Kerald (Meister des Codex Egberti. Codex Egberti, Fol 15v, Szene: Bethlehemitischer Kindermord, 10. Jh., 10,3 X 13,3, Trier, Stadtbibliothek
Enfants de moins de 2 ans massacrés pour le Christ par Hérode à Bethléem (Ier siècle.)
C'étaient des tout-petits enfants, ils avaient à peine 2 ans pour les plus âgés. L'âge de la crèche, pas même de la maternelle. Pour leurs pères et leurs mères, ils étaient des merveilles, des enfançons qu'on élève encore contre sa joue et que l'on fait bénir par le premier prophète qui passe. Voulant atteindre le roi d'Israël, ce sont les petits qu'Hérode fait tuer, les premiers accueillis par le Dieu d'Amour qui vient sauver les hommes. Ils sont incapables de parler. Mais aux yeux du Christ, c'est l'existence et non l'âge qui offre la liberté d'entrer dans l'Église.
Petits enfants qui furent massacrés à Bethléem de Judée sur l'ordre du roi impie Hérode, pour que périsse avec eux l'enfant Jésus. Dès les premiers siècles de l'Église, ils ont été honorés comme martyrs, car ils sont les prémices de tous ceux qui devaient verser leur sang pour Dieu et pour l'Agneau de Dieu.
Les Saints Innocents
The Massacre of the Innocents.Stained glass panel from Eksta Church, Gotland (Sweden),. Today in the Swedish History Museum, Stockholm.
Herod orders the Massacre of the Innocents; the Flight of Elizabeth; the martyrdom of Zachariah in the Paris Gregory, a 9th century Byzantine manuscript. According to the Gospel of Matthew (2:16–18), Herod the Great ordered the massacre of all infants in the Kingdom of Judaea. According to the Gospel of James, Zachariah the father of John the Baptist is sought out and killed by soldiers of Herod the Great in the Temple of Jerusalem (23–24), while Elizabeth and the infant prophet John are hidden in the mountains (22:3). Detail from a Greek manuscript dated 879–883 AD and containing the homilies of Gregory of Nazianzus, now in the National Library of France. (BnF MS Gr510 folio 440 recto – detail)
Au deuxième nocturne.
François-Joseph Navez, Le massacre des innocents, 1824
Dans cet accord sublime de toutes les Liturgies, nous admettrons celles du moyen âge des Églises Latines, en insérant cette Séquence, composition du XI° siècle, qui se trouve dans la plupart de nos anciens Missels Romains-Français.
Bhx Cardinal Schuster, Liber Sacramentorum
Saint Quodvultdeus de Carthage (437 à 453): « Enfants martyrisés par Hérode et témoins du Christ »
- Children’s Mass
- 28 December (Roman Catholic; Church of England; Lutheran Church)
- 27 December (Syriac Orthodox Church; Syro-Malankara Catholic Church; Maronite Church; Chaldeans; Syro-Malabar Catholic Church)
- 29 December (Eastern Orthodox Church)
When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi. Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet: “A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation; Rachel weeping for her children, and she would not be consoled, since they were no more.” – Matthew 2:16-18
- against ambition
- against jealousy
- altar servers
- children’s choir
- choir boys
- Book of Saints, by the Monks of Ramsgate
- Catholic Encyclopedia
- Catholic Pocket Dictionary
- Goffine’s Devout Instructions
- Golden Legend, by Jacobus de Voragine
- Lives of the Saints, by Father Alban Butler
- Lives of the Saints, by Father Francis Xavier Weninger
- Laurence Housman: The Holy Innocents
- New Catholic Dictionary
- Pictorial Lives of the Saints
- Romany Martyrology, 1914 edition
- Saints of the Day, by Katherine Rabenstein
- The Liturgical Year, by Father Prosper Gueranger
- 1001 Patron Saints and Their Feast Days, Australian Catholic Truth Society
- Catholic Fire
- Catholic News Agency
- Father Dwight Longnecker
- Franciscan Media
- Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
- Holy Trinity Orthodox Church
- Images of the Massacre of the Innocents
- Independent Catholic News
- New Liturgical Movement
A tiny child is born, who is a great king. Wise men are led to him from afar. They come to adore one who lies in a manger and yet reigns in heaven and on earth. When they tell of one who is born a king, Herod is disturbed. To save his kingdom he resolves to kill him, though if he would have faith in the child, he himself would reign in peace in this life and for ever in the life to come.
Why are you afraid, Herod, when you hear of the birth of a king? He does not come to drive you out, but to conquer the devil. But because you do not understand this you are disturbed and in a rage. To destroy one child whom you seek, you show your cruelty in the death of so many children.
You are not restrained by the love of weeping mothers and fathers mourning the deaths of their sons, nor by the cries and sobs of the children. You destroy those who are tiny in body because fear is destroying your heart. You imagine that if you accomplish your desire you can prolong you own life, though you are seeking to kill Life himself.
The children die for Christ, though they do not know it. The parents mourn for the death of martyrs. The Christ child makes of those as yet unable to speak fit witnesses to himself. But you, Herod, do not know this and are disturbed and furious. While you vent your fury against the child, you are already paying him homage, and do not know it.
To what merits of their own do the children owe this kind of victory? They cannot speak, yet they bear witness to Christ. They cannot use their limbs to engage in battle, yet already they bear off the palm of victory. – from a sermon by bishop Saint Quodvultdeus about the Holy Innocents
- “Holy Innocents“. CatholicSaints.Info. 21 August 2020. Web. 28 December 2020. <https://catholicsaints.info/holy-innocents/>
nec ipsius infans tutus est a caede.
Ad Augustum hoc delatum risum movit,
et rex mitis de immiti digne lusit:
malum, inquit, est Herodis esse natum. prodest magis talis regis esse porcum.
But this "infant" mentioned by Macrobius, is Antipater, the adult son of Herod, who, by command of the dying king was decapitated for having conspired against the life of his father.
It is impossible to determine the day or the year of the death of the Holy Innocents, since the chronology of the birth of Christ and the subsequent Biblical events is most uncertain. All we know is that the infants were slaughtered within two years following the apparition of the star to the Wise Men (Belser, in the Tübingen "Quartalschrift", 1890, p. 361). The Church venerates these children as martyrs (flores martyrum); they are the first buds of the Church killed by the frost of persecution; they died not only for Christ, but in his stead (St. Aug., "Sermo 10us de sanctis"). In connection with them the Apostle recalls the words of the Prophet Jeremias (xxxi, 15) speaking of the lamentation of Rachel. At Rama is the tomb of Rachel, representative of the ancestresses of Israel. There the remnants of the nation were gathered to be led into captivity. As Rachel, after the fall of Jerusalem, from her tomb wept for the sons of Ephraim, so she now weeps again for the men children of Bethlehem. The ruin of her people, led away to Babylon, is only a type of the ruin which menaces her children now, when the Messias is to be murdered and is compelled to flee from the midst of His own nation to escape from the sword of the apparitor. The lamentation of Rachel after the fall of Jerusalem receives its eminent completion at the sight of the downfall of her people, ushered in by the slaughter of her children and the banishment of the Messias.
The Latin Church instituted the feast of the Holy Innocents at a date now unknown, not before the end of the fourth and not later than the end of the fifth century. It is, with the feasts of St. Stephen and St. John, first found in the Leonine Sacramentary, dating from about 485. To the Philocalian Calendar of 354 it is unknown. The Latins keep it on 28 December, the Greeks on 29 December, the Syrians and Chaldeans on 27 December. These dates have nothing to do with the chronological order of the event; the feast is kept within the octave of Christmas because the Holy Innocents gave their life for the newborn Saviour. Stephen the first martyr (martyr by will, love, and blood), John, the Disciple of Love (martyr by will and love), and these first flowers of the Church (martyrs by blood alone) accompany the Holy Child Jesus entering this world on Christmas day. Only the Church of Rome applies the word Innocentes to these children; in other Latin countries they are called simply Infantes and the feast had the title "Allisio infantium" (Brev. Goth.), "Natale infantum", or "Necatio infantum". The Armenians keep it on Monday after the Second Sunday after Pentecost (Armenian Menology, 11 May), because they believe the Holy Innocents were killed fifteen weeks after the birth of Christ.
In the Roman Breviary the feast was only a semi-double (in other breviaries a minor double) up to the time of Pius V, who, in his new Breviary (1568), raised it to a double of the second class with an octave (G. Schober, "Expl. rit. brev. rom.", 1891, p. 38). He also introduced the two hymns "Salvete flores martyrum" and "Audit tyrannus anxius", which are fragments of the Epiphany hymn of Prudentius. Before Pius V the Church of Rome sang the Christmas hymns on the feast of the Holy Innocents. The proper preface of the Gelasian Sacramentary for this feast is still found in the Ambrosian Missal. We possess a lengthy hymn in honour of the Holy Innocents from the pen of the Venerable Bede, "Hymnum canentes martyrum" (Dreves, "Analecta hymnica") and a sequence composed by Notker, "Laus tibi Christe", but most Churches at Mass used the "Clesa pueri concrepant melodia" (Kehrein, "Sequenzen", 1873, p. 348). At Bethlehem the feast is a Holy Day of obligation. The liturgical colour of the Roman Church is purple, not red, because these children were martyred at a time when they could not attain the beatific vision. But of compassion, as it were, towards the weeping mothers of Bethlehem, the Church omits at Mass both the Gloria and Alleluia; this custom, however, was unknown in the Churches of France and Germany. On the octave day, and also when the feast falls on a Sunday, the Roman Liturgy, prescribes the red colour, the Gloria, and the Alleluia. In England the feast was called "Childermas".
The Roman Station of 28 December is at St. Paul's Outside the Walls, because that church is believed to possess the bodies of several of the Holy Innocents. A portion of these relics was transferred by Sixtus V to Santa Maria Maggiore (feast on 5 May; it is a semi-double). The church of St. Justina at Padua, the cathedrals of Lisbon and Milan, and other churches also preserve bodies which they claim to be those of some of the Holy Innocents. In many churches in England, Germany, and France on the feast of St. Nicholas (6 December) a boy-bishop was elected, who officiated on the feast of St. Nicholas and of the Holy Innocents. He wore a mitre and other pontifical insignia, sang the collect, preached, and gave the blessing. He sat in the bishop's chair whilst the choir-boys sang in the stalls of the canons. They directed the choir on these two days and had their solemn procession (Schmidt, "Thesaurus jur eccl.", III, 67 sqq.; Kirchenlex., IV, 1400; P.L., CXLVII, 135).
Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Robert B. Olson. Offered to Almighty God for the protection of children in the womb and the conversion of people who promote, vote for, and carry out abortions.
Copyright © 2020 by Kevin Knight. Dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Feast of the Holy Innocents
Holy Innocents MM (RM)
1st century; feast day in the Eastern Church is December 29.
Your day was in its morning hours
When Christ was sought and your were found
Like rain-strewn petals on the ground."
--Prudentius, Salvete, flores martyrum
Herod, who was reigning in Judea at the time of the birth of Our Saviour, having heard that the Wisemen had come from the East to Jerusalem in search of the King of the Jews, was troubled. He called together the chief priests, and learning that Christ was to be born in Bethlehem, he told the Wisemen: “When you have found Him, bring me word again, that I also may come and adore Him.” But God having warned them in a dream not to return, they went back to their homes another way. Saint Joseph, too, was ordered in his sleep to “take the Child and His mother and fly into Egypt.” When Herod found that the Wisemen did not return, he was furious, and ordered that every male child in Bethlehem and its vicinity of the age of two and under should be slain. These innocent victims were the flowers and the first-fruits of His martyrs, and triumphed over the world, without having ever known it or experienced its dangers.
Reflection – How few perhaps of these children, if they had lived, would have escaped the dangers of the world! What snares, what sins, what miseries were they preserved from! So we often lament as misfortunes many accidents which in the designs of heaven are the greatest mercies.
- John Dawson Gilmary Shea. “The Holy Innocents”. , 1922. CatholicSaints.Info. 15 December 2018. Web. 28 December 2020. <https://catholicsaints.info/pictorial-lives-of-the-saints-the-holy-innocents/>
The Massacre of the Innocents, German manuscript, circa 1350, British Library, Shelfmark Add. 17687 B
The account of the martyrdom of these children is given in the gospel of today. The Church justly honors them as martyrs, since they confessed Christ, if not by the mouth, yet by their death, which they suffered by reason of Herod’s hatred against Christ.
The Introit of the Mass reads: “Out of the mouth of infants and sucklings Thou hast perfected praise, because of Thy enemies, O Lord. O Lord, how admirable is Thy name in the whole earth.” Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
O God, Whose praise the martyred innocents confessed on this day – not by speaking, but by dying – mortify in us all the evils of vices, that our life also may confess by actions Thy faith, which our tongue proclaims. Through Our Lord Jesus Christ, etc.
Epistle: Apocalypse 14:1-5
In those days I beheld a Lamb standing upon Mount Sion, and with Him an hundred forty-four thousand having His name, and the name of His Father written on their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven, as the noise of many waters, and as the voice of great thunder; and the voice which I heard was as the voice of harpers, harping on their harps. And they sung as it were a new canticle, before the throne, and before the four living creatures, and the ancients; and no man could say the canticle, but those hundred forty-four thousand, who were purchased from the earth. These are they who were not defiled with women, for they are virgins. These follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth. These were purchased from among men, the first-fruits to God and to the Lamb; and in their mouth there was found no lie, for they are without spot before the throne of God.
Gospel: Matthew 2:13-18
At that time: An angel of the Lord appeared in sleep to Joseph, saying: Arise, and take the child and His Mother, and fly into Egypt; and be there until I shall tell thee; for it will come to pass that Herod will seek the child to destroy him. Who arose, and took the child and His Mother by night, and retired into Egypt; and he was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which the Lord spoke by the prophet, saying: Out of Egypt have I called My Son. Then Herod perceiving that he was deluded by the Wise Men, was exceeding angry; and sending killed all the men-children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the borders thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had dilligently inquired of the Wise Men. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremias the prophet, saying: A voice in Rama was heard, lamentation and great mourning; Rachel bewailing her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.
What persons are like Herod?
All those who destroy innocent children, in body or in soul, for example, imprudent and careless mothers who injure the fruit of their womb by excessive dancing, by heavy labor, by vehement anger or immoderate grief; unmanly men who are cruel to their wives while with child, who strike them, incite them to anger, or terrify them; heedless parents who neglect their little ones, who take them into bed at the risk of suffocating them, who do not take pains to keep them clean and healthy; those corrupt and godless women who destroy the fruit of their shame either before or after birth, and while yet unbaptized. But more cruel than all these, and even than Herod himself, are they who scandalize little children by impure conversations, by indecent songs, by acts of impurity in their presence, or by inciting them to the like; for thereby they plunge the souls of the children into destruction.
Goffine’s Devout Instructions
The Innocents be called innocents for three reasons. First, by cause and reason of life, and by reason of pain, and by reason of innocence. By reason of life they be said innocents because they had an innocent life. They grieved nobody, neither God, by inobedience, nor their neighbours by untruth, nor by conceiving of any sin, and therefore it is said in the psalter:
The innocents and righteous have joined them to me.
The innocents by their life and righteousness in the faith, by reason of pain, for they suffered death innocently and wrongly, whereof David saith:
They have shed the blood of innocents by reason of innocency.
That they had, because that in this martyrdom they were baptized and made clean of the original sin, of which innocence is said in the psalter:
Keep thou innocency of baptism and see equity of good works.
Holy church maketh feast of the Innocents which were put to death because of our Lord Jesu Christ. For Herod Ascalonita for to find and put to death our Lord which was born in Bethlehem, he did do slay all the children in Bethlehem and there about, from the age of two years and under unto one day, unto the sum of one hundred and forty-four thousand children. For to understand which Herod it was that so cruelly did do put so many children to death, it is to wit that there were three Herods, and all three were cruel tyrants, and were in their time of great fame and much renowned for their great malice.
The first was Herod Ascalonita: he reigned in Jerusalem when our Lord was born.
But now let us come to this first Herod that did do slay the innocent children. His father was named Antipater as history scholastic saith, and was king of Idumea and paynim; he took a wife which was niece to the king of Arabia, on whom he had three sons and a daughter, of whom that one was named Herod Ascalonita. This Herod served so well to Julian the emperor of Rome that he gave to him the realm of Jerusalem. Then lost the Jews kings of their lineage, and then was showed the prophecy of the birth of our Lord.
This Herod Ascalonita had six sons, Antipater, Alexander, Aristobulus, Archelaus, Herod Antipas, and Philip. Of these children, Herod sent Alexander and Aristobulus to school to Rome, and Alexander became a wise and subtle advocate. And when they were come from school again they began to enter into words against Herod their father, to whom he would leave his realm after him, wherefore their father was angry with them, and put tofore them Antipater their brother for to come to the realm. Upon that, incontinent they treated of the death of their father, wherefore their father enchased them away, and they went again to Rome and complained of their father to the emperor.
Anon after this came the three kings in to Jerusalem, and demanded where the king of Jews was, that was new born. Herod when he heard this, he had great dread lest any were born of the true lineage of the kings of the Jews, and that he were the very true heir, and of whom he might be chased out of the realm. And when he had demanded of the three kings how they had had knowledge of the new king, they answered by a star being in the air, which was not naturally fixed in the heaven as the others were. Then he prayed them that they would return to him after that they had worshipped and seen this new king, that he might go after and worship the child. This said he fraudulently, for he thought to slay him.
After that the three kings were gone without bringing him any tidings, he thought that anon he would do slay all the children newly born in Bethlehem and thereabouts, among whom he thought to slay Jesu Christ. But his thought was empeshed and let, for the emperor sent to him a citation that he should come to Rome for to answer to the accusation that Aristobulus and Alexander, his two sons, had made against him, and therefore he durst not put then the children to death, to the end that he should not be accused of so cruel a deed with his other trespasses; so he was in going to Rome and abiding there, and in coming, more than half a year, and in that while Jesus was borne into Egypt. When Herod came to Rome the emperor ordained that his sons should do him honour and obey him, and he should leave his realm after his death where it best pleased him.
Upon this, when he was come again, and felt himself confirmed of the realm, he was more hardy to slay the children than he had tofore thought. Then he sent into Bethlehem and did do slay all the children that were of the age of two years, because it was passed more than a year that the three kings had told him tidings of the king of Jews new-born. But wherefore then did he do slay the children that were but one night old? Hereto Saint Austin saith that Herod doubted that Jesus, to whom the stars served, might make himself some younger than he was. After this came upon Herod a right vengeance, for like as he dissevered many mothers from their children, in like wise was he dissevered from his children. It happed that he had suspicion upon his two sons, Alexander and Aristobulus; for one of his servants said to him that Alexander had promised to him great gifts if he would give to his father to drink poison or venom, and the barber said to the king that he had promised him a great thing if, when he made the king‘s beard, he would cut his throat, and for this cause Herod did do slay them both, and ordained in his testament that Antipater, his son, should be king after him. Upon this Antipater, his son, had great desire to come to the realm, and was accused that he had made ready venom for to empoison his father, for a maid, a servant, afterward showed the same venom to the king, wherefore he did do put his son Antipater in prison.
When Augustus, the emperor of Rome, heard say that Herod ruled thus his children, he then said: I had liefer be the swine or hog of Herod than his son, for he which is strange in his living spareth his swine, and he put to death his sons.
Herod when he was seventy years old he fell in a grievous malady by right vengeance of God, for a strong fever took him within and without; he had his flesh hot and dry chauffed, his feet swelled and became of a pale colour. The plants of his feet under began to rot, in such wise that vermin issued out, and a stench issued so great out of his breath and of his members without forth, that no persons might suffer it. On that other side he had great grief and annoy of the anger that he had for his sons. When the masters and physicians saw that he might not be helped by any medicine, then they said that this malady was a vengeance of God, and for as much as he heard say that the Jews were glad of his malady and sickness, therefore he did do assemble the most noble of the Jews out of the good towns, and did do put them in prison and said to Salome, his sister, and to Alexander her husband:
I know well that the Jews shall be glad of my death, but if ye will do my counsel and obey to me I shall mowe have great plaint and wailing of many that shall beweep my death, in this wise that I shall show you. Anon as I shall be dead, do ye to be slain all the noble Jews that be in prison, and thus shall be no house of the Jews, but they shall, against their will, beweep my death.
And he had a custom to eat an apple last after meat. On a time he demanded a knife for to pare the apple, and one delivered him a knife, and shortly he took it, as all despaired, and would have slain himself, but anon Aciabus, his neighbour, caught his hand and cried loud, that it was supposed that the king had died. Antipater his son, which was in prison, had heard the cry and weened his father had been dead. He was glad, and promised to the keepers of the prison great gifts for to let him out. When Herod knew this by his servant, he travailed the more grievously because his son was more glad of his death than of his sickness, and anon did do slay him, and ordained in his testament, Archelaus to be king after him, and he lived but five days after and died in great misery of annoy.
Salome, his sister, did not his commandment of the Jews that were in prison, but let them go out. And Archelaus became king after Herod his father, which as to strangers in the battle he was fortunate and happy, but as to his own people he was right unhappy.
Then I return again; after that, Joseph was gone with our Lord into Egypt and was there seven years, unto the death of Herod. And after the prophecy of Isaiah, at the entering of our Lord into Egypt, the idols fell down, for like as at departing of the children out of Egypt, in every house the oldest son of the Egyptians lay one dead, in like wise at the coming of our Lord lay down the idols in the temples.
Cassiodorus saith in the History tripartite, in Hermopolin of Thebaid there was a tree called Persidis, which is medicinal for all sicknesses, for if the leaf or rind of that tree be bound to the neck of the sick person, it healeth him anon, and as the Blessed Virgin Mary fled with her son, that tree bowed down and worshipped Jesu Christ. Also Macrobius saith in a chronicle that, a young son of Herod was nourished at that time, and he was slain among the other children. And then was fulfilled the prophecy saying:
The voice is heard in Rama of great weeping and wailing, that the sorrowful mothers wept for the death of their children, and might not be comforted, because they were not alive.
The feast of the beloved Disciple is followed by that of the Holy Innocents. The Crib of Jesus – where we have already met and venerated the Prince of Martyrs and the Eagle of Patmos – has today standing round it a lovely choir of little Children, clad in snow-white robes, and holding green branches in their hands. The Divine Babe smiles upon them – he is their King; and these Innocents are smiling upon the Church of God. Courage and Fidelity first led us to the Crib; Innocence now comes, and bids us tarry there.
Herod intended to include the Son of God among the murdered Babes of Bethlehem. The Daughters of Rachel wept over their little ones, and the land streamed with blood; but, the Tyrant’s policy can do no more – it cannot reach Jesus, and its whole plot ends in recruiting an immense army of Martyrs for heaven. These Children were not capable of knowing what an honour it was for them, to be made victims for the sake of the Saviour of the world; but, the very first instant after their immolation, and all was revealed to them: they had gone through this world without knowing it, and now that they know it, they possess an infinitely better. God showed here the riches of his mercy – he asks of them but a momentary suffering, and that over, they wake up in Abraham’s Bosom; no further trial awaits them, they are in spotless innocence, and the glory due to a soldier who died to save the life of his Prince belongs eternally to them.
They died for Jesus’ sake – therefore, their death was a real Martyrdom, and the Church calls them by the beautiful name of The Flowers of the Martyrs because of their tender age and their innocence. Justly, then, does the ecclesiastical Cycle bring them before us today, immediately after the two valiant Champions of Christ, Stephen and John. The connection of these three Feasts is thus admirably explained by Saint Bernard:
“In Saint Stephen, we have both the act and the desire of Martyrdom; in Saint John, we have but the desire; in the Holy Innocents, we have but the act. Will any one doubt whether a crown was given to these Innocents? If you ask me what merit could they have that God should crown them, let me ask you, what was the fault, for which Herod slew them? What? Is the mercy of Jesus less than the cruelty of Herod? And while Herod could put these Babes to death, who had done him no injury, Jesus may not crown them for dying for Him?
“Stephen, therefore, is a Martyr by a Martyrdom of which men can judge, for he gave this evident proof of his sufferings being felt and accepted, that, at the very moment of his death, his solicitude both for his own soul and for those of his persecutors increased; the pangs of his bodily passion were less intense than the affection of his soul’s compassion, which made him weep more for their sins than for his own wounds. John was a Martyr, by a Martyrdom which only Angels could see, for the proofs of his sacrifice being spiritual, only spiritual creatures could understand them. But, the Innocents were Martyrs to none other eye save yours, O God! Man could find no merit; Angel could find no merit; the extraordinary prerogative of your grace is the more boldly brought out. From the mouth of the Infants and the Sucklings you have perfected praise. The praise the Angels give you is: Glory be to God in the highest, and peace on earth to men of good will; it is a magnificent praise, but I make bold to say, that it is not perfect, till He comes who will say: ‘Suffer Little Children to come unto me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven; and in the mystery of my mercy, there shall be peace to men that cannot even use their will.'”
Yes, God did for these Innocents, who were immolated on his Son’s account, what he is doing every moment now by the sacrament of regeneration, in the case of children, who die before coming to the use of reason. We who have been baptised by water should be all the more ready to honour these Little Ones, who were baptised in their own blood and thereby associated to all the mysteries of the Divine Infancy. We ought, together with the Church, to congratulate them, for that a glorious and premature death secured them their innocence. They have lived upon our earth, and yet it defiled them not! Truly, these tender Lambs deserve to be for ever with the Lamb of God! May this same earth of ours, grown old in wickedness, draw down the divine mercy on itself, by the love and honour it gives, each year, to these sweet Children of Bethlehem, who, like the Dove of Noah’s Ark, could not find whereon to rest their feet.
In the midst of the joy, which, at this holy time, fills both heaven and earth, the Holy Church of Rome forgets not the lamentations of the Mothers, who beheld their Children cruelly butchered by Herod’s soldiers. She hears the wailing of Rachel, and condoles with her; and, unless it be a Sunday, she suspends on this Feast some of the manifestations of the joy, which inundates her soul during the Octave of her Jesus’ Birth. The Red vestments of a Martyr’s Day would be too expressive of that stream of infant blood which forbids the Mothers to be comforted, and joyous White would ill suit their poignant grief; she, therefore vests in Purple, the symbol of mournfulness. The Gloria in excelsis, the Hymn she loves so passionately during these days, when Angels come down from heaven to sing it – even that must be hushed today: and, in the Holy Sacrifice, she sings no Alleluia. In this, as in everything she does, the Church acts with an exquisite delicacy of feeling. Her Liturgy is a school of refined Christian considerateness.
This expression of sympathy gives today’s Office a pathetic sadness, which, however, in no ways interferes with the joy, which the Church feels in celebrating the Feast of the Holy Innocents. She keeps it with an Octave, as she does the two preceding Feasts of Saint Stephen and Saint John. She sanctions the practice, observed in Cathedrals and Collegiate Churches, of allowing young boys to share in the duties of the Choir, and blend their innocent chanting with that of the Ministers of God. She grants them several privileges, and takes pleasure in seeing the delight wherewith these children perform the several functions entrusted to them. This joy, this simplicity, this innocence, all add a charm to the divine Service; and through these youthful Choristers, the Church pays honour to the Infant Jesus, and to the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem.
In Rome, the Station for the Feast of Saint Stephen is in the Church dedicated to the holy Protomartyr, on Monte Celio; that for Saint John is in the Basilica of Saint Mary Major; today, the Station is made at Saint Paul’s beyond the Walls, which possesses several of the bodies of the Holy Innocents. In the 16th century, Pope Xystus V caused a portion of these Relics to be translated to Saint Mary Major’s, and put near the holy Relic of our Lord’s Crib.
Lesson from the book of the Apocalypse of Saint John the Apostle
In those days: I beheld the Lamb standing on mount Sion, and with him a hundred forty-four thousand, having his name, and the name of his Father, written on their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of great thunder; and the voice which I heard was as the voice of harpers harping on their harps. And they sung as it were a new canticle before the throne, and before the four living creatures and the ancients; and no man could say the canticle, but those hundred forty-four thousand, who were purchased from the earth. These are they, who are not defiled with women: for they are virgins. These follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These were purchased from among men, the first-fruits to God and to the Lamb, and in their mouths there was found no lie: for they are without spot, before the throne of God.
The Church shows us, by her choice of this mysterious passage of the Apocalypse, how great a value she sets on Innocence, and what our own esteem of it ought to be. The Holy Innocents follow the Lamb, because they are pure. Personal merits on earth they could not have; but they went rapidly through this world, and its defilements never reached them. Their purity was not tried, as was Saint John’s, but it is beautified by the blood they shed for the Divine Lamb, and He is pleased with it, and makes them his companions. Let the Christian, therefore, be ambitious for this Innocence, which is thus singularly honoured. If he have preserved it, let him keep and guard it as his most precious treasure; if he have lost it, let him repair the loss by repentance, and having done so, let him say with the Spouse in the Canticle: I have washed my feet; how shall I defile them?
Gradual for the Mass of the Holy Innocents
Our soul has been
delivered, as a sparrow, out of the snare of the fowlers.
The snare is broken, and we are delivered; our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
In the Gradual, we have the Innocents blessing their God for having broken the snare, wherewith the world would have made them captive. They have fled as a bird set free; there was nothing to clog their flight.
Tract for the Mass of the Holy Innocents
They have spilled the
blood of the Saints, like water, about Jerusalem.
And there was none to bury them.
Revenge, O Lord, the blood of your Saints, which has been spilled on earth.
The Tract expresses the lamentation of Rachel over the cruelty of Herod and his minions. It invokes the divine vengeance, which swept away the whole family of this vile Tyrant.
Sequel to the Holy Gospel according to Matthew
At that time: An Angel of the Lord appeared in sleep to Joseph, saying: Arise, and take the Child, and his Mother, and fly into Egypt, and be there until I shall tell you. For it shall come to pass, that Herod will seek the Child, to destroy him. Joseph arose, and took the Child and his Mother by night, and retired into Egypt, and he was there until the death of Herod that it might be fulfilled which the Lord spoke by the Prophet, saying: Out of Egypt have I called my son. Then Herod, perceiving that he was deluded by the Wise Men, was exceedingly angry: and sending, killed all the men children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the borders thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time, which he had diligently inquired of the Wise Men. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremias, the Prophet, saying: A voice in Rama was heard, lamentation and great mourning: Rachel bewailing her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.
Thus does the Gospel, in its sublime simplicity, relate the Martyrdom of the Innocents. Herod, sending, killed all the Children! The earth paid no attention to the fell tyranny, which made so rich a harvest for heaven: there was heard a voice in Rama, Rachel wailing her little ones – it went up to heaven, and Bethlehem was still again, as though nothing had happened. But, these favoured Victims had been accepted by God, and they were to be the companions of his Son. Jesus looked at them from his crib, and blessed them; Mary compassionated with them and their mothers; the Church, which Jesus had come to form, would, for all future ages, glorify these youthful Martyrs, and place the greatest confidence in the patronage of these Children, for she knows how powerful their intercession is with her heavenly Spouse.
And now let us listen to the several Churches celebrating the triumph of the Holy Innocents. Their chants for this Feast are very beautiful. We will begin with the following fine Preface, which is in both the Ambrosian Missal, and in the Leonian Sacramentary.
It is truly meet and just, right and available to salvation, that we should exceedingly praise you, O Holy Almighty Father, in the precious death of the Infants, whom the unhappy Herod, with savage cruelty, slew because of the Infant Jesus, your Son, our Lord, Herein do we recognise how immeasurable are the gifts of your mercy, for the splendour of your free grace outshines the martyrs’ will; and they nobly confess your name, who are not yet able to speak. They suffer martyrdom before their bodies are ripe for martyrdom: they bear testimony to Christ before they have even known him. O the infinite goodness of the Omnipotent God! He suffers not the merit of everlasting glory to be lost by them that are slain for his sake, though they know not what they do: and being bathed in their own blood, he effects in them the salvation of regeneration, and gives them the crown of martyrdom.
The following is from the Mozarabic Missal, and is full of unction and eloquence.
It is meet and just, yea truly right and just, that we should always and in all places give thanks to you, O Holy Lord, Almighty Father, Eternal God, and now especially for these whose yearly feast we this day keep, celebrating the memory of their passion. These are they whom Herod’s satellites snatched from their mothers’ breasts. Rightly are they called The Flowers of the Martyrs, for they grew in the mid-winter of infidelity, as the first buds of the Church, and, being nipped by the frost of persecution, filled the city of Bethlehem with a ruddy stream. They were Babes, and could not speak; yet did they joyfully proclaim the praise of the Lord. Their deaths profess, what their lives could not. They say by their blood, what they could not with their tongue. Martyrdom gave them power to praise, though their tongue denied them that of speech. The Infant Jesus sends these Infants, before himself, to heaven: he presents these new gifts to his Father, and offers to him, as the first fruits of martyrdom, this of the Innocents, who were slain by the wicked Herod. This enemy confers on them what their body could not; while he injures their body, he benefits it; while their body falls, it lives by its death, it rises by its fall, it conquers by its defeat.
Our Venerable Bcde offers us the following Hymn, which is full of melody and pathos.
• Let us chant the hymn of the Martyred Innocents, whom earth lost, and wept, but heaven gained and was glad.
• Their Angels see the Face of the Eternal Father, and sing the Hymn of their Martyrs, lauding the grace of God.
• A cruel king destroyed them, the merciful Creator received them, making them happy with Himself in the brightness of the never-ending kingdom.
• He that gives to each elect a mansion in his Father’s house, places the Innocents, massacred by the impious king, on thrones in heaven above.
• Herod was angry, and slew every child below the age of two, staining with their sacred blood the borders of Bethlehem.
• Precious in the sight of Jesus shone the innocent death of these his faithful ones; and Angels came down to carry them to the land of heaven.
• A voice in Rama was heard, lamentation of poignant grief, and Rachel shed a flood of tears over her infant sons.
• Who now rejoice in endless triumph, for they overcame their torments, whose cruel blows filled Rama with the voice of wailing.
• Fear not, Little Flock, the prowling lion’s tooth! for the Good Shepherd will give you the pastures of heaven.
• Following the spotless Lamb o: God in the path of purity, we need not fear, dear Little flock, a robber’s wicked grasp.
• The Father will wipe every tear from off your cheeks; death shall have no further power to hurt you, enclosed now within the walls of Life.
• They that sow in tears, reap eternal joy: and the Creator wipes every tear away from the mourner’s face.
• O truly happy Bethlehem, city wherein our Redeeraer was born, and where he was presented with the first Martyrs – the first Victims dedicated to the new-born King.
• No, Bethlehem, you shalt not be called the least among the thousand cities, for out of you came the divine Leader! O truly blessed City!
• Around his throne now stand, glittering in their fair bright robes, these Innocents who washed their garments red in the Blood of the Lamb.
• They had sighed and wept in the kingdom of the ever-dyin world – now they stand fully before God, and bright are their robes of glory, are ever singing his praise.
The Greek Church is, of course, profuse in her praise of the Holy Innocents. We extract from her Menoae the following stanzas.
The impious Herod, searching out Jesus the Hidden Treasure, slew the Innocent Children; and the inconsolable Rachel, seeing the iniquitous shedding of blood, and the premature death of her Babes, first grieving from the bottom of her heart, now rejoices seeing them in Abraham’s Bosom.
The wicked king sought for the King Eternal, yet born in time: and not finding how to kill Him, he mowed down the innocent multitude of children, thinking not that he was making them Martyrs, and citizens of the heavenly kingdom, and eternal accusers of his impiety.
You, O Lord! being born of the Virgin, that were born of the Father before all ages, and having become, out of your infinite goodness, a Little Child – there was presented unto you a choir of little children, made Martyrs by the shedding of their blood, and clad in brightness, the most just reward of their innocence of soul. You gave them to dwell in eternal mansions where they proclaim Herod’s malice and most cruel injustice.
In this manifestation of the King of all, all exulted in heaven and on earth, save only Herod and the Jews, the murderers of the Prophets – they are sad, for they alone have cause for sadness, seeing that their kingdom is at an end; but the kingdom of the Lord henceforth shall rule, repelling the daring of our enemies, and calling the multitude of the Faithful to come, with the holy Children, and see Him, The Little Child, that lies in the manger.
The impious Herod fearing, sent his reapers to cut the tender grass of Bethlehem’s little field – the Innocents: and failing in the murder of the Infant-God, confusion fills his soul.
Rachel bewails her sons, and a loud cry is heard today in Rama: Herod rages and maddens in impiety: John flees to the mountains, his mother Elizabeth hides in a cave, Zachary is slain in the temple, and Jesus escapes, leaving the Hebrew land a desert.
The Innocents were the first offering consecrated to your immaculate Birth, O Jesus, for Herod, that fain would apprehend You, the Incomprehensible God, was fooled in his craft, and gave you a choir of Martyrs. Therefore, O God made Man, save us, we beseech you!
Most honoured Innocents, the cry of your murder has ascended to the ears of the God of Sabaoth. Your blood was shed by the massacre, but you are resting in Abraham’s bosom, and, by the power of the Infant Christ, your triumph over Herod’s detested malice is eternal.
Hateful is Herod’s massacre of your Children, O Rachel, by his cruel soldiers, but venerable the holocaust of your Babes, the companions of Jesus in age, but his predecessors in their sacrifice and passion: then, weep not for your Children, Rachel, remembering Abraham’s Bosom, where is the one dwelling of them all, and they are in joy.
Into this sublime concert of the Liturgies singing the praises of the Innocents, we must admit the Latin Churches of the Middle Ages. We have selected a Prose of the 11th century, found in most of the ancient Roman-French Missals.
• Sound forth, O Children, your shrill melodies,
• In honour of the holy joys of the Innocents.
• The Infant Jesus took them, this day, to the realms above,
• When the rabid madness of Herod’s craft slew them,
• Though guilty of no crime:
• They were the Children, in the city.
• And all the confines of Bethlehem,
• Two years old and under,
• Dating from the time of their birth.
• The unhappy King Herod, fearing the kingdom of the Infant Christ,
• Trembles from head to foot, and brandishes his sword with his haughty hand.
• He, with his troubled mind, seeks for the King of Light and heaven;
• That, by his weapons, he might put to death Him that gives life:
• For his eye cannot look on ihe bright Light of Him, who searcheth clouded hearts.
• Herod is inflamed with rage, and cruelly plots the death of thousands of Innocents.
• A wicked chieftain takes with him a troop of soldiers, and plunges his sword in the tender flesh.
• The pure stream of infant veins, (for blood is scarce yet formed), flows upon the mothers’ breasts.
• The brutal enemy tears the flesh with gaping wounds, and on the throat inflicts a fatal gash:
• Trampling out life, e’er the tender age is sinewed into strength.
• Oh, how glorious the bodies of these murdered Innocents!
• How happy the Mothers of such Children!
• O amiable legion of Innocents!
• O holy infant-combats fought for Christ.
• The Babes lay slain in thousands, and from their tender limbs there flows a stream of sinless blood.
• The citizens of heaven come forth to meet the snow-white troop, that takes the crown of Life, won by a singular victory.
• We most devoutly beseech you, Jesus, who came to reform the world,
• That you grant us to enjoy, for everlasting ages, the glory of the Innocents.
Petition to the Holy Innocents
And we, too, Blessed Babes, we celebrate your triumph, and we congratulate you in your having been chosen as the companions of Jesus when in his Crib. What a glad waking was yours, from the darkness of unconscious infancy to the precious light of Abraham’s bosom, where were congregated all the elect! How dear to you the sword that thus transformed you! What gratitude had you not for the God, who thus chose you, out of millions of other children, to do honour to the birth of his Son, by this sacrifice of your blood and lives! Too young to fight the battle, yet did you win the crown. The Martyr’s Palm waved in those tiny hands, which had not strength to pluck it. God would give proof of his munificence – he would teach us that he is Master of his gifts. And, was it not fitting, that the birth of the Son of this great King should be commemorated by largess such as this? Sweet Infant Martyrs, we give praise to our God for his having thus favoured you, and, with the whole Church, we rejoice in the privileges you have received.
Flowers of the Martyrs, we confide in your intercession, and beseech you, by the reward so gratuitously conferred on you, to be mindful of us your Brethren, who are struggling amidst the dangers of this sinful world. We, too, desire to receive those same Palms and Crowns, which you have won, but with such innocence and simplicity, that the Church says you. played with them: whereas we have to fight hard and long for them, and are so often on the point of losing them for ever! The God that has glorified you, is our last end as truly as he is yours; in Him alone can our hearts find their rest; pray for us, that we may possess him for all eternity.
Pray for us, that we may obtain child-like simplicity of heart, whence comes that unreserved confidence in God, which leads man to the perfect accomplishment of his holy will. May we bear the cross with patience, when he sends it, and desire nothing but his holy will. You gazed upon the murderers who broke your gentle sleep, and you found nothing to make you fear; the bright sword they held over your cradle, had but the look of a toy you asked to play with; death stared you in the face, and you smiled on him. May we imitate you, and be meek and graceful in the trials that come to us; making them our martyrdom by the quiet endurance of our courage, and the conformity of our will with that of our Sovereign Lord and Master, who only gives the cross that he may give the crown. May we never object to or hate the instruments he uses wherewith to try us; may no harshness nor injustice nor pain ever quench the fire of our charity, nor any event ever deprive us of that peace, without which our souls live not to God.
And, lastly, O you Innocent Lambs, slain for Jesus. and following him wherever he goes, because you are pure – pray for us to the Lamb of God, that he permit us to come to him in Bethlehem, and, like you, fix our dwelling there, for it is the abode of love and innocence. Speak for us to Mary, a Mother more compassionate than Rachel; tell her that we are her Children, and your Brethren. She that compassionated your momentary sufferings, will pity us and help us in our long years of temptation, pain, and sorrow.
– from the book , by the Very Reverend Dom Prosper Gueranger, Abbot of Solesmes, translated from the French by the Revered Dom Laurence Shepherd, Monk of the English-Benedictine Congregation, 2nd edition; published in Dublin Ireland by James Duffy, 15 Wellington-Quay, 1870
Betlehemitischer Kindermord am Westportal des Konstanzer Münsters, Konstanz, Baden-Württemberg, Deutschland. Simon Haider, signiert und datiert 1470.
Massacre of the Innocents at the west portal of Konstanz Minster, Konstanz, Baden-Württemberg, Germany. Simon Haider, signed and dated 1470.
By the Holy Innocents, who are honored as martyrs today by the Catholic Church, we understand those happy infants, who, by the command of King Herod, were put to death, for no other cause than that the new-born King of the Jews might be deprived of life. When Christ was born, Herod, well known for his cruelty, reigned at Jerusalem. He was not of the Jewish nation, but a foreigner, and was therefore hated by the Jews Herod knew this well; hence he feared that they would dethrone hiih, and he had several illustrious persons executed, whom he suspected of aspiring to the throne. Meanwhile it happened that the three Magi or Kings from the East came to Jerusalem, to find and adore the new-born King, who had been announced to them by a star; as they doubted not that they would learn more of Him in the capital of Judea. They therefore asked without hesitation: “Where is he, that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to adore him.” This question seemed very strange to the Jews, and the news of it spread through the whole city, until it reached the King. His fear can hardly be described; for he already believed his crown and sceptre lost. To escape the danger in which he supposed himself, he called the chief priests and scribes together, and inquired of them where the Messiah should be born. They answered: “In Bethlehem, according to the Prophets.” Satisfied with this answer, Herod had the three wise men brought to court, and speaking very confidentially with them, he asked diligently when and where the star had appeared to them. After this, he advised them to go to Bethlehem and inquire after the new-born child, and when they had found and adored it, to return and inform him, as he wished to go and adore it also. These words of the king, who was not less cunning than cruel, were only a deceit, as he had already resolved to kill the new-born child. Meanwhile the Magi followed the advice of the king, and, guided by the star, which again appeared to them when they had left Jerusalem, went to Bethlehem, found and adored the divine Child, and offered gold, frankincense and myrrh, as we read in Holy Writ Having finished their devotion, they intended, in accordance with king Herod’s wish, to bring him word that they had happily found the Child. An angel, however, appeared to them in their sleep and admonished them not to return to Jerusalem, but to go into their own country by another way; which they accordingly did. When Herod perceived that they had deluded him, it was too late, and his rage was boundless. Hearing of what had taken place in the temple, at the Purification of Mary, that the venerable Simeon had pronounced a child, which he had taken into his arms, the true Messiah, the King’s heart was filled with inexpressible fear and anxiety. The danger in which he was, as he imagined, of losing his crown, left him no peace day or night. He secretly gave orders to search for this child; but all was of no avail; it could not be found. After long pondering how he might escape the danger, his unbounded ambition led him to an act of cruelty unprecedented in history. He determined to murder all the male children, in and around Bethlehem, that were not over two years of age, as he thought that thus he could not fail to take the life of the child so dangerous to him. This fearful design was executed amidst the despairing shrieks of the parents, especially the mothers. How many children were thus inhumanly slaughtered is not known, but the number must have been very large. Yet the tyrant gained not his end; for, the divine Child was already in security. The Gospel tells us that an Angel appeared during the night to Saint Joseph, saying to him: “Arise, take the child and his mother, and. fly into Egypt, and remain there until I tell thee. For, it will come to pass that Herod will seek the child to destroy him.” Saint Joseph delayed not to obey, and fled, the same night, with the child and his mother, into the land indicated to him. As this had happened before Herod executed his cruel determination, God thus frustrated the plot. Herod soon after, received his just punishment Several terrible maladies suddenly seized him, as Josephus, the Jewish historian, relates. An internal fever consumed him, and all his limbs were covered with abominable ulcers, breeding vermin. His feet were swollen; his neck, shoulders and arms drawn together, and his breast so burdened, that the unfortunate man could hardly breathe, while his whole body exhaled so offensive an odor, that neither he nor others could endure it. Hence, in despair, he frequently cried for a knife or a sword, that he might end his own life. In this miserable condition, he ceased not his cruelties, and only five days before his death, he had his son, Antipater, put to death. As he had good reason to believe that the entire people would rejoice at his death, he wished at least to take to the grave the thought that many should grieve, if not for him, at least for their friends and relatives. Hence, he had the chief men of the nobility imprisoned, and gave orders to his sister Salome, that, as soon as he had closed his eyes, they were all to be murdered. This order, however, was not executed by Salome, who justly loathed its cruelty. In this lamentable condition, the cruel tyrant ended his life, but began one in eternity whose pains and torments were still more unendurable, and from which he cannot hope ever to be released; while the innocent children massacred by him, rejoice for all eternity in the glories of heaven, giving humble thanks to God for having thus admitted them into His presence. The Catholic Church has always honored them as martyrs; because, though not confessing Christ with their lips, as many thousands of others have done, yet they confessed Him with their death, by losing their lives for His sake.
• How happy were the innocent children to end their lives at so tender an age! Had they lived longer, they might have been among those who cried: “Crucify him! Crucify him!” and have gone to destruction. The parents of these children’ naturally wept and lamented, and believed themselves most unhappy, because their children were torn from them and cruelly slaughtered. They did not recognize the mercy that God showed them. Still, at this day, does the Almighty sometimes take children, by an early death, from their parents. That the latter feel this loss and weep and mourn over it, is but human, and is no sin; but they do wrong if they grieve inordinately, or even -murmur or complain against the decrees of the Almighty. They ought to think, Gci is the Lord of life and death; He has given the children; He can take them away again* without wronging any one. They should also think that an early death may be a great benefit to themselves and to their children; for, God perhaps foresaw’ that the parents would neglect the education of their children and thus condemn themselves, or that the children would lead a Wicked life, and thus go to eternal perdition. By taking them thus early, He benefits the children and the parents, and deserves thanks instead of complaint. At least, the parents ought to submit to the divine will, and say from the depth of their hearts, what they have often said with their lips: “O Lord, thy will be done!”
• Herod undoubtedly did great sin in massacring, without just reason, so many innocent children. In our days, there are many who deprive an innocent child of its mortal life, or even endeavor to deprive it of the life to come. To the former of these belong all. mothers, who destroy the fruit of their womb by imprudence or even by crime. In the same manner, those men, who ill-treat their wives, frequently become guilty of the same sin. Mothers again are guilty of it, who crush their children in sleep. To the second class belong those Who murder their children before they are baptized, for without baptism they can never enter the kingdom of heaven. Secondly, all those persons who give scandal to innocent youth, either in word or deed; for example, when they speak impurely in their presence, sing bad songs, behave immodestly, or even entice them to do wrong. Thirdly, according to Saint Chrysostom, those parents belong to this class, who, either by their example, or by neglecting to instruct their children, are the cause of many sins which their children commit. Further, those who do not duly punish-their children, and who do not earnestly endeavor to prevent their doing wrong. Lastly, all those who lead their own children into the path of wickedness and sin. All these are child-murderers. Of the latter, Saint Chrysostom says: “Thus, parents, I say, are more vicious, more cruel than child-murderers; for, a murderer of children, as Herod was, separates only the body from the soul; while the others give the souls and bodies of their children to eternal flames. Further, those who are killed would have died in the course of time, though they had not been murdered; while children neglected by their parents, might have avoided eternal death, had not the wickedness of their parents prepared it for them. Besides this, the general resurrection would have compensated for the bodily death, while the death and destruction of the soul nothing can restore. A child, condemned by the parent’s fault, has no hope of salvation, but has to suffer eternal pains. Hence I am right in saying that such parents are worse than child-murderers.” As there is no doubt that all the above-mentioned classes of people commit great sin, they make themselves guilty of eternal punishment. Those who give scandal to the young should remember the terrible menace of Jesus Christ: “He that shall scandalize one of these little ones that believe in Me, it were better for him that a mill-stone should be hanged about his neck and that he should be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to that man by whom scandal comes!” “Woe to him,” exclaimed, one day, a dying man, “who has led me to evil.” “And how will these corrupted souls, one day, cry for vengeance at the throne of the Almighty,”, says Saint Thomas of Villanova; “how will they rage in hell against him who corrupted them or gave them scandal!” They also, who murder only the bodies of their children, will have to render an account, and may expect terrible punishment. The blood of their children will cry for vengeance against them, as did the blood of Abel against Cain. “The voice of thy brother’s blood cries to me from the earth.” (Genesis 4)
- Father Francis Xavier Weninger, DD, SJ. “The Feast of the Holy Innocents”. , 1876. CatholicSaints.Info. 3 June 2018. Web. 28 December 2020. <https://catholicsaints.info/weningers-lives-of-the-saints-the-feast-of-the-holy-innocents/>
Lucas Giraldo and Juan Rodriguez. Massacre of the Innocents, plateresque retrochoir of the Cathedral of Ávila, Spain
And round Him, then, a
Of children blest was born,
Fair guardians of His throne to stand
Attendant night and morn.
And unto them this grace
A Saviour’s name to own,
And die for Him Who out of Heav’n
Had found on earth a throne.
O blessèd babes of Bethlehem,
Who died to save our King,
Ye share the martyrs’ diadem,
And in their anthem sing!
Your lips, on earth that
Now sound th’eternal word;
And in the courts of love ye make
Your children’s voices heard.
Lord Jesus Christ,
Make Thou our childhood Thine;
That we with Thee the meek and mild
May share the love divine.
Il vero innocente agli occhi di Dio è la creatura che non conosce malizia, non conosce menzogna, non conosce bruttura e nessuno è più innocente di un bambino che si affida totalmente, perdutamente e con amore a sua madre. Questo affidarsi ciecamente, oggi, è divenuto molto pericoloso, poiché l’Innocenza viene minata fin dal principio e non soltanto con l’eliminazione su vasta scala della persona (l’aborto), ma anche con l’eliminazione dell’integrità morale e con l’inoculazione di idee contro la Fede, contro il diritto naturale (si pensi alla teoria del gender), contro la ragione.
Gli insegnanti saranno obbligati a seguire corsi di formazione e aggiornamento per migliorare, tra le altre, anche le competenze relative all’educazione all’affettività, alla sessualità, al «rispetto delle diversità» e delle pari opportunità di genere e al «superamento degli stereotipi di genere», come recita il decreto italiano 104/2013 «La scuola riparte». Tuttavia l’innocenza viene già spezzata fin dagli albori, quando il bimbo è posto davanti alla Tv ed è costretto a vedere telegiornali, pubblicità e spettacoli privi di vergogna e di decenza. L’innocenza viene calpestata fin da quando il minore viene messo davanti ad Internet per «navigare» e scoprire realtà perverse e contro Dio. L’innocenza viene poi massacrata quando i fanciulli vengono adottati da coppie omosessuali o sono in balia di orchi senza coscienza.
Quale consolazione dare? «Rachele piange i suoi figli e non vuole essere consolata, perché non sono più». Nessuna consolazione vogliono coloro che rifiutano che il peccato e lo stravolgimento della legge naturale si abbattano sull’infanzia, ma, come fecero le madri di Betlemme, tentano di fare scudo fra gli Erode contemporanei e i bambini.
«Èvvi ancora un soldato che ha tolto per forza un putto, e mentre correndo con quello se lo stringe in sul petto per amazzarlo, se li vede appiccata a’ capegli la madre di quello con grandissima rabbia; e facendoli fare arco della schiena, fa che si conosca in loro tre effetti bellissimi: uno è la morte del putto che si vede crepare, l’altro l’impietà del soldato che per sentirsi tirare sì stranamente mostra l’affetto del vendicarsi di esso putto, il terzo è che la madre, nel veder la morte del figliuolo, con furia e dolore e sdegno cerca che quel traditore non parta senza vendetta: cosa veramente più da filosofo mirabile di giudizio che da pittore», così scrive nell’opera Vite Giorgio Vasari nel suo splendido commento all’affresco (1486-1490) di Domenico Ghirlandaio, presente in Santa Maria Novella a Firenze.
Sono ancora le madri le protagoniste della scena che Duccio da Buoninsegna ci offre sulla strage dei Santi Innocenti nella tavola (1308-1311) del Museo dell’Opera del Duomo in Siena: sono ammassate in disparte, affrante dal dolore e stringono fra le loro braccia i corpicini martoriati; esse ricordano vividamente le icone della Madonna con il Bambino Divino.
Il contrasto formidabile tra la ferocia del potere politico e la tenerezza per gli affetti delle madri dà forma alla scena raffigurata nell’affresco di Giotto (ca. 1304-1306) della Cappella degli Scrovegni a Padova. In alto, su una tribuna, Erode ordina il massacro che i suoi sicari intabarrati eseguono con freddo cinismo e scrupolo; a fronte di essi, madri dolenti invocano inutilmente pietà, mentre si oppongono fisicamente e coraggiosamente all’eccidio. L’affresco si inserisce, non a caso, in una meditata logicità della narrazione evangelica, che ricopre le pareti della Cappella, esso è posto di fronte alla scena della Crocifissione di Gesù: il Figlio di Dio che si era salvato dal massacro dei piccoli martiri-agnelli, ora muore, innocente e martirizzato, per la salvezza di ogni uomo, anche per gli Erode di tutti i tempi, attuali più che mai.
Scriveva nel 1912 Charles Peguy nel suo Le Mystère des Saints Innocents: «Si mandano i figli a scuola, dice Dio. Io penso che sia perché dimentichino il poco che sanno. Si farebbe meglio a mandare a scuola i genitori. Son loro che ne hanno bisogno. Ma naturalmente ci vorrebbe una scuola di Me. E non una scuola di uomini. Si crede che i bambini non sappiano nulla. E che i genitori e le persone grandi sappiano qualcosa. Ora io ve lo dico, è il contrario. (È sempre il contrario). Sono i genitori, sono le persone grandi che non sanno nulla. E sono i bambini che sanno. Tutto. Perché essi hanno l’innocenza prima. Che è tutto.
Anche la vita è una scuola, dicono. Vi si impara tutti i giorni. La conosco, questa vita che comincia col battesimo e finisce con l’estrema unzione. È un’usura perpetua, un costante, un crescente avvizzimento. Si scende sempre. Si riempiono d’esperienza, dicono; guadagnano esperienza; imparano a vivere; di giorno in giorno accumulano esperienza. Singolare tesoro, dice Dio. Tesoro di vuoto e di carestia. Tesoro di rughe e di inquietudini. Quello che voi chiamate esperienza, la vostra esperienza, io la chiamo dispersione, la diminuzione, la decrescenza, la perdita della speranza. Ora è l’innocenza che è piena ed è l’esperienza che è vuota. È l’innocenza che vince ed è l’esperienza che perde. È l’innocenza che è giovane ed è l’esperienza che è vecchia. È l’innocenza che sa ed è l’esperienza che non sa. È il bambino che è pieno ed è l’uomo che è vuoto». Oggi si vuole e si pretende che il bambino si svuoti per riempirsi di errori dei grandi, grandi soprattutto nel peccato e nell’infelicità
Autore: Cristina Siccardi
La matanza de inocentes. Retablo mayor de la catedral de Sevilla.