Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Feast of St. John the Baptist, 2013

June 24th is the Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist.

Normally, we as Catholics celebrate the dies natalis, or birthday in Heaven of a Saint, Meaning the day of their death.  There are two notable exceptions in the Calendar of the Catholic Church.  One is the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of our Lord, and St. John the Baptist.  June 24th is the day we commemorate his birth.  The day we observe his beheading and martyrdom is the 29th of August. If we add in various other days in the Eastern Catholic Calendar, St. John the Baptist has 6 days dedicated to him, one of the few Saints to have multiple Feast days.

Why so many days for St. John the Baptist? What is so special?

From these here on out, the days are beginning to grow shorter. This feast day is in a sense, a midsummer's Christmas Eve. This day holds so much promise, the birth of a babe to barren parents. The true prodigy is still yet to come, a babe born of a Virgin, indeed the Saviour of the world on Christmas Day.

From the very beginning, God and Holy Mother Church bring about with thoughtful care many such parallels between the two Solemnities of the birth of St. John and the birth of the Lord. Just as the Angel announced to barren parents that they would conceive, the Angel also announces to Mary that she would bear a child.  St. John, just like in many statues in our Churches, is always pointing to the Agnus Dei, the Lamb of God, "Behold, this is he! The one whose sandalstraps, I am not worthy to loosen!"

Ut Queant Laxis is the first line of a hymn in honor of St. John the Baptist. The Roman Breviary divides it into three parts and assigns the first, "Ut queant laxis" to Vespers. The second, "Antra deserti teneris sub annis", to Matins, the early morning prayer. The third, "O nimis felix, meritique celsi", to Lauds. Authorship of the hymn is generally credited to Paulus Diaconus, a Benedictine monk who lived in Lombardy during the 8th Century. A popular story amongst the Benedictines is that Paul the Deacon was to chant the Exsultet for Easter, but had a hoarse voice. Being as the Father of the Baptist lost his voice for disbelief with the birth of his son, Paul the Deacon prayed to St. John the Baptist that his voice be restored enough to chant for the Easter Vigil.

The hymn is written in Sapphic stanzas, meaning a type of poetry written over four lines. This first line is famous in the history of music for the reason that the notes of the melody correspond with the first six notes of the diatonic scale of C. This fact led to the syllabic naming of the notes as Ut, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, as may be shown by capitalizing the initial syllables of the lines:

UT queant laxis
REsonare fibris
MIra gestorum
FAmuli tuorum,
SOLve polluti
LAbii reatum, Sancte Ioannes.

The UT has been replaced by DO as that has an open sound that is easier. So even is you have not heard much of this hymn to the Baptist, you know something of it, as we now have Do Re Mi from it.

Here is a Slide Show of images of Mission San Juan Bautista in California set to Ut Queant Laxis as chanted by the Schola Sanctae Sunnivae & Hartkeriana.

Ut queant laxis resonare fibris
Mira gestorum famuli tuorum,
Solve polluti labii reatum,
Sancte Iohannes!

Nuntius celso veniens Olympo
te patri magnum fore nasciturum,
nomen et vitae seriem gerendae
ordine promit.

Ille promissi dubius superni
perdidit promptae modulos loquelae;
sed reformasti genitus peremptae
organa vocis.

Ventris abstruso positus cubili
senseras regem thalamo manentem,
hinc parens nati meritis uterque
abdita pandit.

Laudibus cives celebrant superni
te, Deus simplex pariterque trine,
supplices ac nos veniam precamur:
parce redemptis! Amen.

So that these your servants can,
with all their voice, to sing your wonderful feats,
clean the blemish of our spotted lips.
O Saint John!

An angel came from the heavens
to announce your father
the greatness of your birth,
dictating your name and destination.

He (Zacarias) doubted of these divine promises
and was deprived of the use of the speech;
but when you were born it recovered
the voice that had lost.

Still locked in your mother's breast,
you felt the King's presence housed in the vestal womb.
And prophet, before being born,
you revealed this mystery to your parents.

Now as the Angels celebrate thy praises,
Godhead essential, Trinity co-equal ;
Spare thy redeemed ones, as they bow before thee,
Pardon imploring. Amen.

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