The description wasn’t very specific: sex, race, age range. But the wealthy elite were sufficiently disturbed that they sent law enforcement out in force, with a tacit understanding that a blind eye would be turned towards any “overly aggressive tactics” that might be “necessary” to accomplish the mission.
So it happened that all the Jewish boys of approximately the right age — still too young to piss standing — were killed by Herod’s soldiers, to restore his sense of security and supremacy in the land.
When December 28th falls on a Sunday, as it does this year, the Feast of the Holy Innocents is trumped in the Catholic liturgical calendar by the Feast of the Holy Family. But given the rising tide of awareness of police brutality particularly against black men, women, and children, it seems particularly necessary to reflect on these boys who were killed simply because they “fit the description.”
Just as in the media, scripture tells us about the boys who were killed, but not about the women and girls. Christian artists through the ages have filled this in for us, though; reflecting on human nature, the desire of mothers to protect their children, and the brutality common among soldiers, there are paintings and icons that also show these mothers, women and girls, likewise being slaughtered as they try to protect their sons. It seems likely that some of the women would have been raped as well, as additional punishment for daring to fight back.
Surely these, too, were holy families.
who were killed simply because you “fit the description”
who were killed to assuage the fears of the powerful,
intercede for all those black boys and girls, for all those black women and men, who have been killed for the same reason.
Pray for their grieving mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, friends and kin, that they may be comforted.
Pray for those who killed them, for those who stood by and did nothing as they died, that they may be converted.
May your story deepen our desire for justice.
We ask this in the name
of the little Child who lived to lead us to a better way.
A voice was heard in Ramah,
sobbing and loud lamentation;
Rachel weeping for her children,
and she would not be consoled,
since they were no more.
Deus cuius hodierna die praeconium innocentes martyres non loquendo but moriendo confessi sunt […]
“Today, God, the Holy Innocents have confessed the praeconium not by speaking but in dying.”
The introduction to the Tridentine collect for Holy Innocents summarizes well the lamentation of children beyond words through the only protest available to them — martyrdom by murder. The young and old maltreated by those who have been called to “protect and serve” them, have had words forced from them by these supposed protectors. The maltreated have in effect been infantilized merely because of station and ethnicity. The innocents slaughtered under Herod could not witness their martyrdom with verbal confessions (a rude translation of confiteor) for they did not yet have language. Oppressed people have the intellectual and physical capability of language, but are squelched because they are not expected to possess the intellect and articulation to defend themselves.
I did not translate the word praeconium because the word does not have a satisfactory equivalent in English. Even so, the word is extremely powerful within the “thought process” of the Latin language. In classical Latin praeconium refers to the “crying” of news, the oral relay of information outside of the the written word in which we expect news to arrive following the Reformation and Enlightenment. To squelch the spoken word in a mostly oral culture such as the first century CE is to extinguish thought and privilege altogether: no blogs or Twitter can capture brutality. Here, the inability to speak is the inability to exist.
Perhaps praeconium might best be translated “testimony”. How many black men have been shot, choked, or beaten to death by police officers without time to testify to their innocence or even the nature of their previous crimes? Even in an age of words, the theft of praeconium is often more lethal than a loaded Glock.
Thank you for this thoughtful contribution.
I normally de-emphasize the youth of the Holy Innocents because it seems to me that it is ordinarily made too much of, but you make an excellent point about the infantilization of the oppressed: both in terms of the cult of compliance which applies broadly to many cases of police brutality, and specifically to the racist history of white people routinely addressing black men as “boy.”