Feast of the Holy Innocents

December 29, 2021
Christmastide

Today’s Color = RED

Today’s Readings: Jeremiah 31:15-17; Psalm 124; Revelation 21:1-7; Matthew 2:13-18; Reflection: The Story of the Massacre of the Holy Innocents


The Evocation

Alleluia, alleluia.

Never despise these little ones;

their guardian angels in heaven look continuously

on the face of my heavenly Father.

Alleluia.

Matthew 18.10

Opening Prayer

We remember today, O God, the slaughter of the holy innocents of Bethlehem by King Herod. Receive, we pray, into the arms of your mercy all innocent victims; and by your great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish your rule of justice, love, and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. [1]

Antiphon

Innocent children by cruel Herod were slain for Christ, even children at the breast: They follow the Lamb without spot, and say always, Glory be to Thee, O Lord.  

The Hymn

15th Century

Lully, lullay, you 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? 

Lully, lullay, you little tiny child, 

bye-bye, lully lullay 

Herod the King, 

in his raging charged 

he had this day 

his men of might, 

in his own sight, 

all young children to slay. 

Lully, lullay, you little tiny child, 

bye-bye, lully lullay 

That woe is me, 

poor child for thee! 

And every morn and day, 

for thy parting 

nor say nor sing 

bye-bye, lully lullay. [2]


The Massacre of the Innocents (Location: Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rennes.)
(source)

Antiphon

The righteous live for evermore.

Their reward also is with the Lord.

Old Testament: Jeremiah 31:15-17

Thus says the Lord:

A voice is heard in Ramah,

lamentation and bitter weeping.

Rachel is weeping for her children;

she refuses to be comforted for her children,

because they are no more.

Thus says the Lord:

Keep your voice from weeping,

and your eyes from tears;

for there is a reward for your work,

says the Lord:

they shall come back from the land of the enemy;

there is hope for your future,

says the Lord:

your children shall come back to their own country.

Refrain

Let the little children come to me

for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.

Whoever does not receive the kingdom of heaven like a child

will never enter it.

Let us pray.

O God, whose beloved Son took children into his arms and blessed them: Give me the grace to entrust the holy innocents of Bethlehem to your never-failing care and love, and bring me to your heavenly kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.† [3]

‘I will comfort you,’ says the Lord, ‘as a mother comforts her child, and you shall be comforted.’

Isaiah 66.13

Antiphon

Wrathful Herod slew many children: in Bethlehem of Judea, the city of David.

From two years old and under: did Herod slay many children.

The Psalter: Psalm 124

Nisi quia Dominus

1 If the Lord had not been on our side, *

let Israel now say;

2 If the Lord had not been on our side, *

when enemies rose up against us;

3 Then would they have swallowed us up alive *

in their fierce anger toward us;

4 Then would the waters have overwhelmed us *

and the torrent gone over us;

5 Then would the raging waters *

have gone right over us.

6 Blessed be the Lord! *

he has not given us over to be a prey for their teeth.

7 We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowler; *

the snare is broken, and we have escaped.

8 Our help is in the Name of the Lord, *

the maker of heaven and earth.

Refrain

Let the little children come to me

for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.

Whoever does not receive the kingdom of heaven like a child

will never enter it.

Let us pray.

And now we give you thanks

for the witness of the infants who died cruelly,

not knowing the newborn Christ,

that your grace might be made perfect in human weakness,

and the way of salvation prepared in our sinful world. [4]

I will turn their mourning into joy; I will comfort them and give them gladness for sorrow.

Jeremiah 31.13

This fresco, representing the Massacre of the Innocents, was done by Giotto, the famous medieval Italian painter. It was painted between 1302 and 1306 and is exposed in the famous Chapel of the Scrovegni, in Padua.
(source)

Antiphon

A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping: Rachel weeping for her children.

New Testament: Revelation 21:1-7

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

“See, the home of God is among mortals.

He will dwell with them as their God;

they will be his peoples,

and God himself will be with them;

he will wipe every tear from their eyes.

Death will be no more;

mourning and crying and pain will be no more,

for the first things have passed away.”

And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children.

Refrain

Let the little children come to me

for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.

Whoever does not receive the kingdom of heaven like a child

will never enter it.

Let us pray.

Heavenly Father,

whose children suffered at the hands of Herod,

though they had done no wrong:

by the suffering of your Son

and by the innocence of our lives

frustrate all evil designs

and establish your reign of justice and peace;

through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,

who is alive and reigns with you,

in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and for ever. [5]

They have been ransomed as the first fruits of humankind, and they follow the Lamb wherever he goes.

Revelation 14.4

Situated under the Basilica of the Nativity of Christ, in Bethlehem, is the Cave of the Holy Innocents, containing the bones and skulls of the small children and infants massacred by Herod the Great in an effort to eliminate the one child who would replace him as the “King of the Jews.” 
(source)

Antiphon

From under the throne of God the saints cry out: Avenge our blood, O our God.

Gospel: Matthew 2:13-18

When the wise men had departed, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

“A voice was heard in Ramah,

wailing and loud lamentation,

Rachel weeping for her children;

she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

Refrain

Let the little children come to me

for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.

Whoever does not receive the kingdom of heaven like a child

will never enter it.

Let us pray.

Intercession

In peace let us pray to the God of love.

Righteous God,

your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ dwelt among us

and shared our grief and our pain.

We pray for the children of our world,

that they may grow up knowing love and security.

        Silence is kept.

We pray for all children who suffer physical or mental abuse.

        Silence is kept.

We pray for all communities in our world

who live with the memories of massacre and gross cruelty.

        Silence is kept.

We pray for all who are corrupted by power

and who regard human life as cheap.

        Silence is kept.

We pray for parents who have suffered the death of a child.

        Silence is kept.

We pray for parents and guardians,

that they may be given grace to care for the children entrusted to them.

        Silence is kept.

As we celebrate the coming of the Christ-child,

we rejoice in the fellowship of the Holy Innocents

and commit the children of this community,

our nation and our world to you,

our righteous God.

Merciful Father,

accept these prayers

for the sake of your Son,

our Saviour Jesus Christ.

Amen. [6]


Icon of Christ the Lover of the Innocent
(source)

Antiphon

Let children praise Thee, O Lord of Hosts: for through the victory wrought by Thee they rejoice in their innocence.

Reflection

The Story of the Massacre of the Holy Innocents

“During this octave of Christmas the Church celebrates the memory of the small children of the neighborhood 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.” [7]

“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.” [8]

“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.” [9]

“Herod “the Great,” king of Judea, was unpopular with his people because of his connections with the Romans and his religious indifference. Hence he was insecure and fearful of any threat to his throne. He was a master politician and a tyrant capable of extreme brutality. He killed his wife, his brother, and his sister’s two husbands, to name only a few.” [10]

“Matthew 2:1-18 tells this story: Herod was “greatly troubled” when astrologers from the east came asking the whereabouts of “the newborn king of the Jews,” whose star they had seen. They were told that the Jewish Scriptures named Bethlehem as the place where the Messiah would be born. Herod cunningly told them to report back to him so that he could also “do him homage.” They found Jesus, offered him their gifts, and warned by an angel, avoided Herod on their way home. Jesus escaped to Egypt.” [11]

“Herod became furious and “ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under.” The horror of the massacre and the devastation of the mothers and fathers led Matthew to quote Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation; Rachel weeping for her children…” (Matthew 2:18). Rachel was the wife of Jacob (Israel). She is pictured as weeping at the place where the Israelites were herded together by the conquering Assyrians for their march into captivity.” [12]

“The Holy Innocents are few in comparison to the genocide and abortion of our day. But even if there had been only one, we recognize the greatest treasure God put on the earth [besides Himself] —a human person, destined for eternity, and graced by Jesus’ death and resurrection.” [13]

“Blessed are you, Bethlehem in the land of Judah! You suffered the inhumanity of King Herod in the murder of your babes and thereby have become worthy to offer to the Lord a pure host of infants. In full right do we celebrate the heavenly birthday of these children whom the world caused to be born unto an eternally blessed life rather than that from their mothers’ womb, for they attained the grace of everlasting life before the enjoyment of the present. The precious death of any martyr deserves high praise because of his heroic confession; the death of these children is precious in the sight of God because of the beatitude they gained so quickly. For already at the beginning of their lives they pass on. The end of the present life is for them the beginning of glory. These then, whom Herod’s cruelty tore as sucklings from their mothers’ bosom, are justly hailed as “infant martyr flowers”; they were the Church’s first blossoms, matured by the frost of persecution during the cold winter of unbelief.”

St. Augustine [15]

Refrain

Let the little children come to me

for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.

Whoever does not receive the kingdom of heaven like a child

will never enter it.

Let us pray.

Invitation to Confession

On this day when we recall the murder of innocent lives,

let us stand before our just and holy God,

and remembering the violence and injustice of our world,

confess our sins in penitence and faith. [16]

Kyrie Confession

You are the God of the weak and the vulnerable.

        Lord, have mercy.

        Lord, have mercy.

You judge the tyrant and the cruel.

        Christ, have mercy.

        Christ, have mercy.

You wipe away the tears of the broken-hearted.

        Lord, have mercy.

        Lord, have mercy. [17]

The Concluding Prayers of the Church

Give rest, O Christ, to your servants, where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting. Amen.† 

Save me, O Lord, while I am awake, and keep me while I sleep that I may wake in Christ and rest in peace. 

(adapted from THE SHORT BREVIARY [18])


Devotionals compiled/written by S.P. Rogers

Citations:

[1] Episcopal Church. (n.d.). The Lessons Appointed for Use on the Feast of Holy Innocents. Retrieved December 21, 2020, from https://lectionarypage.net/YearABC/HolyDays/HolyInno.html

[2] Tickle, P. (2006). Christmas. In The divine hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime (Kindle ed., vol. 2, p. 454). New York, NY: Image Books.

[3] Ibid. 2, P. 453

[4] Church of England. (2008). The Holy Innocents. Retrieved December 21, 2020, from https://www.churchofengland.org/prayer-and-worship/worship-texts-and-resources/common-worship/churchs-year/festivals/holy-innocents

[5] Ibid. 4

[6] Ibid. 4

[7] Feast of the Holy Innocents, martyrs – December 28, 2020 – Liturgical Calendar. (n.d.). Retrieved December 21, 2020, from https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/liturgicalyear/calendar/day.cfm?date=2020-12-28

[8] Ibid. 7

[9] Ibid. 7

[10] Media, F. (2020, December 28). Holy Innocents. Retrieved December 21, 2020, from https://www.franciscanmedia.org/saint-of-the-day/holy-innocents

[11] Ibid. 10

[12] Ibid. 10

[13] Ibid. 10

[14] Ibid. 10

[15] Feast of the Holy Innocents, martyrs – December 28, 2020 – Liturgical Calendar. (n.d.). Retrieved December 21, 2020, from https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/liturgicalyear/calendar/day.cfm?date=2020-12-28

[16] Church of England. (2008). The Holy Innocents. Retrieved December 21, 2020, from https://www.churchofengland.org/prayer-and-worship/worship-texts-and-resources/common-worship/churchs-year/festivals/holy-innocents

[17] Ibid. 16


[18] Tickle, P. (2006). Christmas. In The divine hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime (Kindle ed., vol. 2, p. 455). New York, NY: Image Books.

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