Saints of the Day – Feast of the Holy Innocents: Martyrs – 28 December – 4th Day of the Christmas Octave. Patronages – • against ambition•against jealousy• altar servers•babies•children• children’s choir• choir boys• foundlings• students.
“A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”
During this octave of Christmas the Church celebrates the memory of the small children of the neighbourhood of Bethlehem put to death by Herod.
Sacrificed by a wicked monarch, these innocent lives bear witness to Christ who was persecuted from the time of His birth by a world which would not receive Him. It is Christ Himself who is at stake in this mass-murder of the children, already the choice, for or against Him, is put clearly before men. But the persecutors are powerless, for Christ came to perform a work of salvation that nothing can prevent, when He fell into the hands of His enemies at the time chosen by God, it was to redeem the world by His own Blood.
Our Christmas joy is tempered today by a feeling of sadness. But the Church looks principally to the glory of the children, of these innocent victims, whom she shows us in heaven following the Lamb wherever He goes.
One of the most cherished carols of the Christmas season is often presented as a melody without lyrics. For this reason, the tune is familiar but the words of the carol are not. The carol of which I am referring to is known as the Coventry Carol, which originates in a 16th century “mystery play” called the Pageant of the Shearman and Tailors. The play and the song concern the massacre of the young children of Bethlehem at the command of King Herod, a story that is recorded in the Gospel of Matthew. The Coventry Carol is a lament that is imagined in the play to have been sung by the mothers whose children have been murdered by Herod’s cruelty, it combines the sound of their weeping with the gentle cadences of a lullaby:
Lullay thou little tiny child,
Bye, bye lully lullay.
O sisters, too how may we do,
For to preserve this day;
This poor youngling for whom we sing,
Bye bye lully lullay.
Herod the King, in his raging
Charged he hath this day;
His men of might in his own sight
All young children to slay.
Then woe is me, poor child for thee
And ever mourn and say;
For thy parting, no say nor sing
Bye bye lully lullay
The Holy Innocents saved the Child Jesus from death by King Herod, by the shedding of their own blood. The Holy Innocents are the special patrons of small children, who can please the Christ Child by being obedient and helpful to parents and by sharing their toys and loving their siblings and playmates.
The feast of the Holy Innocents is an excellent time for parents to inaugurate the custom of blessing their children. From the Ritual comes the form which we use on solemn occasions, such as First Communion. But parents can simply sign a cross on the child’s forehead with the right thumb dipped in holy water and say: “May God bless you and may He be the Guardian of your heart and mind—the Father, + Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.”