Friday, December 28, 2012

The Holy Innocents, Martyrs

[Station at St. Paul Outside the Walls]

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.
Matthew 2:16-18

The wily king Herod, who was reigning in Judea at the time of the birth of Our Savior, learned from three Wise Men from the East that they had come to Jerusalem, advised by a star in the Heavens, in search of the newborn King of the Jews. Herod’s superstitious fear of losing his throne was awakened, and he grew troubled. He called together the chief priests, questioned them, and learned from them that the awaited Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, the city of David. He said to the strangers: “When you have found Him, bring me word, that I too may go and adore Him.”

The star which had guided the Magi reappeared over Bethlehem, and they found the Infant and adored Him, and offered Him their royal gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, recognizing by these His perfect Divinity, His royalty, and His prophesied sufferings. God warned them in a dream afterwards not to go back to Herod, and they returned to their lands, rejoicing, by a different route. Saint Joseph, too, was warned during his sleep by an Angel to take the Child and His Mother Mary and flee into Egypt, for Herod will seek the life of the Infant.

When Herod realized that the Wise Men would not return, he was furious, and in his rage ordered that every male child in Bethlehem and its vicinity, of the age of two years or less, be slain. These innocent victims were the flowers and first-fruits of the Savior’s legions of martyrs; they triumphed over the world without having ever known it or experienced its dangers.

The relics of the Holy Innocents are said to have been preserved in the splendid church of St. Paul’s; the station of today, however, was determined by the delicate feeling of the ancient liturgy that the great solemnities of the year should always be celebrated by a station at the tombs of Sts. Peter and Paul. At a very early date the feast of the Holy Innocents was placed near the feast of Christmas; hence in Rome this day was observed as a day of mourning and penance. Purple vestments were used and the faithful abstained from flesh meat and foods cooked in fats. Like a compassionate Mother, the Church still chooses today for her priests vestments of mourning, and suppresses the Gloria and Allelulia; however, the fast is no longer observed.

The Divine Office can be read here.


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