In this painting by William Holman Hunt – The Triumph of the Innocents – The Innocents are seen with the Holy Family, in spirit, during the Family‘s Flight to Egypt. Today, we ask them to be with and pray for the unborn of our day.
Today, December 28th is the feast day of the Holy Innocents. Throughout history the Church has honored these little ones with great reverence. For instance in his Letter to Families, John Paul II quotes a poet from the 2nd century:
“In the liturgy of their Feast, which has its origins in the fifth century, the Church turns to the Holy Innocents, invoking them with the words of the poet Prudentius (c. 105) as ‘the flowers of the martyrs whom, at the very threshold of their lives, the persecutor of Christ cut down as the whirlwind does to roses still in bud’ ”
St. Augustine (354-430) said of these Holy Innocents, that they are the “flowers of the martyrs” – “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 Venerable Bede (673-735) in A Hymn for Martyrs Sweetly Sing (translated by Joan Mason Neale) remembers these little martyrs.
1. A Hymn for Martyrs sweetly sing;
For Innocents your praises bring;
Of whom in tears was earth bereaved,
Whom heaven with songs of joy received…
4. After brief taste of earthly woe
Eternal triumph now they know;
For whom, by cruel torments rent,
A voice from Ramah was there sent.
5. And every tear is wiped away
By your dear Father’s hands for aye:
Death hath no power to hurt you more;
Your own is life’s eternal shore….
The following was taken from the Woman of Faith and Family
The Coventry Carol
This beautiful English lullaby carol originated in the Coventry Corpus Christi Mystery Plays performed in the 15th century. In a play called The Pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors, the women of Bethlehem sing this song just before Herod’s soldiers come to slaughter their children. It tells the story of the murder of the Holy Innocents, and is sung on December 28, the feast of those tiny martyrs.
Lully, Lullay, thou little tiny child.
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.
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 neither say nor sing,
Bye, bye lully, lullay.
Today many in the pro-life movement invoke these Holy Innocents to help protect the young of our day who are being slaughtered. Here is a quote from A Pro-Life Homily for the Feast of the Holy Innocents on the Priests for Life website.
“Jesus took on our human flesh in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, was born for us at Bethlehem and died for us in Jerusalem so that our sins would be forgiven and we might have everlasting life. There is no sin too big that God is unable or unwilling to forgive if we repent and turn back to Him. Ask the Holy Innocents to intercede for us that we may bring about a renewed respect for human life in our society, to build a culture of life, protect the innocents in our day and comfort those who mourn.“
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