Wednesday, June 22
Bonfires on the Birth of John the Baptist (June 24)
The birth of St. John is celebrated because, while not conceived without original sin as in the case of Mary, the Mother of God, still St. John was freed from original sin when Elizabeth heard the voice of Mary and John leapt in her whom. St. Augustine mentions this belief as a widespread conviction. (Sermo 292, 1; PL, 38, 1320)
Because of the summer solstice, the days begin to grow shorter and shorter after his birthday. The days after Christ's birthday, on the other hand, begin to lengthen. Hence John's statement about Jesus, "He must increase and I must decrease" (Jn. 3.30), is echoed in the cycle of the cosmos.
Traditionally, doors in England were decorated with St. John’s Wort on this day (the flower is named after St. John because it blooms around the time of his feast).
John the Baptist was a true light that shone in the darkness. Christ Himself spoke in highest praise of His precursor: “I say to you, among those born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist.”
All across Europe, Christians adapted the former pagan summer festival of niedfyr (“need fires, lit to cleanse, cure, and prevent all kinds of disease, curses, and dangers) to honor St. John.
The fire is lit with a blessed candle. As it is lit, a poem in St. John's honor is sometimes red. The fire is blessed, usually the official blessing below. During the bonfire, traditional hymns in honor of St. John are sung, particularly the Ut Queant Laxis, which is, incidentally, the origin of "Do, Re, Me, Fa, So, La, Ti" (and, therefore, of all Western musical theory).
Blessing of the Bonfire (ROMAN RITUAL)
P: Our help is in the name of the Lord.
All: Who made heaven and earth.
P: The Lord be with you.
All: May He also be with you.
Let us pray.
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.
The fire is sprinkled with holy water; after which the clergy and the people sing the hymn Ut queant laxis.
P: There was a man sent from God.
All: Whose name was John.
Let us pray.
God, who by reason of the birth of blessed John have made this day praiseworthy, give your people the grace of spiritual joy, and keep the hearts of your faithful fixed on the way that leads to everlasting salvation; through Christ our Lord.