UNBORN WORD of the day

June 23, 2007, 11:58 pm
Filed under: Quotes from Great Christians


Today, Sunday, June 24th is the Solemnity of the Nativity of John the Baptist.

Q1. Were Mary and her unborn baby, Jesus, present at the birth of John the Baptist?
Q2. Why does the Church celebrate John’s birth on June 24th rather than June 25th (the latter date would be exactly 6 months before the Lord’s birth on Dec. 25th)?
Q3. John’s father Zechariah was unable to speak, but could he hear?

A1. Since this is the most important question of the three we will devote the most time to this first one. (And some source info. will be listed at the end of this post.) When one consults both Catholic and Protestant Bible Commentaries there is not universal agreement on the answer, however a strong majority in my survey either state clearly that Mary stayed for the birth or remain silent about it as opposed to actually taking the negative position. The possible confusion relates to the positioning of verses 56 and 57 in Luke 1. Here’s what two Catholic commentaries say: a.) “Luke stylistically closes the scene; Mary must have remained longer, in order to be of service at the birth of John the Baptist”, b.) “Lk rounds off one theme before passing on to another. Consequently, it does not follow that Mary had departed before the birth of John”. *

Here’s how one Catholic mother and author answered: “No one is sure, they say, if she stayed for the birth of St. John. I am amazed. So is every mother I know. Let the scholars haggle over it if they will; of course she stayed…” (Mary Reed Newland)*

In his book The World’s First Love, Archbishop Fulton Sheen talks about Mary being present at three births – listing first the birth of John the Baptist. (Chp. 3) In their book The Gospel Story, Ronald Knox and Ronald Cox make the following observation about the scene eight days after the birth of John when he is being named: “This scene is most vivid if we recall that the Messias himself was present there, in his mother’s womb”. (Chp. 1)

Finally, it has long been believed that it was Mary who told Luke about all the events occurring in the first two chapters of Luke (directly or indirectly as the source).

A2. In the fifth century A.D. the Feast of Christmas was established on December 25th, (exactly nine months, to the day, after the March 25th feast of the Annunciation). Gabriel told Mary that Elizabeth was in her sixth month of pregnancy. So 3 months after March 25th brings us to June 25th. But according to Francis Weiser, S.J., we celebrate on the 24th because of “…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”.

A3. The only reason this is a question is because of Lk 1:62: “And they made signs to his father (Zechariah), inquiring what he would have him called.” There are two schools of thought. But nowhere does it state that Zechariah could not hear. Rev. L.C. Fillion, S.S. points out that the Angel Gabriel had only threatened Zechariah with loss of speech and when he is “cured” the Gospel only states that “his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed”, further he suggests that when someone is signing to you (because he can’t speak) you may be inclined to respond in kind (even if he can hear).*

* Q1. a.) Jerome Biblical Commentary b.) A New Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture. Also, the IVP Bible Background Commentary, New Testament and Halley’s Bible Handbook, New Revised Ed. Zondervan, 1965.
Newland: The Year and Our Children, P.J. Kenedy & Sons, NY, 1956.
Q2. Fr. Weiser, S.J., Handbook of Christian Feasts and Customs, Harcourt, Brace & Co., NY, 1958.
Q3. Fillion: The Life of Christ, Herder Book Co., St. Louis, 1940.

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