to be merciful unto us. Who livest and reignest with God the Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end.
of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Grant, O Lord, that we, who had partaken of the aids of salvation, may be everywhere protected by the patronage of blessed Mary ever Virgin, in whose honor we have offered these gifts of thy majesty.
for the Church
We beseech thee, O Lord, our God, that thou permit not those, to whom thou hast given a participation of divine things to be subjected to human dangers. Through Jesus Christ, thy Son our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end.