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Stephen the first martyr ( martyr by will, love, and blood), John, the Disciple of Love ( martyr by will and love ), and these first flowers of the Church (martyrs by blood alone) accompany the Holy Child Jesus entering this world on Christmas day . The proper preface of the Gelasian Sacramentary for this feast is still found in the Ambrosian Missal.
Only the Church of Rome applies the word Innocentes to these children; in other Latin countries they are called simply Infantes and the feast had the title "Allisio infantium" (Brev. The Armenians keep it on Monday after the Second Sunday after Pentecost (Armenian Menology, 11 May), because they believe the Holy Innocents were killed fifteen weeks after the birth of Christ. We possess a lengthy hymn in honour of the Holy Innocents from the pen of the Venerable Bede, "Hymnum canentes martyrum" (Dreves, "Analecta hymnica") and a sequence composed by Notker, "Laus tibi Christe", but most Churches at Mass used the "Clesa pueri concrepant melodia" ( Kehrein, "Sequenzen", 1873, p. At Bethlehem the feast is a Holy Day of obligation.
Matthew -18 : Herod perceiving that he was deluded by the wise men, was exceeding angry ; and sending killed all the men children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the borders thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men. The number of these children was so small that this crime appeared insignificant amongst the other misdeeds of Herod.
Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremias the prophet, saying: A voice in Rama was heard, lamentation and great mourning; Rachel bewailing her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not. Macrobius (Saturn., IV, xiv, de Augusto et jocis ejus) relates that when Augustus heard that amongst the boys of two years and under Herod's own son also had been massacred, he said: "It is better to be Herod's hog [ ous ], than his son [ houios ]," alluding to the Jewish law of not eating, and consequently not killing, swine.
The ruin of her people, led away to Babylon, is only a type of the ruin which menaces her children now, when the Messias is to be murdered and is compelled to flee from the midst of His own nation to escape from the sword of the apparitor.It is impossible to determine the day or the year of the death of the Holy Innocents, since the chronology of the birth of Christ and the subsequent Biblical events is most uncertain.All we know is that the infants were slaughtered within two years following the apparition of the star to the Wise Men (Belser, in the Tübingen "Quartalschrift", 1890, p. The Church venerates these children as martyrs ( flores martyrum ); they are the first buds of the Church killed by the frost of persecution ; they died not only for Christ, but in his stead (St. In connection with them the Apostle recalls the words of the Prophet Jeremias (xxxi, 15) speaking of the lamentation of Rachel.The Greek Liturgy asserts that Herod killed 14,000 boys ( ton hagion id chiliadon Nepion ), the Syrians speak of 64,000, many medieval authors of 144,000, according to Apoc., xiv, 3. Matt.), Kellner to about six (Christus and seine Apostel, Freiburg, 1908); cf. The Middle Ages gave faith to this story; Abelard inserted it in his hymn for the feast of Holy Innocents: Ad mandatum regis datum generale nec ipsius infans tutus est a caede.Modern writers reduce the number considerably, since Bethlehem was a rather small town. Ad Augustum hoc delatum risum movit, et rex mitis de immiti digne lusit: malum, inquit, est Herodis esse natum. (Dreves, "Petri Abaelardi Hymnarius Paracletensis", Paris, 1891, pp.
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The lamentation of Rachel after the fall of Jerusalem receives its eminent completion at the sight of the downfall of her people, ushered in by the slaughter of her children and the banishment of the Messias. John, first found in the Leonine Sacramentary, dating from about 485. The Latins keep it on 28 December, the Greeks on 29 December, the Syrians and Chaldeans on 27 December. He also introduced the two hymns "Salvete flores martyrum" and "Audit tyrannus anxius", which are fragments of the Epiphany hymn of Prudentius.