CHRISTIAN FEASTS AND CUSTOMS
by Francis Weiser (1952)
Saints' Days I
BLAISE (FEBRUARY 3)
This martyr, a bishop in Armenia, suffered and died at the beginning of the fourth century. The legends handed down tell us that he was a physician before he became a bishop and that, while in prison, he miraculously cured a little boy who nearly died because of a fishbone in his throat.1
The veneration of Saint Blaise was brought to Europe before the ninth century, and he soon became one of the most popular saints of the Middle Ages. Having been a physician, he was now invoked as a helper in sickness and pain, but especially against evils of the throat. Legends of a later date relate how shortly before his death he had asked God for the power of curing all those who would pray to him for help. "And behold, a voice answered from Heaven that his request was granted by the Lord." 2
(A VOICE MAY HAVE COME BUT IT
WAS NOT FROM HEAVEN. PRAYING
TO SAINTS [SO-CALLED] IS A SPIN
OFF OF THE FALSE IMMORTALITY OF
THE SOULD DOCTRINE - Keith Hunt)
In medieval times many shrines existed in honor of Saint Blaise. In central Europe and in the Latin countries people still are given blessed breads (Saint Blaise sticks: Pan bendito) of which they eat a smaU piece whenever they have a sore throat.3 The best-known sacramental in his honor, however, is the "Blessing of Throats" with candles. It has been in use for many centuries and was adopted by the Church as one of its official blessings.4 The priest holds the crossed candles against the head or throat of the person and says: "Through the intercession of Saint Blaise, bishop and martyr, may the Lord free you from evils of the throat and from any other evil."5 In various places of Italy the priests do not use candles but touch the throats of the faith£ul with a wick dipped into blessed oil while they pronounce the invocation.
Liturgical Prayer • O God who grantest us joy by the annual solemnity of Saint Blaise, bishop and martyr: grant also that we may rejoice over his protection, whose birthday we celebrate.
VALENTINE (FEBRUARY 14)
On February 14, 270, this saint, a priest, died through the persecution of Claudius II. His feast was from earliest times associated with the traditional habit of boys and girls declaring their love or choosing a "steady partner" for the following twelve months. The selection was often done, especially in France and England, by a game of chance, the boys drawing the names of their respective "Valentines." Our greeting cards on Valentine's Day are a modern form of this ancient practice.
How did the saint become associated with this unusual lore? Various explanations have been attempted. It is said that the practice originated because people believed that on Saint Valentine's Day birds started to mate.6 However, such legends do not explain the custom. Besides, in central Europe the Feast of Saint Agnes (January 21) has always been considered the mating day of birds, although Saint Valentine is venerated as the "patron of lovers" even there.7
Another explanation is found in a medieval legend which tells how the saint, shortly before his execution, wrote a kind note to the friendly daughter of his prison master, signing it "from your Valentine." This legend was obviously intended to provide a belated reason for the already existing custom of the day.
There is no doubt that the historical origin of Valentine lore is based on a coincidence of dates. The pagan Romans annually celebrated a great feast on February 15 which they called Luper-calia in honor of the pastoral god Lupercus (an equivalent of the Greek god Pan). On the eve of the Lupercalia, and as part of it, young people held a celebration of their own, declaring their love for each other, proposing marriage, or choosing partners for the following year,8 (In the Roman republic the new year started on March 1; hence the names of the last four months: September, October, November, December, which mean, respectively, the seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth.)
This Roman youth festival with its pledge of love stood under the patronage of the goddess Juno Februata. When the Roman Empire became Christian, all worship and patronage of pagan gods naturally ceased. But the youth festival continued, as affection, love, and marriage are not the prerogative of a pagan cult only. There was but one aspect of the celebration that had to be changed: its patronage. And so, in place of the goddess Juno Februata a Christian saint took over. He was, quite naturally, the saint whose feast day the Church celebrated on February 14—the priest and martyr Valentine.
A proof of the Roman origin of Saint Valentine's lore is the fact that in countries of Roman historical background even the smaller details, like the games of chance, the choice made for the "new year," and similar customs, were continued right into the later Middle Ages, while in other countries these details are missing and only the fact that Saint Valentine is the patron of young lovers is observed. The American custom of sending Valentine cards is unknown in countries of northern Europe. It came from England, where it had developed as a substitute for the ancient Roman "choice" of partners on February 14. This is actually what the traditional words imply: "You are my Valentine," that is, I offer you my companionship of affection and love for the next twelve months, and I am willing to consider marriage if this companionship proves satisfactory for both of us.9
Liturgical Peayee • Grant, we beseech Thee, almighty God, that we may be freed from all threatening dangers through the intercession of Thy holy martyr Valentine, whose birthday we celebrate.
(ONCE MORE WE SEE PAGAN CUSTOMS
ADOPTED AND ADAPTED TO FIT IN WITH
ROMAN CATHOLIC THEOLOGY, GRANTING
PAGAN CONVERTS THEIR OLD TRADITIONS
WHILE THEY SPRINKLE IT WITH THEIR
HOLY WATER - Keith Hunt)
PATRICK (MARCH 17)
Modem scholars place the birth of Saint Patrick in the year 385, and his death on March 17, 461.10 A Britannic Celt by race, and Roman citizen by nationality, he was captured by Gaels in a coastal raid and taken from his father's estate on the west coast of England to Ireland, where he served as a shepherd slave for six years. At the age of twenty-two he escaped on a boat which carried a cargo of Irish hounds to the Continent. Arriving in France, a vast desert instead of a peaceful, inhabited country was found. The Vandals and other Germanic tribes had crossed the Rhine on New Year's night, 407, and made a wide path of utter destruction down through France; the population, terror-stricken, had fled into the Alpine sections. After crossing this "desert" Patrick separated from his pagan companions and returned to England, for a joyful reunion with his family.
His stay at home did not last very long. Impelled by the grace of God, he left again for the Continent, to devote his life to religious vocation and sacred ministry. From his own words we know that he traveled through Gaul (France), Italy, and some of the islands of the Tyrrhenian Sea. He finally decided to attach himself to the great bishop of Auxerre, Saint Germanus, under whose direction he studied the sacred doctrines of the faith and acquired an unusual familiarity with the Bible. He received minor orders and gradually rose to the diaconate. All that time he had in his heart the ardent wish to go back to Ireland and teach the gospel to the Gaels. His wish had been confirmed by dreams and other manifestations of God's will.
Before he achieved this goal, a great trial cleansed and sanctified him still more. In 431, when the decision was made to send a bishop to Ireland, Saint Patrick was suggested but turned down by the authorities. He was also unjustly defamed by a man who had been his friend. The choice of the bishopric for Ireland fell on Palladius, Archdeacon of Pope Celestine. Palladius went to the Gaels; Patrick stayed behind at Auxerre, still a deacon, deeply humiliated by the defamation.
However, Palladius died the following year (432), and the choice then fell on Patrick. What he had so long desired and prayed for, he obtained suddenly and unexpectedly. Without delay he was consecrated bishop (after having been ordained a priest). Some time in the spring or summer of 432 he and his companions set foot on Irish soil. For almost thirty years Patrick labored unremittingly at the conversion of the island. He baptized many thousands with his own hands, organized the hierarchy and clergy, established churches and religious communities. Toward the end of his life he founded the see of Armagh, which he held as archbishop and primate of Ireland till his death.
Contrary to some popular legends, Patrick encountered much resistance, and many vicious attempts were made to stop his work. These attacks did not come from the people, but from the Druidic "priests," who actually were sorcerers, and from some of the local kings. In all these threats, dangers, calumnies, and hardships Patrick never flinched. Unerringly he went his way, fighting all obstacles with the powerful weapons of prayer, penance, heroic patience, and flaming zeal. When he died, the Church was firmly rooted in the Irish nation. In a short time his disciples completed what was left of the task of making all Ireland a flourishing province of Christianity.
Soon after his death, the inspiring figure of the great saint was embellished with fictional and legendary details. Many of them had a true and historical basis; others, especially miracles and unusual deeds, originated in the desire for overwhelming supernatural confirmation of the saint's work. In this the ancient Gaelic writers were not really different from those of other nations, perhaps only more fertile and imaginative. It is a difficult and wearisome task for modem scholars to separate the historical facts from fictional and legendary details, and it will take many more years before Saint Patrick's figure emerges with some degree of certitude as the "real Patrick," freed from later additions. However, much has been found already, and these historical details make the saint so wonderfully alive, so touchingly great, that not even the wildest legends could render him more attractive.
Saint Patrick was greatly venerated from the earliest times. Among the Irish people this veneration assumed a twofold special character. First, it is not only a direct and personal devotion, which they practice in their great manifestations of piety, but, what is more important and valuable, a sincere imitation of the saint. At the famous shrines of Lough Derg in Donegal and Croagh Patrick in Mayo he is not so much honored by "services" and mere prayers as by the hard and almost heroic penance the faithful perform in imitation of his own fasting, mortification, and prayers.11
Second, in the course of centuries the veneration of Saint Patrick became identified with the patriotic and national ideals of the Irish people. Thus, March 17 is not only a religious holyday for them, but, at the same time, their greatest national holiday.
Actually, of course, the saint is venerated by other races and nations, too. In various parts of the European continent people invoke him as a local patron, hardly aware of the fact that he is the national saint of Ireland. In Styria, Austria, for instance, he is a favored patron of the farmers and their domestic animals.12
The popular Saint Patrick's celebration on March 17 consists of traditional details which are faithfully kept in Ireland and have found their way to the New World as well: attendance at Mass in the morning, a solemn parade with subsequent meeting and speeches, festive meals in the home, and an evening of entertainment (dancing, concerts, plays). The custom of wearing green on Saint Patrick's Day did not start until over a thousand years after the saint's death. The charming practice of displaying the shamrock is based on a legend that the saint taught King Oengus at Cashel the doctrine of the Holy Trinity by using, as an illustration, a shamrock (trefoil) that he found growing there.
It was the custom in Ireland for men to wear the shamrock on their hat. Girls wore crosses made of ribbons. "A shamrock on every hat, low and tall, and a cross on every girl's dress."13 The merry drink taken on this day was called "Saint Patrick's poteen."
The saint's day heralded the beginning of spring in Ireland. All livestock were driven out into the pastures to be kept in the open until the last day of October (Halloween). It still is regarded as the proper time in many sections of Ireland for the farmers to commence sowing and planting potatoes. "Saint Patrick turns the warm side of the stone uppermost" is an ancient saying. Another proverb claims that "from Saint Brigid's [February 2] to Saint Patrick's every alternate day is grand and fine; from then on, every day is fine."
So many and varied are the legends and legendary "facts" about Saint Patrick that it would take volumes to record them. The most famous ones are these: that he freed Ireland from all venomous snakes and reptiles; that he received a miraculous staff from Christ in a vision and henceforth carried it with him wherever he went; that he obtained from God the privilege of judging the Irish race at the end of time; that he lived a hundred and twenty years, like Moses; that he himself was of the Irish (Gaelic) race.
The most inspiring piece of Saint Patrick's lore is the beautiful prayer called "Breast Plate" (Lorica). It is a morning prayer in early Irish. The Book of Armagh (ninth century) ascribes its authorship to the saint. It might well be that Patrick actually composed this prayer. For many centuries now millions of faithful have used it with devotion.14
Liturgical Prater • O God, Thou didst send the Confessor and Bishop, Saint Patrick, to preach Thy glory to the gentiles, grant us through his merits and intercession to accomplish by Thy mercy what Thou commandest us to do.
(WE MUST REMEMBER THAT MANY ROMAN
CATHOLIC BISHOPS IN AGES LONG AGO,
MAY WELL HAVE BEEN ZEALOUS AND SINCERE,
BUT SINCERELY WRONG IN MUCH OF THEIR
THEOLOGY. WE NEED ALSO TO REMEMBER
GOD DOES NOT TELL US TO SET ASIDE A
DAY TO HONOR ANY SAINT. FOLLOWING SUCH
A TRADITION IS FOLLOWING THE ROMAN
CATHOLIC CHURCH - Keith Hunt)
JOSEPH (MARCH 19)
Up to the fifteenth century our Lord's foster father was not honored by a special feast of the Church, and people did not generally venerate him, although many ancient Fathers and writers mentioned him with reverence and high regard. It was only at the time of the Crusades that a practice of private devotion to Saint Joseph spread from the Eastern Churches into Europe. This devotion was greatly encouraged by some saints of the twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth centuries, especially Saint Bernard (1153), Saint Thomas Aquinas (1274), and Saint Gertrude (1310).15
At the end of the fourteenth century the Franciscans, and soon afterward the Dominicans and Carmelites, introduced a Feast of Saint Joseph into their calendars. Finally, under Pope Sixtus IV an annual feast of the saint was established on March 19 for the whole Church.16 It was, however, a feast of the lowest rank (simplex), imposing no obligation on the clergy to celebrate it. During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries many religious orders and some national rulers, especially the Hapsburgs of Austria and Spain, appealed to the popes to raise the feast in rank and make it a prescribed holyday. Accordingly, Pope Gregory XV in 1621 made it a holyday of obligation.17 Pius X in l9ll rescinded the obligation of attending Mass though it was later restored by the new Code of Canon Law in 1918.18
In a short time the veneration of the saint quickly and enthusiastically spread through all Catholic nations. Saint Teresa (1582), who had a special devotion to him, inspired the reformed Carmelites to establish a-feast of the "patronage" of Saint Joseph, which was annually celebrated by the order on the third Sunday after Easter. This feast was extended in 1847 to the whole Church.19 In 1870 Pope Pius IX solemnly declared Saint Joseph as the official patron of the universal Church. In 1956 the feast of Saint Joseph's patronage was replaced by a Feast of Saint Joseph, the Worker, to be celebrated annually on May 1.
The popular patronage of Saint Joseph is universal in scope. The words of the Egyptian Pharao, "Go to Joseph." (Genesis 41: 55), were applied to him. Filled with affection, love, and confidence, the faithful turned to him in all their temporal and spiritual needs.20 Every detail of his life gave rise to a special patronage. He is the patron of tradesmen and workers, of travelers and refugees, of the persecuted, of Christian families and homes, of purity and interior life, of engaged couples, of people in temporal distress (food, home, clothing, sickness), of the poor, aged, and dying.
It was a widespread custom in past centuries for newly wed couples to spend the first night of matrimony (Saint Joseph's Night) in abstinence and to perform some devotion in honor of Saint Joseph that he might bless their marriage.21 Small round breads (St. Joseph's loaves; fritelli) are baked and eaten in many sections of Europe on March 19 to honor the heavenly "bread father."22 From the seventeenth century on it was customary to have a statue of the saint on the table during the main meal and to "serve" it generous portions, which afterward were given the poor.
In northern Spain it is an ancient tradition for people to make a pilgrimage to a shrine of Saint Joseph on March 19 and there to have a special repast after the devotions. This meal consists of roast lamb, which is eaten, picnic style, outside the shrine in the afternoon (Merienda del Cordero; Repast of the Lamb). For this occasion the faithful who make the pilgrimage and then partake of the meal are dispensed from the law of Lenten fast.
In the region of Valencia on the east coast of Spain a strange and interesting tradition developed—the burning of fires in honor of Saint Joseph. It is said to have been started by the carpenters in past centuries, when they cleaned their workshops before March 19 and burned all the litter on the evening of their patrons feast Today, committees are established which collect and exhibit at street crossings structures made of wood by boys and men during the weeks before the feast. These structures represent houses, figures, scenes, many of them symbolic of some political event of the past year. They are admired and judged by the people, and on the eve of Saint Joseph's Day the best one receives a prize and is put aside. All the others are burned in joyful bonfires. Music, dancing, and fireworks (traca) are a part of this celebration in honor of Saint Joseph.
In some parts of Italy ancient nature lore rites are still performed on Saint Joseph's Day, the "burial of winter," for instance, which is done by sawing a symbolic figure (scega vecchia) in two.23 In central Europe the day is celebrated by farmers as the beginning of spring. They light candles in honor of the saint, put little shrines with his picture in their gardens and orchards, and have their fields blessed by the priest.24
Liturgical Pbayer • Assist us, O Lord, we beseech Thee, by the merits of the Spouse of Thy most holy Mother, that, what of ourselves we are unable to obtain, may be granted us by his intercession.
(WHAT CAN I SAY......AS THE ROMAN CATHOLIC
WHEEL TURNED OVER THE CENTURIES MORE
AND MORE UN-BIBLICAL CUSTOMS WERE
INTRODUCED......WHY IS THERE NOT A SAINT
PAUL'S DAY, A SAINT PETER'S DAY, A SAINT
JOHN'S DAY, AND DOZENS MORE [actually they do
have many more] I GUESS THEY FIGURED THEIR
ROMAN CALENDAR HAD ENOUGH IN IT, OTHERWISE
THERE WOULD BE SO MANY "SAINTS" DAYS IT
WOULD BE ONE CONTINUOUS PARTY OF PLAY
AND NO WORK - Keith Hunt)
ANTHONY OF PADUA (JUNE 13)
This famous and lovable saint was a native of Lisbon. At an early age he entered the Augustinian order and devoted himself with great zeal to the sacred studies. Ten years later, he left the Augustinians and joined the newly founded Franciscans because he was consumed with the desire of going into their "mission" among the Mohammedans in Africa. Ill-hearth forced him to return to Europe, where he labored as teacher, and more often as preacher, until his early death near Padua, Italy, in 1231. A year later he was canonized. He had already wrought numberless miracles both during life and after death.25
(WELL SATAN AND THE DEMONIC
FORCES CAN WORK MIRACLES, AS THE
FALSE PROPHET OF THE BOOK OF
REVELATION WILL DURING THE LAST
42 MONTHS OF THIS AGE - Keith Hunt)
A wave of popular veneration for him soon swept the countries of Eurojpe. His life and legend inspired the faithful everywhere with confidence and devotion. What attracted them was his kindness to all and his great love for the poor, which made him a fearless advocate of the common people before the great ones of his time. What appealed to the faithful most, however, was his power of help and intercession, the result of a life of utter unselfishness, charity, zeal, and deepest familiarity with God in prayer. With Joseph, he is the only male saint who is pictured holding the child Jesus in his arms—a favor granted him in a famous vision.
Many and varied are the patronages ascribed to him. During the time of the wars against the Turks the Christian land armies stood under his special protection. His help was invoked by the troops before every battle. The reason for this patronage was the conviction that the saint, who had been forced by sickness to quit his spiritual battle against Islam, would now be glad to assist the fighters of Christianity in defending their faith and their countries against the cruel attacks of Mohammedans.26
(WAR AS PART OF "CHRISTIANITY" - A
TWISTED MIND-SET, BUT THEY HAD
"SAINTS" IN HEAVEN WHO BACKED
THEM UP AND GAVE THEM THE
HEAVENLY RIGHT TO MAKE WAR -
In 1668 the Spanish government, by special royal order, made the saint a soldier of the second regiment of infantry. At every victory in which the regiment was involved, an official promotion to higher rank was given him. After two hundred years he had obtained the rank of colonel. Finally, in 1889, he shared the fate of so many other great soldiers of our times: he was accorded the rank of general and retired from active service.27
Another patronage of Saint Anthony's is that of the poor. The faithful soon discovered that a powerful means of obtaining his special favor was for them to give alms to the poor. The custom soon spread over Europe, and in 1890 this charity was organized at Toulon, France, under the official name "Saint Anthony's Bread," a title which may now be found on poor boxes in many churches.28
In Latin countries (Portugal, Italy, Spain, France) Saint Anthony is the patron of sailors and fishermen. They place his statue in a little shrine on the ship's mast, pray to him in storms and dangers, and even "scold" him if he does not answer their petitions for help speedily enough.
(SO IT GOES IF YOU BELIEVE IN THE
IMMORTAL SOUL, WHY NOT PRAY OR
ASK FOR HELP ETC. FROM THOSE IN
HEAVEN.....WELL THE ROMAN
CATHOLICS DO JUST THAT. NOT SURE
WHY THE PROTESTANTS DO NOT. I
MEAN IF YOU BELIEVE YOUR LOVED
ONES ARE IN HEAVEN, WHY NOT ASK
THEM TO ASK THE FATHER THIS OR
THAT, TO KINDA INTERCEDE FOR YOU.
IT WOULD SEEM TO BE LOGICAL, WELL
THE ROMAN CATHOLICS THINK IT IS
LOGICAL - Keith Hunt)
In all Catholic countries Saint Anthony holds a special place in the hearts of women. They turn to him with their problems of love and espousal, happiness in married life, fertility, good and healthy children.29 This patronage was doubtless occasioned by his great kindness and goodness to all, and by the fact that images show him with the Holy Child held tenderly in his arms.
Girls go to his shrines to pray for a husband. They light candles before his image and drink from the fountain in the churchyard (Anthony's Well). In Spain he is called Santo Casamentero (the Holy Matchmaker). The Basque girls make a pilgrimage on his feast day to the town of Durango in Biscaya, where they climb a high mountain and pray there in the shrine "for a good boy." Sometimes their prayers are answered immediately; for the young Basque men have the habit of making the same journey, waiting outside the church, and asking the girls to dance after their devotions.
Saint Anthony's best-known gift, however, is his power of restoring all manner of lost things. In little matters and great, he is prayed to constantly by millions of people, and, like Saint Christopher, is often invoked by non-Catholics as well. There is no particular event in his life, nor any legend, that would explain the origin of this patronage. In fact, many explanations have been attempted, and most of them are quite unsatisfactory.
The most logical seems to be the report in an ancient Portuguese book (and the event might well be historical) that a man had stolen a valuable volume of chants from a monastery. Some time afterward, when praying to Saint Anthony, he not only felt sorry for the theft but was also inspired with a great urge to return the book. He did so, revealing that the saint had made him restore the "lost" volume; whereupon people began to invoke Saint Anthony on similar occasions when something belonging to them was lost30 The custom of praying to the saint for lost articles actually started in Portugal and spread from there to the rest of Europe, whence immigrants brought it with them to America.
Tuesday is devoted in a particular way to the veneration of Saint Anthony because he was buried on Tuesday, June 17, 1231. In the seventeenth century the practice began of holding weekly devotions to him; and even today most "perpetual novenas" to Saint Anthony are held on Tuesdays.31
Portugal and Italy, where the saint was born and where he died, honor his feast day with unusual festive splendor and great devotion. In Portugal the epithet "of Padua" is never used, for to the Portuguese he remains "Anthony of Lisbon" or "of Alfama" (the district of Lisbon where he was born). There every house on June 13 displays, among other decorations, a shrine with a statue of the saint.
Liturgical Prayer • The solemnity of Saint Anthony, Thy Confessor, may give joy to Thy Church, O God; and let her be ever defended by this spiritual assistance, that she may merit the bliss of eternal joys.
JOHN THE BAPTIST (JUNE 24)
This saint was highly honored throughout the whole Church from the beginning. Proof of this is, among other things, the fact that fifteen churches were dedicated to him in the ancient imperial city of Constantinople.32 Being the precursor of our Lord, he was accorded the same honor as the first great saints of the Christian era, although he belonged to the Old Covenant. The fact that Christ praised him so highly (Matthew 11:11) encouraged, of course, a special veneration. Accordingly, we find a regular cycle of feasts in his honor among the early Christian churches.
It was the firm belief among the faithful that John was freed from original sin at the moment when his mother met the Blessed Virgin (Luke 1:45). Saint Augustine mentioned this belief as a general tradition in the ancient Church.33 In any case, it is certain that he was "filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother's womb" (Luke 1:15) and, therefore, born without original sin. Accordingly, the Church celebrates his natural birth by a festival of his "nativity," assigned exactly six months before the nativity of Christ, since John was six months older than the Lord. As soon as the Feast of Christmas was established on December 25 (in the fifth century) the date of the Baptist's birth was assigned to June 24.34
The question arises of why June 24, and not 25. It has often been claimed that the Church authorities wanted to "Christianize" the pagan solstice celebrations and for this reason advanced Saint John's feast as a substitute for the former pagan festival. However, the real reason why Saint John's Day falls on June 24 lies in the Roman way of counting, which proceeded backward from the calends (first day) of the succeeding month. Christmas was "the eighth day before the Kalends of January" (Octavo Kalendas Januarii). Consequently, Saint John's nativity was put on the "eighth day before the Kalends of July." However, since June has only thirty days, in our way of counting the feast falls on June 24.35
The Council of Agde, in 506, listed the Nativity of Saint John among the highest feasts of the year, a day on which all faithful had to attend Mass and abstain from servile work.36 Indeed, so great was the rank of this festival that, just as on Christmas, three Masses were celebrated, one during the vigil service, the second at dawn, the third in the morning.37 In 1022, a synod at Seligen-stadt, Germany, prescribed a fourteen-day fast and abstinence in preparation for the Feast of the Baptist. This, however, was never accepted into universal practice by the Roman authorities.38
On August 29 the death of the saint is honored by a Feast of the Beheading. A third festival was celebrated in the Oriental Church in honor of "Saint John's Conception" (on September 23), commemorating the fact that an angel had announced his conception.39 This feast, however, was not adopted by the Latin Church. The Greek Rite (on the day after Epiphany), and recently also the Latin Church (on January 13), keep a feast in memory of Saint John baptizing the Lord.
The Baptist is patron of tailors (because he made his own garments in the desert), of shepherds (because he spoke of the "Lamb of God"), and of masons.40 This patronage over masons is traced to his words:
Make ready the way of the Lord,
make straight all his paths.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be brought low,
And the crooked shall he made straight,
and the rough ways smooth. (Luke 3, 4-6.)
All over Europe, from Scandinavia to Spain, and from Ireland to Russia, Saint John's Day festivities are closely associated with the ancient nature lore of the great summer festival of pre-Christian times.41 Fires are lighted on mountains and hilltops on the eve of his feast. These "Saint John's fires" burn brightly and quietly along the fiords of Norway, on the peaks of the Alps, on the slopes of the Pyrenees, and on the mountains of Spain (where they are called Hogueras). They were an ancient symbol of the warmth and light of the sun which the forefathers greeted at the beginning of summer. In many places, great celebrations are held with dances, games, and outdoor meals.
Fishermen from Brittany keep this custom even while far out at sea in the Arctic Ocean. They hoist a barrel filled with cast of clothing to the tip of the mainsail yard and set the contents on fire. All ships of the fishing fleet fight up at the same time, about eight o'clock in the evening. The men gather around the mast, pray and sing. Afterward they celebrate in their quarters, and the captain gives each crew member double pay.42
Another custom is that of fighting many small fires in the valleys and plains. People gather around, jump through the flames, and sing traditional songs in praise of the saint or of summer. This custom is based on the pre-Christian "need fires" (niedfyr, nodfyr) which were believed to cleanse, cure, and immunize people from all kinds of disease, curses, and dangers 43. In Spain these smaller fires (fogatas) are lighted in the streets of towns and cities, everybody contributing some old furniture or other wood, while children jump over the flames. In Brest, France, the bonfires are replaced by lighted torches which people throw in the air. In other districts of France they cover wagon wheels with straw, then set them on fire with a blessed candle and roll them down the hill slopes.
As the first day of summer, Saint John's Day is considered in ancient folklore one of the great "charmed" festivals of the year. Hidden treasures are said to lie open in lonely places, waiting for the lucky finder.44Divining rods should be cut on this day. Herbs are given unusual powers of healing, which they retain if they are plucked during the night of the feast.45 In Germany they call these herbs Johanneskraut (St. John's herbs), and people bring them to church for a special blessing.
In Scandinavia and in the Slavic countries it is an ancient superstition that on Saint John's Day witches and demons are allowed to roam the earth. As at Halloween, children go the rounds and demand "treats," straw figures are thrown into the flames, and much noise is made to drive the demons away.46
It should be noted, however, that in the Catholic sections of Europe the combination of the ancient festival of nature lore with the Feast of the Baptist has resulted in a tradition of dignified celebration, which has come down to our day. People gather around the fireplace, dressed in their national or local costumes, and sing their beautiful ancient songs. When the fire is lighted, one of them recites a poem that expresses the thought of the feast. Then they pray together to Saint John for his intercession that the summer may be blessed in homes, fields, and country, and finally perform some of the traditional folk dances, usually accompanied by singing and music.47
Liturgical Prayer • O God who hast made this an honored day for us by the birth of Saint John: bestow upon Thy people the grace of spiritual joys, and guide the hearts of all Thy faithful into the way of eternal salvation.
AND SO IT ALL SOUNDS NICE AND "CHRISTIAN" -
TAKE THINGS FROM THE PAGANS, ADD SOME
CHRISTIAN "SAINTS" - MIX IT ALL UP AND COME
OUT WITH A NEW THEOLOGICAL FOOD. BUT AGAIN
IF ONE BELIEVES IN THE IMMORTAL SOUL, AND
ALL THE SAINTS ARE UP IN HEAVEN, THEN YOU
CAN EASILY JUSTIFY ADDING AND MIXING ALL OF
THIS THEOLOGY....WELL THE ROMAN CATHOLICS CAN.