On December 28, the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of the innocents. This feast commemorates the massacre of the holy innocents, the children killed by King Herod shortly after the birth of Jesus.
Discover the meaning of the feast of the innocents!
For centuries, the Catholic Church has commemorated the child victims of King Herod's murderous fury. The latter, fearing to be replaced by the "king of the Jews" announced by the Magi, ordered the killing of all children under the age of two in the region of Bethlehem.
These children are called the "innocent saints" by Catholic tradition and the Church honors them as martyrs, because they were killed because of Christ, Jesus. A Roman martyr wrote this about them: “Little children who were massacred in Bethlehem in Judea on the orders of the impious King Herod, so that the child Jesus would perish with them. From the first centuries of the Church, they were honored as martyrs, because they are the first fruits of all those who had to shed their blood for God and for the Lamb of God.”
Thus, by the canonization of the holy innocents, the Church means that these young children are closely united to the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, and thus participate in the mystery of our redemption!
Historically, the massacre of these young children is not certain, nevertheless King Herod is described as a murderous madman, having killed his wife and some of his children.
We find the story of the massacre of the innocent saints in the Gospel of Saint Matthew, at the heart of the passage where we learn of the flight of the Holy Family to Egypt: "When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”
So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
“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." (Matthew 2:13-18)
Following the joyful celebration of Christmas, the feast of the innocents puts us back brutally before the manifestation of evil. In fact, by taking flesh, Jesus comes into our humanity with everything that characterizes it: its lights, but also its shadows marked by sin.
The massacre of the innocent saints also reminds us of the nagging question of suffering: "Why didn't God, having warned Joseph and Mary, also save all these young children?"
Father Joseph-Marie gives us some keys in his homily from 2009: “No, the death of the child victims of Herod's hatred is not sterile; nor is the unjustifiable suffering of so many millions of innocent children, men and women throughout history. […]
We must read the events in the light of Our Lord's Resurrection. When from the top of the cross Jesus makes his death a sacrifice of love that opens heaven to all the repentant robbers of our humanity; when he intercedes for all the executioners of history, it is not only his life delivered that makes sense, but that of all those he recapitulates in him, that is to say all the innocent victims, who participate in his redemptive sacrifice."
And he continues as follows: “We can therefore be sure that, although they did not need forgiveness, the Holy Innocents, who lost their young life for Christ and for his Gospel, were among the first to enter into the joy of eternal life.”
“Lord, before the suffering of the innocent, rather than accusing You, help me to turn my eyes to the Cross, and to read the mystery of a God of love who shows solidarity to the end of our human condition. I do not pretend to understand everything, but I believe it: one day I will see "our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us." (Romans 8:18) in each of your children - starting with the most tried. It is in this hope that I want to continue on the road with you, asking you for the grace not to revolt against the suffering of the innocent.”
The feast of the innocents, by confronting us with the horror of evil and suffering, is an opportunity for everyone to pray for all the innocents, victims of wars, diseases, misery, etc. Christ is present at the side of all those who suffer!
Therefore, with this conviction of faith, let us turn our eyes to Jesus, for in Him alone we find refuge!
Pray with Hozana on the Day of the Innocents thanks to these communities of prayer: