Feast of the Holy Innocents

“From the mouths of nursing children you have brought forth praise”

Fiesta Santos Inocentes
Feast of the Holy Innocents © Vatican Media

Priest Fernando Luján offers this article about the feast of the Holy Innocents, celebrated today, December 28.


“Out of the mouths of nursing children you have brought forth praise” (Psalm 8).

Like every December 28, the Church’s liturgy celebrates the memory of the Innocent Children that King Herod ordered to be killed in the city of Bethlehem. The story of this event comes to us from the Gospel of Saint Matthew[1]. In this episode, it is narrated how Herod called the High Priests to ask them where the king of Israel, whom the prophets had announced, had to be born. They answered him, quoting the prophet Micah: It must be in Bethlehem, because this is what the prophet Micah announced, saying: “And you, Bethlehem, are not the least among the cities of Judah, because from you will come the leader who will be the shepherd of my people of Israel” (Mic. 5, 1).

We must understand the entire Old Testament from the perspective of the Messiah, it all looks at Christ, and without him, it cannot be understood as a whole. For this reason, we find countless references to Jesus centuries before his birth and this is the key that the Church uses to interpret him, to fill him with the true meaning of him.

This reality was sometimes not fully understood, especially at the time of Jesus, since it was thought that the Messiah would be a king in the manner of a political king, that is, in the manner of temporal kings and rulers. Herod, as a son of his time, thought that this king to whom Micah refers would usurp his royal power and since he could not specifically ensure who it would be among so many children, he made the Machiavellian decision to sacrifice all children under two years of age.

The same evangelist Saint Matthew will affirm that on that day what the prophet Jeremiah had warned was fulfilled: “A shouting is heard in Ramah (near Bethlehem), it is Rachel (Israel’s wife) crying for her children, and they are not she wants to console, because they no longer exist” (Jer. 31, 15).

Within the framework of the Octave of Christmas, which we are now celebrating, the slaughter of the Holy Innocents is another of the fruits of the Birth of the Savior. The newborn Christ awarded the Innocent martyrs the crown of glory.

Israel’s hope was threatened by Herod’s anger and hatred: this caused the Angel to warn the Holy Family of danger in a dream. Fleeing towards Egypt, from where the chosen people had once been liberated, Joseph and Mary found refuge with the Child.

Even though they could not speak or defend themselves from human cruelty, with their lives they glorified the newborn Messiah. In this sense, for example, one could understand what Psalm 8 refers to: “Lord our owner, how admirable is your Name in all the earth! You exalted your majesty above the Heavens. From the mouths of infants you have brought forth praise against your enemies, to suppress the adversary and the rebel.”

The Holy Innocents are witnesses of Jesus and represent so many other innocents throughout history that human cruelty decided to take their lives. Today we are not far from that cruelty, or what is the crime of abortion today? Just as the hope of Israel was threatened by the cruelty of Herod, in our day, the hope of so many conceived is diminished by a misunderstood progress. Herod saw a problem in the prophecy of the birth of the Messiah; today, too, the life of the unborn, the innocent, is seen as a problem. Let us remember Pope Francis’ statement in an interview, referring to the scourge of abortion: “is it necessary to take a life to avoid a problem?”

There is no doubt that those gave their lives for Christ, as they continue to give today, and for this they received, and these receive, the crown of glory that does not fade away. In this sense, we can refer to those we find in the service of reading the Liturgy of the Hours for this day:  “Those children, without knowing it, die for Christ, and their parents mourn the death of those martyrs; Christ, when they were still incapable of speaking, makes them suitable witnesses for Him. Such is the reign of him who has come to be king. Thus he who has come to be a liberator liberates, thus he who has come to be a savior saves”[2].

[1] Conf. Mt 2,13-18

[2] Sermon 2, of Saint Quodvuldeo, bishop – Office of reading of the Feast

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