WDTPRS Childermas – Holy Innocents

Lully, lulla, thou little tiny child,
By by, lully lullay, thou little tiny child,
By by, lully lullay.

O sisters too, How may we do
For to preserve this day
This poor youngling,
For whom we do sing,
By by, lully lullay?

Lully, lulla, thou little tiny child,
By by, lully lullay, thou little tiny child,
By by, lully lullay.

Herod, the King, In his raging,
Charged he hath this day
His men of might,
In his own sight,
All young children to slay.

Lully, lulla, thou little tiny child,
By by, lully lullay, thou little tiny child,
By by, lully lullay.

That woe is me, Poor child for thee!
And ever morn and day,
For thy parting
Nor say nor sing
By by, lully lullay!

St. Augustine wrote of the Holy Innocents:

The precious death of any martyr deserves high praise because of his heroic confession; the death of these children is precious in the sight of God because of the beatitude they gained so quickly. For already at the beginning of their lives they pass on. The end of the present life is for them the beginning of glory. These then, whom Herod’s cruelty tore as sucklings from their mothers’ bosom, are justly hailed as “infant martyr flowers”; they were the Church’s first blossoms, matured by the frost of persecution during the cold winter of unbelief.

Here is the Collect from the 1962 Missale Romanum:

Deus, cuius hodierna die praeconium
Innocentes Martyres non loquendo,
sed moriendo confessi sunt:
omnia in nobis vitiorum mala mortifica;
ut fidem tuam, quam lingua nostra loquitur,
etiam moribus vita fateatur

O God, whose public heralding the Innocent Martyrs
professed this very day not by speaking but by dying;
mortify in us every ill of vices;
so that (our) life might confess Your Faith, which we speak with our tongue,
also by (our) morals

Look at the not-so-subtle change made to the Collect by the cutters and pasters who glued together the Novus Ordo:

Deus, cuius hodierna die praeconium
Innocentes Martyres non loquendo,
sed moriendo confessi sunt:
da, quaesumus, ut fidem tuam,
quam lingua nostra loquitur
etiam moribus vita fateatur.

Can you spell “bowdlerize”?

O God, whose public heralding the Innocent Martyrs
professed this very day not by speaking but by dying;
grant, we implore, that (our) life might confess Your Faith,
which our tongue declares,
also by (our) morals

That lingua nostra could, I suppose, be ablative, but it is probably the nominative subject of loquitur.  I originally swerved that into “which we speak with our tongue”.  There is a strong temptation to reconstruct these clauses when rendering it into English.

O God, whom the Holy Innocents confessed
and proclaimed on this day,
not by speaking but by dying,
grant, we pray,
that the faith in you which we confess with our lips
may also speak through our manner of life

Did the translator not get that fateor is deponent?  The subject is vita, no? Accusative fidem is the object, not the subject.

What a mess.

the Holy Innocents offered you praise
by the death they suffered for Christ.
May our lives bear witness
to the faith we profess with our lips

I’ll stick with the older Collect in Latin, thank you very much.

St. Thomas Aquinas dealt with the question of how the Innocents could be considered martyrs if they didn’t yet have use of their free will so as to be able to choose death in favor of Christ and if they were not baptized. He answered that God permitted their slaughter for their own good and that their slaying brought them the justification and salvation that would also come from baptism. This was a “baptism of blood”. In their deaths they were truly martyrs. And they were indeed for Christ, since Herod, fulfilling the prophecy of Jeremiah 31:15, killed them from ill-will for the new-born Christ.


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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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13 Responses to WDTPRS Childermas – Holy Innocents

  1. leonugent2005 says:

    When I read this it struck me that it would be a good prayer for me to say as my feet hit the ground each morning…..Father, may my life bear witness to the faith I profess with my lips! If only I could remember to do it

  2. NoTambourines says:

    It seems like a lot of the time, the overall effect of ICEL ’73’s approach is to give the unintended impression that the person doing the translation was in a hurry, when compared with the literal and the corrected 3rd ed. translations.

  3. AGA says:

    I’ve always had some questions regarding Baptism by Blood. For instance, if an atheist was working inside a Catholic church, say a repairman fixing the sound system. And if an anti-Catholic group blew up that church while the repairmen was inside, killing him. Would that man be saved by Baptism by Blood.

    Given St. Thomas’ argument, it seems that the motive of the killers is what matters. If the killers are killing because they are attacking Christ and/or His Church, then the victims of the attack become saved by Baptism through Blood. Correct or not?

  4. CatholicinCA says:

    For AGA,

    I think with adults, the inner disposition of the person is necessary. If the atheist had no intention of forming a relationship with Christ and His Church, then it wouldn’t be a baptism by blood. The babies killed by Herod were innocent, without any free will to choose or not choose Christ. But God chose salvation for them by allowing them to die due to the evil motives of Herod (a baptism by blood). Similar to the baptism of water and spirit that most of us get as babies, we had no free will to choose or not choose Christ (i.e salvation), but our parents chose for us and had us baptized. An adult would similarly need to willfully choose baptism for him/herself in order to gain that grace.

  5. AGA says:

    Thanks, CatholicinCA.

    I guess given that, I don’t see the real difference between Baptism by Blood and Baptism by Desire. In your explanation, the person already desires baptism, so doesn’t the Baptism by Desire precede the Baptism by Blood? Making the Baptism by Blood redundant.

    I was curious as to if the Baptism by Blood was sort of an Election without the element of Free Will. In the hypothetical instance I mentioned, the atheist repairman wasn’t in that particular church by chance. God put him there to be killed by the anti-Catholic terrorists. Just my thoughts.. Maybe I have my understanding of Baptism by Desire wrong too.

  6. pinoytraddie says:

    I have said this before and I will say it again: If I were a Priest,This is One of These Days I would say A Novus Ordo in Latin,than to Use a Leftover of A Lame Duck in the(Mostly) Corrected Translation.

  7. RichR says:

    I read an interesting comment about this feast day while praying from In Conversation With God: The Holy Innocents were the only ones to die so that God might live. In a certain sense, God is indebted to them. What a unique idea. Imagine the souls of these little ones (and their parents who suffered through the slaughter of their children) when they reached the Judgement!

  8. alanphipps says:

    “Did the translator not get that fateor is deponent? The subject is vita, no? Accusative fidem is the object, not the subject.”

    So it’s not a literal, word-for-word translation. That isn’t what we were promised, was it? You’ve pointed that out yourself, Fr. Z. Not knowing the translation decisions here, nevertheless, the corrected translation seems essentially accurate with what is being expressed in the Latin, unlike the obsolete version.

  9. AGA says:


    I think I understand it a bit better now. After looking at some online definitions, it seems that Baptism of Desire requires a much more perfect state of mind/soul vis-a-vis God and the Catholic Church. Baptism of Blood is satisfied with a much more simple and general one at the time of the martyrdom. At least that’s my layman-short-hand understanding of the two.

  10. authorwoman says:

    One note about the Coventry Carol: we are lucky to have it; the last manuscript of the suppressed Mystery Play was destroyed in the late 19th century. The text we have is based on copies and might contain errors. Just another result of Henry VIII’s English Deformation.

  11. Andreas says:

    The Feast of the Holy Innocents is known as “Unschuldiger Kindertag” here in Austria. It is the in very early morning of each 28 December that 8 to 10 boys, aged about 6 to 10, make their appointed rounds to each house in the village….blowing on horns and chanting “Hola Hola” followed by something in tough to understand local dialect. Their intent in making as much racket as possible in these pre-dawn hours is to awaken the miscreant adults (representing Herod’s followers) who have the gall to still be asleep. The boys are armed with long pointy wooden sticks or reeds with which to whack us guilty adults. Of course, with an Euro in the Geldbeutl’ (a small tin can with a slot in the top) for each, the unspoken threat of a beating happily never comes to fruition. This is an ancient tradition, the practice of which varies slightly throughout Austria. Yet, it represents more than an annual excuse for youthful payback in the form of extortion; rather, it is a much cherished and solemn remembrance of that dark sad day so very long ago when innocents were slaughtered out of naught but cold-hearted fear.

  12. JonPatrick says:

    Concerning the discussion on baptism by blood – I had understood that the Holy Innocents were included with the other Old Testament saints as being saved when Christ descended to the Limbo of the Fathers after His crucifixion and released them to be able to go to heaven. So like Moses, Elijah, John the Baptist etc. they didn’t need baptism of blood or any other kind.

  13. irishgirl says:

    Thank you, Andreas, for your description of that interesting Austrian custom for Holy Innocents’ Day!
    Your posts are always informative; as my late German-born mother would say, ‘Danke Schoen’!
    I have a guide book from the Holy House of Loreto, Italy, which I bought there in 1977. Around the base of the dome in the Basilica of the Holy House, there are paintings depicting the groups of Saints from the titles in Our Lady’s ‘Litany of Loreto’ (‘Queen of’, etc.). For ‘Queen of Martyrs’, right in the front, the Holy Innocents stand, wrapped in swaddling clothes just like the Infant King they gave their lives for!