The Holy Innocents—28 December AD 2008
“A voice in Rama was heard, lamentation and great
Rachel bewailing her children, and would not be comforted,
because they are not.”
Ordinary of the Mass
Mass of the Holy Innocents
The wailing of Rachel refers to the book of Jeremia.
Although “wailing for her children,” the passage seems to indicate all of
the people who were murdered by the Babylonians six or seven centuries before
the birth of Christ. This was an unjust invasion, of course, but seems
somewhat less evil than the murder of the innocent children by King Herod.
Herod’s action was not an act of war—justified or unjustified—it was an
act of maniacal furry directed at those who had committed no crime and offered
no opposition whatsoever to his rule as king.
Herod was a madman. He murdered his wife, four of his
in‑laws, and even three of his own sons—all because he feared that they
would seize his throne, either by virtue of their popularity, or by outright
conspiracy against him. Caesar Augustus is said to have joked that it
would be better to be Herod’s pig than to be Herod’s son, for the Jews did
not eat pork, and would have no reason to kill a pig.
We are not sure just how many babies were put to
death—the estimates very from fourteen or fifteen, up to few tens of
thousands, or even the one hundred forty four thousand mentioned in the
Apocalypse. Certainly, Herod was not in the same league with Hitler,
Stalin, and Mao with their multi-millions of murders; not even in the
league with the Babylonians who put “Rachel’s children” to death.
But the idea of putting children to death—even one’s own sons—seems like
the work of a particularly evil man.
The Church venerates the murdered Innocents as martyrs, in
that in having to seek them out and murder them, Herod’s soldiers were
otherwise occupied as Joseph and Mary flew into exile in Egypt. The
Innocent sons of men gave their lives for the infant Son of God, who would
return the favor only a few decades later. Their souls left this world for
the Limbo of the Just, soon to be called to Heaven before the face of God on the
day between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. Only on Sunday is this
Mass celebrated in red and with the Glória in excélsis, for Sunday
corresponds to the Resurrection and Holy Innocents experience of the beatific
vision. Other days the vestments are purple.
In our own time we have witnessed a much more ghastly
slaughter of innocent babies, as well as a growing number of relatively innocent
adults whose only “crime” was disability. In 1973, in a burst of raw
judicial arrogance, the U.S. Supreme Court usurped the jurisdiction of the
States and nullified the laws of all fifty States which protected unborn babies
from being destroyed. It likewise claimed the fifth, ninth, and tenth
amendments to be inoperative, making believe that they were somehow reversed by
the fourteenth amendment, in which they hallucinated a “right to privacy”
superior to one’s right to life. In the thirty-six years since Roe vs.
Wade, roughly 50‑million American children have been put to death by
medical practitioners who used to swear an oath to do no such thing:
We’ve had the Hippocratic oath for many centuries: “I
will prescribe ... for the good of my patients ... and never do harm to anyone.
I will not give a lethal drug to anyone if I am asked ... I will not give a
woman a pessary to cause an abortion.”
And in 1948, in response to the atrocities of the World
Ward II era, we have the Declaration of Geneva, which reads in part: “I
will maintain the utmost respect for human life, from the time of its
conception, even under threat, I will not use my medical knowledge contrary to
the laws of humanity;” Unfortunately, in 1968, the global medical
community eliminated the part of the Declaration which respects human life “from
the time of its conception” and “I will not use my medical knowledge
contrary to the laws of humanity;”
Fifty-million American children in only thirty-six years!
Only God knows how many throughout the world! Particularly in China where
having more than one child is a crime—imagine a land in which the words
“brother,” “sister,” “aunt,” “uncle,” and “cousin” are
Countless innocents who may very well never enjoy that vision of God enjoyed by
the martyrs. But the victims go far beyond those slain under the guise of
law, and any theological speculation we may care to make about Limbo and the
fate of the un‑baptized:
Think of the poor young mothers, scared to death about the
social stigma associated with giving birth unwed; not sure how they will provide
for the child; perhaps under pressure from the boyfriend or the family;
for many the grief for a child that that was not‑allowed‑to‑be
never goes away. “I've been to crying for unborn children that would
have made me complete....”
That kind of grief may effect men as well as women. For the women there is
a statistical link to breast cancer.
Think of society at large. The musicians, the
physicians, the engineers, the philosophers, the artists that would have been
among those fifty‑million, but were not‑allowed‑to‑be.
Think about a society that views its own children as something like a disease,
to be prevented by medicine or surgery. Think of the numbing effect that
countenancing fifty‑million deaths has on the conscience of a
nation—that is a death toll consistent with fighting a major war—but, in
this case, a war against ourselves. Think of Western Civilization which is
not reproducing itself. All of those European and American birthrates
under 2.1 which point to a society disappearing from the face of the Earth
Perhaps above all, consider the magnitude of the sin
against Almighty God! Can a nation ask for God’s blessings, unrepentant
of such an outrage? Unrepentant of a sin that “cries out for
vengeance” like the shedding of the blood of Abel the Just, but millions of
times over—“What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is
crying to me from the ground.”
Will not the blood of our tiny brothers and sisters cry out against us in a
chorus fifty-million strong?
Fortunately, the blood of our Lord shed on the Cross also
cries out—it cries out for repentance and forgiveness. But the one must
come before the other—repentance before forgiveness.
What can we do? First of all we must pray. The
Holy Innocents will be powerful intercessors on the part of the unborn if we
beseech them with prayers; likewise Saint Joseph and the Blessed Virgin Mary who
almost lost her Son to the madness of the baby killers. We must ask
God’s forgiveness for any of the sins that we ourselves may have committed
against the holiness of marriage and the sanctity of human life. Perhaps
we should do some penance for such sins, and for those who will not do penance
We must never do anything that would drive a woman to
destroy her child. Trying to shame people into chastity seems not to work,
and produces a sin of much greater magnitude. The woman who would carry
her child to term ought to be esteemed as a virtuous woman for her
willingness to do so.
There are alternatives. There are many people seeking
to adopt the children that they could not have themselves. There are some
numbers in the phone book under “abortion-alternatives”; the Internet
produces many more.
Even if you don’t need their help, consider sending them a donation once in a
while. Or see if they can make use of hand‑me‑down baby
clothing or furniture if you have some of that.
Finally, there is the political issue. Our
representatives in government must know where stand. Can a government that
fails to protect the lives of the innocent be legitimate? Can one that
forces taxpayers to pay for the murder of the unborn? One that forces
physicians to violate their own conscience, and perhaps an oath “to do no
harm”? What other draconian measures will come next from such a
government. The right to life may not be the only issue in an election,
but it certainly has highest priority—for those deprived of life, nothing else
the government does matters at all.
Finally, I urge you once again to prayer. Our parish
offers a Mass for the Right to Life on the fourth Wednesday of each month
without fail—consider attending if at all possible. Pray that through
the intercession of Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and the Holy Innocents that the Herods
of the world may be stopped!