By Christina Hermoso
Roman Catholics honor on Friday, December 28, the first martyrs of the Catholic faith – the Holy Innocents (Santos Inocentes) – the children of the neighborhood of Bethlehem who were massacred upon the order of King Herod of Judea in his desperate attempt to eliminate the Infant Jesus, the newborn King.
In all masses, priests in red vestments, the color of martyrdom, will focus their reflections on the events leading to the gruesome killing beginning with the narrative of the appearance of an angel to Saint Joseph in a dream warning him of Herod’s plan and instructing the Holy Family to flee to Egypt. The Holy Gospel will focus on the fulfillment of the prophecy of Jeremiah 31:15 that said, “A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children and would not be comforted since they were no more.”
According to tradition, the Feast of the Holy Innocents is kept within the octave of Christmas because “the Holy Innocents died not only for Christ but in His stead. They gave their lives for the newborn Savior.”
Celebrated in other countries as Holy Innocents Day or Childermas (Children’s Mass), Matthew 2: 16-18 narrates that the children were ordered killed by King Herod in his desperate attempt to eliminate the Holy Infant whom he considered a threat to his throne. When he realized that he had been deceived by the Magi (Three Wise Men) whom he sent to look for the newborn King, he ordered the massacre of all boys two-years-old and below in Bethlehem and its vicinity.
There were no exact figures on the number of young boys killed. According to Medieval authors, some 144,000 infants were probably killed (Apocalypse 14:3), while the Byzantine liturgy and the Syrian list of saints estimated the number of children killed at 14,000 and 64,000 infants respectively. In 1910, the Catholic Encyclopedia said that since Bethlehem is a small town, only about six to 12 infant boys might have been killed with a dozen or so more in the surrounding areas.
The Holy Innocents are venerated all over the world as the patron saint of choir boys.