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The Birth of John the Baptist (C)

His name is John

The Word This Week

Most of the time, this Feast will go unnoticed by the majority of Catholics. It is only those who attend daily Mass who normally encounter it! But the fact that it displaces a Sunday this year tells us of its importance. We only celebrate three birthdays in the Liturgical Year: Jesus (Christmas Day), Mary (September 8) and John the Baptist. This should tell us something! John is known in the Eastern Church as the “Prodromos”, the “One who runs in front”. All his life – even his time in the womb – is making the path clear for Christ. He runs before the Lord, clearing his way, so that the Promised One may come to his people. Today we celebrate that, even at his birth, John the Baptist opened human hearts to the mysteries of God, and the promise of God’s presence with his people.

Notes for Readers


First Reading: Isaiah 49:1-6

It is always worth checking the reading in the Lectionary: today, for example, you will find it written in verse form – this is a poetic prophecy! It doesn’t mean that the lines rhyme, but there is a very different tone from simple prose. Try the reading as if it were a newspaper article, and then go back to it as a piece of poetry – see if you can tell the difference! There are several references which tie in with today’s feast: perhaps the clearest is the line … “he formed me in the womb to be his servant.” As you read, keep what you know of the life of John the Baptist before you: the Liturgy always “gives a context” to Scripture, so reading this today (rather than, say, in Advent) should bring different resonances to the reader, and therefore to the congregation.


Second Reading: Acts 13:22-26

This is a rather complex little passage. (Hardly surprising, since it’s Saint Paul speaking!) Paul is trying to put the story of salvation into the context of the History of Israel – linking Jesus with King David – and as part of that he reminds us of the role and ministry of John the Baptist. John’s life is always linked with, and focussed on that of Jesus as the Promised Messiah. This reading is a reminder of that. As a reader, you have to be aware of “what’s coming up.” When you start reading about King David, the congregation may not be aware of what this has to do with the Birth of John the Baptist! You have to make this link for them, to carry them along to the part of the reading where they can put it all together. As usual, be careful with long sentences: work out where to pause, and where to emphasise. The final sentence, which is given its own paragraph in the Lectionary, is a powerful phrase – it can successfully be left hanging for a moment, so that the congregation feels the words are addressed to them. Pause for a while before saying, “This is the Word of the Lord.”


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