Rorate Caeli

Liturgical Reminder for the Vigil of the Birthday of St. John the Baptist

The Birth and Naming of St. John the Baptist, by Giotto

It is my hope that more basilicas, cathedrals and parishes, seminaries and other houses of formation, and religious institutions, will make greater use of the rich treasury of feast-day blessings that is to be found in the Rituale Romanum as well as in the various local supplements to the Rituale. The same for the treasury of processions and other occasional ceremonies that can be found in the liturgical books associated with the classical Roman or Gregorian Rite.

These ceremonies enrich us wih grace, add spiritual depth to our experience and understanding of the liturgical year, illuminate the sacred mysteries and inspire fervor, and relieve the "flatness" of the liturgical season of the Sundays after Pentecost (or of the even more austere "Ordinary Time" of the Paul VI Missal). The faithful and complete celebration of the sacred liturgy in all its glory will do more for the restoration of Catholic Tradition than all our polemics and all our subtle arguments (although these too have an important part).

Hopefully, there will be a few more bonfires tomorrow. CAP.

{Note: I've revised the translation of "Et cum spiritu tuo"}

{Addendum: Some have been asking if this ceremony can be celebrated even in places where only the Novus Ordo is used. The answer is yes. The Directory of Popular Piety and the Liturgy (No. 225) enumerates the blessing of St. John bonfires among the pious customs associated with the cult of the Forerunner.}

From the Sancta Missa webpage on the "Blessings on special days and feasts" in the Rituale Romanum.


on the Vigil of the Birthday of St. John the Baptist

conferred by the clergy outside of church

In the Church's veneration of her saints the cult of John the Baptist had from earliest times and continues to have a most prominent and honored place. John gave testimony of the true light that shines in the darkness, although he proclaimed in utter humility: "He must increase, but I must decrease." And the Master also 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." Attuned to the words of the Gospel the Christians of former times were filled with love and enthusiasm for this saint, and expressed a justifiable conviviality at the approach of his feastday by lighting a bonfire the night before in front of their churches, in the market-place, on the hilltops, and in the valleys. The custom of St. John bonfires, indicative of a people with unabashed and childlike faith, continues in some places to this day.

P: Our help is in the name of the Lord.

All: Who made heaven and earth.

P: The Lord be with you.

All: And with your spirit.

P: 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.

All: Amen.

The fire is sprinkled with holy water; after which the clergy and the people sing the following hymn:

Hymn: Ut queant laxis

O for your spirit, holy John, to chasten

Lips sin-polluted, fettered tongues to loosen;

So by your children might your deeds of wonder

Meetly be chanted.

Lo! a swift herald, from the skies descending,

Bears to your father promise of your greatness;

How he shall name you, what your future story,

Duly revealing.

Scarcely believing message so transcendent,

Him for a season power of speech forsaketh,

Till, at your wondrous birth, again returneth,

Voice to the voiceless.

You, in your mother's womb all darkly cradled,

Knew your great Monarch, biding in His chamber,

Whence the two parents, through their offspring's merits,

Mysteries uttered.

Praise to the Father, to the Son begotten,

And to the Spirit, equal power possessing,

One God whose glory, through the lapse of ages,

Ever resounding.

P: There was a man sent from God.

All: Whose name was John.

P: 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.

All: Amen.


  1. Anonymous5:38 PM

    Does anyone know where I can assist at this Liturgy in the state of North Carolina?

    Thank you.

  2. Anonymous8:32 PM

    This is still maintained as a custom in the west of Ireland, where I live. There was an item about Bonfire night(as it is called) on local radio last year. There are not as many bonfires as there were, but still a number at crossroads and in the gardens of pubs - I don't think that much blessing takes place,though.Alan Robinson

  3. Anonymous9:07 PM

    Too bad this isn't common any longer. Sounds like a great tradition.

  4. Mr. Palad,
    Could you drop me an email at your convenience? I want to pass along that might be of interest and I lost your address.

    Yours in ICXC

  5. Anonymous1:27 AM

    P: The Lord be with you.

    All: May He also be with you. (B0GUS AND ERRONEOUS MODERNIST TRANSLATION!)


  6. Anonymous2:17 AM

    Close enough! Thanks!

    We're having a St. John's Bonfire tomorrow (6/23) at our parish in West Chester, OH. It was a huge success last year and the weather appears to be cooperating again with our plans.

  7. Giving the Office hymn in English misses its unique characteristic.

    The first verse contains a scale Ut ( =Doh) re(sonare), Mi(ra), fa(muli), So(lve), la(bii).

  8. The first verse runs as follows:

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

    This hymn - words and music - can be found in the Liber Usualis. Each line starts with a note which is a step higher than the previous starting note, hence the scale. By the way, the French still use the word Ut instead of Do.

    There are many other verses in this hymn. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia "the Roman Breviary divides it into three parts and assigns the first, "Ut queant laxis", etc., to Vespers, the second, "Antra deserti teneris sub annis", to Matins, the third, "O nimis felix, meritique celsi", to Lauds, of the feast of the Nativity of St. John (24 June)." I could only find the first and the third parts of the hymn in my Liber and am curious as to why the Matins section is missing. Anyone out there have any answers?


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