The Feast of the Holy Innocents
by Father Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876

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 resolved 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.


I. 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"

II. Herod undoubtedly did great sin in massacring, without just reason, so many innocent children. 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.)

Hymn: Salvete Flores

All Hail! ye infant Martyr flowers,
Cut off in life's first dawning hours:
As rosebuds snapt in temptest strife,
When Herod sought your Saviors life.

You, tender flock of lambs, we sing,
First victims slain for Christ your King:
Beside the very altar, gay
With palms and crowns, ye seem to play.

All honor, laud, and glory be,
O Jesu, Virgin-born, to Thee;
All glory, as is ever meet,
To Father and to Paraclete.

The Holy Innocents
by Father Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876

"But Herod sending, killed all the male children, from two years old and under."--Matt. 2.

Whenever we celebrate the feast of the Holy Innocents, our hearts are filled with compassion, but, at the same time, also with joy and consolation. We have compassion for these innocent children, who shed their blood to satisfy the cruelty, vanity, and pride of a tyrant;--but taking into consideration that they had not the remotest idea of the death they were to suffer, that, without any struggle, or troubles of conscience, they were torn from the arms of their mothers, to hasten to the arms of God, where a particular degree of glory awaited them,--in consideration of this, we feel comforted and happy, and can not but congratulate these little innocents, the first of the martyrs for Christ's sake.

The remembrance of the Holy Innocents, has a most practical influence on the lives of parents especially, admonishing them to strive earnestly, that, even if their children have not the happiness of sealing the truth of their faith with the effusion of their blood, they may, nevertheless, give testimony of it by the innocence of their lives. Parents, I will point out to you, today, what you, on your part, are obliged to do, in order that your children may preserve their innocence. O Mary, thou model for all dutiful mothers, obtain for those parents here present the grace, to know and fulfill their duties in this respect! I speak in the holy name of Jesus, to the greater honor of God!

What renders the sight of newly-baptized children attractive, is their innocence. Happy child! every Christian will exclaim, when he beholds an infant just baptized. You are now entirely pure, free from every stain of sin, and an object of God's divine pleasure. It is especially the mother of the child who will feel this; and if she is a pious mother, she will express the wish: Oh, if you would but always remain so!

But, alas! how seldom is this wish realized! Alas! many, yes, I may say, most children lose their innocence at a very early age, and become victims of sin. To them the words of St. Augustine may be applied: "So small a boy--so small a girl,--and already so great a sinner!" Though it may happen that, notwithstanding the most careful training, some children go astray, still this does not relieve parents from the obligation of taking such care and precautions as aid their children to pass their youth in innocence. I will point out to you particularly in what this care consists.

In the first place, a mother, as soon as she is aware that a child is given her, should often raise her heart devoutly to God during the day, and pray for the welfare of her child. We read in the lives of the saints, that, at times, God, in a most wonderful manner, would make known to mothers the particular degree of sanctity to which their children were chosen. Think of St. Anna, the mother of Samuel; of St. Elizabeth, the mother of St. John the Baptist; of the mother of St. Dominic; the mother of St. Stanislaus! When the child is born, and grows up, the mother's care should be directed to accustoming it to raise its heart to God, as soon as it is able; and this can be done at a much earlier age than many a mother imagines.

Parents should faithfully discharge their religious duties; say their morning and night prayers with their children, who will thus, at an early age, acquire a love for prayer. If children are not induced in their early youth, by the good example and exhortations of parents, to say their prayers; if they are not instructed to begin and end the day with devotional exercises, they will most assuredly be exposed to the danger of neglecting prayer altogether, and to commit numerous sins in consequence. As soon as the child advances in years, it should be thoroughly instructed in matters of faith, and its heart must be disposed to think, above all things, of the one important-affair of salvation. It should be reminded that all the things of this world are but vanity in themselves, if they are not employed as means to serve God.

Parents, teach your children to say, when allured by the world, to say with St. Aloysius: What will this avail me for eternity? There is no doubt that the inordinate desire to have, to possess, and to enjoy the goods and pleasures of this world, is the cause of the carelessness of youth in matters of their salvation; to this it is owing that they so freely indulge their sensual desires,--sin,--and go to ruin. Parents are entirely too anxious to increase their temporal possessions. No wonder, then, that they do not instill into the hearts of their children a disdain for the world, and do not sufficiently cultivate and nourish in them a desire for heavenly things. The spirit of the world takes possession of their children's hearts, and but too often draws them into the abyss of sin. And as parents should be thus intent upon directing the children's attention to approaching eternity, in like manner should they strive to impress them with a horror for sin.

Would to God that all mothers would imitate the example of St. Blanche, who was wont thus to address her son Louis: "Dear child, I would a thousand times rather behold you dead at my feet, than in a state of mortal sin!" But to guard their children from mortal sin, mothers should teach them to walk in the presence of God, to honor the Blessed Virgin and their guardian angels; and, moreover, take precautions that other children do not lead theirs into temptation and cause them to lose their innocence. Therefore, even as regards sisters and brothers, parents should use the utmost care that they may not prove an occasion of sin to each other.

And still more destructive is the bad example of parents. If parents desire that their children retain purity of heart, then their own life must be a mirror and a model, so that even after their death the remembrance of the virtuous example of the father and the mother, will cause their children to tremble at the very thought of committing a sin. Therefore, parents should make it a point to be faithful in reciting their morning and night prayers, to attend divine service regularly, to frequently receive Holy Communion, thereby setting a good example, which the children will feel encouraged to imitate.

As long as children love to pray, to attend divine service, and to receive Holy Communion frequently, parents may hope for the best. But woe to those parents who begin and end the day without prayer, who do not fulfill their religious duties, and neglect to receive the Holy Sacraments! Children of such parents are in great danger of losing their innocence; they are scandalized by the conduct of their own parents. It is especially on Sundays and holy days that they should give their children this example of piety. When children, following the example of their parents, neglect the service of the Lord, and take delight in worldly enjoyments, all hope for the preservation of innocence may be abandoned.

A most dangerous rock, arising but too often in the turbulent stream of life, is the perusing of worldly books and trashy novels, and the society of worldlyminded people. If parents really wish that their children may serve God with a pure conscience, they must take care that their children never remain alone with persons of the opposite sex, nor frequent nightly amusements, and thus voluntarily remain in the proximate occasion of sin. If this precaution is not taken, children will lose their innocence, and the responsibility will rest heavily on the conscience of the parents.

Parents, you who are listening to me, examine yourselves carefully in regard to each of these points, and make a firm resolution to act in the future as I have advised you. If you do so your children will not only be a source of joy to you in this life, but they will also be eternally grateful to you in heaven!--Amen!

The Fifth Commandment
from the Commandments Explained
by Arthur Devine, 1898

Willful murder is one of the sins that cries to heaven for vengeance. Blood is a loud and clamorous cry, and the first that ever was shed was heard as far as from earth to heaven. 3. The prohibition of not killing extends to all human beings--that is, not only to adults, but to infants, and to the children in their mother's womb. A recent writer thus speaks on this subject: Every child coming into this world has a right to live.

God gave the child life, and whoever robs it of life sins against its Creator. So in Christian lands the law extends its protection to the tiniest baby. No one can starve, or hurt, or kill any baby without becoming answerable to the law. But it was not always so. Among the heathen in olden times parents were at perfect liberty to kill their children, if they did not want the trouble of rearing them. Among the ancient Greeks there was only one State in which parents were not allowed to destroy their children, and that was Thebes; there, when they did not care to rear the new-born babe, they took it to the magistrate, who sold it by auction to the highest bidder. In Sparta parents took the children they did not desire to be burdened with to a horrible chasm in the earth, and flung the poor little creatures down into it. Generally they put their babes in earthen pots, and left them exposed by the roadside or in fields to die of starvation.

It was the same among the Romans. Fathers killed their babes, and no one took them to task for it. Indeed, one historian (Tacitus) says that it was a wonderful thing that the Jews and the Germans considered it a crime with them not to rear all their children; and the Emperor Augustus, in whose reign Christ was born, actually ordered his own grandchild to be exposed to death when it was born. An early Christian writer (Tertullian) wrote about this custom, thus addressing the Roman people: "How many are there among you, and they, too, of the magistrates, who put an end to your children? You deprive them of the breath of life in water, or you suffer them to die of cold or hunger, or to be eaten by dogs."

4. To call special attention to one of the most critical moments of human life, when it is necessary to make use of every precaution and means to save and preserve it--I refer to our coming into this world at our birth--I may use, even for the purpose of Christian instruction, the example of the midwives in Egypt.

Egypt in ancient times possessed a guild of midwives, to one portion of which was assigned the duty of ministering to the necessities of the Hebrew women in their confinements. Pharao issued secret orders to the two chief midwives, and through them to the others, that when they performed their office they should take care to destroy all the male children, and only suffer the female children to live. Although infanticide was a common practice among many ancient nations, in Egypt it was accounted a crime; and although the Pharao was reckoned a sort of divine being by his subjects, yet it was not felt that he could dispense with the laws of moral obligation. The midwives feared God more than they feared the King, and, though professing a willingness to carry out his will, practically disobeyed his orders. The male children were spared by them; and God dealt well with the midwives: and the people grew exceedingly strong (Exod. i. 17-20).

From this, all other midwives and doctors may be reminded that human life is to be saved at any cost, and, as it is exposed to special dangers on our coming into this world, greater care is demanded on the part of those whose duty it is to minister to women on such occasions. Since the introduction of Christianity, this moral law is more fully explained, and its principles are carried out by civil laws in Christian lands. Life is now held sacred even from the moment of our existence. No one may rob us of it. Life is protected by the laws of God and men, by the just penalties to be inflicted on those who are guilty of this fearful crime.

Since the legalization of abortion by the US Supreme Court in 1973 , over 56 million abortions have been performed in the United States alone (as of December 2013). Clearly humanity is returning to its once pagan roots described in the article above.

Music: Coventry Carol

Lully, lullay, Thou little tiny Child,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.
Lullay, thou little tiny Child,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.

O sisters too, how may we do,
For to preserve this day
This poor youngling for whom we do sing
Bye, bye, 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.

That woe is me, poor Child for Thee!
And ever mourn and sigh,
For thy parting neither say nor sing,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.

The carol refers to the Massacre of the Innocents, in which Herod orders all male infants under the age of two in Bethlehem to be killed. The lyrics of this haunting carol represent a mother's lament for her doomed child.