Massacre of the Innocents, Guido Reni


From the Liturgical Year – Dom Guéranger

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 today 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 honor it was for them, to be made victims for the sake of the Savior of the world; but, the very first instant after their immolation, and 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 today, immediately after the two valiant Champions of Christ, Stephen and John.


     December 28 – 4th Day of Christmas


Double of the Second Class with Simple Octave

Violet Vestments

 Station at St. Paul Without The Walls

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.

INTROIT – Psalm 8: 3, 2

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.

Out of the mouth of infants and of sucklings, O God, Thou hast perfected praise, because of Thine enemies. Ps. O Lord our God, how admirable is Thy Name in the whole earth! Glory be to the Father.

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.


O God, whose praise the martyred Innocents on this day confessed, not by speaking, but by dying: destroy in us all the evils of sin, that our life also may proclaim in deeds Thy faith which our tongues profess. Through our Lord.


Grant, we beseech Thee, almighty God, that the new birth of Thine only-begotten Son in the flesh may set us free, who are held by the old bondage under the yoke of sin. Through the same our Lord.

EPISTLE – Apoc: 14:1-5

In those days I beheld a Lamb stood upon Mount Sion, and with Him an hundred forty-four thousand, having His name and the name of His Father written on their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven, as the noise 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 were not defiled with women: for they are virgins. These follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth. These were purchased from among men, the firstfruits to God and to the Lamb: and in their mouth there was found no lie: for they are without spot before the throne of God.

Holy Innocents follow the Lamb, because they are pure.

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 Canticles: 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.

GRADUAL – Psalm 123: 7, 8

Our soul hath been delivered as a sparrow out of the snare of the fowlers. The snare hath been broken, and we have been delivered. Our help is in the Name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

Massacre of the Innocents by Matteo di Giovanni (1482) WGA

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.


They have poured out the blood of the saints as water, round about Jerusalem and there was none to bury them. Avenge, O Lord the blood of Thy saints, which has been shed upon the earth.

GOSPEL – Matthew 2: 13-18

Continuation of the holy Gospel according to St. 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 will 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 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. 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 favored 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.

OFFERTORY – Psalm 123: 7

Our soul hath been delivered as a sparrow out of the snare of the fowlers: the snare is broken, and we are delivered.


Let not the loving prayer of Thy Saints fail us, O Lord: may it render our offerings pleasing to Thee, and ever obtain for us Thy pardon. Through our Lord.


Sanctify, O Lord, the gifts offered to Thee, by the new birth of Thine Only-begotten Son: and cleanse us from the stains of our sins. Through our Lord.


It is truly meet and just, right and availing unto salvation that we should at all times and in all places give thanks unto Thee, O holy Lord, Father almighty and everlasting God.  Because by the mystery of the Word made flesh the light of Thy glory hath shone anew upon the eyes of our mind: that while we acknowledge Him to be God seen by men, we may be drawn by Him to the love of things unseen. And therefore with angels and archangels, with thrones and dominions, and with all the heavenly hosts, we sing a hymn to Thy glory, saying without ceasing.

holy sacrifice of the mass 15

Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, Dóminus Deus Sábaoth. Pleni sunt cæli et terra glória tua. Hosánna in excélsis. Benedíctus qui venit in nómine Dómini. Hosánna in excélsis.

COMMUNION – Matthew 2: 18

A voice in Rama was heard, lamentation and great mourning: Rachel bewailing her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.


We have partaken, O Lord, of these votive gifts: grant, we beseech Thee, that by the prayers of the Saints they may procure aid for us both in this life in that which is to come. Through our Lord.


Grant, we beseech Thee, almighty God, that as the Saviour of the world, born on this day, is the Author of our heavenly birth, so He may also be to us the Giver of immortality: Who with Thee liveth and reigneth.

The massacre of the innocents by François-Joseph Navez, 1824


By Francis Xavier Weninger

By the Holy Innocents, who are honored as martyrs today by the Catholic Church, we understand those happy infants, who, by the command of King Herod, were put to death, for no other cause than that the new-born King of the Jews might be deprived of life. When Christ was born, Herod, well known for his cruelty, reigned at Jerusalem. He was not of the Jewish nation, but a foreigner, and was therefore hated by the Jews Herod knew this well; hence he feared that they would dethrone him, and he had several illustrious persons executed, whom he suspected of aspiring to the throne. Meanwhile it happened that the three Magi or Kings from the East came to Jerusalem, to find and adore the new-born King, who had been announced to them by a star; as they doubted not that they would learn more of Him in the capital of Judea. They therefore asked without hesitation: ” Where is he, that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to adore him.” This question seemed very strange to the Jews, and the news of it spread through the whole city, until it reached the King. His fear can hardly be described; for he already believed his crown and sceptre lost. To escape the danger in which he supposed himself, he called the chief priests and scribes together, and inquired of them where the Messiah should be born. They answered: “In Bethlehem, according to the Prophets.” Satisfied with this answer, Herod had the three wise men brought to court, and speaking very confidentially with them, he asked diligently when and where the star had appeared to them. After this, he advised them to go to Bethlehem and inquire after the new-born child, and when they had found and adored it, to return and inform him, as he wished to go and adore it also. These words of the king, who was not less cunning than cruel, were only a deceit, as he had already re solved to kill the new-born child. Meanwhile the Magi followed the advice of the king, and, guided by the star, which again appeared to them when they had left Jerusalem, went to Bethlehem and inquire after the new-born child, and when they had found and adored it, to return and inform him, as he wished to go and adore it also. These words of the king, who was not less cunning than cruel, were only a deceit, as he had already re solved to kill the new-born child. Meanwhile the Magi followed the advice of the king, and, guided by the star, which again appeared to them when they had left Jerusalem, went to Bethlehem, found and adored the divine Child, and offered gold, frankincense and myrrh, as we read in Holy Writ. Having finished their devotion, they intended, in accordance with king Herod’s wish, to bring him word that they had happily found the Child. An angel, however, appeared to them in their sleep and admonished them not to return to Jerusalem, but to go into their own country by another way; which they accordingly did. When Herod perceived that they had deluded him, it was too late, and his rage was boundless. Hearing of what had taken place in the temple, at the Purification of Mary, that the venerable Simeon had pronounced a child, which he had taken into his arms, the true Messiah, the King’s heart was filled with inexpressible fear and anxiety. The danger in which he was, as he imagined, of losing his crown, left him no peace day or night. He secretly gave orders to search for this child; but all was of no avail; it could not be found. After long pondering how he might escape the danger, his unbounded ambition led him to an act of cruelty unprecedented in history. He determined to murder all the male children, in and around Bethlehem, that were not over two years of age, as he thought that thus he could not fail to take the life of the child so dangerous to him. This fearful design was executed amidst the despairing shrieks of the parents, especially the mothers. How many children were thus inhumanly slaughtered is not known, but the number must have been very large. Yet the tyrant gained not his end; for, the divine Child was already in security. The Gospel tells us that an Angel appeared during the night to St. Joseph, saying to him: “Arise, take the child and his mother, and, fly into Egypt, and remain there until I tell thee. For, it will come to pass that Herod will seek the child to destroy him.” St. Joseph delayed not to obey, and fled, the same night, with the child and his mother, into the land indicated to him. As this had happened before Herod executed his cruel determination, God thus frustrated the plot.

Herod soon after, received his just punishment. Several terrible maladies suddenly seized him, as Josephus, the Jewish historian, relates.

An internal fever consumed him, and all his limbs were covered with abominable ulcers, breeding vermin. His feet were swollen; his neck, shoulders and arms drawn together, and his breast so burdened, that the unfortunate man could hardly breathe, while his whole body exhaled so offensive an odor, that neither he nor others could endure it. Hence, in despair, he frequently cried for a knife or a sword, that he might end his own life. In this miserable condition, he ceased not his cruelties, and only five days before his death, he had his son, Antipater, put to death. As he had good reason to believe that the entire people would rejoice at his death, he wished at least to take to the grave the thought that many should grieve, if not for him, at least for their friends and relatives. Hence, he had the chief men of the nobility imprisoned, and gave orders to his sister Salome, that, as soon as he had closed his eyes, they were all to be murdered. This order, however, was not executed by Salome, who justly loathed its cruelty. In this lamentable condition, the cruel tyrant ended his life, but began one in eternity whose pains and torments were still more unendurable, and from which he cannot hope ever to be released; while the innocent children massacred by him, rejoice for all eternity in the glories of heaven, giving humble thanks to God for having thus admitted them into His presence. The Catholic Church has always honored them as martyrs; because, though not confessing Christ with their lips, as many thousands of others have done, yet they confessed Him with their death, by losing their lives for His sake.


How happy were the innocent children to end their lives at so tender an age! Had they lived longer, they might have been among those who cried: “Crucify him! Crucify him! “and have gone to destruction. The parents of these children naturally wept and lamented, and believed themselves most unhappy, because their children were torn from them and cruelly slaughtered. They did not recognize the mercy that God showed them. Still, at this day, does the Almighty sometimes take children, by an early death, from their parents. That the latter feel this loss and weep and mourn over it, is but human, and is no sin; but they do wrong if they grieve inordinately, or even murmur or complain against the decrees of the Almighty. They ought to think, God is the Lord of life and death; He has given the children; He can take them away again, without wronging any one. They should also think that an early death may be a great benefit to themselves and to their children; for, God perhaps foresaw that the parents would neglect the education of their children and thus condemn themselves, or that the children would lead a wicked life, and thus go to eternal perdition. By taking them thus early, He benefits the children and the parents, and deserves thanks instead of complaint. At least, the parents ought to submit to the divine will, and say from the depth of their hearts, what they have often said with their lips: “O Lord, thy will be done.” Herod undoubtedly did great sin in massacring, without just reason, so many innocent children.

end abortion

In our days, there are many who deprive an innocent child of its mortal life, or even endeavor to deprive it of the life to come. To the former of these belong all mothers, who destroy the fruit of their womb by imprudence or even by crime. In the same manner, those men, who ill-treat their wives, frequently become guilty of the same sin. Mothers again are guilty of it, who crush their children in sleep. To the second class belong those who murder their children before they are baptized, for without baptism they can never enter the kingdom of heaven. Secondly, all those persons who give scandal to innocent youth, either in word or deed; for example, when they speak impurely in their presence, sing bad songs, behave immodestly, or even entice them to do wrong. Thirdly, according to St. Chrysostom, those parents belong to this class, who, either by their example, or by neglecting to instruct their children, are the cause of many sins which their children commit. Further, those who do not duly punish-their children, and who do not earnestly endeavor to prevent their doing wrong. Lastly, all those who lead their own children into the path of wickedness and sin. All these are child-murderers. Of the latter, St. Chrysostom says: “Thus, parents, I say, are more vicious, more cruel than child-murderers; for, a murderer of children, as Herod was, separates only the body from the soul; while the others give the souls and bodies of their children to eternal flames. Further, those who are killed would have died in the course of time, though they had not been murdered; while children neglected by their parents, might have avoided eternal death, had not the wickedness of their parents prepared it for them. Besides this, the general resurrection would have compensated for the bodily death, while the death and destruction of the soul nothing can restore.  A child, condemned by the parent’s fault, has no hope of salvation, but has to suffer eternal pains. Hence I am right in saying that such parents are worse than child-murderers.” As there is no doubt that all the above-mentioned classes of people commit great sin, they make themselves guilty of eternal punishment. Those who give scandal to the young should remember the terrible menace of Jesus Christ: “He that shall scandalize one of these little ones that believe in Me, it were better for him that a mill-stone should be hanged about his neck and that he should be drowned in the depth of the sea. Wo to that man by whom scandal cometh!” “Wo to him,” exclaimed, one day, a dying man, “who has led me to evil.” “And how will these corrupted souls, one day, cry for vengeance at the throne of the Almighty,” says St. Thomas of Villanova; “how will they rage in hell against him who corrupted them or gave them scandal! ” They also, who murder only the bodies of their children, will have to render an account, and may expect terrible punishment. The blood of their children will cry for vengeance against them, as did the blood of Abel against Cain. “The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth to me from the earth.” (Genesis, iv.)







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