Dec 28 – Feast of the Holy Innocents, Martyrs, “They cannot speak, yet they bear witness to Christ”


-detail of Une Scene du Massacre des Innocents (A Scene of the Massacre of the Innocents), Jean-Baptiste Marie Pierre (1714-1789), undated

[Feast of the Holy Innocents, also called Childermas, or Innocents’ Day, festival celebrated in the Christian churches in the West on December 28 and in the Eastern churches on December 29 and commemorating the massacre of the children by King Herod in his attempt to kill the infant Jesus (Matthew 2:16–18). These children were regarded by the early church as the first martyrs, but it is uncertain when the day was first kept as a saint’s day. At first it may have been celebrated with Epiphany, but by the 5th century it was kept as a separate festival. In Rome it was a day of fasting and mourning.

It was one of a series of days known as the Feast of Fools, and the last day of authority for boy bishops. Parents temporarily abdicated authority. In convents and monasteries the youngest nun and monk were allowed to act as abbess and abbot for the day. These customs, which mocked religion, were condemned by the Council of Basel (1431).

In medieval England the children were reminded of the mournfulness of the day by being whipped in bed in the morning; this custom survived into the 17th century.

The day is still observed as a feast day and, in Roman Catholic countries, as a day of merrymaking for children.]


-partially restored and enhanced St Quodvultdeus mosaic portrait (San Gennaro catacombs, Naples), Unknown artist, 5th century

-from a sermon by Saint Quodvultdeus, bishop (Sermo 2 de Symbolo: PL 40, 655) and spiritual student or “directee”, friend, and correspondent of St. Augustine, Second Reading, Office of Readings, Liturgy of the Hours for December 28th, Feast of the Holy Innocents, Martyrs.

“A tiny child is born, Who is a great king. Wise men are led to Him from afar [Matthew 2:1]. They come to adore One Who lies in a manger and yet reigns in heaven and on earth. When they tell of One Who is born a king, Herod is disturbed [cf Matthew 2:3]. To save his kingdom he resolves to kill Him, though if he would have faith in the Child, he himself would reign in peace in this life and for ever in the life to come.

Why are you afraid, Herod, when you hear of the birth of a king? He does not come to drive you out, but to conquer the devil. But because you do not understand this you are disturbed and in a rage, and to destroy one child Whom you seek, you show your cruelty in the death of so many children.

You are not restrained by the love of weeping mothers or fathers mourning the deaths of their sons, nor by the cries and sobs of the children. You destroy those who are tiny in body because fear is destroying your heart. You imagine that if you accomplish your desire you can prolong your own life, though you are seeking to kill Life Himself.

Yet your throne is threatened by the source of grace – so small, yet so great – Who is lying in the manger. He is using you, all unaware of it, to work out His own purposes freeing souls from captivity to the devil. He has taken up the sons of the enemy into the ranks of God’s adopted children.

The children die for Christ, though they do not know it. The parents mourn for the death of martyrs. The Child makes of those as yet unable to speak fit witnesses to Himself. See the kind of kingdom that is His, coming as He did in order to be this kind of king. See how the deliverer is already working deliverance, the savior already working salvation.

But you, Herod, do not know this and are disturbed and furious. While you vent your fury against the child, you are already paying Him homage, and do not know it.

How great a gift of grace is here! To what merits of their own do the children owe this kind of victory? They cannot speak, yet they bear witness to Christ. They cannot use their limbs to engage in battle, yet already they bear off the palm of victory.

Love,
Matthew

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