Saint Of The Day For December 28: Holy Innocents, Martyrs
The Holy Innocents are the children of Bethlehem, put to death by order of King Herod, as part of his efforts to eliminate the child Jesus, whom prophecies announced as the Messiah and new King of Israel.
They have been honored as martyrs since the early centuries.
Holy Innocents, History
The Church has venerated these Innocents as martyrs since the early centuries, and since they were snatched from life shortly after Christ’s coming into the world, it commemorates them close to Christmas.
At the behest of Pius V, the celebration was elevated to a feast day.
Prudentius, a poet who lived in the 4th century, in the Epiphany hymn of the Liber cathemerinòn calls them ‘flores martyrum’, flowers of the martyrs, ‘torn by the persecutor of Jesus Christ, like so many tender shoots’.
“Children, without knowing it, die for Christ, while their parents mourn the martyrs who die.
Christ makes his witnesses those who do not yet speak,’ Bishop St Quodvultdeus explains in a sermon.
He continues: “O wonderful gift of grace! What merits did these children have to win in this way? They do not yet speak and already they confess Christ! They are not yet able to face the fight because they do not yet move their limbs, and yet they already bear triumphantly the palm of victory’.
In short, the Holy Innocents are the small vanguard of the army of martyrs who have testified and continue to testify with blood their belonging to Christ, pure creatures who have written the first page of the long list of Christian martyrs.
The Innocents victims of yesterday and today
For Western Christian tradition, the Gospel episode of the Holy Innocent Martyrs is a typical example of how the thirst for power can drive one to atrocious crimes.
The children of Bethlehem are in fact victims of Herod’s ruthless hatred of anyone who might have obstructed his plans for power and domination.
On this theme, and on the story of the children of Bethlehem, several works of art have been created over the centuries.
In 2016, on the very day of the Holy Martyrs Innocents, Pope Francis addressed a letter to the bishops urging them to “listen to the lament and weeping of so many mothers, of so many families, for the death of their children, of their innocent children” which is the same “wail of grief of mothers who mourn the death of their innocent children in the face of Herod’s tyranny and unbridled lust for power”.
“A groan,” the Pontiff wrote, “that we can continue to hear today, that touches our souls and that we cannot and do not want to ignore or silence.
From these words, Francis issued an invitation to the bishops of the world to protect the innocence of the little ones “from the new Herods of our days”, who engulf it and break it “under the weight of clandestine and slave labour, under the weight of prostitution and exploitation.
Innocence destroyed by wars and forced emigration”.
At the same time, the Pope also recommended listening to the weeping and lamenting of the Church, which asks for forgiveness and “weeps not only at the pain caused in its youngest children, but also because it knows the sin of some of its members: the suffering, history and pain of minors who were sexually abused by priests”.