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Holy Innocents

Today, in the days following the feast of the Incarnation, we honor the memory those who were among the first to die as martyrs for faith in Jesus Christ. It is amazing that 2000 years ago we had very young people, innocents, killed due to sin and hardness of heart. The feast day for the Holy Innocents marks the martyrdom of an unnumbered group of boys aged 2 and under during the reign of King Herod. The murder of these young boys fulfills the prophecy of St Jeremiah:

Then was fulfilled that which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet, saying, ‘A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because her children are no more.’ (Jer 31:15)

They did not die on account of their own personal misdeeds; a confession of faith was not required of them. Why did they die? We don’t know; that answer is known to God alone; but we trust that their eternal life is better than any life they had on earth; happiness, and beatitude. We know that they died in retaliation in Herod searching out competition. And Jesus was that competitor. As the Latin hymn says, Crudelis Herodes, Deum Regem venire quid times? Non eripit mortalia, Qui regna dat caelestia (Cruel Herod what do you fear in the King and God to come? He seizes not earthly things who gives heavenly kingdoms). Indeed, it IS his fear that drives Herod.

In our own era we have similar deaths of innocents –while not laying their lives down for Jesus in the same way, but violent and egregious nonetheless with the victims of abortion. Plus, we can’t forget the children plagued with human trafficking and domestic violence. Some young people are trafficked for sex, forced labor, immigration and war. Nonetheless, the killing of babies and the very young is unbelievable.

What does this all mean for our prayer and mission? Pope Francis said last year on this feast day: “To contemplate the manger also means to contemplate this cry of pain, to open our eyes and ears to what is going on around us, and to let our hearts be attentive and open to the pain of our neighbors, especially where children are involved.”

Archpriest David Petras wrote, “The holy innocents are only the first of thousands upon thousands who will have to die for the spiritual kingdom of God. God does not oppose the violence of this world with weapons or an army, but he calls upon all to hear the truth and to love and not hate. This part of the Christmas gospel may make us extremely uncomfortable – almost by definition, but it reminds us of the struggle faith will have in this world, and that every Christian must be prepared to offer his or her life for God.”

On this feast of the Holy Innocents during the Octave of the Nativity, the Christ Child and the innocents have something definite to teach us: that we are to protect human life at this very tender stage. In honoring these little ones we also reflect upon the need for our atoning for forgetting about the deaths of these youths. May the intercession of the Holy Innocents be with those in need, with all of us.

Holy Innocents

Holy InnocentsThe Christmas Octave has an unique way to keep the memory of Christ and His Way alive with the saints honored in these days: today, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Innocents. As it is revealed in Scripture, King Herod felt threatened by the birth of the Infant King. He ordered the death of every male child of Bethlehem to preserve his own reign (cf. Matthew 2:16). Mother Church honors the multitude of child-martyrs because of the Presence of Jesus. Our theology teaches us that the infant voices eternally sing triumphant praises to the King of Kings, Lord of Lords: the Light of the World.

Here is a poem, “The Holy Innocents” by Laurence Housman

When Christ was born in Bethlehem,
Fair peace on earth to bring,
In lowly state of love He came
To be the children’s King.

And round Him, then, a holy band
Of children blest was born,
Fair guardians of His throne to stand
Attendant night and morn.

And unto them this grace was giv’n
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 never spake,
Now sound th’eternal word;
And in the courts of love ye make
Your children’s voices heard.

Lord Jesus Christ, eternal Child,
Make Thou our childhood Thine;
That we with Thee the meek and mild
May share the love divine.

Holy Innocents


The day on which we recall those innocent children, the boys we call holy, who unknowingly gave their lives for their Savior, let’s hear the words of Saint Augustine of Hippo.

Today, dearest brethren, we celebrate the birthday of those children
who were slaughtered, as the Gospel tells us, by that exceedingly cruel king,
Herod. Let the earth, therefore, rejoice and the Church exult — she, the
fruitful mother of so many heavenly champions and of such glorious virtues.
Never, in fact, would that impious tyrant have been able to benefit these
children by the sweetest kindness as much as he has done by his hatred
. For as
today’s feast reveals, in the measure with which malice in all its fury was
poured out upon the holy children, did heaven’s blessing stream down upon them.

The Holy Innocents

Today’s feast of The Holy Innocents has renewed meaning with the recent tragedy involving the death of 20 children in Newtown, CT on December 14. The entrance antiphon for Mass is rather startling (as is the Collect): “The innocents were slaughtered as infants for Christ; spotless, they follow the Lamb and sing for ever: Glory to you, O Lord.”


So many violations of human dignity come to mind. Most notable resonances of recent days are the Newtown children, but there are also the countless of children aborted daily, the merciless killing of the elderly, sick, immigrants, and the list can go on. There is much work to protect human life.


Christmastide is filled with opportunities to recall those who died for Christ: Saint Stephen, the Holy Innocents, Saint Thomas Becket, CT little ones. The 16th century Coventry Carol, was sung as part of a pageant demonstrating chapter 2 of Matthew’s Gospel where Herod kills male children under the age of two. The unknown author captures the scene perfectly, and even today it has a poignant message.


The Most Reverend Peter A. Rosazza published this editorial on his Facebook page:

Duccio Holy Innocents.jpg

On December 28th
our church commemorates the massacre of the Holy Innocents by King Herod
shortly after the birth of Jesus. The Magi disturbed Herod when they asked him
where they could find the new-born King since they had been led by his star to
Jerusalem. Herod, jealous of his power, sent soldiers to kill all baby boys two
years of age and younger in Bethlehem and its surroundings. Some scholars
estimate the number at approximately twenty-eight.

Just two weeks earlier, on
December 14th, another massacre of innocents occurred. As we know, eight boys
and twelve girls, between the ages of six and seven, along with six women, were
executed by twenty-year old Adam Lanza who had first killed his own mother. The
principal of the school another woman ran toward him and were killed in the
process.

Read more ...

Holy Innocents

holy-innocents11.jpg

At the king’s command these innocent babes and little Children were put to death. They
died for Christ, and now in the glory of heaven as they follow Him, the
spotless Lamb, they sing for ever: Glory to You, O Lord!


O God, whom the Holy Innocents confessed and proclaimed on this day, not speaking but by dying, grant we pray, that the faith in you which we confess with our lips may also speak through our manner of living.


Pay close attention to the sentiments of this prayer: confession of the reality of God not by words but by actions, by the way we live. How appropriate to keep this in mind these days.

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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