Some nice snippets from Dom Prosper Gueranger on the gratuity of grace, as seen in the Holy Innocents. First, an excerpt from St. Bernard of Clairvaux’s sermon on today’s feast [emphasis mine]: “In St. Stephen, we have both the act and the desire of martyrdom; in St. John, we have but the desire; in the Holy Innocents, we have but the act…Will any one doubt whether a crown was given to these Innocents?…If you ask me what merit could they have, that God should crown them? Let me ask you, what was the fault, for which Herod slew them? What! is the mercy of Jesus less than the cruelty of Herod? And whilst Herod could put these babes to death, who had done him no injury, Jesus may not crown them for dying for Him? Stephen, therefore, is a martyr, by a martyrdom of which men can judge, for he gave this evident proof of his sufferings being felt and accepted, that, at the very moment of his death, his solicitude both for his own soul and for those of his persecutors increased; the pangs of his bodily passion were less intense than the affection of his soul’s compassion, which made him weep more for their sins than for his own wounds. John was a martyr, by a martyrdom which only Angels could see, for the proofs of his sacrifice being spiritual, only spiritual creatures could ken them. But, the Innocents were martyrs to none other eye save Thine, O God! Man could find no merit; Angel could find no merit: the extraordinary prerogative of Thy grace is the more boldly brought out. From the mouth of the Infants and the Sucklings Thou hast perfected praise. [Ps. viii. 3.] The praise the Angels give thee, is: Glory be to God in the highest, and peace on earth to men of good will: [St. Luke, ii. 14.] it is a magnificent praise, but I make bold to say, that it is not perfect, till He cometh Who will say: ‘Suffer Little Children to come unto me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven;’ [St Matth. xix. 14.] and in the mystery of My mercy, there shall be peace to men that cannot even use their will.”

Then a reference to a Preface in both the Ambrosian Missal and Leonian Sacramentary: “It is truly meet and just, right and available to salvation, that we should exceedingly praise Thee, O Holy Almighty Father, in the precious death of the Infants, whom the unhappy Herod, with savage cruelty, slew because of the Infant Jesus, Thy Son, our Lord. Herein do we recognise how immeasurable are the gifts of Thy mercy, for the splendour of Thy free grace outshines the martyrs’ will; and they nobly confess Thy name, who are not yet able to speak. They suffer martyrdom before their bodies are ripe for martyrdom: they bear testimony to Christ, before they have even known Him. O the infinite goodness of the Omnipotent God! He suffers not the merit of everlasting glory to be lost by them that are slain for His sake, though they know not what they do: and being bathed in their own blood, He effects in them the salvation of regeneration, and gives them the crown of martyrdom.

And from Gueranger himself: “And we, too, Blessed Babes! we celebrate your triumph, and we congratulate you in your having been chosen as the companions of Jesus when in His crib. What a glad waking was yours, from the darkness of unconscious infancy to the Divine light of life eternal! How dear to you the sword that thus transformed you! What gratitude had you not for the God, Who thus chose you, out of millions of other children, to do honour to the birth of His Son, by this sacrifice of your blood and lives! Too young to fight the battle, yet did you win the crown. The martyr’s palm waved in those tiny hands, which had not strength to pluck it, God would give proof of His munificence — He would teach us that He is Master of His gifts. And, was it not fitting, that the birth of the Son of this great King should be commemorated by largess such as this? Sweet Infant Martyrs! We give praise to our God for His having thus favoured you, and, with the whole Church, we rejoice in the privileges you have received…Flowers of the Martyrs! We confide in your intercession, and beseech you, by the reward so gratuitously conferred on you, to be mindful of us your Brethren, who are struggling amidst the dangers of this sinful world. We, too, desire to receive those same palms and crowns, which you have won, but with such innocence and simplicity, that the Church says you played with them: whereas we have to fight hard and long for them, and are so often on the point of losing them for ever! The God that has glorified you, is our last end as truly as He is yours; in Him alone can our hearts find their rest; pray for us, that we may possess Him for all eternity.”

A rather haunting image that he gives as well, if seen from a purely natural perspective: “You gazed upon the murderers who broke your gentle sleep, and you found nothing to make you fear; the bright sword they held over your cradle, had but the look of a toy you asked to play with; death stared you in the face, and you smiled on him.”

“Behold I and my children, whom the Lord hath given me for a sign, and for a wonder in Israel from the Lord of hosts, who dwelleth in mount Sion.” (Isaias 8:18)