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The Holy Innocents – December 28

Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira

Biographical selection:

A summary from Dom Guéranger: We have in Blessed Stephen the fulfillment of his desire to be a martyr with the act of martyrdom; in St. John we find the desire, but not the act of martyrdom; in the Blessed Innocents – the children Herod killed with the intent to kill the Messiah – we have the act of martyrdom, but not the desire.

Indeed, St. Stephen wanted to be a martyr and became one. St. John desired the same, but was not. The Blessed Innocents did not desire to be martyrs, but were.

Holy Innocents, by Buoninsegna

The massacre of the Holy Innocents by Duccio di Buoninsegna
Is there reason to believe that those children were true martyrs? Where is the merit to obtain the crown of martyrdom? To this doubt, I answer: Would the goodness of Christ be defeated by the cruelty of Herod? Could that impious king order those innocents killed, and Christ not crown those who died because of Him?

Stephen was a martyr before the eyes of men who witnessed his passion which he voluntarily embraced to the point of praying for his persecutors. Thus he showed that he was more sensitive to the crime they were committing than to his own wounds.

John was a martyr before the eyes of the Angels, because those spiritual creatures saw the disposition of his soul.

Certainly those children were Thy martyrs, O God, but neither men nor Angels could see their merit, which was before Thy eyes alone. The favor of Thy grace stood in place of their merit. We who have been baptized by water should be all the more ready to honor those little ones who were baptized in their own blood, and therefore linked to all the mysteries of the Divine Infancy.

Comments of Prof. Plinio:

Dom Guéranger has two beautiful thoughts to justify the Holy Innocents being venerated as saints without having personal merit. The first is that it is an act of pure goodness of God. That is, since they did not desire to be martyrs, like St. Stephen and St. John - whose feasts the Church places respectively on the 26th and 27th of December, just after Christmas - how could they merit such an honor? He answers: By an act of the overflowing goodness of God.

The second thought is that we should consider them martyrs by the baptism of blood. In anticipation of the infinite merits of His Redemption, Our Lord would have granted those children the same status of those who died after being baptized, after the Sacrament was instituted by Our Lord. This would be an exception to the rule, and the Holy Innocents should be considered martyrs by the baptism of blood.

The Killing of the Holy Innocents, by Giotto

Detail of the killing of the Holy Innocents by Giotto
I don’t know all the details of the theological discussion on this topic, but I highly respect the opinion of Dom Guéranger. I believe he helps to explain why Holy Mother Church considers them Holy Innocents who are enjoying the beatific vision.

This feast day of the Holy Innocents also includes all those children who died soon after being baptized and are in Heaven. Then, we have a legion of innocents who are in Heaven and continuously pray for us. We understand that the population of Heaven increases daily with the great number of children who die in this condition. The thrones of the angels who followed Satan in his rebellion are being taken by these children.

But our epoch is so revolutionary and evil that many children cannot be baptized before they die. First, because of the general paganization of customs, whereby many parents do not care about the spiritual benefit of their children and let them die without being baptized. Second, we have the monstrous practice of abortion that takes the life of children still in the womb of their mothers, or immediately after the child is removed from it. Neither the mother nor surgeon is concerned about baptizing the child in those few moments he is still alive. It is another reason for us to fight against the Revolution and against abortion.

If we were to have a canonized person in our families, we would be strong devotees of that saint. This is understandable. Now then, in almost all our families we have some children, sons or daughters, brothers or sisters, cousins or other relatives, who died soon after being baptized. They are in Heaven and are able to see God face-to-face and to perfectly understand our needs. So, when we are in difficulties, we should remember those children and ask their intercession. They are the natural patron saints of the families to whom they belonged. It is very advantageous and worthwhile to pray to them and ask them to protect us.

This is my suggestion on this feast day of the Holy Innocents.


Blason de Charlemagne
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Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
The Saint of the Day features highlights from the lives of saints based on comments made by the late Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira. Following the example of St. John Bosco who used to make similar talks for the boys of his College, each evening it was Prof. Plinio’s custom to make a short commentary on the lives of the next day’s saint in a meeting for youth in order to encourage them in the practice of virtue and love for the Catholic Church. TIA thought that its readers could profit from these valuable commentaries.

The texts of both the biographical data and the comments come from personal notes taken by Atila S. Guimarães from 1964 to 1995. Given the fact that the source is a personal notebook, it is possible that at times the biographic notes transcribed here will not rigorously follow the original text read by Prof. Plinio. The commentaries have also been adapted and translated for TIA’s site.

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