Monday, December 28, 2015

The Holy Innocents

Violet or Red
Double of the Second Class with simple Octave

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 amongst 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 honor it was for them to be made victims for the sake of the Savior 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 St. Bernard, in his Sermon for the Holy Innocents: “In St. Stephen, we have both the act and the desire of Martyrdom; in St. John, we have but the desire; in the Holy Innocents, we have but the act … Will anyone 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 ken them. But the Innocents were Martyrs to none other eye save thine, O God! Man could find no merit; Angel could find no merit: the extraordinary prerogative of thy grace is the more boldly brought out. From the mouth of the Infants and the Sucklings thou hast perfected praise. The praise the Angels give thee 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 cometh 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 fo regeneration, in the case of children who die before coming to the use of reason. We, who have been baptized by water, should be all the more ready to honor these Little Ones, who were baptized 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 forever 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 honor 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 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 in the two preceding Feasts of St. Stephen and St. John. She sanctions the practice, observed in Cathedral 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 honor to the Infant Jesus, and to the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem.

In Rome, the Station for the Feast of St. Stephen is in the Church dedicated to the holy Protomartyr, on Monte Celio; that for St. John is in the Basilica of St. Mary Major; today, the Station is made at St. Paul’s beyond the Walls, which possesses several of the bodies of the Holy Innocents. In the 16th century, Pope Xystus the Fifth caused a portion of these Relics to be translated to St. Mary Major’s, and put near the holy Relic of our Lord’s Crib.

Mass.—In the Introit, the Church proclaims the wisdom of God in disconcerting the impious plans of Herod, and turning the murder of the Innocents into his own glory, by raising them to the dignity of Martyrs of Christ, whose praises they gratefully sing forever.


Ex ore infantium, Deus, et lactentium perfecisti laudem propter inimicos tuos.

Out of the mouth of infants and sucklings, thou hast perfected praise, O God, to confound thine enemies.

Ps. Domine, Domiknus noster, quam admirabile est Nomen tuum in universa terra! ℣. Gloria Patri. Ex ore.

Ps. O Lord, our Lord, how admirable is thy name in the whole earth. ℣. Glory, &c. Out of.

In the Collect, the Church prays that her children may confess, by their works, their faith in Christ. The Holy Innocents give their testimony—the only one in their power—of suffering for their divine Master: but the Christian, who has attained the use uf reason has more to do than suffer for his faith—he must confess it before Persecutors and Tyrants when they bid him deny it, and also before that more permanent tribunal of the world and his own passions. No man has received the glorious character of a Christian, on the condition that he should never own himself one.


Deus, cujus hodierna die præconium Innocentes Martyres non loquendo, sed moriendo confessi sunt: omnia in nobis vitiorum mala mortifica, ut fidem tuam, quam lingua nostra loquitur, etiam moribus vita fateatur. Per Dominum.

O God, whose praise the Holy Martyrs, the Innocents, published this day, not by speaking, but by dying; mortify in us all our vicious inclinations: that we may show forth, in our actions, thy faith, which we profess with our lips. Through, &c.

Commemoration of Christmas Day

Concede, quæsumus, omnipotens Deus; ut nos Unigeniti tui nova per carnem Nativitas liberet, quos sub peccati jugo vetusta servitus tenet.

Grant, we beseech thee, O Almighty God, that we who groan under the old captivity of sin, may be freed therefrom by the new Birth of thine Only Begotten Son.

Commemoration of St. Stephen

Da nobis, quæsumus, Domine, imitari quod colimus; ut discamus et inimicos diligere; quia ejus natalitia celebramus, qui novit etiam pro persecutoribus exorare Dominum nostrum Jesum Christum Filium tuum.

Grant, O Lord, we beseech thee, that we may imitate him, whose memory we celebrate, so as to learn to love even our enemies; because we now solemnize his martyrdom, who knew how to pray, even for his persecutors, to our Lord Jesus Christ, thy Son.

Commemoration of St. John

Ecclesiam tuam, Domine, benignus illustra: ut beati Joannis, Apostoli tui et Evangelistæ, illuminata doctrinis, ad dona perveniat sempiterna. Per Dominum.

Mercifully, O Lord, enlighten thy Church: that being taught by blessed John, thine Apostle and Evangelist, she may come to thy eternal rewards. Through, &c.

Lectio libri Aposcalypsis beati Joannis Apostoli. Lesson from the book of the Apocalypse of Saint John the Apostle.
Cap. xiv. Ch. xiv.

In diebus illus: Vidi supra montem Sion Agnum stantem, et cum eo centum quadraginta quatuor millia, habentes nomen ejus, et nomen Patris ejus scriptum in frontibus suis. Et audivi vocem de cælo, tamquam vocem aquarum multarum, et tamquam vocem tonitrui magni: et vocem, quam audivi, sicut citharoedorum citharizantium in citharis suis. Et cantabant quasi canticum novum ante sedem, et ante quatuor animalia, et seniores: et nemo poterat dicere canticum, nisi illa centum quadraginta quatuor millia, qui empti sunt de terra. Hi sunt, qui cum mulieribus non sunt coinquinati: virgines enim sunt. Hi sequuntur Agnum quocumque ierit. Hi empti sunt ex hominibus primitiæ Deo, et Agno: et in ore eorum non est inventum mendacium: sine macula enim sunt ante thronum Dei.

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 firstfruits 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.

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 St. 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 honored. 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?

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.

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.


Anima nostra, sicut passer, erepta est de laqueo venantium.

Our soul hath been delivered, as a sparrow, out of the snare of the fowlers.

℣. Laquens contritus est, et nos liberati sumus: adjutorium nostrum in nomine Domini, qui fecit cœlum et terram.

℣. The snare is broken, and we are delivered: our help is in the name of the Lord, who hade heaven and earth.


Effuderunt sanguinem Sanctorum, velut aquam, in circuitu Jerusalem.

They have spilt the blood of the Saints, like water, about Jerusalem.

℣. Et non erat qui sepeliret.

℣. And there was none to bury them.

℣. Vincida, Domine, sanguinem Sanctorum tuorum, qui effusus est super terram.

℣. Revenge, O Lord, the blood of thy Saints, which hath been spilt in earth.

If the Feast of Holy Innocents fall on a Sunday, the Tract is not sung, but, in its place, the usual Alleluia verse, as follows:

Alleluia, alleluia.

Alleluia, alleluia.

℣. Laudate pueri Dominum, laudate nomen Domini. Alleluia.

℣. Praise the Lord, ye children, praise ye the name of the Lord. Alleluia.


Sequentia sancti Evangelii secundum Matthæum.

Sequel of the holy Gospel according to St. Matthew.

Cap.ii. Ch. ii.

In illo tempore: Angelus Domini apparuit in somnis Joseph, dicens: Surge, et accipe puerum, et matrem ejus, et fuge in Aegyptum, et esto ibi usque dum dicam tibi. Futurum est enim ut Herodes quaerat puerum ad perdendum eum. Qui consurgens accepit puerum et matrem ejus nocte, et secessit in Aegyptum: et erat ibi usque ad obitum Herodis: ut adimpleretur quod dictum est a Domino per prophetam dicentem: Ex Aegypto vocavi filium meum. Tunc Herodes videns quoniam illusus esset a magis, iratus est valde, et mittens occidit omnes pueros, qui erant in Bethlehem, et in omnibus finibus ejus, a bimatu et infra secundum tempus, quod exquisierat a magis. Tunc adimpletum est quod dictum est per Jeremiam prophetam dicentem: Vox in Rama audita est ploratus, et ululatus multus: Rachel plorans filios suos, et noluit consolari, quia non sunt.

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 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 favored 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.

During the Offertory, it is the choir of our Holy Innocents again singing their beautiful Canticle: as birds set free, they give praise to Him who broke the snare which held them.


Anima nostra, sicut passer erepta est de laqueo venantium: laqueus contritus est, et nos liberati sumus.

Our soul hath been delivered, as a sparrow, out of the snare of the fowlers: the snare is broken, and we are delivered.


Sanctorum tuorum, Domine, nobis pia non desit oratio; quæ et munera nostra conciliet, et tuam nobis indulgentiam semper obtineat. Per Dominum.

May the pious prayers of thy Saints, O Lord, be never wanting to us; both to make our offerings acceptable, and to obtain for us thy mercy. Through, &c.

Commemoration of Christmas Day

Oblata, Domine, munera, nova Unigeniti tui Nativitate sanctifica, nosque a peccatorum nostrorum maculis emunda.

Sanctify, O Lord, our offerings by the new Birth of thine Only Begotten Son, and cleanse us from the stains of our sins.

Commemoration of St. Stephen

Suscipe, Domine, munera, pro tuorum commemoratione Sanctorum: ut sicut illos passio gloriosos effecit, ita nos devotio reddat innocuos.

Receive, O Lord, these offerings in memory of thy Saints: and as their sufferings have made them glorious, so may our devotion render us free from sin.

Commemoration of St. John

Suscipe, Domine, munera, quæ in ejus non tibi solmenitate deferimus, cujus nos confidimus patrocinio liberari. Per Dominum.

Receive, O Lord, the offerings we make to thee on this feast, by whose intercession, we hope to be delivered. Through, &c.

In the Communion-Anthem, we again hear the voice of Rachel’s lamentation. Now that the Church has been nourished by the mystery of divine charity, she could not forget the affliction of the mothers of her dear Innocents. She compassionates them all through her Office, and turns to Him who alone can comfort them that are in sorrow.


Vox in Rama audita est, ploratus et ululatus: Rachel plorans filios suos; et noluit consolari, quia non sunt.

A voice in Rama ws heard, lamentation and great mourning: Rachel bewailing her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.


Votiva, Domina, dona percepimus: quæ Sanctorum nobis precibus, et præsentis quæsumus vitæ, pariter et æternæ tribue conferre subsidium. Per Dominum.

Now we have partaken, O Lord, of the votive offerings: grant, we beseech thee, that by the prayers of thy Saints, they may procure us the helps of this present life, and those of that which is to come. Through, &c.

Commemoration of Christmas Day

Præsta, quæsumus, omnipotens Deus: ut natus hodie Salvator mundi, sicut divinæ nobis generationis est auctor, ita et immortalitatis sit ipse largitor.

Grant, we beseech thee, O Almighty God, that as the Savior of the world, who was born this day, procured for us a divine birth, he may, also, bestow on us immortality.

Commemoration of St. Stephen

Auxilientur nobis, Domine, sumpta mysteria, et intercedente beato Stephano, Martyre tuo, sempiterna protectione confirment.

May the mysteries we have received, O Lord, be a help to us, and, by the intercession of the blessed Martyr Stephen, strengthen us with thy perpetual protection.

Commemoration of St. John

Refecti cibo potuque cœlesti, Deus noster, te supplices deprecamur, ut in cujus hæc commemoratione percepimus, ejus muniamur et precibus. Per Dominum.

Being refreshed, O Lord, with this heavenly meat and drink, we humbly beseech thee, that we may be assisted by his prayers, on whose feast we have received these sacred mysteries. Through, &c.

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 divine light of life eternal! 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 honor 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 favored 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: (“Simplices Palma et Coronis luditis.”) whereas we have to fight hard and long for them, and are so often on the point of losing them forever! 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 accomplish 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, lastely, O ye Innocent Lambs, slain for Jesus, and following him whithersoever he goeth, because ye 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.


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