Friday, December 28, 2012

The Holy Innocents

Below are lessons 4, 5, and 6 from the Divine Office of Vigils (Matins) for the feast of the Holy Innocents. One aspect that strikes me is that there is an emphasis on the fact that Heaven is our homeland.

Even if we suffer severely here on earth, it is only temporal suffering. It will end. It may seem unbearable in our immediate experience, and indeed, we may die of it, as have countless martyrs through the centuries. And yet, it will end. Eternity lies beyond that end, and we have the hope of spending that eternity in Heaven, with all the saints, adoring and praising God endlessly.

I think that’s one of the things we forget when we suffer ourselves, or when we read of others’ sufferings (as in the children of Newtown, who must of course come to mind today).

Here are the lessons, combined:

From the Sermons of St Augustine, Bishop of Hippo. 10th on the Saints.
Dearly beloved brethren, to-day we keep the birthday of those children, who, as we are informed by the Gospel, were massacred by the savage King Herod. Therefore let earth rejoice with exceeding joy, for she is the mother of these heavenly soldiers, and of this numerous host. The love of the vile Herod could never have crowned these blessed ones as hath his hatred. For the Church testifieth by this holy solemnity, that whereas iniquity did specially abound against these little saints, so much the more were heavenly blessings poured out upon them.

Blessed art thou, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah, which hast suffered the cruelty of King Herod in the slaughter of thy children; who art found worthy to offer at once to God a whole white-robed army of guileless martyrs! Surely, it is well to keep their birthday, even that blessed birthday which gave them from earth to heaven, more blessed than the day that brought them out of their mother's womb. Scarcely had they entered on the life that now is, when they obtained that glorious life which is to come.

We praise the death of other martyrs because it was the crowning act of an undaunted and persistent testimony; but these were crowned at once. He That maketh an end to this present life, gave to them at its very gates that eternal blessedness which we hope for at its close. They whom the wickedness of Herod tore from their mothers' breasts are rightfully called the flowers of martyrdom; hardly had these buds of the Church shown their heads above the soil, in the winter of unbelief, when the frost of persecution nipped them.

And here is the hymn for Morning Prayer for today’s feast. I found it very touching!

ALL hail, ye little Martyr flowers,
Sweet rosebuds cut in dawning hours!
When Herod sought the Christ to find
Ye fell as bloom before the wind.

First victims of the Martyr bands,
With crowns and palms in tender hands,
Around the very altar, gay
And innocent, ye seem to play.

All honor, laud, and glory be,
O Jesu, Virgin-born to thee;
All glory, as is ever meet
To Father and to Paraclete.

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