113. Since the sixth century, on 28 December, the Church has celebrated the memory of those children killed because of Herod’s rage against Christ (cf. Mt 2, 16-17). Liturgical tradition refers to them as the “Holy Innocents” and regards them as martyrs.
I know there is occasional fussing about modern martyrs here and there. Were they killed for political reasons, not those of the faith? Herod was doing what rulers before and since have done: eliminate rivals to the throne. Still, I’m good with these children being honored as martyrs, and I hope you readers are too.
Throughout the centuries Christian art, poetry and popular piety have enfolded the memory of the “tender flock of lambs” (Prudentius, Cathemerinon XII, 130: CCL 126, Turnholti 1966, p. 69; Liturgy of the Hours: die 28 Decembris, Ss. Innocentium, martyrum, Ad Laudes, Hymnus “Audit tyrannus anxius”) with sentiments of tenderness and sympathy. These sentiments are also accompanied by a note of indignation against the violence with which they were taken from their mothers’ arms and killed.
Two of the three days after Christmas give us a sober reality: people die for Christ.
In our own times, children suffer innumerable forms of violence which threaten their lives, dignity and right to education. On this day, it is appropriate to recall the vast host of children not yet born who have been killed under the cover of laws permitting abortion, which is an abominable crime. Mindful of these specific problems, popular piety in many places has inspired acts of worship as well as displays of charity which provide assistance to pregnant mothers, encourage adoption and the promotion of the education of children.
The Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy is online at the Vatican site.