Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Fourth Day of Christmas: The Holy Innocents

Massacre of the Holy Innocents by Antonio Visconti, courtesy of

Collected from several archived posts plus new material...

Although today is the Fourth Day of Christmas, it is not a particularly joyful day. December 28 marks the remembrance of the Holy Innocents, the male children aged two and under, who were ordered to be killed by the paranoid King Herod "the Great." Most Biblical historians seem to believe that only about twenty children were murdered as a result of Herod's inhumane order, but even the death of one child would make this day one of sorrowful remembrance.

Yet this event was foretold in the Old Testament as Saint Matthew tells us in his gospel, Matthew 2:13-18 (ESV), which is also the Gospel reading for this day:

13 Now when they [the Wise Men] had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, 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.” 14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

16 Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:

18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
weeping and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be comforted,
because they are no more.”

The Collect for this day, the Holy Innocents, from the Book of Common Prayer 2011:

ALMIGHTY God, whose innocent children cried out in suffering at the hands of Herod; Remove from us all evil desires, and by your grace, may we be innocent in our lives and constant in our faith, even at our death, so that our voices may glorify your holy Name; Through Jesus Christ who suffered for us, and now lives and rules with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and always. Amen. (References: Psalm 8.2; Matthew 2.16-18; Philippians 3.13-14)

* * *

From's Saint of the Day e-mail:

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.
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.
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.


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—a human person, destined for eternity and graced by Jesus’ death and resurrection.
* * *
The "Coventry Carol" of the 15th century also reminds us of the slaying of the Holy Innocents which we recall today:Lully, lulla, thou little tiny child
By by, lully, lullay, thou little tiny child
By by, lully lullay

O sisters too, how may we do
For to preserve this day
This poor youngling
For whom we do sing
By by, lully lullay?

Herod, the king
In his raging
Charg├Ęd he hath this day
His men of might 

In his own sight,
All young children to slay

That woe is me
Poor child for thee!
And ever morn and day,
For thy parting
Neither say nor sing
By by, lully lullay! 

Entrance to the "old" cemetery at the Mission San Luis Rey in Oceanside, California

On the occasions that I have visited the lovely San Luis Rey Mission in Oceanside, one of the original California Missions that remains an active parish to this day, I have found myself drawn to the cemetery. (I love cemeteries,especially old ones; I find them to be places of great peace and wholeness.) When we visit San Luis Rey where our dear friends' daughter is resting in peace, I always stop to pause at the marker inside one of the entrances to the old portion of the mission cemetery (pictured above) which remembers the Holy Innocents who have died via abortion and their mothers who have suffered as a result. whether one supports or opposes abortion, most women who have undergone the process, whatever their reasons may be, suffer greatly as a result. So we pray peace for them and for a happy reunion with their children in heaven. I can't help to be touched by these sacred places and glimpse the grief of the Rachels of this world.  

If you live in the San Diego area, stop by there sometime. Enjoy the gorgeous architecture, the amazing church, the wonderful history. Then stroll around through the cemetery and give a thought and a prayer for those Innocents who have perished, both 2000 years ago in Bethlehem as well as daily in our country and around the world, from both abortion and from the scourge of genocide.

Lord, grant them eternal rest; 
May your everlasting light shine upon them.

In His peace,

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