Vigil of St John the Baptist

Today is the vigil of the nativity of St John the Baptist, for which the Gospel is St Luke 1:5-17:

5 Fuit in diebus Herodis, regis Judææ, sacerdos quidam nomine Zacharias de vice Abia, et uxor illius de filiabus Aaron, et nomen ejus Elisabeth. 6 Erant autem justi ambo ante Deum, incedentes in omnibus mandatis et justificationibus Domini sine querela. 7 Et non erat illis filius, eo quod esset Elisabeth sterilis, et ambo processissent in diebus suis. 8 Factum est autem, cum sacerdotio fungeretur in ordine vicis suæ ante Deum, 9 secundum consuetudinem sacerdotii, sorte exiit ut incensum poneret, ingressus in templum Domini: 10 et omnis multitudo populi erat orans foris hora incensi. 11 Apparuit autem illi angelus Domini, stans a dextris altaris incensi. 12 Et Zacharias turbatus est videns, et timor irruit super eum. 13 Ait autem ad illum angelus: Ne timeas, Zacharia, quoniam exaudita est deprecatio tua: et uxor tua Elisabeth pariet tibi filium, et vocabis nomen ejus Joannem: 14 et erit gaudium tibi, et exsultatio, et multi in nativitate ejus gaudebunt: 15 erit enim magnus coram Domino: et vinum et siceram non bibet, et Spiritu Sancto replebitur adhuc ex utero matris suæ: 16 et multos filiorum Israël convertet ad Dominum Deum ipsorum: 17 et ipse præcedet ante illum in spiritu et virtute Eliæ: ut convertat corda patrum in filios, et incredulos ad prudentiam justorum, parare Domino plebem perfectam. 

[5] 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.[6] And they were both just before God, walking in all the commandments and justifications of the Lord without blame. [7] And they had no son, for that Elizabeth was barren, and they both were well advanced in years. [8] And it came to pass, when he executed the priestly function in the order of his course before God, [9] According to the custom of the priestly office, it was his lot to offer incense, going into the temple of the Lord. [10] And all the multitude of the people was praying without, at the hour of incense. [11] And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing on the right side of the alter of incense. [12] And Zachary seeing him, was troubled, and fear fell upon him. [13] 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: [14] And thou shalt have joy and gladness, and many shall rejoice in his nativity. [15] 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. [16] And he shall convert many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. [17] And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias; that he may turn the hearts of the fathers unto the children, and the incredulous to the wisdom of the just, to prepare unto the Lord a perfect people.

The Matins readings on it are from St Ambrose:

Reading 1: The Divine Scriptures teach us that we are behoven to praise the lives, not only of those concerning whom we are to speak honourably, but the lives also of their fathers, so as to show that that which we will praise in our subjects was in them a gift inherited from the bright purity of the source from which they came. What other meaning can the holy Evangelist have had in this place but to glorify St John the Baptist, as well for having been the offspring of such parents, as for his miracles, his life, his gifts, and his sufferings So likewise is praise ascribed to Hannah, the mother of Samuel so also did Isaac draw from his parents that noble godliness which he in his turn bequeathed to his children. Thus it is told not only that Zacharias was a Priest, but a Priest of the course of Abia, that is to say, of a family noble among the noblest.

Reading 2:And his wife was of the daughters of Aaron. Thus we see that the noble blood of St John was inherited not only from parents, but from an ancient ancestry, not illustrious indeed by worldly power, but worshipful for the tradition of a sacred succession. Such were the forefathers whom it well became the Fore-runner of the Christ to have, that it might manifestly fall to his lot, not as a sudden gift, but as an heir-loom, to preach belief in the coming of the Lord. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord, blameless. What do they make of this text who, to take them some consolation for their own sins, hold that man cannot exist without oftentimes sinning, and quote to that end that which is written in Job Not one is clean, even though his life on the earth be but one day.

Reading 3: To such we must reply by asking them first to tell us what they mean by a man without sin whether it be one who hath never sinned, or one who hath ceased to sin. If they mean by a man without sin one who hath never sinned, I myself agree in their position, for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. Rom. iii. 23. But if they mean to deny that he who hath reformed his old crooked ways, and changed his life for a new one, on purpose to avoid sin, cannot avoid sin, I am not able to subscribe to their opinion while I read that Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for it, that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that He might present it to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing but that it should be holy and without blemish.

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