Pope Paul VI to the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Michael Ramsey

"(B)y entering into our house, you are entering your own house, we are happy to open our door and heart to you." - Pope Paul VI to Dr Michael Ramsey, Archbishop of Canterbury.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

How may we do, for to preserve this day?

The haunting melody of the Coventry Carol always had intrigued me as a child, because it wasn't merry at all! My sister who then was studying at the Episcopal Church's Trinity College in Cathedral Heights Quezon City (now Trinity University  of Asia) was fond of playing the carol on the keyboard and on the lute. This version is close to how it was sung in Tudor England.

Only when I was a bit older that I realized the carol was about the Massacre of the Innocents, which the Syrian Church celebrates on December 27, the Latin Church on December 28 and Greek Church on December 29 as Holy Innocents' day. St Matthew 2: 13 narrates the story of Herod upon being mocked by the Magi, was livid with wrath and had all children younger than 2 years in Bethlehem and nearby villages slain. Historians debate on the historicity of the event since it was not mentioned in any other historical account save for St Matthew's Gospel.

The Church has always considered these children as martyrs even if they were not capable of choosing to follow Christ since they died in place of Him. The Church understands this to be a fulfillment of the prophecy in Jeremiah 31:15.  The medieval English Church calls this day as "Childermas" which celebrates childrens' innocence and how they easily enter God's Kingdom.

The Coventry Carol's lyrics were written by Robert Croo in 1534 and was part of the mystery play The Pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors, which was performed in Coventry, England. It is the only song from the play that has survived the Reformation. At the Reformation, mystery plays were banned since they were considered "superstitious".

Historians in Herod's time did not report the massacre likely because Herod was capable of doing worse atrocities and indeed he was. Similarly In World War II, the magnitude of the Holocaust was so great that all other atrocities of the war paled in comparison and only 60 or more years later did journalists and historians write about these other atrocities. The medieval Church, East and West estimated the number of children killed in the tens of thousands, but it is likely that at most 40 children were killed, a dozen or so in Bethlehem itself.

But that does not reduce the horror of the crimes at all. Today abortion merits no news. Filipinos are numb about tabloid news of aborted fetuses dumped in the trash or on Catholic church steps. Some Christians consider abortion a "blessing"!

For me, the most haunting stanza of the Coventry Carol is

"That woe is me, poor Child for thee
And ever mourn and say
For thy parting neither say nor sing
Bye, bye, lullay, lullay."

Medieval people if they time travel to our 21st century world would be horrified at the scale of abuse and maltreatment of children today. Herod's madness would pale in comparison.

Woe is upon us for all the poor children we never were able to save from being aborted, or if they were born from abuse and maltreatment and the worst form of violence, poverty. They are in a real way holy innocents. And we neither "say nor sing" at their passing. May God forgive us!

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