Memory of the Saints and the Prophets

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The Eastern and Western Churches remember the birth of John the Baptist, the “greatest of those born of women,” who prepared the way for the Lord.

Reading of the Word of God

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

You are a chosen race,
a royal priesthood, a holy nation,
a people acquired by God
to proclaim his marvellous works.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

Luke 1, 57-66.80

The time came for Elizabeth to have her child, and she gave birth to a son;

and when her neighbours and relations heard that the Lord had lavished on her his faithful love, they shared her joy.

Now it happened that on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child; they were going to call him Zechariah after his father,

but his mother spoke up. 'No,' she said, 'he is to be called John.'

They said to her, 'But no one in your family has that name,'

and made signs to his father to find out what he wanted him called.

The father asked for a writing-tablet and wrote, 'His name is John.' And they were all astonished.

At that instant his power of speech returned and he spoke and praised God.

All their neighbours were filled with awe and the whole affair was talked about throughout the hill country of Judaea.

All those who heard of it treasured it in their hearts. 'What will this child turn out to be?' they wondered. And indeed the hand of the Lord was with him.

Meanwhile the child grew up and his spirit grew strong. And he lived in the desert until the day he appeared openly to Israel.


Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

You will be holy,
because I am holy, thus says the Lord.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

The Church today celebrates a very ancient feast: the birth of John the Baptist. Together with Mary, John is the only saint whose birthday we remember. And this is because their lives are inexplicable without a reference to Jesus for whom they were born: Mary in order to be his Mother, John in order to prepare his way. In the Byzantine iconostasis they are represented on each side of Christ, bending towards him, as an act of inviting the faithful to turn their gaze toward the Saviour. John was born to show humanity the way that leads to Jesus. He is revered in Islam, also; his relics are kept in the ancient cathedral, now the mosque of the Umayyad in Damascus. The evangelist Luke narrates his birth in a way parallel to that of Jesus. The Lord had gazed upon him too. The angel appears to Zechariah while he carries out his service in the temple and gives him the news of the birth of a son. The announcement seems absolutely improbable to Zechariah, since his wife Elizabeth was getting on in age and therefore already barren. The angel insists and even suggests that the name Zechariah should be given to the child: “You Shall call him John” (a name that means “God is gracious”). And so it happened. At the moment of John’s birth, Zechariah received back his speech and then gave the child the name of John. Then in an admirable way, Zechariah sings the hymn, the Benedictus, which the Church recites daily. The birth of this child opens a new life for the two old parents at a time when all hopes seemed to be vanished because of Elizabeth’s sterility. The son is first of all the fruit of the angel’s word, and his name is totally new. He comes into the world to reveal Jesus to the people of his time. His example and testimony also help us and Christians of every time: we are all, like the Baptist, the fruit of God’s love; not one of us was born by chance. We were born to be disciples of Jesus and to prepare the hearts of human beings to receive him as the Saviour of the world.