Liturgical tradition of the Feast of the Holy Innocents

A priest friend sent this:

Dom Gueranger has some fascinating points for today’s feast.  He states that the vestments for today’s feast is Purple: “The Red vestments of a Martyr’s Day would be too expressive of that stream of infant blood which forbids the Mothers to be comforted, and joyous White would ill suit their poignant grief; she therefore vests in Purple, the symbol of mournfulness…In this, as in everything she does, the Church acts with an exquisite delicacy of feeling.  Her Liturgy is a school of refined Christian considerateness.”  Unfortunately this is no longer followed in either form, and the color is Red.

Also, according to Gueranger, the Gloria and Alleluia were also not sung today.  Finally, the practice was sanctioned in Cathedrals and Collegiate Churches to allow young boys to sing with the choir today, in honor of the Holy Innocents.  These are great Traditions and it is too bad they are lost.

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  1. patrick_f says:

    So forgive the question – but I must –

    So I know in the Extraordinary Form (lets just say pre VII for my question’s purposes) , during lent, there is a tract, . In the OF there is of course, Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ … in the case of Holy innocents, if the Alleluia was not sung, what replaced it…or is your explanation referring to it being spoken? Is nothing done at all? I always understood both the tract and alleluia as sort of a call to be attentitive to the Gospel, thus the basis of my question.

  2. cweaver says:

    In the Liber Usualis there is a Tract for this day; previously the Alleluia was only sung if the 28th fell on a Sunday. This was changed in the 1962 MR. I imagine the older practice seemed too lenten for the Octave of the Nativity. At the same time they changed the feasts of St Thomas and St Sebastian to commemorations. I understand the reasoning but it always seems a shame to drop such venerable traditions.

    It is possible to have neither an Alleluia nor a Tract, as on the vigil of Christmas. In that case the Gospel follows the Gradual. This is still the practice in the EF.

  3. Legisperitus says:

    Perhaps our Holy Father could be moved to restore these practices in acknowledgment of the tragic massacre of innocents that is occurring in our time and for which we should be doing penance even as we celebrate new life.

  4. irishgirl says:

    Holy Innocents, you who are the ‘first fruits’ of Our Lord’s coming to earth, pray for the innocent children who are murdered by abortion, in this country and around the world.

  5. digdigby says:

    Kenelm Digby tells hows in Medieval England on Holy Innocents, little boys, dressed as priests and even as Bishops and walked in solemn Procession. This adorable and much loved custom was banished by Henry the VIII. The point being that murdered innocents were perhaps future priests and Bishops. This is a very special day for those who fight that the most helpless human beings to live.

  6. Robert of Rome says:

    I agree with the preceding posters that some kind of liturgical act (within or outside of the Mass) should observed in order to create a link between this wonderful feast and our Christian remembrance of the victims of abortion.

  7. Gregory DiPippo says:

    The aforementioned custom was supressed in 1955 as part of the simplification of rubrics under Pope Pius XII. The Alleluja was replaced by a Tract. On the Octave Day of the Holy Innocents, however, the Mass was celebrated in red, with Gloria, Alleluja, and Ite Missa est.

    The other reason for not celebrating the Innocents as martyrs on their feast day like other martyrs is that they died before Christ, and therefore could not enter Heaven immediately, but first went to the limbo of the Fathers. The Mass of the Octave Day is celebrated as the feasts of other martyrs, because the eighth day represents perfection and completion, in this case, the perfectio and completion of the Innocents in ascending to Heaven after the death and resurrection of Christ. With the abolition of Octaves in 1955, the symbolism of having two slighlty different versions of the Mass of the Innocents is also lost.

  8. JMody says:

    A few thoughts here –
    first, anyone who quotes Kenelm Digby has GOT to be wonderful.
    Second, I remember reading a few years back some article suggesting that the Catholic Faithful ought to take more to the Annunciation, and try to turn that into as big a deal for us as Christmas, in order to shame (charitably!) society over the ongoing abortions. In many ways I think the Holy Innocents might be an even better day.
    And third, this highlights as another point of evidence a great problem within the Church today — colors, and feasts, and solemnities are all a mash now, and even if the books were followed exactly, many rich traditions have been junked — what part of SC says to junk all traditions? To blur or erase or discard the difference between the days that are feasts and the days that are solemnities? Why do we move feasts around to trample over what remains of the Catholic calendar? St. Stephen no longer rates? Epiphany is just some early Sunday in January? Ascension Thursday is now really Sunday?

    Maybe this is a Quaeritur subject, but what can laymen do to restore order to the calendar, the feasts/solemnities, and the colors, so that there is a sense of ORDER instead of the rampant, lackadaisical, “come-as-you-are-ness” of the Church’s calendar?

    And fourth, two recent references to the Innocents are spot-on in my view — the People’s Cube called the Slaughter Herod’s Post-Natal-Eighth-Trimester-Abortion Plan, which might be the way to call society’s attention to how Catholics view abortion. And William Carroll in his “Christendom” series referred to them as an unknowing royal rear guard, covering the Flight into Egypt with their lives, that the King of Kings might live.

  9. bookworm says:

    I believe — feel free to correct me if I’m wrong — that the NO Mass for the Feast of the Holy Innocents, or at least the Scripture readings from that feast, may be celebrated in U.S. dioceses on Jan. 22, to commemorate Roe v. Wade.
    Personally, I wouldn’t see anything wrong with simply transferring their feast to that day permanently (in the U.S. only). After all, the massacre of the Innocents happened AFTER the Magi/Wise Men/Three Kings left Bethlehem without informing Herod; so it would be appropriate to commemorate the Innocents sometime after Epiphany.

  10. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Thank you for this, and to all for their comments!

    Does anyone know a good reference re. the “abolition of Octaves”? I have not tried to ‘do my homework on it’, yet, but it seems bewildering on first impression: why abolish any Octaves?

    There are a number of feasts which are particularly connected with ‘very young life’: (in Sacred Historical order) 8 December, 8 September, 25 March, 2 July, 24 June, and (historically in Spain and subsequently among the Carmelites, as a celebration as it were ancillary to the Annunciation and Visitation) 18 December, as well as Christmas and Holy Innocents.

    If no-one has yet in some sense ‘formally’ been paying attention to these in connexion with each other (has anyone?), might not now, after the Nascient Life Vigil, be a good time to look into beginning to do so?

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