Today is the Solemnity of the Birth of St. John the Baptist. Only two other birthdays are celebrated on the Church Calendar: The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the The Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Otherwise, saints and blessed are remembered on the dates of the deaths (or perhaps the "translation" of their remains or some other important date--not usually their birthdate). The saint's day of earthly death is the beginning of their eternal life in Heaven. This site offers the reason for honoring St. John the Baptist on his birhday--because he was cleansed from Original Sin, baptised as it were, when Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth and he leapt in his mother's womb when the unborn Jesus in Mary's womb came near him. St. Augustine pointed to this understanding of St. John the Baptist's holy birth.
(St. John the Baptist has another feast, that of his Beheading, on August 29, and a friend of mine pointed out that the Orthodox churches honor St. John the Baptist even more often: September 23 —Conception of St. John the Forerunner; January 7 — The Synaxis of St. John the Forerunner; February 24 — First and Second Finding of the Head of St. John the Forerunner; May 25 — Third Finding of the Head of St. John the Forerunner; June 24 — Nativity of St. John the Forerunner, and August 29 — The Beheading of St. John the Forerunner!)
Devotion to St. John the Baptist is ancient in the Church and his Nativity was celebrated with a vigil and with bonfires on the feast. This site points out a pilgrimage site in Norfolk before the English Reformation demonstrating devotion to the saint as a martyr, as it had a replica of the head of St. John the Baptist. The image was destroyed at some point during the Reformation, of course.
The provisions of Elizabeth I's Act of Uniformity of 1559 all took effect on this feast:
Where at the death of our late sovereign lord King Edward VI there remained one uniform order of common service and prayer, and of the administration of sacraments, rites, and ceremonies in the Church of England, which was set forth in one book, intituled: The Book of Common Prayer, and Administration of Sacraments, and other rites and ceremonies in the Church of England; authorized by Act of Parliament holden in the fifth and sixth years of our said late sovereign lord King Edward VI, intituled: An Act for the uniformity of common prayer, and administration of the sacraments; the which was repealed and taken away by Act of Parliament in the first year of the reign of our late sovereign lady Queen Mary, to the great decay of the due honour of God, and discomfort to the professors of the truth of Christ's religion:
Be it therefore enacted by the authority of this present Parliament, that the said statute of repeal, and everything therein contained, only concerning the said book, and the service, administration of sacraments, rites, and ceremonies contained or appointed in or by the said book, shall be void and of none effect, from and after the feast of the Nativity of St. John Baptist next coming; and that the said book, with the order of service, and of the administration of sacraments, rites, and ceremonies, with the alterations and additions therein added and appointed by this statute, shall stand and be, from and after the said feast of the Nativity of St. John Baptist, in full force and effect, according to the tenor and effect of this statute; anything in the aforesaid statute of repeal to the contrary notwithstanding.
St. John the Baptist, the Forerunner, Prophet and Martyr, pray for us!
In Wichita, Kansas tonight, at Blessed Sacrament Church, Mass in the Extraordinary Form of the Latin Liturgy of the Roman Rite will be celebrated at 19:00 hours! (7:00 p.m.)
Image credit: (public domain) Birth of St John the Baptist by Artemisia Gentileschi c. 1635