Build a Bonfire for the Nativity of St. John the Baptist

June 23, 2016

There’s just something about men and fire. We love it. The snapping wood angrily spitting sparks. The hypnotic dance of the flames. The pulsing glow of light filling the dark night. The warmth of matter turned into energy.

It’s all a bit magical.

And if you’re looking for an excuse to build a bonfire, the Church gives us a great reason to do so tonight, for tonight is the vigil of the Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, the prophetic forerunner of Jesus Christ. 

John the Baptist was a man on fire with the Holy Spirit. His words burned like a furnace, and he feared no one, even the powerful rulers of his day. He called all to repentance without exception, and lightened the way for the messiah like a blazing torch. What better way to commemorate this zealous prophet than with a roaring bonfire?

And indeed, it is an ancient tradition of the Church to build a bonfire on the night of June 23, the vigil of St. John’s nativity, and keep watch through the night. The vigil of this feast is also symbolic in that it takes place only a few days after the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, calling to mind St. John’s declaration that, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).

So build a fire tonight, like centuries of Catholics before you, and spend time with your family and loved ones. Remember this great saint who courageously preached the coming of the Messiah, and ask him for his intercession.

The Roman Ritual contains a priestly blessing for the vigil fire, and it is one of the oldest prayers contained in it. But if no priest is available to bless your fire, the family can sing the hymn together and the father can recite the closing prayer. Enjoy!


P: Our help is in the name of the Lord.
All: Who made heaven and earth.

P: The Lord be with you.
All: May He also be with you.

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: Ut queant laxis

1. 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.

1. Ut queant laxis resonáre fibris
Mira gestórum fámuli tuórum,
Solve pollúti lábii reátum, Sancte Joánnes.

2. 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.

2. Núntius celso véniens Olýmpo
Te patri magnum fore nascitúrum,
Nomen, et vitae sériem geréndae
Ordinae promit.

3. Scarcely believing message so transcendent,
Him for a season power of speech forsaketh,
Till, at your wondrous birth, again returneth,
Voice to the voiceless.

3. Ille promíssi dúbius supérni,
Pérdidit promptae módulos loquélae: 
Sed reformásti genitus perémptae 
Organa vocis.

4. 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.

4. Ventris obstrúso récubans cubíli 
Sénseras Regem thálamo manéntem:
Hinc parens nati méritis utérque Abdita pandit.

5. 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.

5. Sit decus Patri, genitaéque Proli
et tibi, compare utriúsque virtus, 
Spíritus semper, Deus unus, omni 
Témporis aevo. 

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.

Sam Guzman


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Reader Interactions


  1. Jamie Banuski says

    As one who serves several lay Carmelites, I am deeply grateful for your honoring the zeal of Saint John. Akin to the perpetuity of Christ’s work is the ferocious, loving guidance of Saint John. Repent!


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