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``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D


Feast of the
Holy Innocents (Childermas)

 
 
 
In the second chapter of the Book of Matthew is recorded the story of the Massacre of the Holy Innocents, an event which recalls the Pharaoh's instructions to midwives during the time Israel was enslaved in Egypt:

Exodus 1:15-16, 22:
And the king of Egypt spoke to the midwives of the Hebrews: of whom one was called Sephora, the other Phua, Commanding them: When you shall do the office of midwives to the Hebrew women, and the time of delivery is come: if it be a man child, kill it: if a woman, keep it alive...

...Pharao therefore charged all his people, saying: Whatsoever shall be born of the male sex, ye shall cast into the river: whatsoever of the female, ye shall save alive.

Moses was saved from this murder when his mother placed him in a little ark and floated him in the river. Moses's sister watched from afar as the Pharaoh's daughter found the child (Exodus 2). The massacre from which Moses was spared is a type, a foreshadowing, of the massacre of the holy innocents that took place soon after Christ was born.

As to the slaughter of the Innocents in the New Testament, first some background: Herod the Great, the Governor of Galilee, was an Idumean Jew whom History describes as an extremely cruel man: he was a man who killed several of his wives and his own sons when he suspected they were plotting against him. Challenges to his power were met with a swift and final response, and he even tried to ensure that his cruel campaigns survived him when he arranged that on the day he went on to his eternal reward, hundreds of men in the area would be killed so that there would be mourning at his funeral. Though this arrangement was never carried out, it speaks well of Herod's nature.

And during this tyrant's reign, the Magi -- whose adoration of Baby Jesus is rememberd on the Epiphany (6 January) and its Eve (Twelfthnight) -- saw the Star of Bethlehem and went to Jerusalem, asking where the new King of Jews may be found. Herod heard of their asking around about the newborn King and, calling the high priests to find out about this this Child, was informed that it was prophecied that the Child would be born in Juda.

St. Joseph's Dream, by Georges de la Tour, 1640Threatened by this prophecy, he sent for the Magi to find the Child and report back so he could go and "worship," too. The Magi found Jesus but, knowing Herod's heart after having it revealed to them in a dream, didn't go back to tell Herod of His wherabouts.

Meanwhile, the Holy Family, warned through St. Joseph who was visted by an angel in a dream, makes their flight into Egypt.

Herod became enraged at the Wise Men's "betrayal," and killed all the baby boys in Bethlehem who were two years old and younger.

The fourth day of Christmas commemorates these baby boys, who are considered martyrs -- the very first martyrs (St. Stephen, whose Feast was commemorated 2 days ago, was the first martyr of the Church Age). As Bethlehem was a small town, the number of these Holy Innocents was probably no more than 25, but they are glorious martyrs who died not only for Christ, but in His place. Vestments will be red or purple in mourning, and the Alleluia and Gloria will be supressed at Mass.

 
Customs

As to customs, the youngest child "rules the day." It is the youngest who decides the day's foods, drinks, music, entertainments, etc. (if you have a number of small children, you might want to divide up the honors among them).

In Spain and Hispanic countries like Mexico, Childermas is rather like April Fools Day is in America and France. Tricks are pulled, and the one tricked is called "Innocente!" rather than an "April Fool!" In many places, it is the young who play tricks -- on their elders, whom they often lock inside rooms and such until the oldsters pay a ransom!


To recall the blood of the martyrs, a food with a red color, especially a pudding or ice cream with a red sauce, such as raspberry, is traditional.  

Raspberry Sauce

10 oz pkg. frozen raspberries
1 1/2 tsp. cornstarch
1/2 c. red currant jelly

Thaw and crush raspberries. Combine with cornstarch. Add red currant jelly and bring to boil. Cook and stir until mixture is clear and thickens slightly. Strain and chill. Makes 1 1/3 cups. Serve over rice pudding, ice cream, blanc mange, white chocolate mousse, etc. (If you don't have red currant jelly, you can omit the cornstarch, too, and just purée the berries with a TBSP or two of sugar without cooking. Just blend well and sieve to remove seeds.).

The father of the home should formally bless the children. A common way of doing this is as follows:

Father:

O Lord, hear my prayer.

All:

And let my cry come unto Thee.

Father:

Let us pray. O Lord Jesus Christ, once Thou embraced and placed Thy hands upon the little children who came to Thee, and said: "Suffer the little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven, and their angels always see the face of my Father!" Look now with fatherly eyes on the innocence of these children and their parents' devotion, and bless them this day through our prayers.

The father signs the forehead of each child with holy water.

Father:

In Thy grace and goodness let them advance continually, longing for Thee, loving Thee, fearing Thee, keeping Thy commandments. Then they will surely come to their destined home, through Thee, Savior of the world. Who lives and reigns forever and ever.

All:

Amen.

Father:

May God bless you. And may He keep your hearts and minds -- the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit.

All:

Amen.

 
The haunting and lovely Coventry Carol concerns the slaughter of the Innocents. Click here to hear the melody; the lyrics are below:

Coventry Carol

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?

Lully, lulla, thou little tiny child,
By by, lully lullay, thou little tiny child,
By by, lully lullay.

Herod, the King, In his raging,
Charged he hath this day
His men of might,
In his own sight,
All young children to slay.

Lully, lulla, thou little tiny child,
By by, lully lullay, thou little tiny child,
By by, lully lullay.

That woe is me, Poor child for thee!
And ever morn and day,
For thy parting
Nor say nor sing
By by, lully lullay!


While it is easy to get lost in the nightmare of what happened to the Innocents, it's to be remembered that they ultimately triumphed! They are Saints of God, as this painting by William Holman Hunt shows. The Innocents are seen with the Holy Family, in spirit, during the Family's Flight to Egypt:
 

Triumph of the Innocents, by William Holman Hunt, 1883-4
 

Note: A Novena to the Magi in anticipation of the Feast of the Epiphany is also often begun today, ending on 5 January, the Vigil of the Epiphany.

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