Praying to the saints is a widespread practice among Catholic Christians. While many of them are fairly well known, including among non-believers, there is no doubt that less is known about others. This is the case of the Holy Innocents, whom we celebrate a few days after Christmas. The massacre of the Holy Innocents is recalled in the Roman calendar, which proposes to honor these child martyrs, innocent victims of the murder ordered by King Herod in the region of Bethlehem in the first century AD. Who are the Holy Innocents? Do you know their story?
We are at the dawn of the Christian era. In the middle of a blessed night among all, the child Jesus has just been born. Some time later, magi from the East follow a star that guides them to Bethlehem. There, they ask King Herod the Great for advice: “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?” (Matthew 2:2). The proud ruler feels in danger—who dares to claim to be king of the Jews? Then, caught in a “fury” (Matthew 2:16), he decides to get rid of the one he considers an embarrassing intruder. Not knowing exactly who he is or where to find him, Herod orders the killing of all children under the age of two living in Bethlehem and throughout the region.
“Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. (Matthew 2:13): Joseph, warned in a dream by the angel of the Lord, shelters his family in Egypt. Thus, the newborn child Jesus escapes the massacre of the Holy Innocents.
Jesus is saved by God, just as Moses was saved from the massacre organized by Pharaoh, another ruler blinded by fury at another time (Exodus 1-2). From the moment of his birth, Jesus saw an episode recounting the genesis of the salvation of the people of God, announcing the definitive salvation of the children of God.
The slaughter of the holy Innocents foreshadows the slaughter of the Innocent, the Lamb of God, who was given over to hostile hands to graze, and whose sacrifice will save the people of God.
These innocent boys, slaughtered in the name of the paranoid madness of a power-loving king, died in the place of Christ, and for him. This is why, since the second century, these children have been venerated as martyrs by the Church. They represent the first of the long line of martyrs who shed their blood and gave their lives as a sign of their belonging to Christ. Today, the memory of the Holy Innocents has become a celebration, and is celebrated during the Christmas octave, on December 28 of each year.
Beyond these child martyrs of the early days of Christianity, other innocent people are honored today on the day of the feast of the Holy Innocents: victims of abortion in particular, but also all the child victims of the abominations of men. At the beginning of January 2017, the Holy See published a letter written by Pope Francis for the feast of the Holy Innocents and addressed the bishops. He mentions it as a duty not to make Christian joy a fake joy that ignores reality. In this letter, he asks the bishops of the whole world to have the “courage to [protect the children] of the new Herods of our time who destroy [their] innocence”. It evokes the evils of our time that threaten our children: clandestine labor, slavery, prostitution, exploitation, wars and forced emigration, bandits, mafias and merchants of death. He also devotes a paragraph to sexual abuse in the Church, explicitly asking his bishops for “zero tolerance” for these actions, uniting themselves with the suffering of the victims and asking them for forgiveness on behalf of the Church.
Prayer to the Holy Innocents by Saint Teresa of the Child Jesus – excerpts:
“Happy little Children, with what tenderness
The King of Heaven
Once blessed you and filled you with caresses
Your cheerful foreheads!
Of all the Innocents you were the figure
And I can see
The goods that Heaven gives you without measure
The King of Kings.
You have contemplated the immense riches
Before we knew our bitter sorrows
Dear little Lilies.
O fragrant buttons! harvested from dawn
By the Lord
The sweet Sun of Love that knew how to make you hatch
It was his Heart!...
Children, you compose the virginal procession
And you can say again, amazing privilege
A new song!
You have not fought to achieve glory
The Savior has won you the victory
Find more prayers of Saint Teresa of Lisieux.
On Hozana, you can pray a rosary for the children.
Hozana also offers you a prayer for children who have grown up and fallen victim to the evils of our time.