Feast of the Holy Innocents, Martyrs
The third day after Christmas, 28 December, is celebrated as the Feast of the Holy Innocents. Here is a small reflection on the day.
The Holy Innocents are the children mentioned in the gospel of Matthew, chapter 2:16-18.
Herod, perceiving that he was deluded by the wise men, was exceedingly angry, and sent his soldiers to kill all male children ages two and under that were in Bethlehem and on the boarders, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men. Then was fulfilled the prophesy of Jeremiah: A voice in Rama was heard, of lamentation and great mourning; Rachel bewailed her children, and would not be comforted, because they were not.
The Greek Liturgy asserts that Herod killed 14,000 boys, the Syrians speak of 64,000, and many medieval authors speak of 144,000, according to Rev. 14:3. Modern writers reduce the number considerably, since Bethlehem was a rather small town.
It is impossible to determine the day or the year of the death of the Holy Innocents, since the chronology of the birth of Christ and the subsequent Biblical events is most uncertain. All we know is that the infants were slaughtered within two years following the apparition of the star to the Wise Men (Belser, in the Tubingen “Quartalschrift,” 1890, p. 361). The Church venerates these children as martyrs (flores martyrum); they are the first buds of the Church killed by the frost of persecution; they died not only for Christ, but in his stead (St. Aug., “Sermo 10us de sanctis”).
The Latin Church instituted the feast of the Holy Innocents at a date now unknown, not before the end of the fourth, and not later than the end of the fifth century.
The Roman Station of December 28 is at St. Paul’s Outside the Walls, because that church is believed to possess the bodies of several of the Holy Innocents. A portion of these relics was transferred by Sixtus V to Santa Maria Maggiore. The church of St. Justina at Padua, the cathedrals of Lisbon and Milan, and other churches also preserve bodies which they claim to be those of some of the Holy Innocents.
Reflect, today, upon the will of God for your life. In what ways is God calling you to be like Saint Joseph and protect the most innocent and most vulnerable? How are you being called to be a guardian of those entrusted to your care? Certainly on a civil level we must all work to protect the lives of those who are unborn. But every parent, grandparent and all those entrusted with responsibility for another must strive to protect those in their care in countless other ways. We must diligently work to preserve them from the evils in our world and the numerous attacks of the evil one on their lives. Ponder this question today and allow the Lord to speak to you of your duty to imitate the great protector, Saint Joseph.
Lord, give me insight, wisdom and strength so that I can work in accord with Your will to protect the most innocent from the evils of this world. May I never cower in the face of evil, and may I always fulfill my duty to protect those entrusted to my care. Saint Joseph, pray for me. Jesus, I trust in You.