Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The Holy Innocents

A few remarks on this wonderful Feast:

1) What can beat this line for humor and pathos in a Gregorian hymn?
"Aram ante ipsam simplices
Palma et coronis luditis"
"Beneath the altar's heavenly ray
With martyr palms and crowns ye play"

Each year when we sing this hymn, the thought of the little boys killed by Herod babbling baby-talk and goofing around with their martyr crowns brings a smile to my face. How bootless the fury of the tyrant!

2) Here is another indication of the need for a new translation of the Sacramentary (actually, it's done, but Rome hasn't approved it yet). The Latin phrase from the opening of the Mass:
Deus, cuius hodierna die praeconium Innocentes Martyres non loquendo, sed moriendo confessi sunt...
is rendered lamely:
Father (note not even "God!") the Holy Innocents offered you praise by the death they suffered for Christ...

Now I offer you the translation from the old Monastic Diurnal:
O God, Whose praise the martyred Innocents rendered this day not in words, but in their death...

I would go one better and say that the praise was rendered 'not in speaking'.

The point of this is found in the end of the prayer, "that our lives may declare in actions the faith which our tongues profess in speaking."

There is perhaps too much here to go into at length, but let us merely note that the point of the play on words is that 'infants' (from in-faor: 'not speaking') can't do what we adults can do, and that is to speak God's praise. Yet God, for His purposes, can give them that honor nonetheless. Our ability to speak in no way means that our hearts are converted, and this marvel, the marytrdom of the speechless, is meant to move our hearts to conform with our words. This is a Biblical motif, particularly at Psalm 8, and is echoed by Jesus' claim that the stones themselves would acclaim Him King. But the whole play is lost in our present translation.

3) Let us remember to pray for all the defenseless who have lost their lives in the fallout from Roe v. Wade, and let us not forget to pray for their fathers and mothers who in various ways mourn them. I hope that I will be with these little ones someday, and that they will have their own little crowns for play.

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