INSTRUCTION ON THE FEAST OF THE HOLY INNOCENTS [December 28]
THE gospel of this day gives the history of the death of these children whom the Church regards as mattyrs, because though they could not confess Christ with their lips, they did so by the death which they suffered on account of Herod's hatred of Christ.
The Introit of the Mass; Out of the mouth of infants and of sucklings thou hast perfected praise because of thy enemies. O Lord our Lord, how admirable is thy name in the whole earthl (Ps. viii.) Glory &c.
PRAYER OF THE CHURCH. O God, whose praise Thy martyrs the Innocents did on this day
confess, not by speech, but by their deaths, mortify in us all the evils of vice, that Thy faith, which our tongue professes, our life also by its deeds may declare. Thro'. &c.
LESSON. (Apoc. xiv. i 5.) IN THOSE DAYS, I saw upon Mount Sion a Lamb standing, 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 . noise 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 withersoever 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.
EXPLANATION AND APPLICATION. This vision of St. John is applied to the holy Innocents because on account of their innocence they are ranked with the virgins of whom mention is here made. St. John describes the prerogatives of purity, and relates that he had seen the Lamb of God, Christ, on Mount Sion, that is, in heaven, surrounded by one hundred and forty-four thousand virgins. There is here given a definite number to represent the multitude of those who preserve their innocence through life. These are distinguished from the other saints, by the name of the Lamb which is marked upon them and are in a greater measure like unto Him, and enjoy His company in an especial manner, which is manifested by the new canticle which none of the other saints can sing. Mark the great preference which virginal innocence holds in heaven;God raises the virginal soul above all the other saints in heaven. And can you throw away this heavenly virtue, this most precious of pearls, for a vain, passing pleasure, which never satisfies the soul, but on the contrary fills it with pain and disgust ? By no means ; ever preserve, then, the robe of innocence free from all spots, and if you have stained or lost it by sin, hasten to do penance, that you may be received with the sainted penitents into the joy of God and His angels.
GOSPEL. (Matt. ii. 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 diligently enquired 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.
Why did Herod seek the life of Christ?
Because carried away by pride and ambition, he feared that by this child, whom the wise men named King of the Jews, he would be deprived of his throne which he had unjustly usurped, and to obtain which he had caused even his son and nearest relations to be put to death. How ruinous is it to give oneself up to pride! To what will not this passion often lead men! Seek well if the inclination to pride has not taken root in your heart! Strive, while considering your misery, your poverty and your sinfulness, to weed it out at once, despise yourself, and continually pray for the spirit of true humility.
Who are like Herod?
All those who kill innocent children either in body or soul; for example, all imprudent, careless women who by excessive dancing, by carrying or lifting heavy burdens, by hurtful eating or drinking, by violent anger or immoderate grief, injure the fruit of their wombs; brutal men who treat harshly, even strike, beat or provoke to anger their wives while in a state of pregnancy; careless parents who take their children into bed with them, at the risk of suffocating them iri their sleep; corrupt and godless women who destroy the fruit of their shame before birth, and thus send them without baptism into the other world. But more cruel even than these, far more cruel than Herod, are those who scandalize the innocent, that is, lead them into sin by holding improper conversations, singing bad songs ; making" indecent jokes and using immodest words in the presence of children, thus enticing them into this abominable kind of sin. Jesus pronounces a terrible curse upon such people.
What punishment did Herod receive for his cruelties?
He was attacked shortly after by a most painful and disgusting disease which was so offensive that he was deserted by every one; eaten by worms and other vermin he died in the greatest despair. If Herod, the murderer of the bodies of the holy Innocents, was so fearfully punished by God, what must the murderers of innocent souls expect?
What is meant by the words: A voice in Rama was heard?
St. Chrysostom says: "If we are asked why Rachel bewailing her children is mentioned here, when it is only the children of Bethlehem that are spoken of, and what connection there is between Rachel and Rama, we answer: Rachel very properly appears here showing her distress, for she was the mother of Benjamin (from whom the holy Innocents descended) and he had been buried in the vicinity of Bethlehem, which was also near Rama, in the land
of the tribe of Benjamin. And as Rachel was the mother of the prince of this tribe, and this place contained the ashes of the mother, the holy Scripture names the children who were killed, the children of Rachel." From these words may be understood the grief of the mothers, for their murdered children.To weep for the loss of children is most natural, but to weep immoderately is not wise. How can the Christian mother be inconsolable for the loss of her children whom God has taken to Himself? Is it not better for them to be with God in heaven than to live here on earth, exposed to dangers, and perhaps be lost forever.
OTHER USEFUL AND CONSOLING LESSONS.
GOD saved His Son from the hands of Herod in a natural way, by flight, although He could have guarded Him in other ways. He wished to teach us that we should not expect Him to help us miraculously, so long as He can aid us in a natural manner. We should learn from the ready obedience with which Jesus, Mary, and Joseph submitted, without questioning God's orders and arrangements, or murmuring against them, to submit in ready obedience to God's dispositions without inquiring or complaining about them.
The adverse incidents which these most holy persons, Jesus, Mary and Joseph had to meet in their lives, teach us that God takes pleasure in trying and perfecting His own by proving them through trials and vicissitudes. Dare we, then, murmur when God so tries us? Herod sought to slay Jesus, and to secure his end caused a number of innocent children to be murdered, and yet Jesus escaped him. What are the plans of the wicked against God and His chosen ones ? He who fears God and serves Him, against him all the powers of hell can do nothing.
SUPPLICATION TO THE HOLY INNOCENTS.
I salute you, innocent little martyrs, who glorified God not by your words, but by your death. What happiness was yours to pass into eternal life almost before you had commenced the temporal! What happiness is now yours who continually follow the true Lamb of God, Jesus Christ! O pray for us, that we may ever confess the faith in Jesus with heart and with lips, and by a pious Christian life, through sufferings and trials, reach Christ whom you enjoy now