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The Holy Innocents

The Holy Innocents


When King Herod learned that the Magi had departed Judea without telling him where to find the Christ-Child, he was enraged, and ordered the slaughter of every male child under two years old in the region of Bethlehem. These innocent children, murdered for the sake of Christ though they were below the age of reason, are honored as martyrs under the name of “the Holy Innocents”. Traditionally—before various 20th century liturgical changes—the Church honored these martyrs with two different celebrations. The primary feast day, December 28th, was a day of violet vestments without a Gloria or an Alleluia, tempering the joy of Christmas with mourning for the unjust massacre, a sorrow also captured in the famous medieval “Coventry Carol”. Then on their octave-day of January 4th, one week later, the glorious red vestments of martyrdom and the Alleluia and Gloria celebrated the martyrs’ joyous entry into heaven with the rest of the souls of the just at Our Lord’s Ascension. Though this liturgical contrast is missing in most places today, the feast of “Childermas” is still one marked by a sense of sorrow accompanying the ever-present Christmas joy.


Traditional Roman Martyrology for December 28th

IN Bethlehem, of Juda, the birthday of the Holy Innocents, who were massacred for Christ by king Herod.

At Ancyra, in Galatia, the holy martyrs Eutychius, priest, and Domitian, deacon.

In Africa, the birthday of the holy martyrs Castor, Victor and Rogatian.

At Nicomedia, the holy martyrs Indes, eunuch, Domna, Agapes and Theophila, virgins, and their companions, who, after long combats, attained to the crown of martyrdom by various kinds of death during the persecution of Diocletian.

At Neocaesarea, in Pontus, St. Troadius, martyr, in the persecution of Decius. During his combat St. Gregory Thaumaturgus appeared to him in spirit, and encouraged him to undergo martyrdom.

At Arabissus, in Lower Armenia, St. Caesarius, a martyr who suffered under Galerius Maximian.

At Lyons, in France, the birthday of St. Francis of Sales, bishop of Geneva, ranked among the saints by Alexander VII, because of his most ardent zeal for the conversion of heretics. His festival, by order of the same Pontiff, is kept on the 29th of January, when his sacred body was translated from Lyons to Annecy. Pius IX confirmed a decree of the Sacred Congregation of Rites, declaring him Doctor of the universal Church.

At Rome, St. Domnion, priest.

In Egypt, St. Theodore, monk, disciple of St. Pachomius.

In the monastery of Lerins, St. Anthony, a monk renowned for miracles.

℣. And elsewhere many other holy martyrs, confessors, and holy virgins.

℟. Thanks be to God.

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