From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.
THE feast of the beloved Disciple is followed by that of the Holy Innocents. The Crib of Jesus, where we have already met and venerated the Prince of Martyrs and the Eagle of Patmos, has to-day standing round it a lovely choir of little Children, clad in snow-white robes, and holding green branches in their hands. The Divine Babe smiles upon them: he is their King; and these Innocents are smiling upon the Church of God. Courage and Fidelity first led us to the Crib; Innocence now comes, and bids us tarry there.
Herod intended to include the Son of God amongst the murdered Babes of Bethlehem. The Daughters of Rachel wept over their little ones, and the land streamed with blood; but the Tyrant’s policy can do no more: it cannot reach Jesus, and its whole plot ends in recruiting an immense army of Martyrs for heaven. These Children were not capable of knowing what an honour it was for them to be made victims for the sake of the Saviour of the world; but the very first instant after their immolation, all was revealed to them: they had gone through this world without knowing it, and now that they know it, they possess an infinitely better. God showed here the riches of his mercy: he asks of them but a momentary suffering, and that over, they wake up in Abraham's Bosom: no further trial awaits them, they are in spotless innocence, and the glory due to a soldier who died to save the life of his Prince belongs eternally to them.
They died for Jesus’ sake; therefore their death was a real Martyrdom, and the Church calls them by the beautiful name of the Flowers of the Martyrs, because of their tender age and their innocence. Justly then does the ecclesiastical Cycle bring them before us to-day, immediately after the two valiant Champions of Christ, Stephen and John. The connection of these three Feasts is thus admirably explained by St Bernard:
In St Stephen, we have both the act and the desire of Martyrdom; in St John, we have but the desire; in the Holy Innocents, we have but the act. ... Will anyone doubt whether a crown was given to these Innocents? . . . If you ask me what merit could they have that God should crown them? let me ask you what was the fault for which Herod slew them? What! is the mercy of Jesus less than the cruelty of Herod? and whilst Herod could put these Babes to death, who had done him no injury, Jesus may not crown them for dying for him?
Stephen, therefore, is a Martyr by a Martyrdom of which men can judge, for he gave this evident proof of his sufferings being felt and accepted, that, at the very moment of his death, his solicitude both for his own soul and for those of his persecutors increased; the pangs of his bodily passion were less intense than the affection of his soul's compassion, which made him weep more for their sins than for his own wounds. John was a Martyr, by a Martyrdom which only Angels could see, for the proofs of his sacrifice being spiritual, only spiritual creatures could ken them. But the Innocents were Martyrs, to none other eye save thine, O God! Man could find no merit; Angel could find no merit: the extraordinary prerogative of thy grace is the more boldly brought out. From the mouth of the Infants and the Sucklings thou hast perfected praise. The praise the Angels give thee is: Glory he to God in the highest, and peace on earth to men of good will: it is a magnificent praise, but I make bold to say that it is not Perfect till he cometh who will say: “Suffer Little Children to come unto me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven; and in the mystery of my mercy, there shall be peace to men that cannot even use their will.”
(Sermon for the Feast of the Holy Innocents.)
Yes, God did for these Innocents, who were immolated on his Son’s account, what he is doing every moment now by the sacrament of regeneration in the case of children who die before coming to the use of reason. We, who have been baptized by water, should be all the more ready to honour these Little Ones, who were baptized in their own blood, and thereby associated to all the mysteries of the Divine Infancy. We ought, together with the Church, to congratulate them, for that a glorious and premature death secured them their innocence. They have lived upon our earth, and yet it defiled them not! Truly, these tender Lambs deserve to be for ever with the Lamb of God! May this same earth of ours, grown old in wickedness, draw down the divine mercy on itself, by the love and honour it gives each year to these sweet Children of Bethlehem, who, like the Dove of Noah’s Ark, could not find whereon to rest their feet.
In the midst of the joy which, at this holy time, fills both heaven and earth, the Holy Church of Rome forgets not the lamentations of the Mothers who beheld their Children cruelly butchered by Herod’s soldiers. She hears the wailing of Rachel, and condoles with her; and unless it be a Sunday, she suspends on this Feast some of the manifestations of the joy which inundates her soul during the Octave of her Jesus’ Birth. The Red vestments of a Martyr’s Day would be too expressive of that stream of infant blood which forbids the Mothers to be comforted, and joyous White would ill suit their poignant grief; she therefore vests in Purple, the symbol of mournfulness. The Gloria in excelsis, the Hymn she loves so passionately during these days, when Angels come down from heaven to sing it—even that must be hushed to-day: and in the Holy Sacrifice she sings no Alleluia. In this, as in everything she does, the Church acts with an exquisite delicacy of feeling. Her Liturgy is a school of refined Christian considerateness.
This expression of sympathy gives to-day’s Office a pathetic sadness, which, however, in no way interferes with the joy which the Church feels in celebrating the Feast of the Holy Innocents. She keeps it with an Octave, as she does the two preceding Feasts of St Stephen and St John. She sanctions the practice, observed in Cathedrals and Collegiate Churches, of allowing young boys to share in the duties of the Choir, and blend their innocent chanting with that of the Ministers of God. She grants them several privileges, and takes pleasure in seeing the delight wherewith these children perform the several functions entrusted to them. This joy, this simplicity, this innocence, all add a charm to the divine Service; and through these youthful Choristers the Church pays honour to the Infant Jesus, and to the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem.
In Rome, the Station for the Feast of St Stephen is in the Church dedicated to the holy Protomartyr, on Monte Celio; that for St John is in the Basilica of St Mary Major; to-day the Station is made at St Paul's without the Walls, which possesses several of the bodies of the Holy Innocents. In the sixteenth century, Pope Xystus V caused a portion of these Relics to be translated to St Mary Major's, and put near the holy Relic of our Lord’s Crib.
In the Introit, the Church proclaims the wisdom of God in disconcerting the impious plans of Herod, and turning the murder of the Innocents into his own glory, by raising them to the dignity of Martyrs of Christ, whose praises they gratefully sing for ever.
Ex ore infantium, Deus, et lactentium perfecisti laudem propter inimicos tuos.
Ps. Domine, Dominus noster, quam admirabile est Nomen tuum in universa terra! ℣. Gloria Patri. Ex ore.
Out of the mouth of infants and sucklings thou hast perfected praise, O God, to confound thine enemies.
Ps. O Lord our Lord, how admirable is thy name in the whole earth. ℣. Glory, etc. Out of.
In the Collect, the Church prays that her children may confess by their works their faith in Christ. The Holy Innocents give their testimony—the only one in their power—of suffering for their divine Master: but the Christian who has attained the use of reason has more to do than suffer for his faith: he must confess it before persecutors and tyrants when they bid him deny it, and also before that more permanent tribunal of the world and his own passions. No man has received the glorious character of a Christian on the condition that he should never own himself one.
Deus, cujus hodierna die præconium Innocentes martyres non loquendo, sed moriendo confessi sunt: omnia in nobis vitiorum mala mortifica, ut fidem tuam, quam lingua nostra loquitur, etiam moribus vita fateatur. Per Dominum.
O God, whose praise the holy Martyrs, the Innocents, published this day, not by speaking, but by dying; mortify us in all our vicious inclinations: that we may show forth in our actions thy faith which we profess with our lips. Through, etc.
Commemoration of Christmas Day
Concede, quæsumus, omnipotens Deus; ut nos Unigeniti tui nova per carnem nativitas liberet, quos sub peccati jugo vetusta servitus tenet. Per eundem.
Grant, we beseech thee, O Almighty God, that we who groan under the old captivity of sin, may be freed therefrom by the new birth of thine Only-Begotten Son. Through, etc.
Lectio libri Apocalypsis beati Joannis Apostoli.
In diebus illus: Vidi supra montem Sion Agnum stantem, et cum eo centum quadraginta quatuor millia, habentes nomen ejus, et nomen Patris ejus scriptum in frontibus suis. Et audivi vocem de cœlo tamquam vocem aquarum multarum, et tamquam vocem tonitrui magni; et vocem quam audivi, sicut citharædorum citharizantium in citharis suis. Et cantabant quasi canticum novum ante sedem, et ante quatuor animalia et seniores; et nemo poterat dicere canticum, nisi illa centum quadraginta quatuor millia, qui empti sunt de terra. Hi sunt qui cum mulieribus non sunt coinquinati: virgines enim sunt. Hi sequuntur Agnum quocumque ierit. Hi empti sunt ex hominibus primitiæ Deo et Agno, et in ore eorum non est inventum mendacium: sine macula enim sunt ante thronum Dei.
Lesson from the book of the Apocalypse of St John the Apostle.
In those days: I beheld the Lamb standing on Mount Sion, and with him a hundred fortyfour thousand, having his name, and the name of his Father, written on their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of great thunder; and the voice which I heard was as the voice of harpers harping on their harps. And they sung as it were a new canticle before the throne, and before the four living creatures and the ancients; and no man could say the canticle but those hundred forty-four thousand, who were purchased from the earth. These are they who are not defiled with women: for they are virgins. These follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were purchased from among men, the first-fruits to God and to the Lamb, and in their mouths there was found no lie: for they are without spot before the throne of God.
The Church shows us, by her choice of this mysterious passage of the Apocalypse, how great a value she sets on Innocence, and what our own esteem of it ought to be. The Holy Innocents follow the Lamb, because they are pure. Personal merits on earth they could not have; but they went rapidly through this world, and its defilements never reached them. Their purity was not tried, as was St John's; but it is beautified by the blood they shed for the Divine Lamb, and he is pleased with it, and makes them his companions. Let the Christian, therefore, be ambitious for this Innocence, which is thus singularly honoured. If he have preserved it, let him keep and guard it as his most precious treasure; if he have lost it, let him repair the loss by repentance, and having done so, let him say with the Spouse in the Canticle: I have washed my feet; how shall I defile them?
In the Gradual, we have the Innocents blessing their God for having broken the snare, wherewith the world would have made them captive. They have fled as a bird set free; there was nothing to clog their flight.
The Tract expresses the lamentation of Rachel over the cruelty of Herod and his minions. It invokes the divine vengeance which swept away the whole family of this vile Tyrant.
Anima nostra, sicut passer, erepta est de laqueo venantium.
℣. Laqueus contritus est, et nos liberati sumus: adjutorium nostrum in nomine Domini, qui fecit cœlum et terram.
Our soul hath been delivered, as a sparrow, out of the snare of the fowlers.
℣. The snare is broken, and we are delivered: our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
Effuderunt sanguinem Sanctorum velut aquam in circuitu Jerusalem.
℣. Et non erat qui sepeliret.
℣. Vindica, Domine, sanguinem Sanctorum tuorum, qui effusus est super terram.
They have spilt the blood of the Saints like water about Jerusalem.
℣. And there was none to bury them.
℣. Revenge, O Lord, the blood of thy Saints, which hath been spilt on earth.
If the Feast of the Holy Innocents fall on a Sunday, the Tract is not sung, but, in its place, the usual Alleluia verse, as follows:
Alleluia, alleluia. ℣. Laudate pueri Dominum, laudate nomen Domini. Alleluia.
Alleluia, alleluia, ℣. Praise the Lord, ye children, praise ye the name of the Lord. Alleluia.
Sequentia sancti Evangelii secundum Matthæum.
In illo tempore: Angelus Domini apparuit in somnis Joseph, dicens: surge, et accipe puerum et matrem ejus, et fuge in Ægyptum, et esto ibi usque dum dicam tibi. Futurum est enim, ut Herodes quærat puerum ad perdendum eum. Qui consurgens, accepit puerum et matrem cjus nocte, et secessit in Ægyptum, et erat ibi usque ad obitum Herodis: ut adimpleretur quod dictum est a Domino per Prophetam dicentem: Ex Ægypto vocavi Filium meum. Tunc Herodes videns quoniam illusus esset a Magis, iratus est valde: et mittens, occidit omnes pueros qui erant in Bethlehem, et in omnibus finibus ejus, a bimatu et infra, secundum tempus quod exquisierat a Magis. Tunc adimpletum est quod dictum est per Jeremiam Prophetam dicentem: Vox in Rama audita est, ploratus et ululatus multus: Rachel plorans filios suos; et noluit consolari, quia non sunt.
Sequel to the holy Gospel according to Matthew.
At that time: An Angel of the Lord appeared in sleep to Joseph, saying: Arise, and take the Child and his Mother, and fly into Egypt, and be there until I shall tell thee. For it shall come to pass that Herod will seek the Child to destroy him. Who arose, and took the Child and his Mother by night, and retired into Egypt, and he was there until the death of Herod; that it might be fulfilled which the Lord spoke by the Prophet, saying: Out of Egypt have I called my son. Then Herod, perceiving that he was deluded by the Wise Men, was exceedingly 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. 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.
Thus does the Gospel, in its sublime simplicity, relate the Martyrdom of the Innocents. Herod, sending, killed all the Children!The earth paid no attention to the fell tyranny, which made so rich a harvest for heaven: there was heard a voice in Rama, Rachel wailing her little ones; it went up to heaven, and Bethlehem was still again, as though nothing had happened. But these favoured Victims had been accepted by God, and they were to be the companions of his Son. Jesus looked at them from his crib, and blessed them; Mary compassionated with them and their mothers; the Church, which Jesus had come to form, would, for all future ages, glorify these youthful Martyrs, and place the greatest confidence in the patronage of these Children, for she knows how powerful their intercession is with her heavenly Spouse.
During the Offertory, it is the choir of our Holy Innocents again singing their beautiful Canticle: as birds set free, they give praise to him who broke the snare which held them.
Anima nostra, sicut passer erepta est de laqueo venantium: laqueus contritus est, et nos liberati sumus.
Our soul hath been delivered, as a sparrow, out of the snare of the fowlers: the snare is broken, and we are delivered.
Sanctorum tuorum. Domine, nobis pia non desit oratio; quæ et munera nostra conciliet, et tuam nobis indulgentiam semper obtineat. Per Dominum.
May the pious prayers of thy Saints, O Lord, be never wanting to us; both to make our offerings acceptable, and to obtain for us thy mercy. Through, etc.
Commemoration of Christmas Day
Oblata, Domine, munera, nova Unigeniti tui Nativitate sanctifica, nosque a peccatorum nostrorum maculis emunda. Per eundem.
Sanctify, O Lord, our offerings, by the new Birth of thine Only-Begotten Son, and cleanse us from the stains of our sins. Through, etc.
In the Communion Anthem we again hear the voice of Rachel's lamentation. Now that the Church has been nourished by the mystery of divine charity, she could not forget the affliction of the mothers of her dear Innocents. She compassionates them all through her Office, and turns to him who alone can comfort them that are in sorrow.
Vox in Rama audita est, ploratus et ululatus: Rachel plorans filios suos; et noluit consolari, quia non sunt.
A voice in Rama was heard; lamentation and great mourning: Rachel bewailing her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.
Votiva, Domine, dona percepimus: quæ Sanctorum nobis precibus, et præsentis quæsumus vitæ, pariter et æternæ tribue conferre subsidium. Per Dominum.
Now we have partaken, O Lord, of the votive offerings: grant, we beseech thee, that by the prayers of thy Saints, they may procure us the helps of this present life, and those of that which is to come. Through, etc.
Commemoration of Christmas Day
Præsta, quæsumus, omnipotens Deus: ut natus hodie Salvator mundi, sicut divinæ nobis generationis est auctor, ita et immortalitatis sit ipse largitor. Qui tecum.
Grant, we beseech thee, O Almighty God, that as the Saviour of the world, who was born this day, procured for us a divine birth, he may, also, bestow on us immortality. Who liveth, etc.
The Antiphons and Psalms of Christmas Day having been sung, as given on p. 210, the rest of the Office is as follows:
Vidi supra montem Sion Agnum stantem, et cum eo centum quadraginta quatuor millia, habentes nomen ejus, et nomen Patris ejus scriptum in frontibus suis.
I saw upon Mount Sion a Lamb standing, and with him a hundred forty-four thousand, having his name, and the name of his Father written on their foreheads.
Salvete, flores Martyrum,
Quos lucis ipso in limine
Christi insecutor sustulit,
Ceu turbo nascentes rosas.
Vos, prima Christi victima,
Grex immolatorum tener,
Aram sub ipsam simplices
Palma et coronis luditis.
Jesu, tibi sit gloria,
Qui natus es de Virgine,
Cum Patre et almo Spiritu
In sempiterna sæcula.
℣. Sub throno Dei omnes sancti clamant.
℟. Vindica sanguinem nostrum, Deus noster
Hail, ye flowers of the Martyrs,
whom, on the very threshold of the light,
he who sought to slay Christ bare away,
as doth the biting wind the rosebuds.
Ye, Christ’s first victim,
tender flock of lambs ready for sacrifice,
now in your simplicity play with your palms and crowns
beneath the very altar.
Glory be to thee, O Jesus,
who art born of a Virgin,
with Father and Holy Spirit,
for ever and ever.
℣. Beneath the throne of God all the Saints cry out.
℟. Avenge our blood, O our God.
Antiphon of the Magnificat
Ant. Innocentes pro Christo infantes occisi sunt, ab iniquo rege lactentes interfecti sunt: ipsum sequuntur Agnum sine macula, et dicunt semper: Gloria tibi, Domine.
Deus, cujus hodierna die præconium Innocentes Martyres non loquendo sed moriendo confessi sunt, omnia in nobis vitiorum mala mortifica; ut fidem tuam, quam lingua nostra loquitur, etiam moribus vita fateatur. Per Dominum.
Ant. Innocent infants were slain for Christ, children at the breast were murdered by a wicked king; they follow the spotless Lamb himself, and ever say: Glory be to thee, O Lord.
Let Us Pray
O God, whose praise thy Holy Martyrs the Innocents published this day, not by speaking, but by dying; mortify in us all our vicious inclinations, that we may show forth in our actions thy faith which we profess with our lips. Through our Lord.
Commemoration of St Thomas
Ant. Iste sanctus pro lege Dei sui certavit usque ad mortem, et a verbis impiorum non timuit: fundatus enim erat supra firmam petram.
℣. Gloria et honore coronasti eum, Domine.
℟. Et constituisti eum super opera manuum tuarum.
Deus, pro cujus Ecclesia gloriosus Pontifex Thomas gladiis impiorum occubuit: præsta, quæsumus, ut omnes qui ejus implorant auxilium, petitionis suæ salutarem consequantur effectum. Per Dominum.
Ant. This Saint fought even to death for the law of his God, and feared not the words of the wicked; for he was founded upon a firm rock.
℣. Thou hast crowned him with glory and honour, O Lord.
℟. And hast set him over the works of thy hands.
Let us Pray
O God, in defence of whose Church the glorious Prelate Thomas fell by the swords of wicked men; grant, we beseech thee, that all who implore his assistance may find comfort in the grant of their petition. Through, etc.
Commemoration of Christmas Day
Ant. Hodie Christus natus est, hodie Salvator apparuit, hodie in terra canunt Angeli, lætantur Archangeli: hodie exsultant justi, dicentes: Gloria in excelsis Deo, alleluia.
℣. Notum fecit Dominus, alleluia.
℟. Salutare suum, alleluia.
Concede, quæsumus, omnipotens Deus, ut nos Unigeniti tui nova per carnem Nativitas liberet, quos sub peccati jugo vetusta servitus tenet. Per eumdem.
Ant. This day Christ is born; this day the Saviour hath appeared; this day Angels sing on earth; the Archangels rejoice; this day the just exult, saying: Glory be to God in the highest, alleluia.
℣. The Lord hath made known, alleluia.
℟. His salvation, alleluia.
Let Us Pray
Grant, we beseech thee, O Almighty God, that we who groan under the old captivity of sin, may be freed therefrom by the new Birth of thine OnlyBegotten Son. Through the same, etc.
And now let us listen to the several Churches celebrating the triumph of the Holy Innocents. Their chants for this Feast are very beautiful. We will begin with the following fine Preface, which is in both the Ambrosian Missal and the Leonine Sacramentary:
Vere dignum et justum est, æquum et salutare: nos in pretiosa morte parvulorum te, sancte Pater omnipotens, gloriosius collaudare: quos propter Filii tui Domini nostri Salvatoris infantiam immani sævitia Herodes funestus occidit: immensa clementiæ tuæ dona cognoscimus. Fulget namque sola magis gratia, quam voluntas: et clara est prius confessio, quam loquela. Ante passio, quam membra passionis existerent: testes Christi, qui ejus nondum fuerant agnitores. O infinita benignitas Omnipotentis: cum pro suo nomine trucidatis, etiam nescientibus, æternæ meritum gloriæ perire non patitur; sed proprio cruore perfusis et salus regenerationis expletur et imputatur corona martyrii!
It is truly meet and just, right and available to salvation, that we should exceedingly praise thee, O holy Almighty Father, in the precious death of the Infants whom the unhappy Herod with savage cruelty slew because of the Infant Jesus, thy Son our Lord. Herein do we recognize how immeasurable are the gifts of thy mercy, for the splendour of thy free grace outshines the martyrs' will; and they nobly confess thy name, who are not yet able to speak. They suffer martyrdom before their bodies are ripe for martyrdom: they bear testimony to Christ before they have even known him. O the infinite goodness of the Omnipotent God! He suffers not the merit of everlasting glory to be lost by them that are slain for his sake, though they know not what they do: and being bathed in their own blood, he effects in them the salvation of regeneration, and gives them the crown of martyrdom.
The following is from the Mozarabic Missal, and is full of unction and eloquence:
Dignum et justum est: vere dignum et justum est, nos tibi semper et ubique gratias agere, Domine sancte, Pater omnipotens, æterne Deus, pro his præcipue, quorum hodierno die annua festivitate recolentes memoriam passionis celebramus: quos Herodianus satelles lactantum matrum uberibus abstraxit. Qui jure dicuntur Martyrum flores; qui in medio frigore infidelitatis exorti, velut primas erumpentes Ecclesiæ gemmas quædam persecutionis pruina discussit, rutilante fonte in Bethlehem civitate. Infantes enim quia ætate loqui non poterant, laudem Domini cum gaudio resonabant. Occisi prædicant: quod vivi non poterant. Loquuntur sanguine, quod lingua nequiverunt. Contulit his Martyrium laudem; quibus abnegaverat lingua sermonem. Præmittit infantes Infans Christus ad coelos; transmittit nova xenia Patri; primitias exhibet Genitori parvulorum prima martyria, Herodis scelere perpetrata. Præstat hostis corpori; dum nocet, beneficium tribuit; dum occidit, moriendo vivitur: cadendo resurgitur: victoria per interitum comprobatur
It is meet and just, yea truly right and just, that we should always and in all places, give thanks to thee, O Holy Lord, Almighty Father, Eternal God, and now especially for these whose yearly feast we this day keep, celebrating the memory of their passion. These are they whom Herod's satellites snatched from their mothers' breasts. Rightly are they called The Flowers of the Martyrs, for they grew in the mid-winter of infidelity as the first buds of the Church, and being nipped by the frost of persecution, filled the city of Bethlehem with a ruddy stream. They were Babes, and could not speak; yet did they joyfully proclaim the praise of the Lord. Their deaths profess what their lives could not. They say by their blood what they could not with their tongue. Martyrdom gave them power to praise, though their tongue denied them that of speech. The Infant Jesus sends these Infants, before himself, to heaven: he presents these new gifts to his Father, and offers to him, as the first fruits of martyrdom, this of the Innocents, who were slain by the wicked Herod. This enemy confers on them what their body could not; while he injures their body, he benefits it; whilst their body falls, it lives by its death, it rises by its fall, it conquers by its defeat.
Our own Venerable Bede offers us the following Hymn, which is full of melody and pathos:
Hymnum canentes Martyrum
Quos terra flendo perdidit,
Gaudens sed æthra suscipit.
Vultum Patris per sæcula,
Quorum tuentur Angeli,
Ejusque laudant gratiam,
Hymnum canentes Martyrum.
Quos rex peremit impius,
Pius sed Auctor colligit,
Secum beatos collocans,
In luce regni perpetis.
Qui mansiones singulis
Largitus in domo Patris;
Donat supernis sedibus,
Quos rex peremit impius.
Bimos et infra parvulos,
Herodis ira perculit;
Sancto respersit sanguine.
Præclara Christo splenduit
Mors innocens fidelium:
Cœlis ferebant Angeli
Bimos et infra parvulos.
Vox in Rama percrebuit,
Lamenta luctus maximi,
Rachel suos, cum lacrymis
Perfusa, flevit filios.
Gaudent triumpho perpeti,
Tormenta quique vicerant,
Quorum gemens ob verbera,
Vox in Rama percrebuit.
Ne, grex pusille, formides
Dentes leonis perfidos!
Pastor bonus nam pascua
Vobis dabit cœlestia.
Agnum Dei qui candidum
Mundo sequeris tramite;
Manus latronis impias
Ne, grex pusille, formides.
Absterget omnem lacrymam
Vestris Pater de vultibus;
Mors vobis ultra non nocet,
Vitae receptis mœnibus.
Qui seminant in lacrymis,
Longo metent in gaudio.
Genis lugentum Conditor
Absterget omnem lacrymam.
O quam beata civitas.
In qua Redemptor nascitur:
Martyrum In qua dicantur hostiæ.
Nunquam vocaris parvula,
In civitatuin millibus,
Ex qua novus dux ortus est;
O quam beata civitas.
Adstant nitentcs fulgidis
Ejus throno nunc vestibus,
Stolas suas qui laverant
Agni rubentes sanguine.
Qui perpetis pro patriae
Regno gementes fleverant:
Læti Deo cum laudibus
Adstant nitentes fulgidis.
Let us chant the hymn
of the martyred Innocents,
whom earth lost and wept,
but heaven gained and was glad.
Their Angels see
the Face of the Eternal Father,
and sing the Hymn of their Martyrs,
lauding the grace of God.
A cruel king destroyed them,
the merciful Creator received them,
making them happy with himself
in the brightness of the never-ending kingdom.
He that gives to each elect
a mansion in his Father's house,
places the Innocents, massacred by the impious king,
on thrones in heaven above.
Herod was angry,
and slew every child below the age of two,
staining with their sacred blood
the borders of Bethlehem.
Precious in the sight of Jesus
shone the innocent death of these his faithful ones;
and Angels came down
to carry them to the land of heaven.
A voice in Rama was heard,
lamentation of poignant grief,
and Rachel shed a flood of tears
over her infant sons,
Who now rejoice in endless triumph,
for they overcame their torments,
whose cruel blows filled Rama
with the voice of wailing.
Fear not, Little Flock,
the prowling Lion’s tooth!
for the Good Shepherd
will give you the pastures of heaven.
Following the spotless Lamb of God
in the path of purity,
ye need not fear, dear Little Flock,
a robber’s wicked grasp.
The Father will wipe every tear
from off your cheeks;
death shall have no further power to hurt you,
inclosed now within the walls of Life.
They that sow in tears,
reap eternal joy:
and the Creator wipes every tear away
from the mourner's face.
O truly happy Bethlehem!
city wherein our Redeemer was born,
and where he was presented with the first Martyrs
—the first Victims dedicated to the new-born King.
No, Bethlehem! thou shalt not be called
the least among the thousand cities,
for out of thee came the divine Leader!
O truly blessed City!
Around his throne now stand,
glittering in their fair bright robes,
these Innocents that washed their garments
red in the Blood of the Lamb.
They had sighed and wept
for the kingdom of the everlasting world:
now they stand joyfully before God,
and bright in their robes of glory are ever singing his praise.
The Greek Church is, of course, profuse in her praises of the Holy Innocents. We extract from her Menæa the following stanzas:
XXVI Decembris, in magno Vespertino, et passim.
Thesaurum occultatum exquirens impius, Innocentes pueros immolavit, et Rachel inconsolabilis exundantem intuens cladem iniquam, mortemque præmaturam; quos ploravit, imis visceribus cominota, eos nunc in sinu Abrahæ contemplata gaudet.
Regem sine tempore sub tempore natum, rex impius exquirebat, et non inveniens quomodo occideret, puerorum messuit malinesciam multitudinem, quos (et non cogitabat) fecit Martyres, supernique regni habitatores, et illius in sæcula impietatem exprobantes.
Te ex Virgine nato, autesæcularis Domine, teque parvulo, ob tuam bonitatem facto; parvulorum chorus tibi oblatus est in Martyrum sanguine; limpida anima justissime fulgidus; quos inhabitare fecisti in mansionibus sempiternis, Herodis infamantes malitiam et crudelissimam iniquitatem.
Rachel damans lacrymatur, ut scriptum est, super filios: parvulos enim Herodes occidens impius implebat Scripturam, Judæam inundans innocuo sanguine;nam terra rubescebat infantium sanguinibus, Ecclesiaque ex gentibus mystice purificatur, et stola induitur. Venit Veritas, sedentibus in umbra mortis Deus apparuit, ex Virgine natus ad salvandum nos.
Sursum et deorsum exsultantibus omnibus in Regis omnium manifestatione, solus Herodes tristatur cum Prophetarum homicidis Judæis; decet enim illos solos lamentan; deinceps enim non amplius regnant, sed regnum Domini, posthac dominabitur, inimicorum depulsans audaciam, et multitudinem Fidelium convocans, ad videndum cum venerandis pueris illum qui in præsepio jacet velut infans.
Herbivirentem agellum puerorum impius Herodes mittens emessuit præmaturum timidus; et natum Dominum cum nequit interficere, omni impletur confusione.
Plorat Rachel infantes, et in Rama vox magna auditur hodie: Herodes furit et impie fremescit: Joannes fugit ad montes, petra matrem recipit,Zacharias in templo cæditur, et Christus fugit, desertam linquens Hebræorum habitationem.
Immaculatæ tuæ nativitati, Domine, prima hostia fuerunt infantes; Herodes enim manu apprehendere te imprehensibilem volens deceptus est, Martyrum adducens tibi chorum; ideo te deprecamur hominem factum salvare animas nostras.
Ad aures Domini Sabaoth pervenit cædes vestra, Infantes honorandi; per eam enim sanguinem effudistis, et in sinu Abrahæ requiescitis, Herodis in sæcula odiosam malitiam repelientes, virtute Christi nati.
Odiosa Herodis puerorum internecio per illius cruentam militiam, et veneranda puerorum hostia, qui Christi coætanei præsacrificati et præpassi sunt: noli flere, Rachel, filios, recordata Abrahæ sinum, ubi eorum omnium lætantium est cohabitatio.
The impious Herod, searching out Jesus the Hidden Treasure, slew the Innocent Children; and the inconsolable Rachel, seeing the iniquitous shedding of blood and the premature death of her Babes, first grieving from the bottom of her heart, now rejoices seeing them in Abraham’s Bosom.
The wicked king sought for the King Eternal, yet born in time: and not finding how to kill him, he mowed down the innocent multitude of children, thinking not that he was making them Martyrs, and citizens of the heavenly kingdom, and eternal accusers of his impiety.
Thou, O Lord! being born of the Virgin, that wast born of the Father before all ages, and having become out of thy infinite goodness a Little Child, there was presented unto thee a choir of little children, made Martyrs by the shedding of their blood, and clad in brightness, the most just reward of their innocence of soul. Thou didst give them to dwell in eternal mansions, where they proclaim Herod's malice and most cruel injustice.
Rachel wailing, weeps, as ’tis written, over her Babes, for Herod fulfilled the Scripture when he slew the little ones, and inundated Judea with innocent blood. The earth was reddened by the Infants’ blood, and the Gentile Church mystically made pure and beautiful. The Truth had come: to them that were sitting in the shadow of death God had shown himself, born of a Virgin for our salvation.
In this manifestation of the King of all, all exulted in heaven and on earth, save only Herod and the Jews, the murderers of the Prophets: they are sad, for they alone have cause for sadness, seeing that their kingdom is at an end; but the kingdom of the Lord henceforth shall rule, repelling the daring of our enemies, and calling the multitude of the Faithful to come with the holy Children, and see him the Little Child, that lies in the manger.
The impious Herod fearing, sent his reapers to cut the tender grass of Bethlehem's little field, the Innocents: and failing in the murder of the Infant-God, confusion fills his soul.
Rachel bewails her sons, and a loud cry is heard to-day in Rama: Herod rages and maddens in impiety: John flees to the mountains, his mother Elizabeth hides in a cave, Zachary is slain in the temple, and Jesus escapes, leaving the Hebrew land a desert.
The Innocents were the first offering consecrated to thy immaculate Birth, O Jesus! for Herod, that fain would apprehend Thee, the Incomprehensible God, was fooled in his craft, and gave thee a choir of Martyrs. Therefore, O God made Man! save us, we beseech thee!
Most honoured Innocents! the cry of your murder has ascended to the ears of the God of Sabaoth. Your blood was shed by the massacre, but ye are resting in Abraham's bosom, and by the power of the Infant Christ, your triumph over Herod’s detested malice is eternal.
Hateful is Herod’s massacre of thy Children, O Rachel, by his cruel soldiers, but venerable the holocaust of thy Babes, the companions of Jesus in age, but his predecessors in their sacrifice and passion: weep not then for thy Children, Rachel, remembering Abraham’s Bosom, where is the one dwelling of them all, and they are in joy.
Into this sublime concert of the Liturgies singing the praises of the Innocents, we must admit the Latin Churches of the Middle Ages. We have selected a Prose of the eleventh century, found in most of the ancient Roman-French Missals.
Celsa pueri concrepent melodia,
Pia Innocentum colentes tripudia.
Quos infans Christus hodie vexit ad astra,
Hos trucidavit frendens insania
Herodianæ fraudis, ob nulla crimina,
In Bethlehem ipsius cuncta.
Et per confinia,
A bimatu et infra,
Juxta nascendi tempora,
Herodes rex, Christi nati Verens, infelix! imperia,
Infremit totus, erigit arma Superba dextera.
Quærit lucis et cœli Regem,
Cum mente turbida;
Ut extinguat, qui vitam præstat,
Per sua jacula.
Dum non valet intueri lucem splendidam, Nebulosa quærentis pectora.
Ira fervet, fraudes auget Herodes sævus,
Ut perdat piorum agmina.
Castra militum dux iniquus aggregat,
Ferrum figit in membra tenera.
Inter ubera lac effundit,
Antequam sanguinis fierent coagula.
Hostis naturae natos eviscerat
Ante prosternit, quam ætas parvula
Quam beata sunt Innocentum cæsa
Quam felices existunt matres,
Funerunt quæ talia pignora!
O dulces Innocentum acies!
O pia lactantum pro Christo certamina!
Parvorum trucidantur millia:
Membris ex teneris manant lactis flumina.
Cives angelici veniunt obviam,
Vitæ captat merita
Te, Christe, petimus, mente devotissima,
Nostra qui venisti reformare sæcula,
Perfrui nos concedas per æterna.
Sound forth, O Children! your shrill melodies
In honour of the holy joys of the Innocents.
The Infant Jesus took them this day to the realms above,
When the rabid madness of Herod’s craft slew them,
Though guilty of no crime:
They were the Children in the city,
And all the confines of Bethlehem,
Two years old and under,
Dating from the time of their birth.
The unhappy King Herod, fearing the kingdom of the Infant Christ,
Trembles from head to foot, and brandishes his sword with his haughty hand.
He, with his troubled mind,
seeks for the King of Light and heaven;
That by his weapons
he might put to death him that gives life:
For his eye cannot look on the bright Light of him who searcheth clouded hearts.
Herod is inflamed with rage, and cruelly
plots the death of thousands of Innocents.
A wicked chieftain takes with him a troop of soldiers,
and plunges his sword in the tender flesh.
The pure stream of infant veins
(for blood is scarce yet formed) flows upon the mothers’ breasts.
The brutal enemy tears the flesh with gaping wounds,
and on the throat inflicts a fatal gash:
Trampling out life, e'er the tender age
is sinewed into strength.
Oh! how glorious
the bodies of these murdered Innocents!
How happy the Mothers
of such Children!
O lovable legion of Innocents!
O holy infant combats fought for Christ!
The Babes lay slain in thou sands,
and from their tender limbs there flows a stream of sinless blood.
The citizens of heaven come forth
to meet the snow-white troop
that takes the crown of Life,
won by a singular victory.
We most devoutly beseech thee, O Jesus!
who camest to reform the world,
That thou grant us to enjoy
for everlasting ages the glory of the Innocents.
And we, too, blessed Babes! celebrate your triumph, and we congratulate you on your having been chosen as the companions of Jesus when in his Crib. What a glad waking was yours, from the darkness of unconscious infancy to the precious light of Abraham's bosom, where were congregated all the elect! How dear to you the sword that thus transformed you! What gratitude had you not to God, who thus chose you, out of millions of other children, to do honour to the birth of his Son by this sacrifice of your blood and lives! Too young to fight the battle, yet did you win the crown. The Martyr's Palm waved in those tiny hands which had not strength to pluck it. God would give proof of his munificence: he would teach us that he is Master of his gifts. And was it not fitting that the birth of the Son of this great King should be commemorated by largess such as this? Sweet Infant Martyrs! we give praise to our God for having thus favoured you, and with the whole Church we rejoice in the privileges you have received.
Flowers of the Martyrs! we confide in your intercession, and beseech you, by the reward so gratuitously conferred on you, to be mindful of us your brethren, who are struggling amidst the dangers of this sinful world. We too desire to receive those same Palms and Crowns which you have won, but with such innocence and simplicity that the Church says you played with them: whereas we have to fight hard and long for them, and are so often on the point of losing them for ever! The God that has glorified you is our last end as truly as he is yours; in him alone can our hearts find their rest; pray for us, that we may possess him for all eternity.
Pray for us, that we may obtain child-like simplicity of heart, whence comes that unreserved confidence in God which leads man to the perfect accomplishment of his holy will. May we bear the cross with patience when he sends it, and desire nothing but his holy will. You gazed upon the murderers who broke your gentle sleep, and you found nothing to make you fear; the bright sword they held over your cradle had but the look of a toy with which you asked to play; death stared you in the face, and you smiled on him. May we imitate you, and be meek and graceful in the trials that come to us; making them our martyrdom by the quiet endurance of our courage, and the conformity of our will with that of our Sovereign Lord and Master, who only gives the cross that he may give the crown. May we never object to or hate the instruments he uses wherewith to try us; may no harshness nor injustice nor pain ever quench the fire of our charity, nor any event ever deprive us of that peace without which our souls live not to God.
And, lastly, O ye Innocent Lambs, slain for Jesus, and following him whithersoever he goeth, because ye are pure, pray for us to the Lamb of God, that he permit us to come to him in Bethlehem, and, like you, fix our dwelling there, for it is the abode of love and innocence. Speak for us to Mary, a Mother more compassionate than Rachel; tell her that we are her children, and your brethren. She that compassionated your momentary sufferings will pity us and help us in our long years of temptation, pain and sorrow.
Three days have passed since the Birth of Jesus: let us visit him in the Stable, and humbly adore Emmanuel. Let us think on the mercy which led him to become a Little Child in order to bring us near to himself: let us be filled with astonishment at seeing our God thus close to his creatures.
‘He,’ says the holy Abbot Guerric, ‘that in heaven, surpasses the sublime intellects of the Angels, is here on earth palpable to the dull sense of men. For whereas God could not speak to us as spiritual beings, for we are carnal, his Word was made Flesh, that all flesh might not only hear, but might even see him whom the mouth of the Lord had spoken. And whereas the world knew not the Wisdom of God in his wisdom, that same wisdom, by an ineffable condescension, made himself Foolishness ... I give thee praise, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for that thou hast hid this Wisdom from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed it to little ones. . . . The haughtiness of the proud is exceedingly adverse to the humility of this Little One; and that which is high to men is an abomination before God. . . . This Little One finds sympathy with none save with them that are little in heart, and he takes up his abode with none save with them that are humble and peaceful. As, therefore, these Little Children sing, glorying in him: A little Child is born unto us; so does he say of them: Behold me and my Children, whom the Lord hath given unto me! Thus it was that the glory of Martyrdom began with innocent Babes; for the Father would give to his Son, the Infant Jesus, Companions of his own tender age; and hereby the Holy Ghost taught us that of such is the Kingdom of heaven.’
In honour of this Childhood of the Great King, let us recite the following admirable Hymn, composed by one of the most learned men of the primitive Church, Clement of Alexandria.
Frænuin pullorum indocilium,
Penna volucrum non errantium,
Verus clavus infantium,
Pastor agnorum regalium,
Tuos simplices Pueros congrega,
Ad sancte laudandum,
Christum puerorum ducem.
Verbum, qui domas omnia,
Humani generis Servator, Jesu,
Qui salvi fiunt;
Unda ex infesta,
Dulci vita inescans.
Sis dux, ovium
Sancte, sis dux,
Rex puerorum intactorum:
Deum laudantium, Christe Jesu,
Sapientiæ tuæ expressum,
Roscido spiritu Impleti,
Psallamus simul Deum pacis.
Curb of the young untamed ones,
Wing that protectest chickens which keep nigh their mother,
sure Rudder of infant age,
Shepherd of the King’s lambs!
call together thy simple children,
and bid them praise with holy hearts,
and sweetly sing with pure lips Jesus,
the King of Infants.
King of Saints,
that rulest all things,
Dispenser of the Most High,
support of them that toil,
Saviour of mankind, Jesus!
of the most holy flock,
Fisher of the elect,
drawing the chaste fish
by the bait
of the sweet
Bread of Life
from the boisterous sea of sin.
O Shepherd of the spiritual flock,
be thou our Guide!
Guide us, O Holy One,
O King of spotless Children!
The way to heaven
is to follow the footsteps of Christ.
O Eternal Word,
Fount of mercy,
Author of virtue,
the Holy Life
of them that praise God, Christ Jesus!
We thy little ones,
whose infant mouths
have drunk the milk of heaven,
drawn from the sweet breasts
of thy wisdom,
grace’s virgin spring:
filled with the dewy spirit
of thy divine breast,
to Christ the King
our simple praises
and our truthful hymns.
Let us together sing
the holy recompense
of the doctrine of Life!
Let us together sing
to the Almighty Babe!
O choir of peace,
O children of Christ,
O wisdom-loving people,
let us together praise the God of Peace!
Let us also salute Mary, the Mother of this Divine Infant, in the words of this beautiful Prose, taken from the ancient Missals of Germany.
Potens et imperiosa,
Jesu Christi generosa
Mater atque filia:
Radix Jesse speciosa,
Virga florens et frondosa
Quam rigavit copiosa
Auster levis te perflavit,
Et perflando fœcundavit,
Aquilonem qui fugavit
Sua cum potentia.
Florem ergo genuisti,
Fructum ex quo protulisti,
Gabrieli dum fuisti
Joseph, justus vir, expavit,
Ista dum consideravit,
Sciens quod non irrigavit
Bene tamen conservavit
Arcanum, nec divulgavit;
Sponsam sed magnificavit,
Honorans ut Dominam.
Cœli quoniam roraverunt,
Nubes ex quo concreverunt,
Virginis in útero.
Res miranda! res novella!
Nam procedit sol de stella,
Regem dum parit puella.
Viri tori nescia.
Ergo demens et benigna,
Cunctorumque laudem digna,
Tuo nato nos consigna
Pia per suffragia;
Ut mortali, quo gravamur,
Compede sic absolvamur,
Ut soluti transferamur
Ad cæli palatia.
and sovereign Empress!
and daughter of Jesus!
Fair Root of Jesse,
Branch lovely in thy bloom and leaf,
watered by the plentiful
grace of God!
The soft south zephyr breathed upon thee,
and breathing gave thee Fruit,
and by his power
put the rough north wind to flight.
believing the Angel Gabriel’s word,
didst conceive a Flower,
one day to bring him forth, thy Fruit.
Joseph, the Just Man,
saw his lovely Branch in Flower;
none else could know like him
and tremble at the Mystery.
But the secret was sacred and well did he keep it,
revealing it to no mortal ear.
Mary was his Spouse, and he extolled her:
she was his Lady, and he honoured her.
The heavens had truly dropped down their dew,
and the clouds, laden with a mystic rain,
rained the Holy One;
He dwelt in the Virgin's womb.
O wondrous thing! O thing most strange!
A Star brings forth the Sun!
A Maid, a Virgin most pure,
brings forth the King of Heaven.
Then, by thy loving prayers,
commend us to thy Son,
O Mother sweet and kind,
and worthy of this and every praise!
Pray for us,
that loosened from the shackle of mortality
that weighs us down,
we may take wing to the heavenly courts.
 Ps. viii 3.
 St Luke ii 14.
 St Matt xix 14.
 Unless it be a Sunday; in which case the colour used is Red.
 Cant. v 3.
 . . . . Simplices
Palma et coronis luditis.
(Hymn for Vespers.)
 Sermon the Fifth, On the Wonderful Providence of God in the Nativity of Christ.
 Isa. xl 5.
 1 Cor i 25.
 St Matt. xi 25.
 St Luke xvi 15.
 Isa. ix 6.
 Ibid, viii 18.
 St Matt, xix 14.